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Jay, Thomas James
Illustrated Journal kept by Thomas James Jay documenting his Experiences in the Otago New Zealand Gold Rush, 1864 – 1872

Quarto, 19 page manuscript account, with 52 illustrations of life in New Zealand, pencil sketches, pen and ink and watercolors, ephemera mounted and laid in, partially printed receipt for gold sales, partially printed Miner’s Right for the Province of Otago, contemporary newspaper clippings, etc., all documenting Jay’s life as a miner and farmer in New Zealand. The latter half of album contains materials relating to Jay’s life after he returned to England and lived as a man of independent means, photographs, documents, etc. All mounted on 70 leaves of a contemporary leather-bound album, binding worn, front and rear boards detached but present, front free endpaper bears the ownership inscription of: “Thos. Jas Jay 1864”.

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Thomas James Jay, a young Englishman, kept a compelling written and visual record of his life and experiences in the gold fields of Otago, New Zealand in the region’s gold rush of the 1860s. His journal entries record incidents in the mines and later during his time as a farmer there. Jay traveled considerably throughout Otago and his account reflects the hazards of the miner’s life, fights, crime, murder, floods and the like. Jay also executed a series of sketches during his travels and they provide a visual documentation of the Otago gold rush, and include miner’s camps and huts, towns, ranches and farms, as well as visual depictions of his own experiences, scenery and pencil sketches of miners, a Maori, and a Chinese miner. A complete list of sketches appears below.

The Otago Gold Rush (often called the Central Otago Gold Rush) was a gold rush that occurred during the 1860’s in Central Otago, New Zealand. This was the country’s biggest gold strike and led to a rapid influx of foreign miners to the area – many of them veterans of other rushes for the precious metal in California and Victoria, Australia.     

The rush began at Gabriel’s Gully, but spread throughout much of Central Otago, leading to the rapid expansion and commercialization of the new colonial settlement of Dunedin, a few years later most of the smaller new settlements were deserted, and gold extraction became a more long-term, industrialized and mechanical process.

Māori had long known of the existence of gold in Central Otago, but had no use for the metal. For a precious material they relied on greenstone for weaponry and tools, and used greenstone, obsidian and bone carving for jewelry.

The first known European Otago gold find was at Goodwood, near Palmerston in October 1851. The find was of a very small amount with no ensuing “rush”. Instead, the settlement of Dunedin was just three years old, and more practical matters were of higher importance to the young town.

Other finds around the Mataura River in 1856 and the Dunstan Range in 1858 stirred minimal interest. A find near the Lindis Pass in early 1861 started producing flickers of interest from around the South Island, with reports of large numbers of miners travelling inland from Oamaru to stake their claims. Two months later a gold strike was made that prompted a major influx of prospectors.

Gabriel Read, an Australian prospector who had hunted gold in both California and Victoria, Australia, found gold in a creek bed at Gabriel’s Gully, close to the banks of the Tuapeka River near Lawrence on May 20, 1861. “At a place where a kind of road crossed on a shallow bar I shovelled away about two and a half feet of gravel, arrived at a beautiful soft slate and saw the gold shining like stars in Orion on a dark frosty night.” The public heard about Read’s find via a letter published in the Otago Witness on 8 June 1861, documenting a ten day long prospecting tour he had made. There was little reaction at first until John Hardy of the Otago Provincial Council stated that he and Read had prospected country “about 31 miles long by five broad, and in every hole they had sunk they had found the precious metal.” With this statement, the gold rush began.

By Christmas 14,000 prospectors were on the Tuapeka and Waipori fields. Within a year, the region’s population swelled greatly, growing by 400 per cent between 1861 and 1864, with prospectors swarming from the dwindling Australian goldfields. Gabriel’s Gully led to the discovery of further goldfields within Central Otago. A second gold strike in 1862, close to the modern town of Cromwell, did nothing to dissuade new hopefuls, and prospectors and miners staked claims from the Shotover River in the west through to Naseby in the north. In November 1862 Thomas Arthur and Harry Redfern snuck off from shearing sheep for William Rees at Queenstown and looked for gold on the Shotover River armed with a butcher’s knife and a pannikin. The Arthur’s Point strike led to the largest rush that occurred in Otago. By the end of 1863, the real gold rush was over, but companies continued to mine the alluvial gold. The number of miners reached its maximum of 18,000 in February 1864.

