New book throws into doubt Albert Hunt's place in the West Coast's gold discovery history

By Laura Mills

An image of the old West Coast shows a mining cottage near Ross in the early 1900s. A new book is casting doubt on the West Coast's first payable gold discovery. Photo / Wikimidia
An image of the old West Coast shows a mining cottage near Ross in the early 1900s. A new book is casting doubt on the West Coast's first payable gold discovery. Photo / Wikimidia

A new book has cast doubt on Albert Hunt's place in history for discovering the first payable gold on the West Coast in 1864 and suggests the reward should have gone to two others.

History records Hunt as the discoverer of gold at Greenstone Creek, and a Historic Places Trust plaque from the 1970s commemorates the find.

However, author Hilary Low says the honour belongs to someone else.

Her book Pay Dirt: The Westland Goldfields, draws on the diary of William Smart, a gold prospector during the early 1860s.

In 1864, Smart and his friend Michael French were prospecting at Greenstone Creek and discovered signs of a rich goldfield. They applied for the reward from the Canterbury provincial government and to prove their claim they organised a rush to the site - the first in the region.

"However, another prospector, Albert Hunt, claimed the credit for it. He applied for the reward, and through his deceit and intensive lobbying he eventually won," Low said in a press release today.

"Smart was furious, but his bids to be heard fell on deaf ears."

To set the record straight Smart wrote his memoir, The Westland Goldfields, but he died without it seeing the light of day.

Low says Pay Dirt also offers a snapshot of life during a defining period in the early 'West Canterbury' history.

Smart recorded in detail a prospector's life on the diggings and on the trail, and especially his close association with Poutini Ngai Tahu of Mawhera pa at the mouth of the Grey River.

"In Pay Dirt I describe how Maori brought goldmining from Golden Bay down the coast to the Mawhera district before Pakeha prospectors arrived - which is documented but not well known," Low says.

Previously unpublished, Smart's memoir now exists only on microfilm in the Macmillan Brown Library at the University of Canterbury.

Pay Dirt presents for the first time his written account, and all of his pen-and-wash drawings.

Low lives in Wellington. Her first book, Pushing His Luck, about the 1863 expedition across the Southern Alps by Henry Whitcombe and Jakob Lauper, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2010.

Pay Dirt is published by Canterbury University Press and retails for $39.99

Greymouth Star

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