Sew Hoys Big Beach Claim Historic Area

Big Beach, Arthurs Point, Queenstown

  • Sew Hoys Big Beach Claim Historic Area. Plan of Historic Area from registration report..
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Date: 25/06/2004.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Area Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7545 Date Entered 25th June 2004

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Extent of List Entry

Sew Hoy's Big Beach Claim Historic Area includes a representative area of Big Beach, a shingle beach on the Shotover River where Sew Hoy's mining company had a special claim in the late 1880s. The parcel is defined as legal river on Land OnLine and is bounded by Crown land on the south.

City/District Council

Queenstown-Lakes District

Region

Otago Region

Legal description

Legal River

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Sew Hoy's Big Beach Claim Historic Area was one of the sites identified for registration as part of the Chinese Sites Registration Project in 2001.

Sew Hoy's Big Beach Claim Historic Area includes a representative area of Big Beach, a shingle beach on the Shotover River where Sew Hoy's mining company had a special claim in the late 1880s. The parcel is defined as legal river on Land OnLine and is bounded by Crown land on the south.

Sew Hoy's dredging operation at Big Beach provided the impetus for the gold dredging boom of the late 1880s and confirmed Sew Hoy's status as a leading player in the goldmining industry in Otago. The success of his mining companies, and the development of a new type of dredge used first at Big Beach, provided the foundation for Sew Hoy's later notable operation at Nokomai. Sew Hoy's Big Beach operation proved that early New Zealand Chinese businessmen had the capacity for managing large-scale mining operations, and could successfully enter the European commercial world. The site provides recognition of the pioneer role that Sew Hoy played in the development of gold-dredging in nineteenth century New Zealand, and his status as an early New Zealand Chinese pioneer of high standing in the New Zealand Chinese and European communities.

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Historical Significance or Value

This historic area was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Area Registration Proposal report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Historical:

The historical significance of Big Beach arises from its association with Sew Hoy's mining operations which kicked off the dredging boom in Otago in the 1880s. Sew Hoy was a prominent member of the Chinese community in Otago and an important and oft-discussed player in the mining industry in Otago and Southland into the twentieth century. He was the principle person involved in introducing a new type of steam dredge which made possible the working of river flats, opening up a new

system of mining and prompting the creation of a large dredging fleet. The development of dredging sparked an economic revival in Otago at the turn of the century. His dredge was, according to historian James Ng, a prototype of the New Zealand dredge which was a leading design in the development of gold dredges both in New Zealand and overseas.

Summary of Significance:

Sew Hoy's dredging operation at Big Beach provided the impetus for the gold dredging boom of the late 1880s and confirmed Sew Hoy's status as a leading player in the goldmining industry in Otago. The success of his mining companies, and the development of a new type of dredge used first at Big Beach, provided the foundation for Sew Hoy's later notable operation at Nokomai. Sew Hoy's Big Beach operation proved that early New Zealand Chinese businessmen had the capacity for managing large-scale mining operations, and could successfully enter the European commercial world. The site provides recognition of the pioneer role that Sew Hoy played in the development of gold-dredging in nineteenth century New Zealand, and his status as an early New Zealand Chinese pioneer of high standing in the New Zealand Chinese and European communities.

Sew Hoy's Big Beach Claim Historic Area was one of the sites identified for registration as part of the Chinese Sites Registration Project in 2001.

Sew Hoy's dredging operation at Big Beach provided the impetus for the gold dredging boom of the late 1880s and confirmed Sew Hoy's status as a leading player in the goldmining industry in Otago. The success of his mining companies, and the development of a new type of dredge used first at Big Beach, provided the foundation for Sew Hoy's later notable operation at Nokomai. Sew Hoy's Big Beach operation proved that early New Zealand Chinese businessmen had the capacity for managing large-scale mining operations, and could successfully enter the European commercial world. The site provides recognition of the pioneer role that Sew Hoy played in the development of gold-dredging in nineteenth century New Zealand, and his status as an early New Zealand Chinese pioneer of high standing in the New Zealand Chinese and European communities.

