Mobile Unit. Queenstown history

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Mobile Unit - NZ oral history, 1946-1948
RNZ Collection
New Zealand Broadcasting Service. Mobile Recording Unit

The interview starts with Mr Nicholas von Tunzelmann (named after his father). He has resided at the head of the lake for "a good few years" and likes to keep up with people in the area. His father was Nicholas von Tunzelmann, a pioneer in the area. He and Uncle Rees [William Rees] came over the Crown Range together and landed at Rat Point, halfway between Queenstown and the head of the lake. They had to build a raft to cross the lake. The bush and scrub was very thick and high between the top of the range and the lakeside and they had to cut a track to descend.
They ran 40,000-odd sheep in the area to begin with. They were from Australia and landed at Bluff. The pioneers drove them up from Bluff with a couple of shepherds. Von Tunzelmann farmed on side of the lake and Uncle Rees farmed the other side. His father's station was called Fernhill.
His father was from Russia, and Uncle Rees was from England. They started their journey in Nelson and walked with ponies to the Lake. He is not sure what brought them there, he doesn't think it was gold. They took 1,000 acres of land between them on both sides of the lake, farming one side each. He doesn't know how the established who should take which side.
Both men were single when they arrived in the area. They were in the area for about ten years before marrying two sisters. His mother and aunt arrived from England into rough pioneering country.
Kea represented a challenge for their farm. They would land on the sheep's backs and frighten them, sometimes injuring them. He said he has shorn sheep and found wounds on their sides from keas.
He thinks he has shorn around 100,000 sheep over about 50 years. He doesn't think he is a record holder though, a man called Jim Kelly worked for longer, about 55 years.
Jack Thompson [John Thompson, d. 1950] and Frank St Omer [Francois St Omer, d. 1950] enter the conversation and debate whether Mr Kelly would be the record holder in sheep shearing or not, as he was good but not very fast. They mention another man, Jack Aberfield, who they say shore 240 sheep in one day. Another man, Davy Baldwin, was also very fast, shearing about 240-250 sheep in a day.
They discuss the legacy of von Tunzelmann and Rees - a street in Queenstown is named after Rees and the Eichardt Hotel is on the site of his shearing shed.

The interviewer asks about finding gold in the area. Mr Thompson says the first man to discover gold in the area was called Arthur and the location was named Arthur's Point. They discuss other findings of gold in the area.

Jack Thompson talks about his own find of gold. He had a claim at Shotover and used to stay at Mr St Omer's. One night he roused Frank out of bed to take him to his room and said he had something to show him - it was about 600oz of gold. It had taken him about six weeks to collect. He thinks it was good luck rather than knowledge that led him to find it as there is no certainty in gold mining. He had been working at the Shotover claim for a considerable amount of time in a primitive way and it was not profitable to continue. He had the idea to improve their methods and work a suction pump. He cut his own water race for over two miles. He had no money and says 'thank God my name was good'. He worked there for quite some time without making anything. He shifted the plant and went deeper and finally found a speck of gold, which he took as encouragement. He said it was quality rather than quantity he was looking for.
At that time he owed over £300. The butcher, Mr Monson was very understanding about it.
It was February 1905 that he discovered the gold, he doesn't remember the exact date. It was about £700 worth of gold. That was his biggest find in the gold fields, and he had the good fortune to have good creditors.
Only one creditor was less understanding, a man called Pritchard in Arrowtown. He and some mates took a contract and were making about £4 a week. The storekeeper persuaded Thompson to give him a turn, as his sales route was convenient. The bill kept going up. One night he came home and asked his wife whether Pritchard had been through. She said yes, he didn't call but left his bill with Thompson's mother. It was for £20 14s, which he deemed too expensive. Thompson went across to Arrowtown to pay and asked for a receipt, and said that he would never deal with Pritchard again. But this was the only storekeeper he found fault with.

