Gold Rush and Gold Mining: A Technological Analysis Of Gabriel's Gully and the Blue Spur, 1861-1891

by Nicol Allan MacArthur

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: Gold rush; gold mining; technology; technological history; Gabriel's Gully; blasting; hydraulic elevating; depletion; productivity; New Zealand; California; The Appalachians; J. R. Perry; structural change; environmental management
Record ID: 1313909
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/4933


Philip Ross May stated in 1980 that well-informed studies of the technology of gold rushes and gold mining were long overdue but very little has been added to the historiography since then. As a result, various misconceptions and misunderstandings have entered into the New Zealand and wider gold rush historiography. A conflation of gold rushing with gold mining is sometimes evident and another misconception entrenches corporate structure with the level of capitalisation and mixes the mining of alluvial and quartz reef gold. On May’s lines, this thesis argues that technology lies at the heart of all gold rushes and their gold mining, and seeks simply to demonstrate that the technology of gold rushes was different from the technology of gold mining. The thesis first completes a historical survey of gold rushes from sixteenth century Spanish America until Victoria in the 1850s. It then then closely evaluates the technology of the Gabriel's Gully gold rush and its extension to mining the Blue Spur deposit, both as local history and also to deepen the findings of the global review. All gold rushes were found to use a common suite of hand tools and simple manual methods of low productivity. This manual simplicity was diagnostic as was a slow- down in gold output and modifications in methods as the rich easy gold became exhausted. To continue required either hydraulic or mechanical methods, or large coordinated labour forces, along with capital expenditure. This signified mining, which typically comprised ground sluicing, hydraulicking, deep leading, or river mining. Unlike other rushes, the Gabriel's Gully rush used hydraulic energy in long toms and box sluices, as well as manual cradling, to wash the paydirt. Whether due to this or not, a remarkable new finding is that in its first twenty-one months, the Tuapeka district produced more gold than the first twenty-one months of the Californian rush. Regarding mining, Blue Spur proved to be an extremely large orebody, much of it heavily cemented and capable of high gold contents. Over its long fifty-year life, as different zones were reached, alluvial, quarrying, and underground mining and stamp milling technologies were applied, and culminated in hydraulicking and the innovative hydraulic elevating developed in Gabriel's Gully. However, regardless of the mining technology in use, there was no structural change in the Blue Spur mining parties for twenty years, although each new technology required higher capitalisation. This supports Hearn’s work on the Tinkers goldfield. This technological study has perhaps filled a gap in the local historiography, and historians of the Otago gold rushes and gold mining may be encouraged to pursue other lines of enquiry with the role of technology included in their perspective. This leads to a wider point that ongoing mining histories in New Zealand could look to the characteristics of local deposits and their required technology before generalising across different types of gold deposit nationally. The work shows…