When shearer Jack Tewa found gold in Arrow River in May 1861 he could not have imagined the immeasurable legacy of his discovery.
By July 1863, more than 600,000 ounces of gold had been taken from the river.
Worth at least two billion in today’s money, it built family dynasties, cities and even New Zealand itself.
Director of Lakes District Museum David Clarke says: “The discovery paved the way for one of the world’s great alluvial gold rushes.
“It not only ensured the prosperity of this part of the world but built Dunedin and generated wealth for the country.
“So it was a seminal point in New Zealand history. It’s not just an Arrowtown story, it’s a nationally important story.”
A plaque dedicated to ‘Maori Jack’ will be unveiled during this weekend’s 150th anniversary celebrations in
By the end of 1862, more than 1500 miners from around the world were camped on the banks of the Arrow.
More entrepreneurial men created mining companies and supplies stores.
One such businessman was Choie Sew Hoy – who created a dynasty that still endures today.
Sew Hoy, a farmer’s son from Guangdong in China, arrived in NZ from the Californian gold rush. He set up an equipment supplies business in Dunedin and invested in mining in Arthurs Point, Macetown, Arrowtown and Nokomai.
A mechanical engineer by trade, he also invented a gold dredge, copied around the world.
More than 400 descendants met in Queenstown in 2007, including Queenstown restaurateurs Wayne Chui and Ming Hahn.
Chui owned Queenstown’s Mandarin Chinese Restaurant for 30 years, before selling it in May.
“We know a lot about him,” says Chui. “I’m a fifth generation descendant and he had a lot do with the Central Otago gold mining from the 1860s onwards.
“The family has been involved for a long time in Queenstown in a big way. Choie Sew Hoy was an interesting man.”
Descendant Hugh Sew Hoy represented the Chinese community at the opening of Arrowtown’s restored Chinese Village.
He was a presented with a patu – Maori war club – which was buried with him in 1996.
The rush continued until 1865 when, with hundreds of thousands more ounces extracted, miners moved to the West Coast following a new rush.