The interviewer turns to Frank St Omer, who can't recall his own age. Mr Thompson supposes he is about 85. He remembers his parents; they came to Queenstown in the gold rush. Everyone was in the gold rush then, although his father's heart was not in it. He instead made a good job of his trade and opened a bakehouse. The bakery is still in the same place now. When they first arrived, there was no town. It was all tents.
Frank followed in the family business and grew up baking. He compares the old methods with today - he says the old methods were very primitive as there were no ovens like you had today. You had to build your own oven out of stone carted from the quarries. A loaf was 2lb or 4lb. Loaves would be packed out to the back blocks and sold. They discuss the expense of baking bread and transporting it. The men can't recall how much a loaf of bread cost. Frank used to go out on deliveries with his father on horseback.

They go back to discussing the gold rush, they think the boom would have been about 1863. Thompson says that a gold field seems to work out within the first three years because miners look for where the gold can be got easily. The Chinese miners came later. Both men say they are born diggers.
Jack Thompson tells a story about working at Arthur's Point on wages. He was boarding at the hotel and not making any money. He and his mate left and went up the Shotover. There was an old Irishman there who invited them into his hut. He invited them to work with him. It looked like an unlikely prospect because they thought it would have already been worked, but they agreed to go with him and earned over £128 in the first three days. The Chinese never worked the river because it was too unreliable. They worked in larger groups. He says the Chinese were very honest men and born diggers. They didn't usually go into other work but stuck with gold mining and went over old workings.
Frank St Omer remembers seeing many Chinese workers in his youth. They would gather together and he was amazed how many there were in the area. Jack Thompson estimates there were about 300 Chinese workers on the Big Beach at Arthur's Point. He says there was some trouble there in the community at Big Beach. The Chinese would have trouble amongst themselves but not with the Europeans.
The doctor was needed after one disagreement. They had their own Chinese doctor. Mr Thompson says that gin was their principal medicine, even for a broken leg. Jack says he saw them using bandages soaked in gin.
Gin was readily available on the diggings. Whisky was not so common.

They go on to talk about miners' amusements. They were fond of dancing. They recount some anecdotes of dancing competitions and other amusements on the diggings in Queenstown and Tasmania. The Chinese were good carvers. Men also enjoyed playing skittles and cricket.
They discuss the use of horses and when the races started. There would have been packhorses even in the earliest days. Mr Thompson thinks racing started in the 1870s.
Queenstown was on the wagon route. One of Mr Thompson's mates was a wagoner and he recounts some stories about his mate. Cobb and Co. coaches started running around the same time, they also ran some in Australia. In Tasmania, Mr Thompson rode on a coach with a licence for 42. He spent many years in Australia. They compare some of the names in Queenstown and Australia; the interviewer asks about how the Australian place names came to New Zealand. Thompson says the diggers were in Australia first then brought the names with them.
The interviewer asks about the name of the Shotover River. Frank St Omer thinks it may be after an English or French place named Chateau Vert but he can't quite remember. They discuss some other local place names. They don't know where the name Queenstown came from, but it is a common name. Thompson says he has been to three Queenstowns himself. Skippers Gully is supposed to be named for an old skipper of a boat. Supposedly Dan Scully named it, he was the prospector.
The interviewer asks about any other gold mining names in the area. Dead Horse Creek is named after a horse that was killed there. Arrowtown was originally called Fox's Town, but Fox was not a straightforward prospector, he earned the name 'Dirty Water Fox'. They remark that there are tricksters in every trade. They talk about how the Joker Claim got its name.

Towards the end they reflect on the profitability of gold mining. Thompson says most diggers were merely fossickers. A real digger wouldn't care if he didn't strike lucky immediately, he would keep going.
It was challenging for his wife not to get too far into debt and keep their credit good. He got married in 1898 and they bought a house for £7, it was 18' by 9'. The bedstead took up half of the house. Their diet was good, plenty of potatoes, bread and meat, mostly mutton.
When he first arrived he built a tent for himself, and then when he struck gold he built another tent attached to it. His wife lived there for three years with him, cooking on an open fire and camp oven. When they bought their house, he bought her a champion range. There were not many with young families up on the diggings. There are many of their descendents still in Queenstown. They often had big families; his wife was one of fourteen.