Patagonia Bookshelf
Mechanized Gold Dredging, Tierra del Fuego (1904-1910)
Clippings from New Zealand newspapers

Abandoned gold dredge, Russfin, Tierra del Fuego (1991)

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Index of Newspaper Reports

[Mr. W. MacGregor, of Dunedin, ...]
Gold in Tierra del Fuego. A New Zealand Pioneer. Adoption of Colonial Methods.
Gold dredging in South America
[Mr. John Werner, of Lowburn, ...]
Exodus of New Zealanders
New Zealand Dredge hands in Foreign Parts
Notes from Argentina. New Zealanders.
In Tierra del Fuego. A New Zealander's Experiences. (#1)
Ditto (#2)
Ditto (#3)
Experiences — Dredging and Otherwise — in South America
A New Zealander in Patagonia
South America. General Impressions.
Dredging in South America
New Zealand Dredges and Dredging Men in Tierra del Fuego, South America
Important dredging appointment
[Two more Otago dredgemasters ...]
Gold dredging at Tierra del Fuego. Profitable ventures.
N. Z. Dredgemen in Terra del Fuego.
Dredging in Tierra del Fuego
[A New Zealand miner ...]
[There is quite a colony of New Zealanders ...]
Dredgemen for Chili. A Timely Warning. Worthless Contracts.
Dredging at Tierra del Fuego.
A Returned Dredgeman. Mr. A. N. Wakefield's Experiences in Terra del Fuego.
Dredging in South America. Over-capitalisation.
[Mr. A. A. Stewart, of Greymouth and Kumara ...]
The Quest for Gold. Dredging at Terra del Fuego. New Zealanders' Experiences.

Full Text of Newspaper Reports


6-July-1904, Poverty Bay Herald

Mr W. MacGregor, of Dunedin, well known in mining circles, has just returned from South America, and in the course of an interview gives some interesting particulars of gold mining in Patagonia. There is, said Mr MacGregor, good gold in some parts of the Rio Verde river, and in the Rio Del Oro and the Rio Oscar there is also gold. In others, again, as, for instance, the Horquetta and Ogar, there does not seem to be much. All the ground has been taken up by American companies. Not a corner is left, and it has been prospected on a most thorough scale. The ground is simply ideal for dredging. Little of it runs to as deep as 4ft; in fact, there is really only one place on the Rio Del Oro which would require a ladder long enough to reach that depth. So far the prospecting stage has not been more than completed, for there are no dredges at work yet, or there were not at the time of Mr MacGregor's visit. One dredge, however, had been landed at a small township in Tierra Del Fuego, and was then lying on the beach. Arrangements were in hand for having this transported to the site where it was to work. Mr MacGregor found at Punta Arenas, Captain Milward, who commanded the New Zealand Shipping Company's steamer Mataura, which was wrecked in the Straits of Magellan. He is running an iron foundry in Punta Arenas. He is also the British Consul there.

13-October-1904, Press
Gold in Tierra del Fuego. A New Zealand Pioneer. Adoption of Colonial Methods.


LONDON, September 2.

Apparently there is no habitable place on the globe where New Zealanders do not penetrate. According to information received here, some excitement has been occasioned in Buenos Ayres this summer by reported discoveries of alluvial gold in large quantities on the Island of Tierra del Fuego, and there has been quite a small boom on the Bolsa in shares of prospecting and dredging companies, which have been floated off in numbers.

"As a matter of fact," says a financial writer, "gold has been won in small quantities from many of the rivers and creeks in this region for years past, but little attention has been paid to the matter, the returns being quite insignificant. It is hoped that with more systematic working out, and the introduction of proper machinery, the output will be largely increased.

"Hitherto the industry has been carried on in the most haphazard manner. Indeed, the majority of miners in the country have been content to work singlehanded, shovelling the gold-bearing gravel into rough-and-ready sluice-boxes, from which at least half of the gold values must have been lost. Even so, moderate fortunes have been made, lucky individuals having been known to clear £8000 to £10,000 in a year. As compared with similar work in the Klondyke, the conditions are, of course, ideal, mining operations being possible all the year round, except sometimes for a few months when lack of water causes a stoppage. The gold-bearing area being so large, nothing like systematic working has been attempted, the individual miners having merely staked out claims on likely spots, and worked rich sections.

"It is stated," adds the writer, "that an experienced New Zealand placer miner was the first to appreciate the possibilities of the country, and, having some backing, to introduce a modern dredge. The success attending this venture was so satisfactory that dredging companies were soon started by the score locally, and vigorous attempts were made to interest the capitalists of Buenos Ayres."

It is considered possible that shares in various companies operating in Tierra del Fuego will shortly be introduced to the London market, but, according to the authority from whom I have been quoting, "it is doubtful whether the enterprise is of such a nature as to attract British investors. For one thing, the work is done on such a small scale, that the returns cannot possibly be large. Moreover, in dredging, shareholders are entirely at the mercy of the local manager, and certainly the reputation borne by mining men in the Argentine Republic has not hitherto been such as to inspire confidence. Moreover, it has to be borne in mind that these companies are incorporated under the laws of the Argentine Republic, which are, possibly, somewhat more lax than those governing joint-stock enterprise in this country."


5-July-1905, Otago Witness
Notes from Greymouth — Gold dredging in South America

According to an April number of the Buenos Ayres Weekly Herald, the local stock exchange or "Bolsa" was about to experience a period of activity and feverish speculation such as operators on that market had not witnessed for many a long day. In other words a boom in gold dredging stocks was in formation, and news from a private and later source has indicated that such a boom was in full swing. The origin of this evolution was to be found in the formation of gold dredging companies to work the river beds in Bolivia, Brazil, and Chili, beyond the confines of the Argentine. Such a production, the Herald believed, would at no distant date constitute a leading South American industry and one of world-wide importance. The popularity of gold dredging in South America has been created by solid proofs of the existence of great auriferous wealth in the beds of rivers, which, though worked and made productive on a small scale, had not hitherto been exploited by the practical methods now being applied. Tests of a convincing character had given unprecedentedly high returns in the River San Juan de Oro (Bolivia), and most satisfactory and profitable results — in one instance a yield of 50oz of gold for 30 hours' working — had been obtained by the Matto Grosso Company (Brazil), with an imperfect and purely temporary dredge. Sutphen Company, which has just commenced work on its property in Tierra del Fuego (Chili) was known to be justifying its claim to be a large gold producer, and the Rio Oscar, Orosmayo [Jujuy, Ed.], and other enterprises had all been more or less proved; while others floated in Buenos Ayres, but not at that time, placed on the market, had good reports, locality, and substantial results from preliminary working to recommend them to the investing public. Nor was the movement expected to be confined to Buenos Ayres, although the centre of South American finance, for advice had been received there to the effect that London houses were prepared to undertake the flotation of future concerns bearing the cachet of honesty and respectability. With this prospect in view and a commencement of serious working operations about the middle of May, dredging shares were expected to continue to mark an upward movement. The Herald contains particulars of the formation of 11 different companies, and of the Rio San Juan De Oro group of five claims. Many others had been floated in Chili and Brazil. The dredging movement was daily widening and prospecting was being vigorously prosecuted in the various rivers, many of which had never before been even suspected of possessing auriferous beds.


17-January-1906, Otago Witness
The Week's Mining News

[...] Mr. John Werner, of Lowburn, who has been associated for over 40 years with mining in this district, has (says the Cromwell Argus) received a very important and lucrative appointment from a large company to report on some mining properties in the Argentine, and will leave Cromwell on Wednesday, and expects to sail from Wellington on the 18th. It will probably be about 12 months before he returns.

20-January-1906, Marlborough Express
Exodus of New Zealanders

There has been a steady exodus from New Zealand of men connected with the gold dredging industry. During the last twelve months over 100 dredge men have left this colony to undertake dredging work in other parts of the world. Their number was added to to day (says the Dunedin Star) when a dredgemaster and nine winchmen left Dunedin for Wellington to join the Tongariro, by which steamer they proceed to Buenos Ayres. They went under engagement to Messrs Reeves and Co., who acted on behalf of a dredging company having its headquarters in Buenos Ayres. This company's concessions are in Tierra del Fuego, where their dredges are now being constructed, and that place is the destination of the party which left Dunedin to-day. Mr John Werner, well known in Cromwell dredging circles, also left to-day to catch the Tongariro for South America. He is going to Peru, in the interests of a Dunedin syndicate, and will prospect and report on several properties acquired by the syndicate in that country.

14-March-1906, Otago Witness
New Zealand Dredge hands in Foreign Parts


Sir, There are, no doubt, men in New Zealand who follow the gold-dredging industry who have in some cases envied their fellow workmen when they have seen them depart to foreign countries, such as Malay, West Africa, Bolivia, etc., to pioneer gold-dredging. Perhaps it would not come amiss if one having the experience on both the Bolivian field, and the field at Tierra Del Fuego was to give a little information on the subject. I should be glad if you would kindly allow me space in your widely-circulated paper, and perhaps I may be able to enlighten some who are contemplating a change to other parts.

