HARTLEY, Horatio, and REILLY, Christopher
Gold prospectors and miners.
Horatio Hartley and Christopher Reilly, though they were prominent in the gold rush era 100 years ago, have not been over-well served by history. Of their origins or their ends little is known, and that little is generally conflicting, but their fame was legendary in Otago for a brief period, and their names are inseparably linked with gold mining and the Clutha River. Hartley, a Californian, born in 1826, was encountered by Reilly on the Californian goldfields after he had forsaken his native Dublin. Reilly had attended Dublin University, but while still a young man set out for America. Biographers have collected little information as to how the pair fared on the Barbary Coast, but their arrival in New Zealand together in 1862 is recorded. They were too late for the rush following Gabriel Read's discoveries of 1861, and while the frantic scramble in the Tuapeka area was moving to its climax, Hartley and Reilly were working quietly and secretly on the Clutha River. They penetrated as far as the Lindis River, but it was not until they began to work the Clutha in the vicinity of its confluence with the Kawarau River (the Dunstan) – not far from where Cromwell now stands – that they struck any real colour. Here Fortune smiled on them, and while the rest of Otago was lugubriously contemplating what was regarded as the gradual passing of the gold era, Hartley and Reilly were washing about 6 oz of gold daily in the Clutha. A hard and bitter winter had assisted them by lowering the level of the river to the point at which rich rocky clefts and black gold-bearing sand and shingle bars were exposed. The pair had no intention of proclaiming their good fortune in a hurry, and continued accumulating gold in secret until one day they were surprised at work by an old Victorian digger who had been sent to check up on them. They contrived to discourage him with woeful tales of wasted effort and hardship, but they took his coming as a warning, and shortly afterwards they gathered up their hoard and presented themselves at the office of the Chief Gold Receiver in Dunedin. They astounded that official first by lodging 1,000 oz of gold, and then indicating that in consideration of a reward of £2,000 they would divulge the source of their wealth. After negotiations with the Provincial Council, they were assured of the reward, and on 23 September 1862 the Dunstan goldfield was proclaimed.
But rich as the Dunstan area was, it was only a beginning – the start of a fantastic period in which field after field was opened up: Cardrona, Arrow, Shotover, Mt. Ida, Hyde, Cambrians, St. Bathans, Macraes, and Kyeburn were only some of the names on everyone's lips. Hartley and his Irish-American partner had started an avalanche of effort, but neither remained very long to participate in the mad melée. Reilly's imagination had been captured by the notion of a deep-sea harbour at Port Molyneux, at the mouth of the Clutha River, to serve the goldmining industry. He abandoned his gold claim and started survey work on his project, but he could get no official backing, and one of the last-known facts about him concerns his attempt to recoup himself from the Provincial Council for £400 expenses.
It is said that Hartley for a time was attracted to the Coromandel diggings and that he held a few shares there. But he certainly returned to Otago to continue his search for fresh fields, for on 11 April 1863 the Otago Witness reported that in the previous month he had left Queenstown on a search through very rugged country, which took him almost to the West Coast. He arrived back at Queenstown some 13 days later, after “… performing a feat on foot which few men could do”.
He died in San Francisco in January 1905, in possession of a 50,000 dollar fortune, the bulk of which he bequeathed to the school district of his native Tacoma, Washington. Reilly by this time had also faded from the scene, nobody knows where.
by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.
- History of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1949)
- History of the Early Gold Discoveries in Otago …, Pyke, V. (1887)
- The Dunstan – A History of the Alexandra – Clyde District, Moore, C. W. S. (1953).