Lost Tailings: Gold Rush Societies and Cultures in Colonial Otago, New Zealand, 1861-1911
This thesis examines the formation and transformation of Otago gold rush cultures in the nineteenth century at the junction of global flows and local environments. It draws largely from diaries, letters and reminiscences composed by Otago prospectors along with contemporary newspapers published in Otago and Victoria, Australia, from which most gold seekers migrated. The Otago rushes were part of a series of gold rushes in Australasia and North America in the second half of the nineteenth century. While the rushes in Australia and the United States have long been understood as seminal events in the formation of national identity, no such tradition exists in New Zealand, where the rushes do not fit a national narrative centred on Maori-Pakeha relations in the North Island. This study does not argue for the importance of the Otago rushes in the ‘making’ of New Zealand; rather, the thesis stresses above all the need to look beyond and beneath national narratives by rooting them in both the overlapping webs of commerce, knowledge and migration encompassing the Pacific Rim, the British Empire and especially the Tasman World, together with the daily social and environmental interactions in central Otago. Furthermore, the thesis draws on the work of migration scholars like David Fitzpatrick, Angela McCarthy and Adam McKeown to emphasise Otago gold seekers’ connections to loved ones and communities in Australia, China and the United Kingdom. In particular, the thesis analyses Otago’s links to communities, cultures and economies in Victoria, problematising a depiction of the Otago rushes as ‘New Zealand’ events. By moving beneath the national and transnational, the thesis also engages with the local ecologies that impeded the easy transplantation of Victorian gold rush cultures and societies. In a society dependent on the accumulation of a metal naturally occurring in nature, geologies, landscapes and weather patterns often shaped the rushes at least as much as the networks and cultures individuals brought with them to Central Otago. This emphasis on the local in cultural formation reveals the multiple meanings of the gold rushes to its participants and colonists who watched their society transformed in the period of a few short years. The thesis also charts the local and national genealogies that combined to erase the Tasman World from the historiography of the Otago rushes. After the rushes ended and New Zealand nationalism began to crystallise, individuals remembered a different series of events than those that ripped through the province in the early 1860s. Moments of conflict and anxiety were blunted and gold seeking was reinterpreted as settling and community-building, and linked to broader narratives of national maturation. However, these memories were likewise rooted in competing definitions of the ideal society – only at this time the gold seeker was held up as a national archetype amidst anxieties about a class-based society and the influx of the Chinese gold seekers.
Advisor: McCarthy, Angela; Ward, Vanessa
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: History and Art History
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Otago; New Zealand; Tasman World; local history; colonial culture; gold rush; correspondences; newspapers; Chinese; memory; historical geography; environmental history; migration; leisure; autobiography; commemoration; transnationalism; space and place
Research Type: Thesis