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Historical Narrative

This historic area was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Area Registration Proposal report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

History of the Area:

Choie Sew Hoy (1836-1838?-1901)

Sew Hoy was a Dunedin merchant and importer, Otago gold dredger, gold sluicer and public benefactor, largely ignored in European histories. He was born in Sha Kong, 20km north of Guangzhou in the Upper Panyu District. His father Choie Bing Some was a farmer. He married Young Soy May and they had a daughter and two sons. As a young man Sew Hoy joined other Cantonese gold seekers, going first to California, and then to Victoria, where he started a business. Ng suggests that he came to New Zealand in 1868, and set himself up as a merchant in Dunedin. He had become prominent by 1871, and encouraged Panyu Cantonese migration to Otago in the early 1870s. Sew Hoy was naturalised in 1873. When he was about 50 he formed a defacto relationship with Eliza Prescott and lived with her. They had two children.

Sew Hoy advised, outfitted, provisioned and otherwise helped Chinese gold seekers. He also supplied Chinese stores in the goldfields, although he did not open branches of his own store inland. He was one of several Chinese merchants who had stores around the Stafford Street area in Dunedin. Sew Hoy held a high position in the Cheong Shing Tong, the society which organised the mass exhumation of Chinese remains to return them to China. The society's funds were held at his shop.

Sew Hoy and his son Choie Kum Poy (1867 -d. 1942) used the credit ticket system to bring out kinsfolk and friends of the family to work their gold-dredges and gold-sluicing claims. In exchange for the fare the emigrant agreed to work out the debt on arrival. Choie Kum Poy brought out his last six workers in 1923.

Sew Hoy was responsible for two major mining revivals, one in Otago and the other at Nokomai in northern Southland. He was involved in a wide range of goldmining projects. With Kum Yoke and Sew Kee he had a mining interest at Main Gully Mt Ida in 1877. He had a major water race from Lauder Creek to Blacks township in 1879. He had a four acre Quartz claim at Macetown in 1883. He had 175 hectares of river claims at Maori Point in 1887. He had the Skippers quartz mine with Begbie in 1889-91. In partnership with R. Glenn and P. Beer he was involved in the Golden Stream Water Race Company which supplied part of the Kyeburn Diggings in 1890. He initiated the Big Beach dredging operation with a new type of gold dredge at Arthurs Point (1889-97) which set off the first Otago gold dredging boom. His claims and explorations at Cardrona sparked off dredging claims there in 1890. Rumours of his potential involvement in dredging the Clutha below Cromwell were enough to fuel a second gold dredging boom. Many of the dredges were modelled on the Sew Hoy dredge.

According to James Ng, Sew Hoy was the principal person involved in introducing a "new type of steam dredge which had a single central bucket chain extending to the bow, thereby enabling the dredge to create a basin in which it floated. This made possible the working of river flats and the bucket chain could be lowered or raised to dredge river beds and banks as well." The dredge opened up ground for a new system of mining, prompting the creation of a large dredging fleet, and sparking an economic revival in Otago at the turn of the century. Sew Hoy was perceived in his time to be the chief promoter of the Sew Hoy dredge which was the direct prototype of the versatile New Zealand gold dredge. The New Zealand gold dredge was virtually the sole type in the Otago-Southland fleet of 171 gold dredges in 1902, with 92 further dredges on the West Coast. This type of dredge was the leading design in the development of gold and tin dredging in other countries.

On his death in 1901 Sew Hoy was buried in the Anglican sector of the Dunedin Southern Cemetery, but was disinterred by the Cheong Shing Tong the following year to be taken back to China as part of a mass exhumation. Sew Hoy was admired by the Chinese community for his public spirit, and was honoured with a special rimu coffin as a mark of this respect. Unfortunately the ship returning the remains to China, the Ventnor, struck a rock and sank off Hokianga, and only ten coffins floated ashore. No other Chinese remains were found. He was, according to James Ng, one of only four

Otago Chinese who were accorded newspaper obituaries or tributes up to the turn of the century.