The Bolivian field is at present on the Rio San Juan De Oro, near Tupiza, nearly 1300 miles from Buenos Aires, in a northwesterly direction. From Jujuy to Tupiza, a distance of 270 miles, the country is of the same formation. The hills are of a volcanic conglomeration, and vary in colour from dark red to blue and grey. The same may be said of the country through which flows the Rio San Juan. It is very barren, and nothing grows on the hills, with the exception of cactus and a stunted prickly tree. The only vegetation is in the river bed itself, in places where silt has been deposited, and which the Indians who cultivate it water by means of irrigation. The climate is very dry, and for nine months in the year one need never be afraid of getting wet. There is a rainy season, which lasted while I was there from December till February. But even then it does not rain very much. Continuous rain does not fall. Thunderstorms are the chief sources of supply. The country is very deficient in water, there being scarcely any to be found except in the main river beds. The climate is changeable, inasmuch that, while the sun fairly scorches in the day, it is cold at night, and as many blankets are necessary as in New Zealand. On account of its very high altitude, work is very difficult. Walking fast or running is at first out of the question. One hardly seems able to get enough breath at the best of times, though this feeling moderates in time. The chief disease is pneumonia, which is prevalent at all times. One has to be very careful in going outside at night, and it is necessary to have the shoulders and chest well protected. Pneumonia has been known to cause death in Bolivia in 24 hours.

Washdirt may be found anywhere on the hills, from the biggest to the river bed, and in some places old Indian workings can be seen pretty extensively. Tile writer tried several "dishes" from these and other places, with poor results. I also saw several bores put down on the company's claim with no results. One dredge had started before I left, but after running for some weeks it has shut down, there being, I believe, no results.

And yet this is the country where, according to the prospects given, we were to get hundreds, even thousands, of ounces per week. The praises of Bolivia rang from end to end of the goldfields in New Zealand. Nothing had ever come up to it. Chances such as were never heard of were held out to those who were picked out to go. Wages were comparatively small, owing to the large bonuses to be had. Claims were supposed to be everywhere, and gold to any amount, with the result that men flocked to Dunedin, or sent their applications down, and those who were picked were considered lucky men. Alas! for their ambitions and luck. They were paid £4 a week, and any man getting the ordinary dredging wage in New Zealand is far better off. Living is far dearer than in New Zealand. Some of the prices will prove this: Butter (tinned), 1lb about 3s; jam 2s per lb tin, milk 1s per tin, potatoes 15s per cwt, and everything in proportion. Clothing in proportion. Vegetables are unprocurable. Fruit, such as apples, oranges, grapes, are fairly cheap. These are brought through on mules. So anyone can see that at least £6 per week is required, regardless of bonuses. Even then care should be taken that the field is genuine.

Tierra Del Fuego is the opposite to Bolivia as far as climate is concerned. A glance at a map of South America will show that it lies between latitudes 50deg and 60deg south. But this will by no means give any one an accurate idea of the intense cold here. It is not only the snow and frost, but the gales which blow from week to week, and hardly ever stop. Without the actual experience no one would believe how it blows. Snow-clad hills are all around, and, no matter what quarter the wind comes from, it is very cold. Even now, in midsummer, a fire is necessary to comfort any time of the day. It is liable to snow at all times, and on the 9th December we had three hours of snow. A few days earlier we had a good heavy fall. This will give some idea of what it is like in winter. We are entirely snowed in, and dredging operations are compelled to cease for three months.

This is going to be a fairly good field, according to prospects. There is one dredge working, and three are to be built this summer. Dredging claims are pegged out in all possible and impossible places. In fact, the whole country side is taken up about here. It is considered healthy, and as far as I cam learn there is no particular disease peculiar to the place. At the same time it is as well to be vaccinated, as smallpox is bad at Valparaiso, and steamers coming direct from there to here are not liable to any particular quarantine regulations, I believe. Living is fairly dear here, and any ordinary hotel charges £2 per week. Taking everything into consideration a fair wage for a New Zealand winchman is £6 a week and found. The New Zealanders who were sent over here for one company are at present getting £4 and found. The North American men who were working the other dredge last year were paid at the rate of seven American dollars a day. They did not think it good enough, and accordingly did not come back after the winter.

Of late years New Zealand men have been too anxious to get away on these expeditions, on the strength of their chances of improvement in positions. But they would do far better if they did not take these chances into consideration at all. Make sure and get a wage first, suitable to the necessities of the country to which they are going. Then if the chances are there when they get there, so much the better. Taking a New Zealand dredgeman on the whole, he is capable of giving any other countryman points in that particular line. He has always endeavoured to keep his wages in New Zealand up to the standard, and he is very foolish not to demand the full value of his services when setting out for other climes. Most of them have had to serve a long apprenticeship to dreary night-shifts amid floods and timber, frost and snow, etc. and there is no doubt that if their services are worth having they are also worth being paid for.

No "chances" should be taken.

Trusting that I have not taken up too much of your valuable space and thanking you in anticipation,— I am, etc.,


23-May-1906, Otago Witness
Notes from Argentina. New Zealanders.

[...] By the s.s. Tongariro 12 or 15 New Zealanders armed from New Zealand for mining in various parts of Argentina. The greater portion of them have gone to Tierra del Fuego. This field may turn out well, but personally I would not recommend placing one penny in the company. There was a very smart set connected with the companies, and the companies are loaded beyond all reason. For one of the companies having interest in Jujuy, Mr Werner, of Cromwell, arrived to prospect the ground and report. Messrs T. Williams and C. P. Gray have gone up to Diamentina, a voyage of 24 days, into the interior of Brazil. For the Matto Grosso Company Messrs T. Peacock (Napier) and H. Palmer left by the upriver steamer. Mr Alexander M'Phedron (Timaru), after spending five or six months on the staff of Drysdale Bros., left on a trip to Scotland, having entered into an agreement to return at the end of four months to take up his late position. Mr J. L. Graham (of Temuka) has been appointed to the management of one of Messrs Gibson Bros.' Pampa Central Estancias, of 90,000 acres, his brother Herbert having joined the staff of Drysdale Bros. The flow of young colonials has evidently commenced, as by a recent steamer four or five young fellows arrived here, all of whom found billets at £7 to £8 per month and all found. When they have learnt the language, if they are steady fellows they'll soon get on; but over here a boozer is absolutely left.

7-July-1906, Press
In Tierra del Fuego. A New Zealander's Experiences. [#1]

The following further extracts are taken from the letters of a New Zealander who is gold dredging in Terra del Fuego. Under date March 31st the writer says:—

"Now I will begin where I left off. J. B__ arrived in the hotel yard on a nice horse, with a good saddle, and we all thought things were going to be all right, but changed our minds when our guide arrived driving two scraggy white horses. One had a sheepskin for a saddle, and the other nothing at all, so I at once snapped the sheepskin one. After another saddle had been found we made a start, and I don't think I will ever the ride. My stirrups were cut out of wood, and just big enough to get my big toe into. The horses here do not trot or walk, nor yet amble, but go a cross between the three, and just about jolt the soul out of a man. About ten miles out we stopped at a small 'pub' for a cup of coffee — and talk about dirt! — it is called Casa de lata (house of tin). After giving our horses half an hour's rest we started again in the rain, and after fifteen miles more we arrived here (Rio Minanuera [sic - Mina Nueva]). L__ was away, our bedding had come; and the boss of the prospecting party, S__ told us we would have to go back to the Casa de lata, but when L__ came in he got together some blankets and sheepskins, and B__ and I slept on the floor of the kitchen, and had to do so for four nights, as our things did not turn up before then.

"Our camp is at the junction of two rivers, but the two of them together would not be as big as the W__ Creek. Till our things turned up we did very little work, as it was raining the whole time, but since then we have been kept pretty busy, and the weather has been splendid till to-day. All the heavy work is done by Austrians, they sink the shafts and bring the stuff to the boxes. . . . They are splendid workers. They start about 6 a.m., after having a cup of coffee, and work till 10; then they have an hour for breakfast, then work till 2 p.m.; then they have half an hour for tea, and back to work again till 6 p.m. They are getting 10s per day, which is high wages for them. We are living like fighting cocks; get up at 6.30, breakfast (chops and bread and jam) at 7; second breakfast at 10.30, tea at 2, and dinner at 6.30. For dinner, soup, boiled and roast mutton, and tinned fruit, so we don't do so badly. The Minanuera [Mina Nueva] is a great river about five miles long, and empties itself into the Rio de Oro, which is about half the size of the W__. We are well up in the mountains here, about 1500 ft above sea level. For a start our party consisted of seven; but since then the remaining New Zealanders have come in. The boss of all is a Frenchman, the surveyor is an Argentine. He is a fine little chap. Last Saturday we were reinforced by F__ who, after walking round for half an hour, remembered he had a mail for us.

