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NOTES ON THE THAMES GOLDFIELD AND SEARCHING THE GOLDMINER'S DATABASE

    INTRODUCTION

    During the period 1848 - 1870, gold miners roamed the world to seek their fortune, fetching up on distant shores when they heard the call of a recent gold rush. Between 1861 - 1871, miners came to the New Zealand gold fields both from within New Zealand and from all over the world. Sometimes they stayed only a few months before leaving again, perhaps to return to family in another country or to try their luck on a goldfield somewhere else. Others however stayed on in New Zealand, and after the gold or their finances were exhausted, they took jobs, while the lucky ones bought land or established industries with their newfound wealth. Then they married and raised a family, perhaps in a district far from the gold field. The memories of a brief sojourn in a distant goldfield can easily be lost to future generations, and these Miner's Rights may represent the only official record the miners ever left on the gold field.

    When a gold miner arrived in Thames in 1868, his priority would have been to find some form of shelter for himself and his family if he had them with him. This would be especially important in the winter months. After that, he would have listened to the gossip amongst the old-timers, perhaps in one of the many bars, to discover where the best finds were being made. He would have walked the hills to discover for himself a likely spot, especially if he was an experienced miner and knew the 'look of the land' that would make good gold-bearing dirt.

    After he had finally made up his mind about where to stake his claim, he would present himself at the Warden's office in the Courthouse in Shortland to apply for his Miner's Right. And he would need one pound sterling in his pocket, a considerable sum. According to the MeasuringWorth webpage, 1 sterling in 1868 would be worth about NZ$1200 or US$900 today.

    On most days in 1868, he would have had to wait in a queue to get in the door at the Warden's Office. During that time he would hear other miners talking about recent finds and rushes, and by the time his turn came to plunk his money on the table in front of the Warden, he may have changed his mind several times about where to stake his claim. The Warden wrote the miner's name in his huge leather-bound ledger with his ink and pen. The miner would then state the area where he intended to stake his claim. The Warden wrote this together with the date in the ledger beside the miner's name, then wrote the details in the Miner's Right certificate book he had beside his ledger. He ripped the Miner's Right out, leaving behind a butt duly filled out with the miner's name and Miner's Right number. He handed the pre-printed certificate to the miner who then needed to keep this valuable piece of paper safe, clean and dry under all conditions. He would need it to establish his claim whenever he was asked for it. With his Miner's Right in his pocket, the miner then went directly to the likey spot he had picked out, and placed wooden stakes in the ground to mark out his 50 x 300 feet claim. This would be his land for the period of one year. After that, his Miner's Right was renewable on payment of a further 1 fee.

  1. The miners had to work their claim every day except Sundays, or risk loosing it to a claim jumper. If the Miner's Right holder needed to be away from the claim for a legitimate reason, he had to register his absence at the Warden's office. This was known as Registration and cost 5 shillings for an absence of a few weeks or months. In times of sickness, the Warden also had to be notified, and this was known as 'Claim Protection'. There was no charge for Claim Protection but the miner had to provide a Doctor's certificate.


  2. Some miners took out multiple Miner's Rights, either all at the same time or over a period of days, weeks or months.


  3. The miners could transfer their Miner's Right from one location to another during the year and many did. Transfer details with dates are recorded on the original entry books at Archives NZ but are not recorded in this database.


  4. These miners were away from home and are therefore difficult to identify, especially if they have commonly used names. Final identification will require other records besides these miner's rights which provide little personal information to identify an individual. For assistance in identifying Thames miners, refer to The Treasury website. Birth, death and marriage certificates can provide crucial information linking a miner to a goldfield and can be searched at the New Zealand Births Deaths and Marriage online website. These should give you the place and date of birth of the miner and may link him to the goldfield.

