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Old Time Echoes.


Mr James Kirkton belongs to Orepuki, and if he had happened to say “yes” Instead of “no” some 41 years ago Orcpuki might have belonged to him. He was the first man to discover gold there, and his right to the reward. of £SOO offered by the old Provincial Government of Southland was admitted, but the authorities being “h a rd up.’i offered him 500 acres of land at Orepuki instead of the cash. Mr Kirkton declined the offer, saying he would wait for the money, and he remarked in a recent interview, “I’ve been waiting ever since. 1 used to apply for the money every now and again, ” he added, “but now men came into office ; they told me there were no records of the business, and there the matter ended.”

“But why",” you can imagine someone saying, “didn’t you take the land ?” “Why,” Mr Kirkton might reply, “you wouldn’t h a vc taken it in a gift. Where the ground wasn’t covered with dense bush, it was grown over with tall flax and ferns, and wasn’t a bit like what you see it now.”

The first time the writer saw Mr Kirkton' (25 years 'ago) - he was large of frame, of sturdy build, and with a coal - black beard of patriarchal length —18 inches to be exact. The added years have streaked head and heard with grey, robbed the beard of its ample proportions, and stiffened the once supple joints, but otherwise he is’ the Jimmy Kirkton of yore, with the old love of a joke and readiness to see the humorous side of things. This pioneer of the Western District hails from Scotland, where he was born 69 years ago. A wheelwright by trade, tales of gold discoveries prompted him, like many another, to seek his fortune, and in the year of gr a ce, 1863, he tried to book for New Zealand in the Sir William Eyre, sailing' from the Clyde. Her sailing date was postponed, so he picked the Ben Lomond instead, but she was barely out of the shipbuilders’ hands, so he journeyed to London, and took passage in the Shaw, Saville and Co.’s good ship John Duncan, along with a number of emigrant's (including a goodly crowd of girls) under the charge of Miss Rye, A surprise awaited the voyager when he reached Port Chalmers, for the first craft he saw was the , Ben Lomond. She had made a record trip, and got there before him. Before leaving the John Duncan it is worthy of note that there had been a good deal of cargo-broaching, and the captain had a young fellow named Fox • arrested and dapped into gaol. When the case came on much of the evidence was merely heresay, and Fox was discharged. Then came his turn. He sued the captain for £IOOO damages for false imprisonment. The case was adjourned, and before the captain was allowed to leave Dalgety, Rattray and Co. had to give sureties for £IOOO. In the end Fox was awarded £9OO damages.

‘After two months in Dunedin. Mr Kirkton came to Invercargill, to find the work of forming the streets in full swing - . He went to work at Mr Mclvissock’s sawmill, the second started in Seaward Bush —Murdoch's had preceded it. Three months later he went to Riverton, and there helped to erect the first sawmill. It belonged to Mr Rowe, and wa-s located at the Maori Ivaik. In those days Riverton was full of old whalers, and characters quaint and queerPerhaps the queerest was ‘‘Old Toby." He turned the scale at 21 stone, and tradition had it that he had' been smuggled over from Sydney in a cask—if so, the cask must have been a large one. About this time two men came down from Tnape lea, and Mr Kirkton joined them in an expedition to Orepuki to prospect and see what the country was like. Hilling a whaleboat with provisions—they called it “tucker” in those days —they set out, and in due course reached Pahia, from whence they carried their supplies to the station, then managed by Mr Durbridge. Mr Hirst, afterwards the Parliamentary representative of the district had settled there some months before. After five or six weeks of prospecting the other two members of the party got sick of the bush, and decided to push on to the Waiau. Mr Kirkton stuck to the bush, and two days later he found payable prospects. Being tentless • and tuckerless, he returned to the station, and awaited his mates. Going back to the scene of the discovery—since known as '‘Prospectors’’—Thomson, one of the men, said, when he saw the pros-

I pects—“We’re not too flush of money and this will pay us all right." “And so it did,” remarked ,Mr Kirkton, “for in two months wo took out about 130 ozs. We (gave some of the gold to Messrs Durbridge and Hirst, and when they went to Invercargill they split on us, and up came Superintendent Weldon and Sergt. Morton on behalf of the Government, who were offering • £SOO for the discovery of a payable goldfield. Wo satisfied them cm that point, and I was guaranteed the reward, but as I have told you I never got it.” Mr Kirkton afterwards spent about 18 months at the rush to Bushy Point, below Invercargill, and then revisited Orepuki, which, although it never attracted much attention as a goldfield, has yielded far better results than many areas that excited more interest for a time. “And,” says Mr Kirkton, “if more prospecting were done, mining would revive here. Some people said the field would be worked out in a year, but that was over forty years ago and its not worked out yet. As for coal and shale, both of good quality will be got if the tramway is' shifted from the old workings to the Waimoamea Flat.”

(To be concluded next week.)

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Bibliographic details

Old Time Echoes., Southern Cross, Volume 14, Issue 50, 23 February 1907

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Old Time Echoes. Southern Cross, Volume 14, Issue 50, 23 February 1907

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