"On Sunday morning L__ asked me to ride over and have a look at Troy's dredge. The track is pretty rough. After crossing the 'Oro' we climbed the side of an ancient volcano; and after crossing the crater struck across some miles of swamp, and arrived at the camp just in time for breakfast. We saw plenty of guanacos while on the way, and got within 150 yards of one, but as I had only a revolver I did not fire at him. There is a great laugh at F__. The day after we left Porvenir, the officer of the police enticed him along till he got him near the police station, and then five troopers closed round him and marched him off to gaol, on a charge of having cut the rope on a flagstaff. After he had been kept four hours his three mates came to try and bail him out, and were run in too. After some trouble they got an Englishman to interpret for them, and they were fined 22 dollars, and let go on the understanding they were to put up the rope, which, of course, they never did. When R__ arrived in town from camp he was furious, and would not talk of the matter at all until the officer had apologised and returned the money, so I don't think the police will trouble us again. Our men had nothing to do with it, and were in bed at the time it was done.

"The rest of our party arrived in camp last Tuesday, and have settled down to work. It will be fully a year before any of our dredges are ready to start and from what I can see the wages will soon come down, as there are a lot of Dutchmen and Austrians round the dredges, and we have been warned to teach them nothing, as word has slipped out we are to be sacked as soon as they are able to do our work. The Dutchman came into the 'Oscar' and hung round the winch, and the winchman, a big New Zealander, without saying a word, grabbed him by the collar and the seat of his trousers, carried him to the side, and threw him on the bank. We should finish prospecting here early next week, and then we don't know what we shall do till winter drives us in."

16-July-1906, Press
In Tierra del Fuego. A New Zealander's Experiences. [#2]

A later letter from the New Zealander in Terra del Fuego, extracts from whose correspondence have already appeared in "The Press," is given below. The writer does not mention the results of his gold prospecting as he is debarred from doing so by his agreement with the company.

"Porvenir, April l6th.— The day of writing last the weather changed, and we got a sample of winter, showers of snow and sleet every day, and a wind that blows right through one. For the following week we were kept working at the 'Mina Nueva,' every day having a longer walk to our work, and some of us were sorry when, on the 7th, we were told to pack and shift camp to the 'Rio del Oro,' which we were to prospect. For a wonder it was a fine day, and as we only had a mile to shift, we were ship-shape before night. Sunday morning it was snowing again, but after breakfast it looked like taking up, so B__ and I arranged ourselves in our oilskin coats and top boots, and started off to explore the volcanoes across the river. After putting in an hour at that we decided to walk on to the Oscar and look up our two men. Most of the way was through swamp, full of ducks and geese, which are too common here to take notice of, also there were several big mobs of guanacos, which come within two hundred yards, but as we had no rifles we did not trouble them. The only thing we did try to kill was a big fox, which got up close to our feet, and seemed rather surprised when we emptied our revolvers at him. We had tea at the 'Oscar' and got home again just before dark. Monday was showery again, and we were at work on the box all day, and on Wednesday had to run a dam across the Oro to get water. On Friday we had to build another dam lower down, and did it in a howling snow storm. Saturday morning there was snow enough to scare the bosses, and early in the morning three of us were sent to pack, and left for port with L__. The remaining four of us spent a miserable day hanging round the fire in the 'tucker hut' [perhaps, food-service building, Ed.]. Sunday was fine but cold, and at 3 p.m. the horses came back from port with the saddles, so three of us packed our things and got ready for the road. The fourth was away guanaco hunting, so we left him to come on in the morning. By 4 p.m. we made a start. There was only one real saddle, and B__ get that. It was an I.Y. [sic], hundreds of them being sent down here after the war. We other two had the usual gridiron covered with sheepskin. My horse, a big black one, was pretty good at the start, but was not up to my weight, and the roads (?) were awful, just bogs. We had two guides who were anxious to got as far as possible before dark, and my horse gave out before we had gone eight miles, and would take no notice of the spurs, so I took off my revolver and hammered him with strap, then one of the guides changed with me, and his horse was the first decent one I have struck in the country. I have heard of a horse 'running,' but was never on one before; this one was first rate at it. All I had to do was to sit still and leave the reins loose on his neck, and he went along a good eight miles an hour, down hills worse than any in Central Otago, and up the other side, and although it was so dark I could not see the road, he never stumbled once. When about fifteen miles out we saw the lights of Punta Arenas. They must have been quite thirty miles away. We arrived here about 9 p.m., and none of us were sorry, least of all, I'm sure, my horse, who had been out and back in the day at least 52 miles. His owner said, 'Pony don't mind, he carry me 95 miles in ten hours.' Certainly pony finished up quite briskly, and did not seem any the worse for his journey.

"We expect to move across the bay into our winter quarters any day, and will be cooped up there for the best part of six months. As I think I said before, wages will not keep up after this year, so unless something else turns up, this time next year will see me on my way back to New Zealand, and I fancy most of our party will do the same. Some of our men are going to Punta Arenas, and I am going to get them to buy me a good poncho, as not only are they handier than an overcoat when riding, but they make splendid blankets. Ordinary boots are no use in this country of mud, so I invested in a light pair of knee-boots, and only gave 14.50 dollars for them, and they are quite good enough to knock about in. My gum boots are put away till I go prospecting again."

24-July-1906, Press
In Tierra del Fuego. A New Zealander's Experiences. [#3]

Under date April 26th, the New Zealander in Terra del Fuego, whose letters have been previously quoted, wrote as follows:—

"I fancy New Zealand 2½d stamps must be rare, as my letters seldom have any on when they arrive. We shifted to our house last Thursday, and it is a lot better than we expected. It is on the sunny side of the bay, and at high tide the water is mot more than 12ft. from the door. We have three fair-sized bedrooms and a dining and storeroom. B__, F__ and I share a room, and we were lucky enough to snare an iron bedstead with a wire mattress apiece. So far none of us have been in town, and 1 don't think we will trouble it much, except on mail days. There is a talk of landing our three dredges here, but I very much doubt if we will, as there is also a talk of our prospecting close to 'Useless Bay' when the spring sets in. ____ (a New Zealander) is here, and says there is no need to import winchmen, as Chilenos and Germans can do the work. Well, they may put on 'square-heads' and dagos, and I bet they never get their dredges opened out. I think I told you of the number of guanacos there were about our camp on the Rio del Oro; the last few days we were there they came close down in mobs of sometimes nearly a hundred. They are very hard to kill, as they will carry away half a dozen Winchester bullets and not seem to know they are hit. F—- was out shooting the evening we left the camp, and next evening he arrived in town with a tail — a short one — and he also had a very long tale of the miles he had chased that guanaco before killing him.

"There is a small animal, the 'chookie-chook,' and they were very thick on the Mina Nueva. They are a cross between a rabbit and a rat, and live on roots, and for putting in a drive beat any other animal hollow. We had one working in our tent, and he got to be a regular nuisance, as during the night he would put a great heap of dirt in the middle of the tent, to say nothing of the row he made grunting. We have had lovely weather since we have been here; even the cold winds have dropped.

"Monday, 30th.— The mail service has broken down. The 'Magellans' was sent away round the Islands for wool, and a smaller boat took up the running, but on her first trip she broke her shaft as she was leaving here. The last few days have been miserably cold."

21-November-1906, Otago Witness
Experiences — Dredging and Otherwise — in South America

We are indebted to the courtesy of Mr F. W. Payne for permission to publish the following extracts of a letter received by him from a young New Zealander who went to Tierra del Fuego as a pioneer in the dredging industry:—

"We left Wellington on the 18th January, and on the whole, had a good run to Monte Video, [Montevideo, Ed.] arriving there on February 6. We had four days there, and then left for Punta Arenas. On the way down we had a day in Port Stanley, F.I., [Falkland Islands, Ed.] and of all the miserable places I have ever seen that takes the cake. The inhabitants call themselves English, but that does not keep them from cheating any stranger in a way a Chilian would blush at. Two of us took a lunch on shore. It would have been dear at 1s, but we were charged 3s 6d each, and paid like lambs, we were too surprised to object.

The day after leaving there we ran into the straits, and had a perfect day, the water was like glass. The scenery was not much, nearly all plains on the Patagonian side and low hills on Tierra del [Tierra del Fuego, Ed.]. We arrived in Punta Arenas in the evening. Till quite lately Punta Arenas was the penal settlement of Chili, and there are still some lifers there, most of them being in business. The town is growing fast, and at present there is a population of about 10,000. Most of the houses are built of galvanised iron, but there are now some fine buildings going up in brick and stone. The Government is installing a fine water supply at a cost of £40,000, Pearson, of London, having the contract. When finished by connecting the main pipe line directly on to the town there will be a pressure of 350lb to the square inch in case of fire. The port is a free one, so everything is cheap; but the clothes are not nearly as good as we would get in New Zealand for very little more. There had been lively times in the town just before we arrived. A general strike was on, and as there were no police in the town the strikers had it all their own way. Now there is a troop of cavalry and a company of infantry quartered there, and a cruiser (the O'Higgins) anchored in the bay.

