Date published: 31 July 2018
Author: Brian Sylvester

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"There’s gold in them thar hills”

An expression we tend to associate with the frenetic gold rushes of the U.S.A. But did you know there was similar excitement about the finds at the other end of the world in the 19th century? We’re told …

The Otago Gold Rush occurred during the 1860s in New Zealand. This was the country's biggest gold strike, and led to a rapid influx of foreign miners to the area - many of them veterans of other hunts for the precious metal in California and Victoria, Australia.

Then we learn …

Ross was the centre of one of New Zealand’s richest alluvial goldfields in the late 19th century, with extensive underground mining and sluicing claims.

Messrs Scott and Sharpe found the heaviest gold nugget on record in New Zealand at Ross on the West Coast in 1909. Weighing in at 3.09 kg (99.63 ounces), it was named the ‘Honourable Roddy’ after the minister of mines, Roderick McKenzie.

The nugget was bought for £400 (equivalent to $67,000 in 2017) by a Ross storekeeper and his Canterbury associate. A cast of it was soon on show in the Canterbury Museum. In 1911 the ‘Honourable Roddy’ was bought by the government. Mounted in a ‘fitting setting’, it became New Zealand’s ‘decidedly handsome’ Coronation gift to King George V. When enquiries were made 40 years later, it was discovered that the nugget had been melted down to make a royal tea service!

[Incidentally, a recent newspaper article boasted of the biggest UK gold nugget weighing in at 85.7 grammes – less that a third of that from NZ; nevertheless, said to be worth £50,000!]

So what has all this got to do with Newbury?

Through their website the Friends of Newtown Road Cemetery have recently been approached by a lady from New Zealand, due to visit England in September, and anxious to attend on the graves of her great, great grandparents, Esther & William Dove. So she is asking for help in locating it. As it happens, no easy task: but by sifting through the available evidence, with the help of a photo taken by a descendant during WW1 and some diligent searching, Eureka! We finally struck gold.

Well perhaps I exaggerate – our precious nugget was in the form of a 125 year-old gravestone whose inscriptions had totally eroded. But we did it.

So how does the gold come into the equation? We have learnt from our future visitor that one of the sons of our cemetery ‘residents’, Levi, emigrated to the antipodes, got married and was an expectant father when he fell back into a gold shaft at Ross on 18th July 1884 and sadly died [No ‘elf ‘n’ safety then!]. His son, the ancestor of our guest, was subsequently born on 20th January, 1885.

We’re very much looking forward to meeting our visitor from Australasia and hearing more of her family connections with the gold mines.

Isn’t it amazing what a little research turns up!

 

Footnote: If you have relatives buried at Newtown Road Cemetery we’d love to hear from you too through our website: www.fnrcnewbury.org.uk

 

Click to enlarge
Author in the cemetery
©FNRC
Author in the cemetery
Click to enlarge
The Dove grave as it used to look
©FNRC
The Dove grave as it used to look
Click to enlarge
Dove grave as it is today
Dove grave as it is today

 

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