Few of the leaders of Chinese goldseekers sought to stay permanently in New Zealand. Sew Hoy and his son Choie Kum Poy stayed, and reinvested their money. James Ng could think of no other nineteenth century Chinese who gained much wealth from goldmining, and only one other (Chew Chong in Taranaki) who gained as much wealth or standing in New Zealand.

Choie Sew Hoy's Big Beach Dredging Operation:

Big Beach was an extensive river flat of about 100 hectares which by 1871 had been worked by around 150 Chinese miners, including the: South Beach Goldmining Company (40 Chinese), Ham Tie and party, Sun Sing Tong Company, and Ah Chun and party. The area had already been worked twice over before the Chinese arrived and the last European claimholders did well from leasing or selling to the Chinese. There was some European anti-Chinese feeling about the Chinese miners taking over this ground. The large claims were part of the extended claim system, which permitted amalgamation and required big parties to work them - up to 40 or 50 men.

Various types of dredging technology had been used on the goldfields largely unsuccessfully since the mid 1860s. Early spoon and pneumatic dredges had proved costly and largely ineffective. By the late 1880s miners and engineers had "not been convinced of the superiority of anyone type of dredge." Many had been tested, some abandoned and others used for varying periods. For the most part there was little public interest in investing in the gold dredging industry, and the industry was largely considered to be a failure. This was to change in 1889.

Sew Hoy's reputation rests primarily on his role in gold-dredging in the 1880s when mining returns were falling. In 1887 Sew Hoy applied for claims amounting to 57ha at Big Beach. Sew Hoy decided to design his own dredge to work the flat. He ordered a steel steam driven dredge with a single central ladder chain of buckets and gold saving apparatus using mercury to be built by Dunedin firm Kincaid and McQueen. The dredge could work its way through riverbanks, beach or flat carrying its pond with it. It created a new deep mining system for river beaches and flats.

In 1888 members of the Dunedin business community formed a number of small companies to dredge the Clutha and the Shotover. One company made up of Sew Hoy together with well known businessmen including Maurice, Edward and A. Joel. They formed the Shotover Big Beach Mining Company. In July 1889, after considerable difficulties, the dredge was winning a reasonable return. It was one of the most successful goldmining ventures in New Zealand, and stimulated the gold dredging boom in Otago. The boom, however, did not bring good returns to everybody, with many of the hastily formed companies going quickly into liquidation.

Sew Hoy was the main shareholder in the Shotover Big Beach Gold Mining Company. There were nineteen other shareholders, including his eldest son. At the time the dredge was launched in 1889 there were nine dredges of other types working in Otago and Southland, with another six either working or under construction on the West Coast. The dredge at Big Beach uncovered as much as £40 worth of gold for one day's dredging. Dredging boomed, and dredging claims opened up new mining areas. Sew Hoy had sparked off the first gold dredging boom in Otago. According to Ng, Sew Hoy's bucket dredge became the direct prototype for the "New Zealand gold-dredge", a model at the forefront of gold dredge design.

Sew Hoy restructured his company and formed the public Sew Hoy Big Beach Gold Mining Company in late 1889 to take over from the private Shotover Big Beach Gold Mining Company. The inflated sale price of £72,000 was based on unrealistic earning projections, a common tactic to encourage investment. Sew Hoy was a director in the Company and James Gore, the chairman. The 175 shareholders included many Dunedin businessmen and society leaders. A subsidiary office was established at Arthurs Point, near a Chinese garden. The staff included some 10 Chinese workers, besides European labourers, supervisors, dredge masters and a chief engineer. The workforce totalled 38 men in 1891. The Chinese and Europeans were reported to have worked well together.

