Chinese Gardens in Central Otago
In Central Otago mining remains are a prominent feature of both the landscape and the popular imagination. Underlying these obvious aspects of the region's history are the support services which provided for the basic needs of the mining population. Fresh fruit and vegetables were vital to the health of the population, and market gardens and orchards sprung up to meet the demand, and included some run by Chinese.
Chinese gardens faced stiff European competition, and some public opposition. The antagonism was mitigated somewhat by the Chinese gardens having a reputation for lower prices and good service. In Central Otago Chinese gardeners usually formed a garden to supply their own needs, and then some expanded it to sell to the surrounding neighbourhood. According to James Ng local supplies such as this were to be found at Wetherstones, Macetown, Conroys Gully, Bald Hill Flat and Round Hill. Other market gardens were associated with towns, including Waitahuna, Lawrence, Tapanui, Roxburgh, Cromwell, Queenstown and Riverton. Large market gardens were recorded at Beaumont, Butchers Gully, Clyde, Ophir, Matakanui, Arrowtown and Palmerston. Chinese gardens were placed in goldfields - wherever good opportunities existed.
Chinese commercial crops in inland Otago included potatoes, corn, cabbage, peas, gooseberries and strawberries. According to James Ng they grew Chinese vegetables such as Chinese cabbage for their own use. One of the last large scale Chinese market gardens in Central Otago was that of Charlie Lock Chong (Ah Lock, Lok Tseung) at Matakanui.
Alexander Don (1857-1934), the Presbyterian missionary to the Chinese, mentions Chinese gardens in a number of locations including Conroys Gully and Speargrass Flat. He noted that there were orchards as well as associated vegetable gardens, as at Lye Bow's market garden and orchard at Butchers Gully.
Lye Bow's Market Garden and Orchard
Lye Bow was a miner, a local storekeeper and hawker, a market gardener and orchardist. A file note attached to his will said that he arrived in New Zealand in 1864. At Butchers Gully he operated what is believed to be one of the earlier commercial apricot orchards in Otago, with the apricot trees still standing. He employed half a dozen other Chinese orchard workers. He was naturalized in 1887. Lye Bow is listed as storekeeper in Butchers Gully in Stones Otago and Southland Directory 1887-1900.
Section 1 Block II Fraser Survey District was granted to Lye Bow in March 1889. The grant covered 13 acres, 3 roods and 5 poles (over 5 hectares). Title was issued in January 1893 (OT96/246). Lye Bow owned the land till his death in 1930, except for a brief period between 1924 and 1926 when it was owned by John Thompson and William Donaldson, described on the title as fruit growers from nearby Fruitlands (OT96/246).
Lye Bow was mining when W. Chan, Alexander Don's associate, met him in 1907. James Ng suggests that Lye Bow had up to half a dozen permanent and seasonal orchard hands. Older residents remembered Lye Bow's Chinese employees "on their hawking rounds bearing baskets slung on shoulder-yoke." According to C.C. Ding (1989) Lye Bow was a Dungguan Cantonese who once brought his nephew to New Zealand. Alexander Don's Chinese Roll confirms this, and also notes Lai Tung Pou (Lye Bow).
There were other Chinese orchardists in the Alexandra district - including Ah Why (Ah Wye, Lam Seung Waai), Sue Him, Lye Jew and Elizabeth Wing.
Lye Bow's valuable two head water right from Butchers Creek brought him considerable pressure from miners who wished him to relinquish it in the 1890s. He suffered harassment from both the notoriously anti-Chinese Magnus Brothers, as well from J.P. Lane who ran a dredging operation. Lane argued in the Warden's Court that Lye Bow was using his water for irrigation rather than mining, and that this change of use had not been sanctioned by the Court, and therefore his use of the water was illegal. Lane argued that his dredging, which employed 10 people was more important.
In 1896 Lye Bow teamed up with John Ewing concerning water rights in the Butchers Point and Bald Hill Flat areas. John Ewing (1844-1922) was one of the foremost gold miners in the Mount Ida district, and the most publicized exponent of hydraulic sluicing in Otago up until the mid 1890s. He had a wide spread of mining interests in Otago, and had taken an anti-Chinese stance in the Maniototo works contracts in the 1870s, fostering anti-Chinese sentiment particularly in the Mount Ida district.
In 1899 a deputation from the Alexandra Borough Council approached Lye Bow to "enquire whether there was any chance of his water right of two heads from Butchers Creek becoming available. Lye Bow was not supposed to understand English but the deputation judged from his demeanour and his famous grin that he might be receptive to a firm proposal." The Council proposal came during the dredging boom which had put pressure on town services, including water, with the town supply being of poor quality and unsuitable for drinking. The Council turned to Lye Bow's supply in the hope of solving the ongoing problem.
