Historical Significance or Value
Gay Tan's house is of special historic importance. It is the last intact Chinese residence in the Macraes area, and it is one of only a few surviving Chinese buildings throughout Otago. This is despite the fact that Chinese miners made up a substantial proportion of the population during the late nineteenth century. As such it represents an important aspect of goldfields history that is otherwise represented by fragmented archæological sites rather than intact structures.
It is also an extremely rare example of Chinese affluence in the goldfields, as most Chinese were poor and lived in small huts. A house of this size, style and permanence was uncommon amongst European miners, let alone the Chinese. Gay Tan was a man well outside the Chinese norm in Otago, being both relatively wealthy and having married a European wife.
The house marks the site of the Gifford Road Chinese camp, which was situated on the other side of Gifford Road. Such Chinese settlements were a common feature of goldmining settlements, generally located a short distance away from the main European settlement. Similar location patterns can still be identified at Lawrence and Arrowtown.
The site has been recorded in the NZAA archæological site-recording scheme as site I42/49. Associated with Gay Tan's House is the site of the neighbouring Gifford Road Chinese Camp (site I42/50).
It is also an extremely good example of a late nineteenth century mud-brick house. Electric lighting has been installed, but apart from that the house has had almost no modifications to its basic layout remains intact and authentic. This includes the array of outbuildings associated with the house, including a wooden-seated privy in a sod shed.
The house and outbuildings also illustrate some of the main construction techniques used in the Otago goldfields. The house and dairy are of plastered mud brick. The privy building is of sod, with the grass on the sods still clearly visible after a century, while the workshop has a timber frame with corrugated iron cladding. The garage is also of ironclad timber, but also includes flattened kerosene tins. These construction techniques are all common, but Gay Tan's house provides an extremely compact example of them, which add considerably to the other values of the house.
The goldmining era forms a significant background to the Chinese presence in New Zealand, a period and culture represented largely by archaeological remains and artefacts. Gay Tan's cottage is a rare example of an intact Chinese gold miner's residence. It represents the contribution that the Chinese miners made to the local community at Macraes and is the most obvious surviving element of the Chinese population there. The house provides an illustration of the transition from itinerant miners to settlers as part of a wider community. It had an association with Gay Tan's family for around forty years, a significant length of time, particularly in a period characterized by transience and change.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Gay Tan's house is an extremely rare surviving example of Chinese affluence on the Otago goldfields. Not only was Gay Tan relatively wealthy, but he also married a European woman, placing him well outside the normal Chinese social position in the area at the time. The house was associated with the local Chinese camp, which represented the Chinese norm.
The Chinese gold miners' presence in Otago is an important part of New Zealand history. These sites represent an important opportunity to work towards understanding the dynamics of the goldfields, and the mix of the European and Chinese efforts that went into creating today's archaeological landscape.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place
Descendants of Gay Tan still reside in Otago, and have become prominent members of the community. A great-grandson was the late George Emerson, retired University lecturer, rail history author and Chairman of the Dunedin Gasworks Museum. A great-great grandson is Richard Emerson, of the award-winning Emerson's Brewery. The family is in full support of the registration and restoration of Gay Tan's house, and a letter of support is attached.
The inclusion of the registration proposal and the restoration project as part of the mitigation package with GRD Macraes shows the recognition of its historic value within the local area.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
Gay Tan's house is not only an example of a late nineteenth century colonial goldfields house. It is also an extremely rare surviving example of Chinese success and affluence in the goldfields, and possibly the last standing Chinese residence associated with the goldmining period.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The house provides context to the Golden Point Historic Reserve, the historic buildings at Macraes, and the newly registered gold workings at Murphy's Flat. The building will be incorporated into a general goldfields heritage theme as a reminder of the Chinese community in the early Macraes township.
On a landscape scale the house and site have a significant presence due to the surrounding plantings, which include hazel and apple trees, and a Lawsons Cypress. In addition the thick windbreak of Radiata pines, Macrocarpa and Lombardy poplars on the south side of the house have a strong visual presence in the otherwise near barren Macraes Flat.
Mining at Macraes Flat
Macraes Flat is an historic goldmining town in East Otago, inland from Palmerston. Gold was discovered there in 1862, and mining on various scales continued intermittently for the next hundred years. Many immigrants came to the area. Most came for gold and left after a time, but a few stayed and settled. Chinese miners were among those who arrived in search of gold, and were also among those who settled in the area.
Chinese miners made up a substantial proportion of the mining population at Macraes during the late nineteenth century, apparently reworking ground abandoned by European miners. James Ng notes that Seyip Cantonese entered the inland goldfields via the Dunstan Road and Macraes Flat. Seyip miners were prominent at Macraes Flat. The Looi (Louis) clan was notable Seyip miners at Macraes. John Alloo estimated that there were 150 Chinese miners at Macraes in 1870. In 1888 Presbyterian minister to the Chinese Alexander Don (1857-1934), gave the most exact population figures for Chinese miners at Macraes. He stated that at that time there were 76 Chinese men within a 12-mile radius of the township. Archaeologist Peter Petchey suggests that there are difficulties with estimating Chinese population figures for the area, with official figures underestimating the Chinese presence.
Following the pattern elsewhere in Otago, Chinese miners at Macraes tended to live in camps somewhat removed from the main European settlements, or in isolated small groups of huts at the workings. This was due to a number of factors including the desire to associate with their own cultural group, language difficulties and security. At Macraes, the Chinese miners lived at the Gifford Road Chinese camp - a settlement recorded in an 1898 plan as a number of "Chinamen's Huts." Five structures and what was probably a sod-walled enclosure were recorded on the plan.
