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Prospectors’ working lives in general and at Te Aroha in particular

The lure of gold attracted some men to suffer hardship in the hope of making their fortune by discovering a rich deposit. Prospecting was a skilled occupation, requiring an understanding of geology that many hopefuls lacked, and as the easy discoveries had been made by the twentieth century required increasingly systematic and scientific work. Although many who believed in the romance of gold hunting argued that prospectors were born not made, the amateurs often failed to understand what they discovered. Many examples can be given of enthusiastic but incompetent prospectors, who hastily marked out ground but equally hastily abandoned it once tests had proved any ore found was unpayable. Some men preferred the life of the prospector to that of the miner, feeling themselves free to come and go and always seeking a new find; it has been argued that for some the search was more important than the financial reward. The search involved very hard work tracing outcrops and reefs through burning the heavy bush or following streams or even probing for the lode with gum spears. When old workings existed, these would be checked as well. Samples had to be taken for later testing. Working far away from families and supplies was difficult and dangerous, requiring carrying heavy packs in usually rugged areas with few tracks and working in any weather. As an example of prospecting, a detailed case study is given of enthusiastic amateurs exploring Waiorongomai in the 1960s. Those who worked for themselves could spend years in isolation, sometimes with some success. By the twentieth century few young people wanted to follow their example, commonly seeing them as ‘hatters’ willing to live a hard life in hope of making their fortune; William Tregoweth was an example of one such ‘sanguine’ man. But they were genuine in their efforts to find gold, unlike many subsidized prospecting parties. When good finds were made, prospectors made little profit when they sold their discovery to investors, and overall they felt themselves to be badly treated despite their crucial role in developing new fields.
Working Paper
Type of thesis
Te Aroha Mining District Working Papers
Hart, P. (2016). Prospectors’ working lives in general and at Te Aroha in particular. (Te Aroha Mining District Working papers, No. 45). Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato, Historical Research Unit.
Historical Research Unit, University of Waikato
© 2016 Philip Hart