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Volume 1 (2008)

GEORGE CLARKSON

Joint owner and discoverer of the Shotover claim at Thames, 1867.

by Judith Moor



George Clarkson was born around 1842 at Airdrie, Scotland and died 20 March 1922 at Auckland, New Zealand.

He married his first wife Jane Steven at Hamilton, Lanarkshire Scotland in 1862. Jane was born at Blantyre around 1840 and was the daughter of William Steven, a sawyer, and his wife Anne Rodger. At the time of his marriage, George was a collier, living at 1 Portland Place, Hamilton and Jane was a domestic servant living at 110 Townshead Street, Hamilton. On 20 November of that year their twin daughters Ann and Rosina were born at 1 Portland Place.

George and Jane were originally booked to sail on the ship Viola on 8 December 1864. The booking must have been made after the death of the younger twin, Rosina, on 7 March 1864 as the passenger list shows only George and Jane. Rosina died aged 15 months, from measles. She died at her grandfather Steven's home at 9 James Street, Hamilton. What happened to the older twin Ann? A search in Scotland reveals no death recorded for her in the years 1862 - 1865. Did she remain with her maternal grandparents?

It would have been just after this that Jane would have realised that she was pregnant again with the baby due very close to the sailing date of 8 December. On 14 December Jane gave birth to another daughter Jane, at Forth in the Carnwath Parish. It is assumed that they were staying with George's father, David, as that was where George's mother, Rosina McFarlane, had died on 14 April.

On 14 March 1865, George, Jane and baby Jane sailed from Glasgow on the ship Resolute. Upon their arrival at Auckland on 21 June 1865 they shifted to Kirikiri where they had been granted a town section and a 10-acre block. On 16 November 1866 their son William was born at Kirikiri and twelve days later Jane died and was buried in the Papakura Cemetery. How did George cope with his wee son and a two-year-old daughter? I would imagine that his sisters-in-law, Ellen and Janet, were of immense help.

Among the passengers on the Resolute were George and Jane Symington. On 12 December 1866 George's two children, Jane Symington and William were baptised at the First Church (Presbyterian) Papakura. Were the Symingtons the godparents or sponsors to Jane?

Amongst the Resolute passengers were the Bull family, which included their 18 year old daughter Lucy, who was to become George's second wife at the end of the following year.

Times were very difficult with failed wheat crops, small plots of land that didn't allow for economic farming, and Auckland in a state of depression, with little or no work available. The Government set aside land around the Thames area and designated it the "Hauraki Gold Field". This was opened to prospectors at the end of July 1867. On 10 August the first gold strike was made and in the history books it became known as Hunt's claim or the "Shotover". The stories are basically the same about the actual find, only the main characters are different. It should be Clarkson not Hunt.

Because the find was in the face of rock under a waterfall and the boundary of the goldfield ended in the middle of this creek, Mr McKay, the Superintendent of the Hauraki Gold Fields, told Clarkson and Hunt, and the two other partners, Cobley and White, to remain quiet until he had negotiated with the local tribes to have the boundary extended to the far side of the Kuranui Creek. With the news of this rich claim, the town of Auckland emptied out over night, and Thames quickly became a canvas town of about 20,000 people.

Although the "Shotover" strike was made in 1867, it was not registered as a company until 27 May 1869. It was registered as the "Shotover Gold Mining Co." with Hunt, Clarkson, Cobley and White, being the major shareholders. On 12 August 1869 the "Shotover No. 1 Mining Co." was also formed with 31 shareholders. The same year George also became a shareholder in "Clarkson No. 1 Mining Company".

Records prior to 1870 do not show how much the "Shotover" made but it was obviously a substantial fortune, judging by George's subsequent spending, and the life he seemed to lead as a gentleman. Apart from his business affairs, George also had a lot of changes in his private life and he seemed to shift between Thames, Auckland and Papakura.

In July 1867 he was a poor farmer at Papakura and was widowed with two children, a son of 8 months and a daughter of two and a half years. He married 20 year old Lucy Bull at her father's home at Papakura on 24 December 1867. In August 1867 he stayed at Mrs Jean McKay's boarding house at Thames where they extracted their first lot of gold from the ore. They got 60 ounces but George reckoned they lost another 100 ounces down the drain. Mrs McKay had a ring made from that first lot of gold.

In 1868 George and Lucy appear to have been living at Thames as George's wee son died there on 9 November. He was buried with his mother, Jane, at Papakura.