We put in three weeks knocking round, and were then sent here (Porvenir). After a week three of us got orders to go up-country to help to prospect some ground about 20 [?] miles out. We left town on three of the most miserable horses I have ever seen, and for saddles we had sheepskins. The road was over the hilltops, and a nice ride we had, as it was snowing and raining for the last 12 miles. The first claim we prospected was on the Rio Minanueoa, [sic - Mina nueva] a little bit of a creek about as big as a water race. All the sinking of holes was done by Austrians, who also ran the wash through the box, and we had to wash up and pan off — not bad work, but cold at times, the ice forming in the dishes while we were working. After three weeks we shifted down to the Rio del Oro, but after a week there the snow drove us in. While in camp I was twice over to the Oscar dredge. Her manager is Mr George Troy, late of the Electric No. 1. I also visited the only other dredge working on the island — the Sutphi, [sic - Sutphen] — but was not on board her. She is a regular marvel. She has two boilers and seven engines, and it takes three— no, four men a shift to run her. She only has two low lines, no head or stern, and is kept up to the face by means of two spuds stuck out behind. Her face is a picture, being round, and to improve matters she is dredging down stream. Report has it she gets big gold — a kelo [sic - kilogram] (40oz avia) a shift, — but I do not believe it. I fancy myself a kelo a week would be nearer the mark. We have pretty good quarters here, and are living in a house belonging to the company across the bay from the town, and have a married couple to cook for us.


4-March-1907, Press
A New Zealander in Patagonia

Some months ago we were enabled to publish some extracts from several interesting letters received by the relatives of a New Zealander engaged in a gold-dredging enterprise in Terra del Fuego. A further extract has now been placed at our disposal. After a dreary time in winter quarters at Porvenir, the writer was told off to the Rio Oscar. He says:—

"October l0th.

"One night I was lucky enough to slip off a plank into the river; it was bitterly cold, and I put in a bad week with my teeth. On Sunday evening T___ was in our room and suggested that as the dredge would be idle for a few days I should go over to Punta Arenas, and get my teeth out. He arranged with a dago for a horse, and charged it to the company's account, as he said it was a case of sickness. I was to have a guide and leave at 4 a.m. on Monday. Soon after three I was up, and stirred up my man, but it was the usual 'mas tarde' (later), and it was 5.30 before we started. I dropped the guide at the Mina Nueva, and got on all right for some miles, but after crossing the Rio Verde, the snow got too deep for the horse to carry me, so I got off and dragged her along, and tried to find the road, which was, of course, covered. After wandering about for an hour, I gave it up and turned back to try and make the 'Sutphen', but seeing the 'Verde' camp below me, I struggled down to it. It was close on one o'clock when I arrived. They gave me a feed, and told me no one had got out by this road this season. As it happened they had a spare guide, and they sent him on with me. It was close on 5 p.m. when we got to Porvenir. It was Wednesday before the boat crossed, and I persuaded E___ to cross with me. We started off to look for a dentist. Of course, there is no gas in this country, so we bargained for cocaine. The first man we went to started at 20 dollars (25s) a tooth, and when we objected, said he might do them for 15 dollars if they were easy, and out we went. He sent his boy after us, and offered to do it for 10 dollars. The next place was better, and I got them out for 5 dollars apiece. I was up in ____'s office, and he told me that eight winchmen and four dredgemasters were on their way from New Zealand, and should land here towards the end of November. On Sunday night we crossed (to Porvenir), and on Monday I started for the 'Oscar'. It was 8 p.m. when I arrived there, and I was pretty well done.

"Rio Oscar, October 28th.

Since I returned from Punta Arenas we have been waiting for coal. We expect it on Wednesday, and I shall be very glad when we are working shifts again. T___ went over to Punta Arenas after I returned, and came back two days ago. I fancy from what he says there is going to be trouble over our overtime and Sunday work. ____ should be out here this week. Our agreement is under English law, and if he wants us to work on Sundays he will have to pay us. ____ has imported a lot of Chilenos to work on the roads; also Italian rivetters, for 'next door to nothing'. The Italians were sent out to work on the ____ and ____ dredges, and have, I hear, all gone out on strike. Then, ____, manager of the ____, brought down a mob of men from Buenos Ayres – engineers at 100 dollars a month, and other men down to 50 dollars. When they arrived on the claim, I hear, the men who were there from last year got out their guns and chased the new arrivals back to Port. How it will end I don't know. In a fortnight our nine months will be up, and if ____ does not come to terms I shall send in my three months' notice, though I should like to stay till May. The weather has been good on the whole lately, and I suppose from now on we should get a little summer.

"Rio Oscar, November 11th.

Since last writing the weather has been awful – south-west gales with showers of rain and snow. They tell us it is hot in summer, but I don't think there is any in this country. Last Sunday F___ and I rode over to the 'Oro' dredge, to see our three men. One only wants to ride over this country to know what desolation is. After leaving the house, the track goes up a hill, then across a swamp, and then over a shingly flat on up to the top of an old volcano. Just below this runs the Rio del Oro, and beyond that lie the Heights of Boqueron, and nothing but hills, all the same grey green colour, and not a tree to be seen. The only signs of life are a few miners' tents, an occasional herd of guanacos, and flocks of geese. We found our men at the dredge, the only idle ones in a big mob, as they refused to work on Sunday unless they got double pay for it. We are having a great time among the goose eggs, and very good eating they are. This morning two of us were out after guanacos, and without looking found five (goose) nests, four with six eggs each, and the fifth seven. I hear there are tramps running from Valparaiso to Newcastle, New South Wales, and will most likely come home that way. The chances are that I shall leave here in February. Of course till the end of our term our old company are guaranteeing our money, but after that ____ may turn round on us. I hope he will not, as I should like to stop out this season."

19-June-1907, Otago Witness
South America. General Impressions.

The Argentine was some time ago looked to as the field, that was to provide a sensation in the matter of gold-getting and, principally for the reason that such gold-getting was to be by means of dredging, the progress of developments was watched with keen interest by New Zealanders, for New Zealand is undeniably tho cradle of the dredging industry, and anything done in this direction in a foreign country naturally excited more than ordinary attention from those who are and have been associated with it in this colony. Anticipations, however, were never to any extent realised, and the Argentine has already almost completely dropped out of the running in the matter of gold-raising by dredging. There was in existence what was an unmistakeable dredging boom, but the bubble burst at short notice, and carried in its train more than the usual amount of financial disaster, for the simple reason that a number of claims were, on a closer investigation, found to be practically valueless as dredging areas. It now appears that the only successful method of mining in the Argentine and elsewhere in South America lies in the developing of the rich mineral veins that exist in the higher regions.

A former resident of Cromwell — Mr John Werner, — who, some 16 months ago went to the Argentine, has just returned from that country, and furnished a Times reporter with a few facts concerning mining in South America, and things there in general. Shortly after Mr Werner went over to the Argentine he was commissioned to report on a gold-mining proposition in North-west Argentine, in the province of Riaja, [sic - Rioja] the property of the Riaja Aurifera Company. Subsequently Mr Werner undertook the construction work for the same company, undertaking the formation of two lengthy water races, and reservoirs. This property was situated about 7000 ft above sea level. Other mines (copper, silver, and gold) in the same vicinity were at an altitude of 15,000 ft above sea level. From these mines to Chilisito, [sic - Chilecito] some 25 miles of aerial tramway were constructed for the conveyance of ore. The properties are situated on the slopes of the Andes Mountains, and the country there for miles appears to be rich in copper, silver, and gold. Prospecting and developing had, however, in a very large measure yet to be undertaken, while a big disadvantage lay in the fact that the areas were very distant from any smelting works. In the neighbourhood of this country there were really no areas that should be worked by dredging. "There was, however," said Mr Werner, "a dredge being put on in one particular place, although against my recommendation." After being with the Riaja Aurifera Company, Mr Werner left for Santa Cruz, Patagonia, in charge of a prospecting expedition on behalf of a Buenos Ayres company. Some of the country in Patagonia is, or was, to a large extent terra incognita, in that no prospecting had been done there. "We took with us on that expedition," said Mr Werner, "a complete boring plant, pumps, etc., and accompanying us were some 17 or 18 natives and Italians, just the class of men one would call the scum of the earth — a perfect conglomeration of the liar, the thief, the rogue, and the bandit. They were responsible for endless trouble and anxiety. We commenced work in the beginning of April, or four months after setting out. The greater part of the land in this part of South America is held by one large company, which has bought up all the small holdings. It is splendid sheep-farming country, and although the winters are intensely severe, the sheep attain such excellent condition during the summer months that tho percentage of losses during the winter is, comparatively speaking, very small. Game of all sorts abounds there in an unlimited quantity, and in this respect the country is a perfect sportsmen's paradise. The country, however, is very difficult of access. At Punta Arenas there is an alluvial claim that was being worked with a steam shovel. I had a long conversation with the owner of the claim, Signor Bricker, an American, and I condemned the steam shovel as being altogether unsuitable, and advised him to put a dredge on the claim, or work it by hydraulic elevator. A dredge is now on that claim, and was to be in readiness to start work in the spring. This dredge was originally built in England and sent to Tierra del Fuego. One or two dredging claims there are doing fairly well. One company, the Ria Ora, [sic - Rio del Oro] was getting about 2lb of gold per day. The Ria [sic - Rio] Oscar dredge, which was under the charge of Mr Troy, late of the Electric No. 1 dredge, Cromwell, was not doing very well. Several other companies were about to start work at the time of my visit, with prospects similar to those being obtained by the Ria Ora. The ground generally, however, is too shallow for dredging. The dredges only work for about seven months in the year, as during the winter there is a covering of about 4ft of snow on the ground. When the dredges are closed down the crews go down to Porvina, [sic - Porvenir] on the coast, into winter quarters. The best dredging ground in South America is to be found round about Tierra del Fuego. In fact, in my opinion, it is the only dredging field there. North Argentine contains more mineral veins in rocky country, than alluvial ground. The dredging companies in South America are practically all over-capitalised. At present some 20 or 30 millions are invested in mining speculations that will never give any return, and it is a wonder how the country can stand it. If this money had been invested in agriculture or railways it would have been highly reproductive. As it is, a large number of the mining concerns have already proved to be duffers. Some have been deliberate swindles. In the pushing on of railways in the Argentine the policy pursued is totally different to that followed in our own colony. In the Argentine the railways are first extended into the unsettled country, and the settlement follows speedily. In New Zealand it is the reverse, the land is settled on the promise of a railway, and that railway, does not follow until about 30 years after. That is the case with Otago Central. The money invested in railways in the Argentine is principally English and German, with a good proportion of French, but very little American. The Government grants concessions to the railway companies and assists in every way to have the immense tracts of country opened up and settled, and an outlet afforded the settler for his produce."

