Slaking a miner's thirst

Kim Murtagh outside the Black Horse Brewery, Wetherstons. Photo by Shane Gilchrist.
Kim Murtagh outside the Black Horse Brewery, Wetherstons. Photo by Shane Gilchrist.
"This was the fun capital of the goldfields," Kim Murtagh says with a glint in her eye.

She is standing in a leafy glade, where century-old poplars loom large over the ruins of a couple of buildings that once quenched the thirst of many.

A few kilometres east of Lawrence, Wetherstons is perhaps better known as the site of the 5000-strong gold-mining shantytown that sprang up in July 1861; it was a place renowned for its ribald atmosphere (at one point it had 14 hotels) until the August 1862 Dunstan gold strike led to a mass exodus.

Yet there are other reasons to celebrate the area, Ms Murtagh says.

Though beer was first brewed in the area in 1863 (in Henry Coverlid's shaving saloon before the London Brewery was established on the site at Blue Jacket Gully, Wetherstons), it was not until 1884, when J. K. Simpson and Ben Hart took up a lease on the business before purchasing the premises 11 years later, that the Black Horse Brewery began to forge a reputation for good beer.

Under the management of Simpson and Hart, the Black Horse rose to become a successful provincial brewery, winning the prize for bottled stout at Dunedin and South Seas Exhibition 1889-90.

According to Ms Murtagh, the quality of water at Wetherstons combined with the skills of those who worked within the now crumbling walls of the three-storeyed gravity-fed brewing plant and separate malt house, that led to the product becoming famous "from Christchurch to Bluff".

At one time, during prohibition, many of Lawrence's men would head out to the brewery on a Friday night "to drink a barrel dry ... until mothers and daughters wrote to the Tuapeka Times and asked them to do something about it because there were no gentlemen callers for the girls. It's a place full of stories."

Ms Murtagh, whose interest in the site was piqued in 2004, not long after she'd returned to New Zealand from Australia, has recently formed a trust to care for the property, and has secured funding for a worker to tidy the brewery site for 30 hours a week over the next six months.


Brewing up
As part of the forthcoming 150th anniversary celebrations of the Gabriel's Gully gold rush, two commemorative brews - a stout and an India pale ale - will be provided on site next weekend. For more details: visit: www.hbhb.co.nz

 

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