Relic of gold mining era creates interest

Golden piece of history . . . Tuapeka Mouth Heritage Hub secretary Colin Child compares the size difference between himself and the historic Leffel water turbine in Tuapeka Mouth last week. PHOTO: EVELYN THORN

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A historic ‘‘beast’’ in South Otago is being brought to light by residents of Tuapeka Mouth.

Tuapeka Mouth Heritage Hub Society secretary Colin Child recently provided a glimpse into the past with a look at a James Leffel horizontal water turbine, once used for sluicing in goldmining, that now lies on private property in Tuapeka Mouth.

The machinery can be seen from the public Tuapeka River Dam Walk.

Mr Child said the ‘‘impressive’’ piece of equipment was part of the great history of goldmining in the Tuapeka area of the Clutha district.

‘‘Gold was actually discovered in Tuapeka Mouth, but when Gabriel Read made the massive discovery in what is now Gabriel’s Gully in 1861, miners flocked there first and made their way down the Tuapeka River to the mouth, looking for gold,’’ he said.

The turbine is in pieces and its remains lie embedded in the ground along the track to the Tuapeka dam. The pieces are a reminder of what was once the ‘‘norm’’ in the small town in the Clutha district.

The James Leffel turbine was first built in 1862 in the United States.

The Tuapeka Times Issue 5407 from October 10, 1906, titled ‘‘A Revolution in Mining’’ has a description of the Tamaiti Sluicing Co’s claim and plant from a previous Tuapeka Mouth resident, John E. Keenan.

The article includes details of Lawrence locals W. Hogg and A N Wakefield, who ‘‘secured’’ a large area of land between Lawrence and Tuapeka Mouth, and erected a dam to assist in working the claim.

It states the ‘‘large’’ claim was situated on the banks of the Tuapeka River approximately nine miles (14.5km) from Lawrence, and having built the dam meant they could work the turbine in and around the Tuapeka Mouth area.

Mr Child said he did not know the exact year the turbine was brought to Tuapeka Mouth, but believed it was a staple in mining when it came to sluicing out ground to collect gold.

‘‘It would have been a great help to miners, especially carving out ground in the area,’’ he said.

‘‘The turbine was in Tuapeka Flat somewhere before it was brought over to the mouth, and before that I believe it was brought over from the United States.’’

Go for gold . . . A look at the original make-up of the James Leffel horizontal water turbine, manufactured in the United States and imported into New Zealand for gold sluicing at Tuapeka Mouth.

Locals recount the workings of the turbine back when it was in action.

Tuapeka Mouth resident Graham McGowan remembers the turbine when he was ‘‘around 6 and 7 years old’’ and remembers the ‘‘big nozzle of the machine sluicing out the ground at the mouth.’’

‘‘It was very loud, and actually quite incredible to watch when it was active,’’ he said.

Mr McGowan said he had seen receipts from a shareholder from ‘‘back in the day’’, a man named Robertson Brown.

‘‘I’ve seen all of the receipts and I’ve counted up the amounts of the gold collected.

‘‘I believe miners collected in total over £1 million of gold around Tuapeka Mouth, which is incredible,’’ he said.

Mr Child said he would love the machines’ pieces to be collected for museum or for heritage one day.

‘‘It obviously would be far too difficult to get that beast out of the ground and over to the hub somewhere, but it’s still an amazing part of our history,’’ he said.

• Do you know further history on or remember the Tuapeka Mouth historic water turbine in the days it was active? If so, email us at [email protected] and let us know what you know.

Back in the day . . . An historic image of sluicing grounds in Tuapeka Mouth in the 1940s.