By the rating roll for Hunua, George had bought 17 x 10-acre plots surrounding his original land grant. This 180-acre area was to become his estate known as "Everslie". On this land he built a beautiful home of local stone and imported materials. His stables had glass fronted doors for the harness cupboards. He owned a brougham, drawn by a pair of matching dapple grey horses, and a footman to drive it. Lucy, because she was short and wore voluminous skirts and couldn't reach the step of the carriage, had her own little gig and Shetland ponies (Stories have it that the brougham ended its days as a taxi in Thames). In May 1869 when the Duke of Edinburgh visited Auckland, he used George's carriage.

The 1869/70 Franklin Electoral Roll showed George owning only 20 acres at Papakura. He evidently sold "Everslie" to a Mt W.P. Gordon about this time because his son George was born at Remuera on 9 August 1870 and baptised at Papakura First Church. A member of William's family knew George and can remember seeing this house in later years.

Between September 1870 and February 1873 George and Lucy and children returned to Yorkshire for a visit (Lucy was born in Hull). While they were there a third child, Rosina, was born in Yorkshire about 1871. Family stories say that George was violently seasick on the voyage and on land spent his time huddled over a fire trying to keep warm. An Auckland passenger list shows a Mr and Mrs Clarkson, children and nurse arriving in New Zealand, 13 January 1872.

At some stage in his travels George also visited America, where he was offered some land. He declined to buy, and some years later this land produced oil, but when this took place is not known. It is also assumed that he sold his Remuera home as his fourth child was born 13 February 1873 at Papakura and baptised at the First Church.

By this time the gold in Thames was running out, so George appeared to sell his remaining land at Papakura and shifted to Green Island, Dunedin to start his own coal mine. This was where he lost a large portion of his money. As they were drilling on the floor of the mine, they struck an underground river and were lucky to escape with their lives as the mine flooded. I strongly suspect that his brother William was involved in this venture as both brothers had children born in Dunedin in 1874.

When they returned to Auckland area is not known but 1875/76 Franklin Electoral Roll records William only. It is also assumed that the father David had stayed with George, at least on his New Zealand travels. April 10 1876 saw a petition lodged at District Court, Auckland for the winding up of the "Shotover No.1 Gold Mine".

With a diminished fortune George was forced to return to work to support Lucy and the six children, Jane, Lucy, Rosina, Eliza Ann (Lizzie), George and David Henry. To do this he took them to Australia and started this part of his saga with the birth of his daughter, Margaret, around 1877 at Newcastle, N.S.W. This was followed by the birth of Sara Ann, about 1879 in Sydney. While in Sydney, George worked as a tram guard on the steam trams.


George's son, David Henry Clarkson aged about 25.
This photo was taken at the Murchison Goldfields
in Day Dawn, Western Australia
Click to enlarge the photograph.


It was also during these years that George and his father David were gold prospecting. They had found a vein of gold and dug a trench to follow it. The vein ended at a big granite face. In frustration the two men gave up and walked away. Some time later another man came along, investigated the trench and granite face, and decided that the gold must be in the granite face. He drilled a hole in it, plugged it with gelignite, and blew it up. Gold and specimens were scattered everywhere and he became a rich man.

Between 1879 - 1884, when George was driving the steam trams in Sydney, he decided to go to Queensland and was to be backed by a syndicate to go to Silverfield. Poor Lucy, she was on the move again. Their home and belongings were sold by auction and the following day they left by boat for Brisbane. The family party consisted of George and Lucy, George Jnr, Sarah, Maggie, Eliza and Dave (David Henry). No mention was made of the three older girls, Lucy, Jane or Rosina. Perhaps they stayed with their grandfather, David, or perhaps they were already working. Jane would have been about 16, Lucy 11 and Rosina 9.

From Brisbane the family went on to Townsville. From there they travelled inland in temperatures of 110o in the shade to Ravenswood. Here the labour was mostly Chinese but George got a job at a gold mine as an engine driver, and they rented a house for 5/- a week. Water was drawn from a well and there were goats everywhere. Adding to all this was the failure of the syndicate to provide the backing as promised. One day young Dave picked up a matchbox near the well. Inside was a £5. note. Lucy lost no time in packing herself and the younger children on the train for Townsville and then by boat to Sydney. Once in Sydney she settled in Newton and supported her family by working as a midwife. She left her son George aged 10 - 14, Dave aged 8 - 10 years or maybe slightly older, behind with their father in Ravenswood.

