The Early Days
Otago’s hinterland, Central Otago, was once a quiet, lonely place with its severe, stark rocky hills providing a barrier to settlement. Maori knew it well, and followed the Matau-Au/Clutha River inland seeking the large flightless moa, which once roamed these valleys.
The peacefulness of the place was to change virtually overnight, when two adventurous gold miners, American Horatio Hartley and Irish-American Christopher Reilly, struck quantities of the gleaming metal in the winter of 1862, in the Dunstan Gorge. Upon delivering 87 pounds (1044 ounces) of gold to the Gold Receiver in Dunedin and claiming their £2000 reward, the rush to the Dunstan began.
Trains of men and horse teams, lugging swags, tin dishes and meagre belongings, swarmed up-river in a ‘madly feckless way’ from Gabriels Gully near Lawrence, site of Otago’s first gold strike a year earlier. Tent towns were flung up on the edge of the Clutha, early runholders supplied the meat and wagoner’s grappled with the trackless terrain to get flour, sugar, tea and liquor to the mouths of many who descended on the Dunstan.
Clyde, first known as the Upper Dunstan, then Hartley’s, emerged on the terrace close to the action where, within a year, thousands of miners were busy sifting the gravels for gold. The mix of canvas and wooden buildings sprawled out along Sunderland Street and eventually gave way to more substantial 2-storied schist stone buildings by the turn of the 20th century. Hotels were aplenty, the Dunstan and Hartley Arms amongst them, with tales of dancing girls, gold robberies, fights, floods and golden wealth echoing from their walls. Stores, banks, a goldfields press, post office and courthouse, were quick to line Clyde’s main street.
By the 1870s simple gold finding techniques gave way to sluicing and mechanical dredges managed by companies, and by 1901 around 120 dredges were noisily scooping up the Clutha’s gravels.
Today Clyde (named in 1865 after Lord Clyde, the commander of the British forces during the Indian mutiny) captures the very essence of a New Zealand goldfields town with its distinctive run of authentic colonial architecture making it easy to be captivated by the dreams of the famous ‘Dunstan Rush’.