    However for those many people who came to New Zealand in search of gold and left a short time later with no marriage, birth, death, arrests, ship's passenger record, court cases or other official records, it will be difficult in the extreme to confirm that one of the men in this index is whom you think he might be. Even if you seek out the original Miner's Right records, you will not find any further information to identify the individual. This index in that case can only be used as a clue to the likely whereabouts of the people named. Given the convention of the times to name nearly all boys William, James or John, there can be no guarantee, even in a small colony the size of New Zealand in the 1860s, that a certain John Brown is the one you are looking for. The first name of 10% of the miners in this database was John, 8% William and 7% James.


  5. Identification of individuals can sometimes be achieved by the family groups who presented themselves together to apply for their Miner's Right. Each Miner's Right issued has an identification number, and those who presented themselves at the office together will have successive identification numbers, and the same date of issue. For this reason, it is best to search the surname of interest to ensure that no recognizable family members were with the miner concerned. There were family groups of brothers, father and son(s), even husband and wife, brother and sister as well as cousins and friends from the same home town.


  6. SEARCHES IN THE DATABASE

  7. There is a 'wildcard' option available. This should always be used for all but the simplest spelling. Complex names, especially those from non-English-speaking countries, will have many different ways of spelling them. Under the 'exact match' search, the name will only come up if the spelling is exactly as you write it in the search box. Using the 'wildcard' feature, and just giving the first syllable of the name, all spellings of the name should appear. Always experiment with different spellings, remembering that these records were made under very trying and primitive conditions and mistakes of spelling were frequent occurences. In many cases the Warden obviously did not know how to spell a name that was being called out to him and by deliberately blurring his handwriting, he got it down as best he could.


  8. The original of this database was a handwritten list and as such, the names were sometimes open to interpretation. In fact the handwriting on the whole was remarkable for its legibility, and I think we have the Gold Warden and Assistant Commissioner of the Goldfield of Thames, Mr Allen Baillie to thank for that. Every care has been taken to correctly interpret the handwriting but it is certain there will be mistakes. I would definitely like to hear about any of these cases and make the necessary corrections. One difficulty encountered was that there was very little or no difference between the handwritten 'J' and an 'I' when it stood alone as an initial.

    From 1 - 5th July 1868, a substitute Warden stood in for the usual one, and his handwriting was less than legible.

  9. Many Maori men took out Miner's Rights at Thames from 1867 onwards, often in groups. Sometimes they had European nicknames but more often than not, registered under their own name. The problem will be the spelling as spelling conventions for Maori were not yet established, and the Warden was obviously spelling it as he heard it. It is suggested the 'wildcard' option is always used. Try using just the first syllable of the name with the 'wildcard' option. Especially in the first year or two, these Maori men were always denoted as 'native'.


  10. It was extraordinary how many women came alone to the office and bought a Miner's Right in their own name. Many of them returned over the next few days, weeks and months to take out multiple Miner's Rights, something that needed a lot of ready cash and/or success in finding gold. I personally completely readjusted my prejudices about simpering housebound dependent Victorian women after seeing this long list of the intrepid lady gold miners of Thames. My concern is that few genealogists would ever think to check a list of gold miners for the name of their great great grandmother.


  11. Registered Gold Mining Companies also took out Miner's Rights. These can be searched for in the database by using the Wildcard facility in the searchbox and entering just one word of the Company name as a family name, eg for the Golden Crown Goldmining Company Registered, enter 'Crown' or 'Golden' as a wildcard.


  12. The official goldfields of Thames used in issuing the Miner's Rights (with percentage of Rights issued) were: Karaka (78%), Waikawau (11%), Tararu (8%) Puriri (3%), Kennedys Bay, Coromandel and Whakatete (these last three having less than 0.1% of the Miner's Rights issued between them).
Below is a map of the Thames Goldfield as it was in 1868, showing the goldfields of Karaka, Waikawau, Tararu Creek and Whakatete. Puriri goldfield was some distance up the River Thames on a tributary called Puriri River, south of Kopu. Coromandel was north of Waikawau. Kennedy's Bay was on the other side of the Coromandal Peninsula north of present day Whangapoua.



Reference: The Thames Miner's Guide with Maps 1868.



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