New Zealand's Legendary Lost Ruby Mine

New Zealand's Legendary Lost Ruby Mine

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A book on the history of a ruby mine said to have been discovered in South-West New Zealand in the 1890s, and the subsequent searches for its location.

From: New Zealand's Legendary Lost Ruby Mine, by Ian Dougherty

Part One: A Secret of the Olivine Range

‘It is but fair, I think, to the New Zealand public that the following remarkable statements should be made known, and it was with this end in view that I persuaded my friend Murray to write the account of his valuable discovery and experiences connected therewith.

Excepting that the real names of the parties concerned have been suppressed, I have made little alteration from the original manuscript, and my sole reason for not having published the facts sooner has been that I was under promise not to do so until the permission of my friends should be granted.

As will be seen later, I have just received the required authority, and it is with the sincere hope that the disclosure may lead to important and satisfactory results that I take up my pen to transcribe what I find written in the roll of manuscript now lying before me.

The sketch map of the track followed by Murray and his party should be of value to future investigators, but the particular roughness and general inaccessibility of the ground (so Murray assured me) is simply incredible, and not to be counted lightly by those adventurous enough to face the difficulties of the undertaking.


In accordance with your request, I have written a brief statement of my life previous to coming to New Zealand, and attached thereto extracts from my journal relating to the important events which have occurred since arriving in this colony.

I am a native of Norwich, England, and was intended and educated by my hopeful parents to adorn the legal profession. Finding, however, that the calling was not at all to my taste and the woolsack a shadowy impossibility, I quitted England in the spring of 1889 and sailed for New Zealand, where I stayed for a short time, and then crossed to Australia.

Being the fortunate possessor of an annuity of £100 a year in addition to some spare cash, I escaped being classes as an undesirable immigrant.

Spent my first six months on Australian soil in making up my mind whether to tackle farming, wool-growing, or fruit-growing at the irrigation colonies, the latter industry then being well boomed by enterprising Yankees. Finally I took a fancy to mining, finding it suited my tastes better than any other of the above occupations, and decided to follow it up as a means of livelihood.

About this time I secured a subordinate position in a Ballarat battery, and also attended the School of Mines for a few terms. While attending the classes I made the acquaintance of David McLean, whose name will figure prominently in connection with subsequent events related to these papers.

McLean was my senior by a few years, but as our tastes ran in the same grooves we saw a good deal of each other, and became the warmest of friends. I soon found that there was but little chance of improving my position at the battery, and McLean, who had some practical experience in mining, induced me to throw up my billet and join him and four other men in a tunnelling contract.

We made good money at this job, and two or three successive ones of the same sort, but the beginning of the West Australian rush coming on broke up our party. McLean and I went up to the New England district prospecting, but met with very little success; so we agreed to separate – he proceeding to the Queensland opal fields, whilst I once more engaged in battery work at Hillgrove. Two years elapsed before I made a fresh move and came to New Zealand, and the circumstances which occasioned the change were these: Happening to meet a couple of men who had been mining in the sister colonies of New Zealand and Tasmanian, the three of us fell to talking over the prospect of things in those parts. The two strangers were much interested in a paragraph appearing in the Argus relating to a deposit of nickel ore said to exist on the west coast of the Middle Island. They were both of them acquainted with the locality, having done some prospecting in that part, and after a good deal of discussion we decided to proceed to Hokitika, via Wellington and Greymouth, and try our luck. There is no occasion to bore you with an account of our passage to Wellington; suffice to say that in due course we reached our destination – the West Coast – and made our way to the Awarua River at Big Bay. Here we met with nothing but disappointment and giving it best took cutter to Barn Bay to prospect for gold. While here Jim Ashcroft, one of our party, and myself thought it might be worthwhile to proceed up the Cascade River. This we did, and on the way up I conceived the idea of making my way across to Lake Wakatipu by way of the headwaters of the Cascade River, and taking notes of the country on the route. Jim, who knew something of the difficulties to be met with in the undertaking, tried his hardest to dissuade me from making the attempt, but his arguments having no effect, we agreed to part company, he returning to camp at Barn Bay and I continuing up the river.

Ashcroft was so satisfied of my inability to cross to the Dart River that he good-heartedly promised to return to the place where we parted and deposit there a bag of oatmeal in case I should make up my mind to come back to camp. I thanked him, and so, taking the lion’s share of the provisions we had with us, and accompanied by my dog, started on what proved to be one of the most arduous tramps I have ever undertaken. Four days’ rough travelling through dense bush and over portions of the river bed brought me to the headwaters of the Cascade River, where I camped on the edge of the bush. Next morning I started to climb the range, and took a course by the prismatic about south south-west, intending, after reaching a good elevation, to bear more to the south, in order to skirt the spurs of the lofty peaks which lay to the left.

On attaining a height of some 4000ft I discovered that the position of the headwaters of the Cascade River did not correspond with that laid down on my chart (a Government map of the Cold Lakes). Late in the afternoon I reached the crest of the ridge, and seeing no chance of getting shelter for the night at such an elevation, decided to descend the further slope by following a lateral ridge. An hour’s walking on comparatively easy ground brought me to some precipitous cliffs, which terminated the ridge, though the spur itself ran on at a lower level. With difficulty I climbed down the rocks, and continued along the spur for some distance, when I decided to make my way into one of the gullies bounding the spur. I tried the left-hand one first, but finding it impracticable, as a last resource I crossed over to the right side of the ridge, where I found only a deep ravine with blank and precipitous sides, down which it was palpably impossible to venture with safety. Pretty well dead beat and dry with thirst, I wandered along the edge as best I could, and before darkness set in saw with delight that the ravine gradually opened into a small valley of perhaps 100 acres in extent, one half of which was bushed and the other occupied by a mountain tarn; from where I stood I could see that what stream there was must leave the tarn through another deep and narrow gorge similar to the one I was skirting. Determined to reach the bush and water that night if it were possible, I looked for a practicable place to descend, and here it was that my dog proved himself a valuable alley.

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Tags: New, Zealand, History