          The Otago Gold Rush, like America’s California gold rush entered that nation’s folklore and popular song, and was the subject of the recent Man-Booker Prize winning novel, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, (2013), which was subsequently dramatized by the BBC in a mini-series. 

Thomas James Jay, a twenty-year-old Englishman, set off for the goldfields of New Zealand from Dover on January 11, 1864, on the S.S. Mystery. His diary includes a pencil sketch of Dover Cliffs and Castle, dated January 10, 1864. Jay’s descriptions of the voyage out are brief, on February 10th he notes that the crew was “very mutinous” and on February 12th he describes the maritime ritual of crossing the equator. On March 7th Jay noted that: “The crew in open mutiny & had a collision with the officers, two of the mutineers wounded. At night we loaded our revolvers in expectation of an attack, but nothing of consequence occurred.” On April 7th a crew member died “of enlargement of the heart. The doctor opened him while I was there.” The album includes a letter, mounted, signed by many fellow passengers of the mystery thanking Jay for his kindness and assistance on the journey out. Jay reached Dunedin, New Zealand on April 19th after a passage of 90 days. Jay reached Ardmore Station on May 4th. On October 2, 1865 he left Port Chalmers for the West Coast gold diggings. He does not appear to have spent much time there and returned overland to Dunedin. Jay then appears to have traveled to various locations including Smith’s Station, Cromwell, Clyde, up the Molyneux River, the Dunstan District, etc. Jay, in addition to mining, also turned his hand to farming. And wherever he went, Jay made sketches of what he saw.

         The latter half of the album contains photographs and related ephemera, clippings, documents etc., documenting Jay’s life after his return to England as a man of independent means. He married American socialite Mary Montaudevert Neill and raised their only daughter Gisella, in their Glastonbury home, which he named Mt. Avalon, (still standing to this day) in Somerset, England. The materials are mounted scrapbook style on the leaves of the album and include numerous family photographs, including portraits of Jay, his wife and daughter, their home Mt. Avalon, Jay’s marriage license, birth and death certificates, etc. One newspaper mentions that Jay continued to develop his love of painting, winning several amateur contests and received at least one review of his work by a noted critic of the day.

Sample Quotes:

Jay’s diary gives an account of numerous incidents from his time in New Zealand:

“A diggers fight March 11th /65 One of Robert’s shepherds & I were on the summit of Dusky mountain this morning when we witnessed a rather curious affair. Where we stood was on an elevated rock from which the hill ran off in a steep slope to the river Pomahaka 1500 below.  Close to the water were the tents of two diggers, who had been gold digging there some weeks, & who we now saw engaged in a fight, stones & sticks were freely used, the smallest of the men cut at the others head with a spade several times, the big man acting mostly on the defensive. I most certainly thought one would get killed & we be spectators, unable to prevent it, our position being so far off, that we could only clearly distinguish what was going on, with glasses, (all shepherds use glasses here) after about ten minutes they seemed to make matters up, & began to measure some ground. A few days after we met the big man, who in the course of conversation remarked he had a fall out with his neighbour about the branding of their clames. During their row the little man swore he would murder the other if he thought there were no shepherds in sight. The two following nights after they had been in bed some time, the little man invariably called out to the other to ask if he was awake. At last the big man questioned him as to his reason for so doing? To tell you the truth said the other, I’m afraid you will murder me when asleep, the next morning he packed up his swag & left, or by us, was supposed to have left, perhaps if the truth was known he was murdered.”