17-July-1907, Otago Witness
Notes from Reefton. Dredging in South America.

[...] A private letter received in Dunedin from Rio Verde, Tierra Del Fuego, South America, states that gold-dredging is making good headway there. Mr Edward H. Watson has been appointed constructing engineer and superintendent of the Juan D. Roberts Company. The Oro Company's dredge, which he left to take up the above appointment, has a 60 h.p. boiler, with 5 1-3rd cubic feet buckets, Cutten's friction winch, and everything else up to date. The claim is a splendid one, and since January the dredge has averaged over 100oz per week. There are four miles of the claim ahead of the dredge. Eight machines are now building in the locality, and some 20 or 30 experienced men will be wanted in the spring. The climate is splendid. The companies are all solid, and good opportunities exist for hustlers. The first dredge to work was the Californian dredge Sulphon [sic - Sutphen], which, however, was found unsuitable, and abandoned. The company which owned her is now working four Dutch machines under Mr John Tough, who is well known in Otago. The Slogget Bay Company has a dredge, of Cutten's design, just completed under the direction of Mr H. Watson, of New Zealand. The Rio Perry [sic - Perez] Company has a Dutch machine completed. The Rio Oscar Company has been operating some months under Mr G. Troy, of New Zealand. The D. G. Bricker Company has one dredge just completed under the supervision of Mr H. Lester, of New Zealand, and has another building on the mainland close to Punta Arenas. The Juan D. Roberts Company has two dredges working, two building, and one or two under order. It is evident this company means business. The Oro and Verde machines are doing best, and this is solely due to the superiority of the machines and the faithful manner in which they have been erected by Mr M'Gregor, of Dunedin.

24-July-1907, Otago Witness
New Zealand Dredges and Dredging Men in Tierra del Fuego, South America
Photo Captions

(1) Rio Verde Dredges, Nos. 1 and 2, Tierra del Fuego

Designed by Messrs. Cutten Bros., constructed under and erected by Mr John M'Gregor, of Otago Foundry, and managed by Mr E H. Watson, of New Zealand. The photo shows the No. 2 dredge being finished.

(2) View showing abandoned Sutphor [Sutphen] dredge, built in San Francisco

In the distance is seen the Rio Oro dredge, which is getting remarkably good returns, in contrast to the Sutphor [sic], which was put into commission over two years ago, but is now abandoned.

(3) Methods employed by the Austrians in working the rich gully beds in Tierra del Fuego

The rio Oro dredge is getting her 140 ounces from the ground the Austrians left.

(4) The Rio Oro dredge, Tierra del Fuego

This is the largest dredge in South America, and was designed by Messrs. Cutten Bros., constructed under and erected by Mr John M'Gregor, of Otago Foundry, and managed by Mr E. H. Watson, associated with him being Messrs H. Williams, R. Moffitt, and G. Brand all well-known in N.Z. She has averaged over 100oz per week since turning the first bucket — one return reaching 146oz for six days.

10-August-1907, Tuapeka Times
Important dredging appointment

The many friends of Mr Arthur Norman Wakefield, who has been so prominently connected with the dredging industry in this district during the past ten years, will be pleased to hear of his appointment to the important position of dredgemaster to The Juan D. Roberts Compania, Terra del Fuego, a company which is at present putting on quite a fleet of dredges on the auriferous areas in those southern latitudes. Mr Wakefield will have the oversight of two dredges, which are at present in course of construction on the ground, and will leave Lawrence for his new sphere of labor on the 28th inst. The consulting engineers for the company are Messrs Cutten Bros., of London, who were closely associated with the dredging industry in Otago during the boom period. As a dredgemaster Mr Wakefield has had a most successful career, and his reputation for ingenuity and resourcefulness in overcoming difficulties is well-known among dredgemen in New Zealand. Since the working out of the dredges Mr Wakefield, with his characteristic energy, turned his attention to the devising of a scheme for raising a sufficient pressure of water on to the terraces at Tuapeka Flat, which he succeeded in bringing to a successful issue, and which is now being worked to advantage by the Tamaiti Sluicing Company. The company is to be congratulated on securing the services of so capable and energetic a man as Mr Wakefield, who will take with him the best wishes of the mining community in this district for his future success.

5-September-1907, West Coast Times
Topics of the Day

[...] Two more Otago dredgemasters are leaving for South America, accompanied by five dredge hands. Mr. A. N. Wakefield, who has been engaged in gold saving in the Tuapeka district for the past ten years, and Mr James Richmond, are leaving this week to take up positions on dredges in Tierra del Fuego.

18-September-1907, Otago Witness
Gold dredging at Tierra del Fuego. Profitable ventures.

In a letter to his mother, Mr R. W. Moffitt, formerly of Waikaia, gives some interesting information regarding gold dredging in Tierra del Fuego. Mr Moffit's latter is dated May 24 of this year, and has just come to hand. In it he says:- "I am in the best of form, although I am working seven days a week, and often do 20 hours' overtime during that period. We are still dredging, although the ground is covered with snow and frozen almost as hard as iron. I am afraid we will soon have to stop, as the ice is beginning to make in the paddock, and, of course, it is impossible to dredge when we get jammed up with broken ice. The weather is cold, needless to say, but I wear a leather coat and a cap that covers all my face and neck except my eyes and nose, and I am also equipped with knee boots and two thick pairs of stockings, so I guess I can stand a good deal of this sort of weather. The roads out here are blocked for wheeled traffic, but it is possible to get about with horses. And they say this is the mildest winter there has been for years! Generally, about this time all the roads arc impassable for any traffic. Last year this time there was about five inches of ice in Porvenir, and that is on the sea coast. Here we are about 700 ft above sea level, and there is not much ice yet. There is a probability that we may dredge all the winter if it does not get any worse."

Mr Moffitt encloses with his letter an extract from the only English paper in Punta Arenas, which is as follows:--

"Gold-washing has been carried on in Tierra del Fuego for over 20 years, more or less successfully, principally by Austrians, the method adopted being the old-time sluice box, and undoubtedly this would still be in vogue if one or two up-to-date white men had not come along about five years ago, who saw the rich harvest in store just waiting for modern machinery to take it out of the ground.

"The aspect of affairs, through the foresight of those pioneers, has totally changed. The pick, shovel, and sluice box are now replaced by the latest designs in dredgers and steam shovels or hydraulic pumps.

"The working company which has done most work this season is that known as the Compania de Dragaje del Rio del Oro, with a capital of £35,000, subscribed totally in Chili. Many and arduous were the hardships encountered at the outset. The machinery ordered in England was months behind contract time, and when it did finally arrive it was too late in the season to get it up to the claims. This machinery had to be transhipped here to Porvenir, there put into barges, and dumped ashore above high water level, and finally carted about 15 miles into the interior, for which purpose roads had to be made, for none existed.

"How different the present aspect of affairs!

"There are now about 13 dredges working, under construction, or on order, good roads traverse the mining district, boilers weighing as much as seven tons are easily handled and carted. Porvenir boasts of a good pier, crane and light railway, and plenty of storage room on shore. It is therefore, child's play for those coming behind the pioneers already referred to, who had to bear the brunt of the hardships and expense.

"The Rio del Oro Company, by whom Mr Moffitt is employed, after many drawbacks, labour strikes, etc., finally got their machine up and started dredging in February last, and her production in accordance with publications made by the local managing office has been as follows:-

"Wash-up February, 2, 1907 (110 hours worked), 1 kilo 180 grams.

"Wash-up February 9 (one week worked), 1 kilo 057 grams.