After Lucy's departure George and his two young sons set out, on foot, to travel from Ravenswood to Georgetown. From Charters Towers the trio was faced with a 300 kilometre walk to Georgetown in searing temperatures. The father carried his possessions on his back, and also strapped to either thigh and was dressed in moleskin trousers. The two boys would have been dressed in a similar fashion, also carrying packs on their backs and all would have been wearing boots. At one stage Dave's boot developed a ridge in the sole which caused blisters so each night his father made a pair of boots from moleskin trousers.

During their travels they called in to a cattle station. The owner's wife was very upset that Dave was faced with this long trek to Georgetown and insisted he be left with her. Three months later Dave was put on a wagon going to Georgetown and was reunited with his father. In Georgetown, George Jnr got a job in a gold dealer's office and remained there while his father and Dave carried on by foot to Cairns, about 200 kilometers North West of Georgetown. This was a very distressful journey for Dave.

On one occasion an armed gold guard found them resting under a tree. Once he had satisfied himself that they were innocent travelers, he warned George to be wary, as there were bushrangers around. The previous week bushrangers had robbed the gold train of a large amount of gold, by placing dummies in the trees and bushes surrounding the road. He then held up the gold train. To the gold guards it looked as if they were hopelessly outnumbered so they fled leaving the gold behind.

When George and Dave were near to Herberton (south of Cairns) George fell ill with a fever and became delirious. A passer-by came to their rescue and got help to carry George to a wayside hotel. After a few days, father and son set off again and again George fell ill. Shaking violently with the ague he was taken by cart to Herberton Hospital. Dave was left to wander the streets of Herberton until eventually he fell asleep in the doorway of a grocery shop. The kindly grocer took him into his family until George was discharged from hospital.

In later years, when Dave was recounting his experiences, he became very upset but it still didn't stop him from becoming a gold prospector in the 1890's.

From Herberton, George and Dave went on to Cairns and from there to Ipswich, just south of Brisbane. Here they were joined by George Jnr and they all worked in the coal-mine. From here the three Clarksons returned to Sydney and finally traced Lucy and the rest of the family who were living at Newton. How long the New South Wales travels lasted is not known but in 1884 George was found in a Wises Directory as living at 252 Goalburn Road, Sydney.

In 1884 their daughter Florence May was born in New South Wales. In 1885 his father David died in a Sydney Hospital. In 1886 their youngest son William Charles was born in Sydney. By August 1890 George and Lucy were back in Newmarket, Auckland, but in the years between 1884 and 1890 George shifted his family three more times.

The first shift was to Hartley Vale in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Here George and George Jnr had jobs with the "Shale Mining Co" and Dave worked in an engineering and fitting shop. Here the family saw snow for the first time and it was six inches deep. The Shale Co extracted oil from the shale and refined it into oil and kerosene. The next shift was to Katoomba which is nearer to Sydney than Hartley Vale. The third shift was to Auckland.

In January 1888 George's eldest daughter Jane Symington Clarkson married Alfred Smith at the Registrars Office, Newton, Victoria. Their usual place of residence was given as Darlington where Jane, aged 22, was a domestic servant. Alfred was a 22-year-old billiard marker born at West Maitland, N.S.W.

In April 1888 Ellen Easton Clarkson married David Allen at St James Church, Auckland. The best man was George Clarkson, presumably George the son. Dave Allen was born in Talbot, Victoria, Australia and came to New Zealand in 1886.

Another family wedding took place in June 1888. Lucy Clarkson, occupation - daughter at home, usual residence - Hartley Vale, married Daniel Young, a miner of Hartley Vale. Lucy was married at the Lithgow Registry Office with the consent of her mother Lucy Clarkson. The witnesses to the wedding were Lucy Clarkson and the Court Registrar. Lithgow is about 10 kilometers further north than Hartley Vale.

During all this family shifting, young Dave stayed with a male relative outside of Sydney. It is not known whether it was his grandfather David or his uncle John. This man kept two huge dogs and at night he kept them inside as the dingos howled around the place. When they sounded quite close, the dogs would look expectantly at him and he would open the door and say "get them. Out would bound these big dogs and they would kill every dingo they could seize and so thin out the dingoes. It is assumed that this was John Clarkson as he seemed to live in the Penrith area, which is on the road to Hartley Vale. Perhaps David, his father, had lived with him until he died in 1885. John died in 1891 at Penrith.