“To the West Coast gold diggings. Oct 2/65 I left Port Chalmers in the SS Hero, with about 400 diggers on board, we were very crowded each man having only six feet x 18 inches for his bed. On reaching the open sea the wind began to rise until it blew a gale & the rain descended in torrents. 5th & 6th A strong gale, high sea & heavy rain, I was very ill, as also were many others. We shipped sea after sea, portions of which came dashing down below, swamping my bunk completely, being unfortunately just under the hatch, which owing to the heat & horrible smell, we were unable to close. We thought it better to be drowned than shut up in a dark hole like that was. Fresh water was at a premium, none for drinking or washing purposes. Our meals consisted of dry bread & meat, those coming last had to go without, for my own part I cared but little whether I had anything to eat, or the ship went to the bottom. That week of misery I shall never forget as long as I live. The next day cleared up fine & in the evening we lay off Hokitiki after a passage of six days, which should have taken 24 hours. 8th Sunday 6 a.m. a small steamer came alongside, on board which we all embarked including 50 sheep, Having no breakfast, we felt ravenously hungry before reaching land. It was past eleven when we crossed the Bar, which is very unsafe. I counted nearly a dozen wrecks when I was there. We managed to run the gauntlet in safety & in a few minutes lay alongside the river bank.”

     “Our camp at the West Coast Oct 13th/65 We changed our camp in the evening the two tents were fixed after a great deal of work. Owing to the ground being so swampy, we had to raise them upon blocks of timber, on which we laid branches of trees for our beds. It rained so continually that we had the greatest difficulty in the world to light the fire of a morning, everything was soaking wet, even our blankets, which reminded me (after going to bed & getting warm) of a hot vapour bath. However the rats used soon to dispel that illusion by scampering over the top of us & scrambling amongst the branches underneath.” 

“Overland from the diggings /65 From Nelson I was unable to get a steamer to go on by, so made arrangements to swag it to the township of Picton. Left Nelson in good time, having the pleasure of fording a river seven times to begin with. Although the road was a mere bridle track, it was very picturesque & romantic winding amongst the mountains & bush. As the dark of evening drew near I found myself on the summit of a high mountain. Half way up, I haulted at an old chimney, all that remained of a hut that once stood there, while taking a quiet smoke a poor half starved cat came & looked wistfully at me, no doubt to ascertain if I were its long last master. I just crossed the mountain top, * as there was plenty of wood & water, pitched my tent, after partaking of a light supper ( viz dry bread & a cup of beer) I turned into bed with my revolver by my head. I little imagined what was to happen a few days hence, on almost the spot where I lay. Shortly after on almost the spot I camped that night, five diggers were murdered in cold blood, by Bushrangers. At the old chimney they divided their ill got gold. The following week they had made arrangements to rob the Nelson Bank, when one turned Queen’s evidence, the consequence was three were hung & the informer got life.”

     “Up the Molyneux River August 11th I left the Township of Cromwell, for Clyde when within five miles of the latter place I passed a man lying at the side of the road, not taking much notice of him, as I thought he was only resting himself. I walked on , I had gone half a mile when I saw a horse grazing by the side of the track It was saddled & bridled but had no rider, thinking at once something was wrong & remembering the man so lately passed, I put down my swag, caught the animal with but little trouble & rode back to where I last saw him. He informed me, he had been thrown & was badly hurt about the head, asking me to ride his horse into Clyde as fast as possible, & inform a Mr. Aukland, who would send out a conveyance for him. I was not long going to the township, found Aukland (a middle aged man, half blind) who upon hearing of the accident borrowed a horse & trap, & off he went, with another man on horse back to keep him company. In half an hour the horseman returned for another carriage, saying that old Aukland, on his way back with the wounded man, had turned a corner too quick, upset the trap & smashed it to pieces…”

     An awkward fall. Oct. 8th/66. Called to see a shipmate of mine, who was digging on the Banks of the Molyneux. He was glad to see me & would have me remain the night. His hut from continual floods was almost undermined & now stood within a few feet of the overhanging river bank, originally a water race ran between the house & stream, but most of it was washed away some years previous. After dark I went round to the end of the hut, saw what I imagined to be the dry water race, took a step as I thought across it, instead of which it was the river bank (20 feet or more below was the hard sandy beach) I stepped over. I fell down, down, & as I rushed through the air, the thought flashed through my mind, that it was rather a deep water race, then I felt a terrible blow on the left side of my body & face & remember no more until I saw Eda the digger, run up to me with a lantern in his hand, they having heard my fall inside the house. I was very pleased to find no bones broken…” 

