Quiet settlement under Dunstans

The schoolhouse in Cambrians remains a Manuherikia Valley landmark. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
The schoolhouse in Cambrians remains a Manuherikia Valley landmark. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
There are scars on the land near Cambrians that reveal the area’s mining past. The collection of houses that remain after its early gold rush beginnings only run about 1km along Cambrian Rd, but the history of the settlement runs deep. Hamish MacLean reports.

Cambrians is found in the Manuherikia Valley in Central Otago.

A short way off the St Bathans Loop Rd, a collection of cottages reminds passersby of the gold fever that shaped the area.

Cambrians is now a quiet collection of homes and holiday homes that have outlived the mining beginnings of the area.

A signpost in Cambrians. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
A signpost in Cambrians. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
Beautiful and remote, the outpost lies at the foot of the Dunstan Mountains, about 6km from St Bathans.

And one must assume that only self-willed individuals would choose to live in the community that appears to be so isolated and exposed to harsh winter climes.

And, sure enough, a community spokesman said the dozen or so households of Cambrians held a meeting and collectively decided they did not want to help the Otago Daily Times with its feature on the tiny settlement.

The Dunstan Mountains loom up in the distance at the start of Cambrian Rd. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
The Dunstan Mountains loom up in the distance at the start of Cambrian Rd. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
Nevertheless, Cambrians is on the Heritage New Zealand historic places list.

And Heritage New Zealand points out not only the gold rush origins of the settlement, but its Welsh ones.

Gold was discovered in Dunstan Creek in 1861.

Cambrians was settled in 1863 as miners began working what became first known as Welshman’s Gully, the report by public historian Heather Bauchop says.

There were Morgans, Owens and Williams living there back then.

Historic photographs show early residences were sod, mud brick and timber frames clad with corrugated iron.

Welshman's Gully, 1880-90s, Otago, by Burton Brothers studio. Te Papa (O.026325).
Welshman's Gully, 1880-90s, Otago, by Burton Brothers studio. Te Papa (O.026325).
Ms Bauchop describes the historic hamlet as "the ghost of the bustling settlement of Welshman’s Gully".

"The community centred on the Welsh Harp Hotel and a couple of stores, the chapel, and celebrated St David’s Day celebrations together," Ms Bauchop says.

"The Welsh Harp closed in 1918, the school closed in 1954 and the hall was dismantled and removed."

By the 1960s, many of the buildings that could be removed from the settlement were.

The classroom of the schoolhouse in Cambrians evokes a simpler past. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
The classroom of the schoolhouse in Cambrians evokes a simpler past. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
A few people remained, but some houses sold as holiday homes for people from Dunedin.

A new history began as a quiet holiday settlement, Ms Bauchop says.

There is a mix of permanent homes and holiday homes alongside the ruins of the mud brick Welsh Harp Hotel or the Dungey family residence,

Several small mud brick cottages still standing show the modest lives of the Morgan and Swinney families, she says.

Daffodils bloom in front of a stone cottage in Cambrians. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
Daffodils bloom in front of a stone cottage in Cambrians. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
A cairn erected in the area to mark 150 years since the area was occupied by miners says it was the first place gold was found in Central Otago.

It says the name was changed from Welshman’s Gully to Cambrian in 1876.

The word Cambria is itself a name for Wales, a form of the Welsh-language name for the country, Cymru.

 

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