"Wash-up February 16 (124 hours worked), 2 kilo 702 grams.

"Wash-up February 24 (one week worked), 2 kilo 022 grams.

"Wash-up February 28 (110 hours worked), 1 kilos 092 grams.

"Wash-up March 8 (one week worked), 3 kilos 434 grams.

"Wash-up March 16 (one week worked), 3 kilos 445 grams.

"Wash-up March 23 (one week worked), 4 kilos 340 grams.

"Wash-up April 1 (120 hours worked), 3 kilos 742 grams.

"Wash-up April 8 (126 hours worked), 4 kilos 617 grams.

"Wash-up April 15 (152 hours worked), 5 kilos 077 grams.

Total won up to April 29, 1907, 39 kilos 574 grams."

(One kilo is equal to 32oz; value £125).

"The cost of running a dredge of this type for 365 days, allowing £200 for unforeseen items and £300 for wear and tear, amounts approximately to £5200, or, say, £430 10s per month of 30 days. In order to meet these expenses a dredge would have to produce 4980 grams of gold per month. A simple calculation will show the balance in favour of the dredge. The heaviest item of cost is imported English coal, but it now looks as if peat is going to replace the same with advantage. Extensive experiments have been made recently with ordinary spade-cut and sun-dried briquettes, the result far surpassing all expectations. No better peat is found anywhere and the quantity is practically unlimited.

"The problem of gold dredging in Tierra del Fuego as a gold-paying industry is now solved, and all that the different companies want is a fair field. Given this, it will not be long before this hitherto practically unknown territory will become the Klondyke of the south."

11-December-1907, Otago Witness
N. Z. Dredgemen in Terra del Fuego.
[original includes illustrations]

For some years now Otago has been gradually sending her dredging men to Tierra del Fuego in South America, there to construct, take charge of, and work the various dredges which have been erected, and which have been working with such success of late. New Zealand, and more particularly Otago, is, of course, looked upon as the dredging country of the world, and for this reason alone there is nothing more natural than that dredging companies commencing operations in a country new to dredging should turn to our shores for men of experience and machinery which experience has proved to be suitable for whatever class of dredging they wish to undertake, and so we find New Zealanders in Siam, South America, and half a dozen other places working dredges to advantage and bringing fair fame upon themselves and their native land. Elsewhere in this issue are photographs of a number of New Zealanders who have turned to Tierra del Fuego for fortune, and included in one of the groups is a photo of Mr Allen, just returned from the South American dredging field, who entertains no high opinion of dredging operations in that country. And Mr Allen is not alone in that opinion, as will witness the following extracts from a letter recently received by an Alexandra gentleman from a dredgeman who left that town some 12 months ago to fill an engagement with a dredging company in Tierra del Fuego, and published in the columns of our contemporary the Alexandra Herald:— "For various reasons I would not advise any many to leave New Zealand for this part of the globe. In the first place, the climate is bad. Of course, that is not much to stop anyone. The whole of the dredging in Terra del Fuego is in the hands of a few 'sharks,' most of whom are Yankees. They work all the points they can, and no one ever knows what their next move will be. More than one New Zealand dredgeman has already suffered at their hands, and ere another year has gone by I am afraid plenty more will be looking for what they will never receive — namely, the fulfilment of promises that have been made. Five or six New Zealanders have already left here and gone back to the fair colony whence they came, and by the end of next season the majority of those who are here now will, if things go on as at present, follow the others' footsteps. . . . We have always to be grumbling even now to receive our full wages and decent food; and if anyone should happen to come out here and get out of work before they had saved enough to take them back again — £80 at the least — they would thus be at the mercy of the employers here, who arc only waiting for a chance to pull down wages and make agreements to suit themselves. A lot of men will be wanted for this country next season, and any man who comes for less than £18 per month (£4 10s per week) and all Sundays and overtime paid, is foolish, and would regret it before he was here three months. There are a good few dredges going to start next season, but 1 don't think any of them will do much. Out of the four that worked this season one has already closed down, and I give some of the new ones about half of next season to do the same. The season only lasts seven or eight months, and expenses are very heavy. Coal costs about £6 a ton so you can see that it is going to be a costly item. It takes 40oz a week to run the dredge and many of them will never get that. . . . My advice to dredgemen in New Zealand is to cast aside any idea they may have of coming out here. The terms — £4 10s per week, all overtime, found, and paid all the year round — sound very tempting, but it is worth every penny if the concerns were going to be a success, which I am afraid is impossible. I know of one New Zealand dredgemaster who has £200 owing to him and every one of us would be the same if we did not hold out for our full pay every month. . . . . There is quite a crowd of New Zealand dredgemen in these parts, and I think they all hold the same opinion as I have given. We are all looking forward to seeing dear old New Zealand again ere long, as this is not the kind of place we have been accustomed to. I have written this chiefly to warn anyone not to come here, as by the time this letter reaches New Zealand a lot of men will be wanted for these parts, and it would be a pity to see them come here and be victims to these sharks who run the dredges."

There can be no doubt but that the foregoing statements are authentic in every respect, as they are backed up by almost all the New Zealand dredgemen who have as yet returned from the field, and bearing these things in mind Tierra del Fuego from the dredgeman's point of view is not by any means the El Dorado it seems as contemplated from New Zealand.


29-February-1908, Tuapeka Times
Dredging in Tierra del Fuego

Word has been received in Lawrence that Mr Norman Wakefield, who accepted an appointment a few months ago as a dredgemaster in Tierra del Fuego, has reached his new sphere of labors, and is in charge of the dredge Progresso. The men (chiefly foreigners), who were entrusted with the erection of the dredge were not equal to their task, and could not get the machinery to run. Mr Wakefield, with the help of two of his crew (Messrs Burton and Silk, Otago men, who went over with him under engagement) set to work, pulled down the greater part of the machinery and reerected it, and soon had everything going properly. Up to the time of writing, Mr Wakefield had not an opportunity of prospecting the claim he is in charge of, but as the gravel showed freely he was in hopes it would turn out alright. Coal, landed at the dredge, costs about £6 per ton, and it was estimated that it would take about 35oz of gold per week to run the dredge, the expenses being so heavy. The nearest dredge at work was about 20 miles away, and altogether there were six dredges on the field, and it was understood they were all doing well. The Progresso dredge's claim was well supplied with water, a snow-fed mountain stream, carrying about 15 heads, passing through it. On one part of the claim there was an immense peat bog, and the company had a number of men at work there cutting out peat for dredge fuel. There was no bush or scrub in the neighborhood, and the country, which was somewhat mountainous, was very dried-up looking, with a cold climate, clear and bracing. There was no mist or fog and very little rain, there being only five wet days during the previous year. There was plenty of wind in the day-time in the summer months, the nights being calm, and in the winter-time the frosts were very severe and sharp. Mr Wakefield was well satisfied with his quarters, and had the feeling that the claim he was in charge of would turn out to be a good one, with a very long life. —Star.

15-April-1908, Marlborough Express

[...] A New Zealand miner now in Tierra del Fuego (Mr John Werner, formerly of Lowburn, Otago) states that he believes if a rush of miners could set towards that country as they did towards Victoria and Otago in the old days, there would be a number of fields opened up and "things would hum". Tierra del Fuego is an island about the size of Otago, Southland, and half of Canterbury.

29-April-1908, Wanganui Herald

There is quite a colony of new Zealanders in Terra del Fuego, at the southern extremity of South America, where they are engaged in gold dredging. Mr Norman Wakefield, a former resident of Otago, has charge of the dredge Progresse [sic - Progreso], which he re-erected after some foreign workmen had made a bad job of it. Two of his crew are Messrs. Burton and Silk, of Otago.

5-August-1908, Otago Witnessess
Dredgemen for Chili. A Timely Warning. Worthless Contracts.


The Minister of Mines has received, through his Excellency the Governor, the following letter from Mr C. A. Milward, British Vice-consul at Punta Arenas, Chili:

"May 16, 1908.
"Sir,— I have the honour to bring the following facts to your notice. During the past few years there have been contracted in New Zealand, in Dunedin chiefly, a number of young men as winchmen and dredgemasters for the gold dredges in this country. These men have been induced to sign by various firms. Amongst others that have been brought to my notice are Messrs __ and __ who are, I have no doubt, respectable firms. The latter I know myself to be so, and the men once signed in New Zealand have been sent out here under the impression that they were signed in a legal manner, and that their contract could be sued upon, or in any other way enforced as might be necessary. It is needless for me to point put to you, sir, that this contract, which is perfectly good in New Zealand, is not worth the paper it is written on in Chili unless it has bean legalised in this country. This has not been done in one single case, because in every case that I can trace the lawyers who drew up the contract in Dunedin told the men that they were legally engaged, and I should say, from many years' experience of New Zealand lawyers, that they did not know themselves that in other countries the methods were not the same as in New Zealand. In one of these contracts it says 'The wages shall be £4 10s per week,' without specifying how many working hours go to a week, or any other details as to overtime, etc. Directly the lawyers here saw the contract they said the men must work 10 hours per day for six days in a week, as the usual number of working hours in this country is 10 hours per day. I have had a good deal of trouble to effect an arrangement of this one mistake. I have had different men applying to me during the last few days who were signed on contract by Messrs __ __. And now that their contract is broken they have no legal redress, and are bound to take what they can get. A short time ago I had from a different firm three men, who had been dismissed without notice, owing to the bad returns of the dredges. These men could not sue, as their contracts had not been legalised, and, of course, the dredge-owners would not consent to the legalisation when they wanted to get rid of their contract men. I had to advise them to take what they could get. There are also at the present moment some six or eight men brought out here, and they have not received any wages for more than three months, and are at present almost destitute and waiting for some recognition which has been promised them.

