Distinctive settler’s tomb to be restored

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JACK.CONROY@nullcluthaleader.co.nz

A distinctive figure among early settlers to the Clutha district could soon have his legacy restored, following a boost in funding from the Otago Community Trust.

Ten thousand dollars has been acquired for the Sam Chew Lain Mausoleum Tomb Project, started more than a year ago in Lawrence.

Adrienne Shaw, a fifth generation descendant of Lawrence’s Gold Rush Chinese community, said Sam Chew Lain was a man who “helped bridge the divide between the local Chinese and European communities’’.

Arriving in New Zealand in 1866, Mr Lain became the hotelier at the Chinese Empire Hotel in the Lawrence Chinese Camp.

“He was a member of the Presbyterian congregation and Masonic lodge, and a benefactor for local projects such as the Tuapeka Hospital,” Ms Shaw said.

To honour the unique figure, Ms Shaw began the project more than a year ago to restore Mr Lain’s tomb, that had slid into a state of disrepair in the Lawrence cemetery.

The project had previously received financial assistance from the Chinese Heritage Poll Tax Trust, and a number of “private donors’’.

Ms Shaw said there was now $25,000 in total to work with, enough to begin “Phase A’’.

“Phase A repairs the roof, adds tiles, fixes the plumbing, and adds a door to make it secure,” she said.

This work was likely to begin in October, when the weather was hoped to “more stable.”

Mr Lain was somewhat unusual among the Chinese community of the time, Ms Shaw said.

“He was a tall man, with a shrewd eye for business. And he had a European wife.”

The tomb reflected the man’s diverse tastes.

The Gothic tomb was designed by noted Otago architect John Burnside, and erected on Mr Lain’s death in 1903 for him and, later, his wife Amelia.

“It’s the only tomb I know of in the world for a notable Chinese man that has a European, Gothic style,” Ms Shaw said.

This was the reason for much of the secondary restoration work that would need to be done after Phase A.

“Phase B involves replacing a lot of the masonry and brushing up the decorative parts,” she said.

“There were spires on the corners of the building with gargoyles on them.”