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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


MUELLER, Gerhard


Explorer and surveyor.

A new biography of Mueller, Gerhard appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Gerhard Mueller was born in 1835 of Danish parents in the German university town of Darmstadt, where his father was professor of mathematics. Inspired by the call of adventure, he emigrated to the United States at the age of 18. He stayed in America for three years, covering an astonishing amount of ground from New York to the Pacific coast as far south as Nicaragua in Central America, where he took part in an expedition. He migrated to Sydney, Australia, in 1857 and worked for a year in goldfields in Victoria. In 1858 he arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, and later in the same year moved south to Invercargill. From 1859 to 1862 he studied to become a surveyor and civil engineer, and in 1862 went into partnership with F. H. Geisow in a survey and land agency business. In September 1862 he married Elizabeth Bannatyne McArthur, daughter of a Scottish farmer and merchant, and, by her, had four sons and two daughters.

Mueller's real work in New Zealand began when he left Southland because of deteriorating economic conditions and travelled to Christchurch where he obtained contract survey work on the native reserves and later on the goldfields townships. This eventually led to his appointment as first District Surveyor of South Westland, with headquarters at Okarito. His wife joined him and it became their home for 15 years. The first year of his stay on the West Coast is well documented in his letters written home to his wife, recently published by his daughter, M. V. Mueller, in My Dear Bannie. During this period (September 1865 – August 1866) Mueller was out in the field in South Westland surveying the many new townships that had sprung up with the influx of thousands of diggers from elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas. His account of this period tells of life in the raw in the isolated gold-mining settlements. We read of his experiences with the friendly tribes and families of Maoris, some of whom he hired as field assistants, of the periods of near starvation, and of the difficulties of travelling along the coast before the days of ferries and bridges. He writes of frequent drownings in the great rivers, of narrow escapes in canoes and rafts, and in “crossing the bar” in larger vessels at the various ports, and of the obstacles, inherent in the West Coast, of climate, insects, swamps, flooded rivers, mountain peaks and gorges, and the luxuriant rain forests.

His later life is documented only in official publications of the Department of Lands and Survey, and the personal touch is missing. In association with those other great Westland pioneers – Charles Douglas, J. Browning, and G. J. Roberts – he explored and surveyed much of the West Coast between the Grey and Arawata Rivers, providing maps and names still in use today. His most notable explorations were those of the Haast-Arawata region in 1885 and of the inaccessible Landsborough Valley in 1887, both expeditions in association with Charles Douglas. Mueller moved to Hokitika in 1871 to take over the position of Chief Surveyor for Westland. He next became Commissioner of Crown Lands and, in 1891, moved to Auckland where he was first Commissioner of Crown Lands and, later, Assistant Surveyor-General. He died at his home in Victoria Avenue, Remuera, Auckland, on 20 February 1918.

Mueller's notable achievements were his survey and exploratory work on the West Coast and his documentation in the Letters to Bannie of life and conditions on the West Coast in that most stirring period of its history – the great gold rush of the mid-sixties.

by George William Grindley, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.

  • My Dear Bannie–Gerhard Mueller's Letters from the West Coast, 1865–66, Mueller, M. V. (ed.) (1958)
  • New Zealand Herald, 21 Feb 1918 (Obit).


George William Grindley, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.