Hokitika -WONDER CITY OF THE SOUTHERN HEMPISPHERE.
In October 1864, there arrived at Okatika (afterwards called Hokitika), a small party consisting of Jimmy Liddle, celebrated gold prospector, his mate Donnelly & two storekeepers, J. Hudson & J. Price. The prospectors went off after gold. The storekeepers built a log-frame 12ft.x20ft, covered it with canvas, opened a store and sat down to wait. This was Hokitika’s first building and probably the first business ever opened in a district with population NIL. The enterprising pair had not long to wait. Liddle turned up with a bag of gold.
AND THE RUSH WAS ON! At this time the population was under 1000. Two years later it had increased to over 50,000 with Hokitika as its centre. San Francisco did not rise so fast.
THE AUSTRALIAN INVASION. As the good news spread abroad thousands of Australian Diggers arrived. Often as many as 50 vessels could be counted in port at one time. Many of these ships sadly failed to negotiate the dangerous bar and the beach was littered with wrecks which no one had time to salvage. Passengers and crew alike TOOK TO THE GOLDFIELDS.
HOTELS & DANCE HALLS. In 1866 Hokitika Directory listed 100 hotels with such cosmopolitan names as Harp of Erin, Lambling Flat, Auld Reekie, Scandinavian & Monetzuma. Besides these there were gambling dens, restaurants, billard saloons, skittle alleys and Casinos with Dancing Girls (Casino de Venice). Then the GOLDEN COAST was at the height of its Glory.
In the year 1866 the value of exports of the Metal Royal was 2,140,946 pounds sterling, and HOKITIKA at night, when the Diggers returned to Town became known as the Wonder City of the Southern Hemisphere.
The scene almost baffled description. Smooth voiced. Immaculately dressed Gamblers mixed with picturesque loud-mouthed Miners. MONEY flowed like Water!
Of these Times, Cornelius O’Regan, a West Coast Poet wrote :
“What days of cheerful toiling, What wild uproarious Nights, What happy Days what Glorious Nights were then; Such Mirth and Merry-Making, Such Drinking and such Fights, Old Mate, Such Times They Never Come Again” (By Ross Gore)
In the Town of Hokitika where I was born between the magnificent Southern Alps of which Mt. Cook or Aroangi is the highest peak, of 12,000 ft and the pounding Tasman Sea, there is an old monument of a Gold Miner with his pick and one hand raised and a finger pointing to where Gold was first discovered in the area, engraved on this Monument are these words:
“Where the Vanguard camps today the Rear shall rest tomorrow”!
Thanks for your interesting story! I didn’t know anything about Hokitika before. My ancestor, Daniel O’Farrell arrived in Hokitika in 1864 to look for gold with is brother, Robert. They discovered gold, opened a mine, and were very successful. Daniel married Margaret Shea at St. Mary’s in 1868. In 1870, they sailed to Seattle, Washington, and used their money to start a hop ranch.
Do you happen to know if St. Mary’s has old marriage records?
I have finally found my Scottish ancestor died in Hokitika when living in Kanairi in 1888. He had left Australia seemingly without a trace, so I’m so happy to have finally tracked him down. Though he was one of those “loud mouthed miners”! He had left the Goldfield of Ballarat Australia and I found a picture of the region with a hotel called the Ballarat Hotel. Named so because so many of the miners had come from there perhaps?