Last week we introduced the first of the three-part series of the history of the Tuapeka Mouth Goldfields with the keen assistance and knowledge of former resident Bill Cowan. This is the second piece in the series.
Chapter two: New technology
By the mid 1880s goldmining was spread over a large area including both banks of the Tuapeka, behind the township and along the Clutha’s east bank. Claims of up to two acres (about.8 of a hectare) in size continued to be pegged out in and around the township by several small parties of Chinese and Europeans.
The Chinese continued to box-sluice tailings which, in some places, had already been worked over three or four times.
Individual prospecting began to give way to partnerships and larger groups, though there were still some Chinese working on their own or in small groups.
Some mining families had a long association with Tuapeka Mouth and took leading roles within the community; e.g. the McLeods, Browns, Goodwins, Reids, Robinsons and Baileys.
In the 1897 the gold dredge era, which lasted for about five years, began in and around Tuapeka Mouth.
There were at least two dredges, one working the Tuapeka near the road bridge and the other in a pit east of McCorkindales’ smithy.
Numerous dredging licences were granted for the Clutha and Tuapeka rivers but few if any were actually taken up.
It was a rather confusing scene with at least one dredge shifted to Tuapeka Flat being replaced by another arriving via the Clutha.
There were difficulties working the ground, which may have contributed to this brief era.
In 1906 goldmining technology was turned on its head by developments at Tuapeka Flat, 8km from Tuapeka Mouth. Here the Tamaiti Company had developed a scheme, inspired by a similar plant on the United States’ Rouge River, where water was pumped under pressure from the Tuapeka to sluicing nozzles (monitors) working a claim on the river terrace nearby.
Power to drive the pumps was provided by a James Leffel horizontal turbine developing 200hp and using 70 heads from the river.
At Tamaiti a 10m-high crib-wall dam was built across the Tuapeka to supply water to the turbine, which was connected via belts to a four-stage, high-duty water pump.
This pump drew water from the river and delivered it to the monitors by piping.
The claim and power house were illuminated by electricity generated by a Westinghouse dynamo driven off the turbine.
E J Highlay was the manager and five men were employed.
While successful in theory, the scheme didn’t work out in practice. Too often there was insufficient water in the Tuapeka to drive the turbine.
During operations, the returns were barely satisfactory and in 1909 the company leased the plant on tribute.
The following year the entire Tamaiti plant was sold and worked as a private concern.
Finally, in the mid 1920s, the turbine and pumps were sold to what became the Tuapeka Mouth Goldmining Co.
This equipment was relocated to near the foot of the main Tuapeka Mouth workings known as the Claim.