For more detail, go to the 'Heritage' brochure on the 'Downloads' page.
The heritage of Clutha Country is rich and diverse. From Early Maori to European exploration, right through to the days of the gold rush and the hum of industry, the story of Clutha makes for a good yarn. Here's a quick rundown on our little slice of history...
Clutha Country’s rivers flow from inland mountains and lakes, creating fertile plains and verdant valleys. The magnificent coastline rich with sea life provided Clutha Country’s first great industry, and introduced the first colonial era. In Captain Cook’s 1770 journal, he wrote of a wealth of whales and seals as well as a safe harbour at Waikawa. However, a cartographer of the admiralty erroneously applied the name of Port Molyneux to this safe harbour, which was near the mouth of the Clutha River. The information contained in the entry still had dramatic consequences on the social history of coastal South Otago.
It was early Maori who first lived in the area. The sea and rivers were abundant with fish and the now extinct Moa could be found in the forest and lowlands. The Catlins, in particular, was populated with Maori as Moa were plentiful and readily hunted, and the timber from the forest was ideal for canoes. Hunting camps were located at Papatowai and near the Tahakopa River mouth. Maori legends remain which tell of the great escapes of chiefs, such as the great Tuhawaiki, from the Maeroero - wild giants of the forest.
ARRIVAL OF THE EUROPEAN
Although descendents remain in the area today, the indigenous people succumbed to waves of European disease brought in by the new generation of hunters, whalers and sealers. Over the first half of the nineteenth century these hardy profiteers exploited the rich supply of whales and seals. The whaling stations at Taieri Mouth, Port Molyneux and Tautuku had, by the end of the 1840s, depleted the resource, so much so the crews had to desert the camps. Historical accounts tell of a pleasant climate in a land of flax-covered plains and valleys.
First to explore and adapt to these lands were the agents of Sydney based land claimants, brought over by the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Of these agents two gentlemen stayed on to become the first established settlers in the district, namely Messrs Willsher and Russell, who landed at Kaka Point in 1840. Willsher went on to guide Frederick Tuckett, employed by New Zealand Land Company on behalf of the Free Church of Scotland, for the purposes of finding a suitable location for a Scottish colony in New Zealand. Tuckett walked the Clutha District from top to bottom, discovering a seam of coal that would later see the mining town of Kaitangata flourish, and concluded that although the district had superior land, the harbour was not sufficient to support a large settlement. The site for the New Edinburgh was chosen where Dunedin is today and the first settlers arrived in 1848. Authorities tried to keep colonists centralised, but hardy settlers soon took up their selections and by the mid 1850s clusters of bark huts and Wattle and Daub Cottages were dotted through the Taieri and Tokomairiro plains, river deltas, and onto the fertile valleys reaching out to Mataura.
GOLD TIMES !
The era of self sufficient pioneers was soon overshadowed by the discovery of gold during 1861 in the area known as Gabriel’s Gully.
The whole district rattled with the sound of diggers and wagon trains. New rushes broke out, and with them newly established trade routes through the plains and across the Clutha River, at what would become the township of Balclutha. The subsequent revenue in the province was invested in bridges, steamers and Cobb & Co coach services, and later railways, allowing industries to flourish.
The development of land, along with transportation, secured the milling, meat and dairy processing industries that still continue today.
As you travel around Clutha Country, look at your surroundings through the eyes of the pioneers 150 years ago. See the remnants of years gone by in the countryside, in the buildings and bridges, and in the people. Imagine the hard work, determination, good times and bad that made Clutha the place that it is today.
Find out more by getting to know the locals (whose families have probably been here since Adam was a cowboy), or visit one of the district's museums.
SOUTH OTAGO MUSEUM
1 Renfrew Street, Balclutha
tel: (03) 418 2382
MILTON INFORMATION CENTRE & MUSEUM
53 Union Street, Milton
tel: (03) 417 7480
10 Campbell Street, Owaka
tel: (03) 415 8323
TUAPEKA GOLDFIELDS MUSEUM
17 Ross Place, Lawrence
tel: (03) 485 9222
KAITANGATA BLACK GOLD MUSEUM
Torquay Street, Kaitangata
tel: (03) 4139741