By 1891 the first dredging boom had run its course. The harsh conditions, the high capital requirements, unrealistic expectations and inexperience brought many new companies to their knees. Further technical problems needed to be solved before dredging would again boom in the late 1890s. In 1893 the Company installed a hydraulic sluicing and elevating plant to sluice unworked parts of its Star claims at the exit of the gorge at Arthurs Point, where the ground was too rocky to dredge.

Meanwhile the Sew Hoy Big Beach Gold Mining Company carried on working. The company added three bigger dredges to Big Beach, built by Anderson Brothers in Christchurch. The company lasted seven years, a relatively long life in dredging terms. In 1895 the Company suffered its first financial deficit as the ground at Big Beach became more and more difficult to work. By 1896 Big Beach was almost worked out, and the two remaining dredges were shifted with difficulty through the gorge to the next beach, Tucker Beach. There Sew Hoy had acquired 16 hectares of dredging claims, and also at Talisman Beach further downstream. The company was finally wound up, proving not to be profitable for its shareholders, returning only 7s per share. Those who benefited financially were those original shareholders of the Shotover Big Beach Gold Mining Company, who got free shares and quickly sold them, especially Sew Hoy. The company led gold production in New Zealand until 1897.

Various companies attempted to dredge the lower Shotover without much success. The Golden Terrace Extended Company shifted a dredge onto Big Beach in the mid 1920s, but the company was liquidated in 1939, and the remains of the dredge are apparently those that can be seen on Big Beach. There was a mining application for 77 hectares of part of the river bed at Big Beach in the 1980s (Appn 32/1785).

Sew Hoy's Later Mining Venture: The Nokomai Hydraulic Sluicing Operations:

Sew Hoy and his two sons Kum Yok and Kum Poy had been looking for other mining opportunities as early as 1893. They chose hydraulic sluicing and elevating. They went to Nokomai. The field had been long deserted when they took up claims of 60 acres of high flats situated in Paddys Alley in the upper valley of the Nokomai River. They hired up to 40 men and installed a hydraulic sluicing and elevator plant. Their mining engineer was L. Beal who had advised the Shotover Big Beach Gold Mining Company. They proposed to bring water by first one and then two new long water races, to be constructed by Chinese workmen through rugged terrain using inverted siphons instead of flumes. The workforce included Chinese workers and water race tenders, and Europeans supervisors and others.

By 1897 the Sew Hoy's Nokomai Hydraulic Gold Mining Company had a claim of 128 acres, and had constructed six and a quarter miles of water races to make a total of 20 miles that the company had rights to. The whole enterprise cost £15,200 pounds and employed 12 Chinese and 8 Europeans, as well as the 40 men employed to cut another water race.

In 1898 the company completed the installation of two hydraulic sluicing and elevating plants and completed the first two water races of 26 and 21 miles (42 and 34 kilometres respectively). They were constructing their third and fourth water races and were employing some 20 men on sluicing and another 20 men on races. The Otago Witness commented "It is not saying too much that at the time no private individuals other than [Sew Hoy and Kum Poy] could have been found in New Zealand adventurous enough to invest a sum of £15,000 in this undertaking ..."

Father and son floated the Nokomai Hydraulic Sluicing Company in 1898, issuing 2,400 shares at £10 each. Sew Hoy and Kum Poy became the biggest shareholders, each holding 850 shares, and they respectively became a director and the secretary of the company. The share list again included well known Otago people. Several had been shareholders in both the Shotover Big Beach Gold Mining Company and the Sew Hoy Big Beach Gold Mining Company. In 1898 the sluicing returns of the Company were 1000z to 2000z of gold a month.

Choie Kum Poy took over his father's mantle in Otago. He adopted Sew Hoy as his English surname by 1902. Sir James Fletcher (1886-1974), a mining associate in the 1930s, described him as "a remarkable man whose word was his bond and even in adversity he never accepted defeat." Fletcher's association with him began when the Nokomai Sluicing Company changed into the Nokomai Goldmining Company in 1932, in order to use the new dragline excavator on new claims at Nokomai. The older company had not done well, due to poor auferious ground, and it was hoped the new excavator would reverse the decline. The excavator failed when it struck a very hard layer, and the company closed down in 1943, after a flood and Kum Poy's death the previous year "leaving a record in the mining archives of remarkable achievement."