"I state these facts, sir, in order that you may be in a position to stop these young men from coming to this country for the following season, which will begin in about four months' time. At the present time the whole of the Chilian lawyers are making fun of these contracts, which are continually brought up in the courts, and it is very galling for the British people living here."


A letter, of which a copy appeared in our columns last week, was recently received by the Minister of Mines from Mr C. A. Milward, British Vice-consul at Punta Arenas. Captain Milward wrote to warn intending immigrants from New Zealand against putting too much faith in the contracts they might sign with dredging companies in Chili, and stating that contracts which were perfectly good in New Zealand were in Chili not worth the paper they were written on unless they had been legalised in that country. In conversation yesterday with one of our reporters with reference to this letter, Mr John M'Gregor, of the Otago Iron Foundry, said he had recently spent two years as dredging engineer in Tierra del Fuego, and was well acquainted with most of the New Zealanders there. He stated that the "Mr Milward" referred to in the telegram is Captain Milward, formerly of the ill-fated Mataura, which was lost some years ago in the Straits of Magellan. He is now in business in Punta Arenas, where he is also British Vice-consul. Mr M'Gregor's firm had, he said, during the past few years sent a large number of men — perhaps twice as many as any other firm in New Zealand — over to dredging claims in that part of the world. On his recent visit he had seen all these men, and they were without exceptions very well satisfied, and making good wages. Three men had gone there since his return, and reports from them indicated that they, too, were doing very well. The common wage was £18 a month and everything found, and a good many of the winchmen were making close on £24 with overtime. The engagement under which these men left was for £18 a month and found, and he had never heard of a case of such an engagement being broken. He had been connected as dredging engineer with the firm of Juan D. Roberts, easily the leading firm on the island, and he was quite positive that no trouble of the kind indicated in Captain Milward's letter could occur under Mr Roberts. He had proved himself a fair and liberal man, and provided first class houses, where the men were supplied with everything necessary. There were, of course, a number of other companies of which he was not in a position to speak, further than to say that he knew nothing against them. He had never heard of the slightest attempt being made to take advantage of a defect in an agreement, but it was quite possible that there had recently been a slump in the industry, which might have led some companies to stoop to such practices. Mr M'Gregor proceeded to give a striking example of the handsome treatment that is, in some cases at least, meted out by Chilian dredging companies. A company, having at its head Jose Menendez, arranged to obtain some 10 men from New Zealand, but before they arrived it was found that the claim on which they were to work had been salted, and did not contain a pennyweight of gold. Instead of leaving the men to look themselves, Menendez kept them in an hotel for some time on full pay, fitted up a place for them in Porvenir Bay with a housekeeper, and generally provided for them until they were all finally absorbed by the Juan D. Roberts Company.

Questioned as to the statement that the usual working day in Chili consisted of 10 hours, Mr M'Gregor said that that was so; but pointed out that it did not apply to the dredging industry. On dredges three shifts were always worked daily, so that each was necessarily of only eight hours' duration. The only friction he was aware of in connection with the dredging industry in Chile had occurred over the question of Sunday labour. Owing to the intense cold the water there is frozen for from two months and a-half to four months of the year. The men are paid full wages during all this period of enforced idleness, and the owners naturally wanted to minimise the annual loss of time as much as possible by running the dredges on Sundays during the rest of the year. The men at first demurred, and demanded double time for Sunday labour. The dispute, however, was eventually amicably settled, and the men now all over the island work their eight hours on Sundays at the ordinary rates of pay.

3-September-1908, Grey River Argus
Dredging at Tierra del Fuego.

There are about fifty New Zealanders in Tierra del Fuego, mostly connected with the gold-dredging industry. Unfortunately for them, the industry is badly managed. "There are too many mouths to feed," said Mr Piper, "and not enough gold to feed them all. It isn't that the gold is scarce. Generally speaking, the ground is richer than it is in New Zealand; but they will never make it pay. The companies are floated locally or in Chili or Argentina, and they are hopelessly over-staffed. There are about five times as many men for each dredge as there would be in New Zealand, but these are not the people who eat up the profits — it is the swarm of useless officials, men who know absolutely nothing about the business, who have never seen a mine in their lives, and have no idea how gold is obtained. Men like that are drawing fat salaries for doing practically nothing. It is a great pity, for there are excellent opportunities for the gold industry in Tierra del Fuego. About ten or twelve dredges are at work, and they are all run by New Zealanders. But their work goes to pay for a swarm of useless people, and the results, to the New Zealanders, are disastrous. It is only possible to work seven or eight months in the year, as the place is snowed up in winter time. [...]

2-December-1908, Tuapeka Times
A Returned Dredgeman. Mr. A. N. Wakefield's Experiences in Terra del Fuego.

Mr Arthur Norman Wakefield, who left Lawrence on the 4th September, 1907, under engagement to Mr John D. Roberts as representative of a number of dredging companies in South America, returned to New Zealand last week, and, though expectations had not been fully realised, Mr Wakefield certainly looks none the worse for his experience under other climes. He has returned in the best of health and spirits and has certainly added considerably to his avoirdupois. He looked in the other day and at our request readily consented to give us a brief account of his travels and doings since leaving Lawrence 14 months ago. He said, that with six other dredgemen viz., Messrs A. Burton (son of Mr Jabez Burton, Roxburgh), T. Silk, Richmond, McKersey, Wm. Johnston, and Callaghan, he left New Zealand per the Papanui, which sailed from Wellington for London at the beginning of September. Their destination was, of course, Monte Video, where they were to pick up the Pacific boat that runs fortnightly for South America. The trip to Monte Video was a most enjoyable one, the few passengers there were on the Papanui being of a most sociable character, and beyond the fact that they sighted a number of icebergs was without incident of any moment. On landing at Monte Video they found they were just too late to catch the boat to Punta Arenas and had therefore, nearly a couple of weeks to put in at this port. This proved no hardship for, having been met by an agent of the company to which they were under engagement, they were conducted to a first-class hotel and provided with funds necessary to meet incidental expenses that were likely to be incurred through the unavoidable detention. They found Monte Video a fine typical old Spanish town with four or five fine Roman Catholic Churches and a magnificent cathedral. The town, which had a number of fine buildings from an architectural point of view, had a very clean and well-kept appearance, whilst very fine luxuriant tropical vegetation was to be found in the squares and public promenades. They left Monte Video by the H.M.S. Orita for Punta Arenas. This ship, though much larger than the Papanui, was not so comfortable or well provided. On board she had about 1100 third-class passengers, a heterogeneous collection of all nationalities, whose destination was the various ports of South America. How they lived in the Quarters provided goodness only knows, said Mr Wakefield, for men, women, and children appeared to be huddled together in one living chaotic mass. Such an awful insanitary condition would never be tolerated on an Australian or New Zealand boat. The trip from Monte Video to Punta Arenas took five days. On landing at this port they were met by the company's officials, who put them up in a decent hotel and placed them under orders to leave the following morning by the little steamer which crossed the Straits of Magellan for Porviner [sic - Porvenir] — jokingly designated the capital city of Terra del Fuego, probably because it happens to be the only town in it. Punta Arenas, which is the most southerly town in Chili, is situated about half-way through the Straits of Magellan on the north side, and has a population of about 10,000. Spanish is the prevailing language spoken. About one-third of the inhabitants are English. It is well laid out in squares and has many fine buildings built on the American steel principle. The streets are not well kept, and the town is in a poor state. It owes its existence to, and is principally maintained by, the pastoral industry, being surrounded by vast steep farms. The mining boom gave it a great fillip, but since this burst (as mining booms have a habit of doing) it is at present suffering a relapse. The social conditions prevailing in the town are good, however. The English community have a very fine little church and school buildings under the charge of the Rev. Canon Aspinall, who is a most enthusiastic and energetic man. The journey from Punta Arenas to Porvenir took three hours, and on arriving they put up at a small hotel for the night and next morning started en route for the Progresso claim, a distance of 70 miles. This journey was performed on foot, their luggage being carried on mules. This took three days and it was a unique experience to them to have to sleep in the open on the frozen sand, but they had plenty of blankets and clothing and so suffered no ill effects. They reached their destination on the 16th October and found the dredge nearing completion. Mr Wakefield found the conditions vastly different to those prevailing in New Zealand, and though he had the appointment of dredgemaster he found a manager above him at a very high salary. The party immediately got to work in assisting to complete the dredge, and a fortnight after arriving on the claim they had commenced operations. The dredge claim was situated in rather a nice looking valley which to all appearances looked as if it would be all right from a gold-bearing point of view. Anticipations in this respect were, however, not realised. The dredge was designed by Messrs Cutten Bros., of London (formerly of Dunedin) She was very stoutly built, and for her size was stronger than any dredge that Mr Wakefield had seen in New Zealand. The pontoons were of steel plate, and the poppet heads and superstructure were also of steel and she was fitted with five-foot buckets, screen end elevator. For the first two months the fuel used was coal, costing £6 10s a ton but for the remainder of the time peat was used and proved very effective. In the actual working of the dredge the usual crew of six men were employed, but from 20 to 30 others were engaged in cutting and stacking peat, besides a couple of cooks and a man to look after the animals. As soon as work was started Mr Wakefield found the ground to be very shallow rarely going 10ft, whilst very often it went to 5ft, necessitating the tearing up of hard bottom in order to get a paddock deep enough to keep the dredge floating. This proved very hard on the machinery. The returns averaged about 20oz per week, which was totally inadequate to meet the expenditure and give a return on a capital of £150,000. It was the intention of the company to put on four dredges, but the Progresso was the only one that got to actual operations, and after running for about six months the enormous capital was exhausted and they had to close down, and the associated companies all came to a finish and discharged all their men. The workmen engaged on Mr Wakefield's dredge succeeded in getting paid up in full while some received by way of compensation small ceived [?] over and above the amount due to them, but a number of the men on the other dredges were not so fortunate, and it was found that owing to their having, through ignorance, neglected to have their contracts signed on arrival in the presence of the British Consul they were useless, the result being that a number of the men were stranded, having received no wages at all since leaving New Zealand. After the closing down of the Progresso dredge Mr Wakefleld and Mr Silk took over the Loreta [sic - Loreto] dredge at Punta Arenas on tribute. The terms were very tempting— viz., all the gold won for three months and if they made a success of it £2000 was to be paid them out of the capital of a new company to be formed. After running it for two months and, through many nights when the temperature was far below zero they found that they were making a loss on the transaction, and gave it up. As a dredging field Mr Wakefield does not altogether condemn Terra del Fuego, for, he say, there are enormous areas where it could be profitably carried on if the companies operating were established on a moderate capital and conducted on an economical basis. The failure up to the present he ascribes to the enormous capitals (the public, as usual, being exploited by unscrupulous promoters) and ineffective machinery. As an instance of the latter he says that some of the dredges built in Holland were equipped with no fewer than nine engines and, being constructed of light material, they were continually under repair. They were simply impossible as dredging machines. [...]