By 29 August 1890 George and Lucy were living at Newmarket Street, Newmarket, Auckland where she gave birth to her last child, Louise, who only lived five days. By this time Lucy was about 43 years of age and had given birth to ten children and, with her children, had followed George in his travels. She really must have had the patience of a saint. George was then about 49 and they had left two daughters and sons-in-law in Australia.

George and Lucy appeared to be settled in New Zealand until November 1894 when George and his son Dave left for Western Australia. They went by boat to Sydney, then on to Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle and train to Perth and on to Southern Cross. From Southern Cross to Coolgardie by horse and camel. From Coolgardie they used two horses and a spring cart to carry their water tank and prospecting gear and they prospected through the 40 and 90-mile areas. They eventually returned to Coolgardie and took 11 days to reach Southern Cross. Here George decided to carry on to the Murchison Gold Fields. So it was train back to Perth and then north to Mullewa, then 200 miles by foot to Cue. Luggage could go by horse team for £1. It was a very hard trip with temperatures of 119o in the shade, teamsters drinking and gambling at all the way-side stops, and horses with their tongues hanging out with thirst, patiently waiting for water from the well. Not to forget the flies and dust.

When George returned to New Zealand is not known but after this trip he was badly hurt in an accident with mining trucks. The accident took place in Australia, possibly at Hartley Vale or Lithgow. The doctors wanted to amputate his legs but he refused. With Lucy's care and massage he eventually graduated from a wheel chair to walking crutches, to two walking sticks, which he used for the rest of his life.


George and Lucy Clarkson (nee Bull) seated in front.
Son William and daughter Florence are centre back.
Click to enlarge the photograph.


With the use of Electoral Rolls, family marriages and directories it was possible to trace George and Lucy's movements. 1890 they were living at Newmarket Road; 1894 George and Dave went to Australia; 1896 they were living at Day Street. George was a miner, Dave an assayer and Rosina domestic duties; 1897 Rosina married Peter Kelly at Coromandel. Her father's occupation was mine manager. 1898 they were at Eden Street, Mt Eden. 1899 when Sarah married Arthur Finer in January and Margaret married Samuel Young in November, George was a witness and his address was Auckland; 1900 he was listed at Commercial Hill.

Other addresses they had were Summer Street, Ponsonby (1901-1905); 27 Church Street (1908 - 1911). Their last address was 40A Vermont Street, Auckland where George died on 20 March 1922. He was 80 years old. He left a widow, Lucy aged 74, and 10 out of his 14 children were still alive. He was buried at Purewa Cemetery.

After George died, Lucy went to live with her son Dave and family at Otahuhu, where Dave was the water works engineer. Her grandson, Trevor, a third generation gold prospector in Australia, remembers her as a small, fit old lady, loved by all. Lucy died 18 June 1930 at Portage Road, Otahuhu aged 83, leaving two sons, five daughters and numerous grand and great grand children in New Zealand and Australia. Her fortitude in coping with a large family and a mobile way of life was amazing.

Death Notice - NZ Herald, 21 March 1922:
On March 20, at his late residence, 40A Vermont Street, George, dearly loved husband of Lucy Clarkson, aged 81 years. The funeral will leave his late residence at 2.30 pm (Wednesday) for Purewa.
Obituary - NZ Herald 25 March 1922:
The death of Mr George Clarkson of Vermont Street, at the age of 80, removes from the City one of its hardy pioneers. Mr Clarkson arrived in Auckland in the ship “Resolute” from Glasgow in 1865 after a voyage of 99 days.
Two years later he was engaged in gold mining in the Coromandel District and subsequently he discovered the Shotover Claim on the Kuranui Creek, in the Thames District. This ultimately provided him and his mate, Mr H A Hunt, each with an ample fortune and at the same time provided considerably wealth to many other people in the Auckland district. The find caused a great rush to the Thames and in a comparatively short time some 1500 mining claims were checked out and over 6000 miners were engaged in winning gold from the great reef, while the population of Thames increased to over 12,000. The history of this discovery is well known to early residents of Auckland and the wealth it yielded can be realized.
Mr Clarkson was of a retiring nature and for many years prior to his death lived quietly at Ponsonby, respected by all who knew him.


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