Water was a sought after resource and both John Ewing and other prominent politicians and miners the Magnus brothers wanted Lye Bow's water in Butchers Gully. Lye Bow, according to historian Professor J.D. McGraw,
owned the most valuable asset of all - a prior right to two heads of water from Butchers Creek, and the Magnuses, who were setting up the Golden Beach [Hydraulic Elevating and Dredging Co.] were determined to get hold of this. They claimed that they held the prior right to the water. At the inevitable hearing in the Wardens Court the Warden traced out the complete history of the water races in what is the most complete, detailed and , I might say, valuable piece of research of this kind I have come across. It proved that Lye Bow did indeed hold the prior right. But then the Magnuses sold out to J.P. Lane (of Lanes Cordials of Dunedin) in 1905 and he was just as bad. He continually harassed poor Lye Bow for his water... .
Lye Bow was so frustrated that remembering the Council's previous interest, he offered his prior right of two heads to the Alexandra Borough Council. The Council was already disappointed and exasperated over the failure of its very expensive water scheme completed only four years previously. The deal was signed for £500 in November 1907, with the change of use to be approved by the Warden's Court.
Lane objected to the Council scheme, arguing that it would affect his ability to dredge, and that mining was more important than the Council scheme. The Court granted the change of use. The Council built a race to traverse the cliffs in the Butchers Creek gorge and then a reservoir and pipeline for town reticulation. The water works, with its system of water races, fluming and earthworks through the spectacular Butchers Creek Gorge opened on 28 July 1909, and was further extended with a Dam across the upper entrance of Butchers Creek in 1937. McCraw states that Lye Bow and Mayor Henry Schaumann together, through this scheme ensured Alexandra got its first reliable water supply. This water continued to serve the Borough until quite recently.
Lye Bow died at Dunstan Hospital in Clyde, possibly as a result of a stroke, in 1930, at close to 100 years of age. In his will, translated to him by Dunedin merchant Henry Sew Hoy, he left his estate to nephew Lye How Shum, a Hong Kong poultry dealer. A file note with the will estimated the value of Lye Bow's estate in 1918 as the freehold property at Butchers Dam and £500 in the bank. On his death he had 18 shillings in cash, £16 in chattels and £500 in real property (his land at Butchers Dam).
Lye Bow's executor sold the property to Alexandra fruit farmer Clifford Meiklejon in 1931. The land was taken for irrigation purposes in 1935 and re-sold ten years later once Butchers Dam was completed.
In 1944 the property was bought by Alexandra labourer Bertram Jones, and quickly onsold to local butcher Benjamin Carline, who maintained the orchard. Eleven years later it was sold to Marjorie Macdonald, described on the title as a married woman of Dunedin, and used as a holiday home. In 1968 it was sold to Stanley and Margaret Sparrow of Dunedin. In 1981 it was transferred to Rodney and Carolyn Hogg, of Inchclutha, who ran a plant nursery and tea rooms on the property. In 1998 the current family acquired the property.
According to James Ng Lye Bow's orchard is the best preserved old Chinese garden - "where his stone fences, stone shed, and apricot trees still stand on a dry but gently sloping, north-facing, sunny spot.
Apparently the 1993 owners of Lye Bow's property collected memories and stories about him. The property comprised some 13 or 14 acres, fenced in stone, with a water race running parallel to the south side. Much of the north-facing ground was inundated by Butchers Dam. Lye Bow had about 150 apricot trees, and some of these and a few plum trees were still producing. Lye Bow is remembered by Lye Bow's Road adjacent to Butchers Dam.
31st August 2004
Report Written By
Archives New Zealand (Dun)
Archives New Zealand (Dunedin)
DAAC/9075/AccD239/451 Lye Bow's will and probate 1930
Hocken Library, University of Otago, Dunedin
Janine Smith, History Assignment- Lye Bow, Misc-Ms-1168.
J McCraw, Mountain Water and River Gold: Stories of Goldmining in the Alexandra District. Square One Press, Dunedin, 2000
Ng, James, Windows on a Chinese Past, Volume 1, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1993
Ng, James, Windows on a Chinese Past, Volume 2, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1995
Ng, James, Windows on a Chinese Past, Volume 3, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1999
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]
J H M Salmon, J.H.M. 'A History of Goldmining in New Zealand', Wellington, 1963
Jill Hamel, The Archaeology of Otago, Department of Conservation, Wellington, 2001
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region 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
Gold Workings, hut sites, and associated features
Lye Bow's House
Orchard and surrounding stone walls