According to James Ng, Sew Hoy:-

'decisively proved that the early New Zealand-Chinese had the capacity for large-scale mining projects, and that a Chinese could successfully enter the European commercial world. His pioneer role in the development of gold-dredging was recognised in his time'.

Sew Hoy's venture was recognised as being of regional significance. Ng argues that Sew Hoy was one of:-

'Otago-Southland's most enterprising, innovative and important goldminers. Because he was prominent in both gold-dredging and sluicing, and because he led two mining revivals, I consider him to have been the most important figure in the higher technical and capital input phase of Otago-Southland goldmining last century.'

The Sew Hoys at Nokomai had an unusual permanency and stability. While other alluvial mining companies came and went, the Sew Hoys were either headed or close to the head of the list of successful alluvial miners for 50 years. Only major companies at Round Hill (in Southland) and Gabriels Gully (in Otago) had anything like a similar record.

James Ng considers that "despite the prejudice and discrimination, the early New Zealand-Chinese produced two pioneers of remarkable standing in their adopted community: Sew Hoy in golddredging and Chew Chong in butter manufacture.

Physical Description

Sew Hoy's Big Beach Claim Historic Area was one of the sites identified for registration as part of the Chinese Sites Registration Project in 2001.

The proposed Historic Area is an extensive river flat, surrounded by cliffs, on the southern side of the Shotover River. On the flat are the evidence of past dredging, although this is probably not associated with Sew Hoy's workings in the area, as the river bed was extensively re-worked in the years following his initial efforts. There are the remains of a dredge associated with one of the later mining companies standing in the middle of the beach. While not associated with Sew Hoy the large structure gives an indication of the scale of operations on the Shotover River.

The area was extensively mined in the 1860s and 1870s. In the 1880s it was re-worked again using dredges which would have largely obliterated the evidence of the earlier workings. Dredging again into the twentieth century also re-worked the evidence of earlier dredging.

Current Physical Condition:

Gold dredging finished in the area in the 1930s. Since then the river bed has been largely undisturbed for mining purposes.

Construction Dates

Completion Date

25th June 2004

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

De La Mare, 1993

A.J. De La Mare, The Shotover River - 'The Richest River in the World': A History of Gold Mining on the Shotover River, Lakes District Museum, Arrowtown, 1993

Hamel, 1989 (2)

J. Hamel, 'Survey of Historic and Archaeological Sites on Nokomai Station and in the upper Nevis Valley', July 1989

Hamel, 1990 (2)

J. Hamel, 'Broken crocks and bottles at Nokomai', September 1990

Hamel, 1991 (2)

Jill Hamel, 'Gold mining in the Nokomai Valley: A second report', May 1991

Hearn, 1985

TJ Hearn and R.P. Hargreaves, 'The Speculators' Dream: Gold Dredging in Southern New Zealand', Allied Press, Dunedin, 1985

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

SO 6693 C. Sew Hoy Special Claim, Mining, 1888

Ng, 1993

Ng, James, Windows on a Chinese Past, Volume 1, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1993

Ng, 1995

Ng, James, Windows on a Chinese Past, Volume 2, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1995

Ng, 1999

Ng, James, Windows on a Chinese Past, Volume 3, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1999

Ritchie, 1986

Neville Ritchie, 'Archaeology and History of the Chinese in Southern New Zealand During the Nineteenth Century: A Study of Acculturation, Adaptation, and Change', PhD, University of Otago, 1986 [Hocken Library]

Salmon, 1963

J H M Salmon, J.H.M. 'A History of Goldmining in New Zealand', Wellington, 1963

Hamel, 2001

Jill Hamel, The Archaeology of Otago, Department of Conservation, Wellington, 2001

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area Office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

Historic Area Place Name

Dredge Remains
Shingle Beach