     “Nearly swamped out Oct. 11th I was camped in an old hut on the banks of the Molyneux river. The afternoon had been very wet, so wet that I did not stir out. I sat in my grand mansion watching the river rushing, boiling & dashing amongst the rocks below & thought to myself, if a human being once got into one of those whirlpools what a poor chance he would stand of ever seeing daylight again. At dusk the stream was still low, to fetch water… I was obliged to descend the bank about 30 feet & then cross 30 or 40 yards of beach. While in the bush I was not in the habit of keeping late hours, & on this special occasion I turned in very early. However, I could not sleep… I thought I heard water ripple close to my head, then I said to myself nonsense its only imagination, there is no water nearer than the river & that is some distance off. I listened again, now I could hear water distinctly rippling, … I sprang out of bed, opened the door, & sure enough there was the river looking as black as ink, flowing past the hut within three feet of it. I put my few things together & throwing some wood on the water rose gradually to within a few inches of the house, remained stationary for some time & after daylight began to recede … Some days after I heard, that much mining property & many lives were lost during the flood. And also that the former owner of the hut I lived in, narrowly escaped with his life (during a similar rise in the river) by climbing up the chimney.” 

List of Illustrations:

1.     Dover Cliffs & castle 10 January 1864, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 4 ⅛ x 8 ⅞ inches.

2.     Cabbage Trees, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 2 ⅛ x 4 ½ inches

3.     Flax bush, Cotton trees, Wild Irish man, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 2 x 4 ⅜  inches

4.     Camp Hotel with Water-wheel of the Claim in foreground. Moa flat, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 4 x 5 ¼ inches

5.     Ardmore Station, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf,  5 ⅜ x 8 ⅞ inches

6.     Ardmore Station, Pomahaka, with Mount Wendon 2840 feet in the distance – 4th March 1867, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ½ x 7 ½ inches

7.     Shepherds Hut on W. H. S. Roberts Run, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 4 ⅞ x 8 ⅛ inches

8.     View on W. H. S. Robert’s Run, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ¼ x 8 ¼ inches

9.     Shepherds Hut on Ardmore Run, Pomahaka, Otago, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 4 ½ x 7 inches

10.  Shepherds hut on W. H. Roberts run, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ⅛ x 8 ⅛ inches

11.  Pomahaka river, Otago, New Zealand, 1865, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 8 ⅛ x 5 ¼ inches

12.  The Town of Hokitiki at the West coast Gold diggings of Canterbury also the Southern Alpss 12,000 feet high New Zealand by Thos. James Jay Esq – in October 1865, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 2 ⅜ x 8 ⅛ inches

13.  Our Camp at the West Coast Gold Fields of Canterbury, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 3 ⅞ x 4 ⅛ inches

14.  Part of the Whiholo Lake, Otago, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 3 ⅛ x 4 ⅞ inches

15.  Donald’s Hut, in Chambers’ Run 25th July 1866, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ¼ x 8 ⅛ inches

16.  Shepherds Hut on Smith’s Run, Otago. January 1867, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 4 ⅜ x 6 ⅞ inches

17.  The River Molyneux, with part of Mount Benger in the distance 14th October 1866, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 4 x 5 ⅛ inches

18.  The Molyneux River, with Mount Benger & the Umbrella Ranges in the distance, 14th October 1866, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 4 ⅛ x 5 ⅛ inches

19.  The River Molyneux, looking down Stream 15th October 1866, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 4 ⅛ x 5 ⅛ inches

20.  Wai Keri Keri Farm Dunston, Otago, N.Z. April 1867, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ½ x 8 ⅞ inches

21.  The “Old Man” Ranges, taken from the Wai Keri Keri Farm – May 19th 1867, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, mounted on album leaf, 5 ⅜ x 8 ⅞ inches

22.  Porto Bello & the Quarantine Island near Port Chalmers, Otago, New Zealand, taken from the Flag-staff Hill, Decbr 1865, water color on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 x 8 ⅛ inches. The watercolor was overlain with a wash of red watercolor at some point.