4-August-1909, Evening Post
Dredging in South America. Over-capitalisation.

(From Our Own Correspondent.)

LONDON, 18th June.

Mr. John Werner, who loft Cromwell about four years ago for South America, and has been dredging there (with a short holiday) ever since, is now in London on his way to New Zealand once more.

Dismissing the stories we hear of the failure of dredging in the Argentine, Mr. Werner said the trouble is that the companies are generally greatly overcapitalised. They go in for a capital of a quarter or half a million, and start one or two dredges, and the result is that none of them has yet paid a dividend. They may have to write down their capital sometimes from £200,000 to £50,000. They would require to have twenty dredges to earn interest on the capital. The companies generally are very extravagant in their methods. The salaries are very high, and in some cases the office expenses run as high as £200 a week. The whole trouble is in the management. There is good dredging ground, a good deal better than in New Zealand, and the dredges can save from 30 to 60oz a week. In New Zealand this would pay, but with the huge capitals of the South-American concerns of course it does not. The fuel question is something of a drawback, but not sufficient to cause failure. Coal can only be obtained at £6 10s a ton. Consequently the dredges generally use wood or peat. One dredge which cost £120 a month for coal is now going along at from £28 to £35 on peat — a vast difference. The dredge which Mr. Werner himself leased was formerly losing £100 a month by burning coal. Now it is burning peat and paying. The difficulty is that the wood and peat cutters have a habit of striking, and so interrupting work.

Most of the dredges in use in Tierra del Fuego are made in Holland, and are utterly unsuitable for the work. The structure is altogether too weak to cope with the stony character of the ground. Some of the companies have expressed a desire to have dredges of New Zealand construction, but at present there are none. The companies lose a great deal by employing young engineers who have passed through the schools of mines at Buenos Aires and in Holland, but have no practical experience whatever. [...]


16-March-1910, Manawatu Standard

[...] A London correspondent writes: Mr A. A. Stewart, of Greymouth and Kumara, has just come to London from Terra del Fuego to spend a brief holiday in the Old Country before going back to New Zealand. An engineer by profession, Mr Stewart has made a speciality of mining dredges. His line of business is building and erecting steel dredges, and then taking charge of and running them. "I was engaged," he told me, "by the Compania Rio Perez, to work on their dredge in Terra del Fuego, and last winter I had charge of the Compania Sutphen de Lavaderos de Oro. The dredging in Terra del Fuego was a failure. A party of New Zealanders, under Mr E. H. Watson, have the Company Rio Verde, and the Company Rio del Oro under tribute this year, and I understand are doing well. Mr Watson is well known in Alexandra, New Zealand. During my travels in South America I met many New Zealanders, and it was always the same, whether in Terra del Fuego, Argentine, or London, I received a hearty welcome."

31-August-1910, Alexandra Herald and Central Otago Gazette
The Quest for Gold. Dredging at Terra del Fuego. New Zealander's Experiences.

The eternal quest for gold has been responsible for the transference to distant lands of many young New Zealanders, whose expert knowledge has been sought by foreign capitalists to aid in winning the precious metal by the dredging methods which were brought to perfection in this country. Mr E. W. Fache, formerly of Alexandra and who recently returned to New Zealand, had an interesting story to relate to a Wellington Times reporter regarding his experiences in what lie describes as two of the most inhospitable regions of the earth—Terra del Fuego and Dutch Guiana.


It is just three years since Mr Fache left New Zealand, under engagement to the Rio Perez Gold Dredging Company, of Argentine, for Terra del Fuego, via Monte Video and Buenos Ayres.

Porvenir, the seaport of Terra del Fuego, was reached after a three hours' journey across the Straits of Magellan, and the dreary winter aspect of the country was not at all inviting. Porvenir is a one-streeted town of about 100 of a mixed population, the most prominent feature about it being the striking multiplicity of public houses, law and order being, however, fairly well maintained by the Chilian police. The dredging field—"the mines" is the grandiose appellation used locally—is situated some thirty miles inland from Porvenir, on the Rio de Lora [sic - Río del Oro]. This is presumed to be a river, but in New Zealand it would be described as a common "creek." Mr Fache's first impression was that it was "outrageous to put dredges on such country," for the reason that the workable ground was too narrow and confined between steep hills. Six months' work proved the accuracy of the forecast, for his dredge did not scoop up sufficient metal to pay expenses. Then the breaking of any indispensable part of the machinery—the only one for which they had no duplicate—caused a stoppage, and it was found necessary to send for a new casting to Holland, where the several dredges in the locality were built. Before this arrived, however, the directors decided to cease operations. A similar fate befell all but two or three of the many dredges operating on the field, which were all under the direction of New Zealanders, of whom there were over thirty present at one time.

The luckier ones, some three or four machines, averaged fifty to over 100 ounces of gold per week, but owing to the limited field such yields could not be maintained for a lengthy period. The gold—which, by the way, is equal in carat, value to the best New Zealand gold—seemed to lie in patches, with no defined "runs," and, as its appearance indicated that it had not travelled far, it seemed as though it had been deposited by glacier action of volcanic upheaval, the surrounding country showing no indications of being gold-bearing or of carrying reefs.


Many of the New Zealanders who worked on the unsuccessful dredges were cruelly victimised by their companies, for after months of work at a nominally high wage they did not receive one penny price for their labors. Becoming weary of the unfilled promises of the directors, they took legal action, when they found that the Chilian courts would not listen to them because their agreements were drawn up in the English language, which they "did not understand."

The men during the whole period had to depend on their own reserves, and nightly dreamt about the beneficial clauses in the Workmen's Lien Act of their native land. In one case a party of New Zealanders, to whom the amount owing ran into hundreds of pounds each, I were, after a long parley, offered £40, on condition that they took the next steamer for home. They demurred at this, but were flatly told that if they did not accept they could sue, when the case would be taken to the Santiago High Court, which would not sit for another six months. As their attenuated funds would not permit of such a lengthy stay, much less an expensive journey to Santiago on a "heads-I-win-tails-you-lose" chance, they took the £40—and got. Mr Fache, however, was more fortunate, as, on his arrival, he had taken the precaution to have his agreement made out and signed in Spanish (the language of the country), and he received his dues without question. The men on the successful ventures were well treated, but then they happened to "strike ile."

Source: National Library of New Zealand, Papers Past website
Map: "La Minería Mecanizada en Tierra del Fuego", Martinic & Torres, Porvenir, 2003
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