23.  The Heads & Port Chalmers Bay taken from the Recreation Ground Jan. 1866, water color on paper, mounted on album leaf, 4 ⅜ x 8 ⅛ inches, the watercolor was overlain with a wash of red watercolor at some point.

24.  Wai Keri Keri Farm, Dunstan, Otago, N.Z. 1869, pencil on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ⅜ x 8 ⅞ inches

25.  Shepherds Hut of T. J. Jay. Otago, N.Z. 4th Dec. 1869, graphite on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ½ x 8 ⅞ inches

26.  House & Farm of James Conner near Clyde N.Z. 1869, graphite on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ⅜ x 8 ⅞ inches

27.  Near Lake Wanaka New Zealand 20/3/70, ink wash on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ⅜ x 8 ⅞ inches

28.  Lake Wanaka & Island, looking S.E. New Zealand 20/3/70, graphite on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ⅜ x 8 ⅞ inches

29.  The head of Lake Wanaka Otago N.Z. 20/3/70, graphite on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ½ x 8 ⅞ inches

30.  Lake Wakatip & Table Bay, Otago, N.Z. 15/2/72, graphite on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ⅜ x 7 ⅝ inches

31.  Lake Wakatip, the D’s S in background, Otago, N.Z. 15/2/72, graphite on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5⅜ x 7 ⅝ inches

32.  Sheep boundary on Smith’s Run Otago, N.Z. 23/11/66, ink wash on paper, mounted on album leaf, 4 x 5 ¼ inches

33.  North coast of Tasmania. On board the S.S. Tarana & mutton birds, 2/12/73, graphite on paper, mounted on album leaf, 5 ⅜ x 8 ⅞ inches

34.   The River Yarra & Melbourne Jany/74, graphite on paper, mounted on album leaf,5 ⅜ x 8 ⅞ inches

35.  Gold dredging on the Pneumatic principal Molyneux river, Otago, New Zealand, 1873, pen and ink, on album leaf, 5 x 4 ⅞ inches

36.  Hydraulic Sluicing for Gold in New Zealand, pen and ink on album leaf, 7 x 9 ⅜ inches

37.  Box Sluicing, in New Zealand, pen and ink on album leaf, 7 x 9 ⅜ inches

38.  The Molyneux river & diggers hut, pen and ink on album leaf, 7 x 9 ⅜ inches

39.  Into the Station for letters. Rather cold., pen and ink on album leaf, 4 ⅞ x 7 ⅜ inches

40.  Close quarters, pen and ink on album leaf, 5 x 7 ¼ inches

41.  A Buck-jumper, pen and ink on album leaf, 5 x 7 ¼ inches

42.  A disagreeable customer, pen and ink on album leaf, 4 ⅞ x 7 ¼ inches

43.  My first ride in New Zealand, pen and ink on album leaf, 5 x 7 ¼ inches

44.  Overland from the Diggings, pen and ink on album leaf, 7 x 9 ⅜ inches

45.  Save me! Save me!, pen and ink on album leaf, 5 ⅜ x 7 ⅝ inches

46.  Port Chalmers, Otago, New Zealand, 1866, pen and ink on paper, mounted on album leaf, 6 ⅜ x 8 ⅞ inches

47.  Xmas in New Zealand 1866, pen and ink on album leaf, 5 ⅛ x 7 ¼ inches

48.  A break down on the road. June 23rd 1868, pen and ink on album leaf, 5 ¾ x 7 ⅜ inches

49.  Coach on the ice June 23rd, pen and ink on album leaf, 5 ⅝ x 7 ⅜ inches

50.  Coach in a bog July 19th 1868, pen and ink on album leaf, 5 ¾ x 7 ½ inches

51.  Old Billy the Stockman, Maori, Chinaman on the Tramp, pencil on album leaf, 7 x 9 ⅜ inches

52.  N.Z. Mounted Police, Gold Digger, Prospecting, pencil on paper on album leaf, 7 x 9 ⅜ inches