There were a number of Chinese stores operating at Macraes Flat - a long-standing one named Sin Woh Ching. The store was mentioned in Wises Directory in 1881. There was another Chinese store at Macraes named Sing Wo Hap, probably replaced by Ah Chee in 1883. Gay Tan was in a partnership in the Sin Loon Shing store, although this partnership was dissolved in 1873. The Chinese were a significant presence at Macraes Flat, apparently composing more than half the population there in 1871.
By 1900 the Chinese mining population was decreasing and aging. Alexander Don noted at Macraes there were only 19 men left, with only 2 under 50 years old. By 1911 there were only 5 old Chinese gold miners left at Macraes Flat.
Gay Tan's House
Gay Tan, a Chinese merchant and miner, lived with his European wife in a relatively large and comfortable house on the opposite side of Gifford Road to the Chinese camp. Gay Tan's house is located at one end of Section 67, Block I, Highlay Survey District. The house was located on an Auriferous Reserve, administered by the Goldfields Warden, under an R.A. (Residence Area) license issued to Gay Tan.
Gay Tan spoke English and married a European woman, both of which put him outside the normal social position of Chinese goldfields immigrants in nineteenth century New Zealand. His house was much larger than the more usual accommodations of temporary wooden houses or stone huts usually associated with Chinese miners. He acted as a temporary court interpreter.
Gay Tan had arrived in Otago in 1867, and married Emma Finch in Naseby in 1873. The couple moved to Macraes in 1875, where they raised two children - Edward and Ida (a third, Jane died as an infant). Presumably the house was built at about this time. Both Louis and his son, Ted (Edward), were involved in local mining enterprises. Louis apparently returned to China in about 1910, Emma having died in 1904 at the age of 43.
According to James Ng, not much is known about Gay Tan's status among the Chinese. He was relatively well off and bilingual. He opened a store and boarding house for Europeans and Chinese in Naseby in 1873. He kept his links with Macraes Flat, although he dissolved his partnership with Ah Hung in the Sin Loon Shing business in 1873.
Ida Gay Tan was educated at Forbury in Dunedin. She worked as a nanny for Sir Robert Stout's children. She went to South Africa and married Albert Leslie Emerson in South Africa in 1903 at the age of 29. They had two sons. Ida's grandson was the late Dr George Emerson of Dunedin.
Edward Gay Tan owned sheelite mines at Macraes during World War One. He was one of the last Chinese miners at Macraes Flat and Hyde. After World War One he went to St Bathans to help supervise the pumping of water from the Blue Lake claim. In 1917 Edward Gay Tan was involved in a quartz mine, mining for scheelite with two others - Phelan and Fraser. After that he teamed up with Fraser and McInnes to mine scheelite, noted in 1918 and 1920. It appears that Ted lived at the cottage at various times until 1924.
Subsequently Edward probably lived in the house for a period. The Auriferous Reserve was formally surveyed into sections in 1924, and the first formal lease of the section was to a Charles Bates of Owaka.
The land was subsequently transferred to Edward Fraser, a farmer of Macraes Flat on 7 June 1937. The lease was transferred to William Fraser of Waitati, sawmill employee, on 11 June 1945.
William Fraser transferred the lease to O'Connell Farm, Macraes, on 12 July 1965. The lease was transferred to Landcorp Investments Ltd on 27 June 1989, and further transferred to Robert White, Leslie Griffin and John Dowling, all of Dunedin, on the same day.
It was transferred back to Landcorp Investments Ltd on 10 July 1990 for the purpose of vesting the land as fee simple. In February 1991 it was transferred to BNP Goldmines (New Zealand) Limited. The proprietor has undergone several name changes, and is now known as Gold and Resources (NZ) Ltd. - GRD (Macraes) Ltd.
Evidence inside the building, (such as old newspapers) suggests that it has not been occupied since the 1970s.
A mining permit over part of the land was taken out under the Crown Minerals Act 1991 for a period of 21 years on 22 March 1993. The house site and adjacent land are not to be mined.
The site consists of Gay Tan's House itself, several outbuildings, a gate and the surviving plantings of the garden and windbreak. There is also certain to be archæological information not visible on the surface, including garden evidence, rubbish pits and possible additional structures.
The cottage is approximately 8m wide and 7m deep with a rear lean-to approximately 3.8m wide and 2.8m deep. The lean-to has substantially collapsed due to a tree falling on it.
The house is a four-roomed mud-brick structure with a hipped corrugated iron roof. It has a basic front elevation and floor plan common to many contemporary structures, with a central front door in the front wall and symmetrically placed front windows. The door opens into a central hallway, with a front room off either side, and a rear kitchen and bedroom at the end of the passage. The kitchen contains a Shacklock No. 1 coal range, which shares a common chimney with one of the front rooms. A laundry has been added to the rear of the house, also constructed from mud brick. This contains a tin bath housed in a wooden bench with a hinged lid. A tree has fallen against the laundry, which has largely collapsed, although the bath has survived without damage. Electric wiring has been installed in the house, but this is now disconnected and inoperative.
The exterior of the front wall has an unusual degree of ornamentation, including a plaster frieze around the front door that is possibly of Chinese design, although this has been damaged. Ornamental quoins have also been plastered onto the corners of the wall.
There is a barn behind the house, this is a modern structure that has been used to make mud bricks in for the restoration project.
The registration includes Gay Tan's House (including the coal range) itself and the outbuildings - a mud brick dairy, a sod outhouse and privy, a corrugated iron workshop and an iron garage and gate. The registration also includes the surviving plantings of the garden and windbreak. There is also certain to be archæological information not visible on the surface, including garden evidence, rubbish pits and possible additional structures.
1876 - 1882
The house contains an original model Shacklock Orion No.1 coal range. No.1 ranges were manufactured between 1874-1890.
The house is mud brick, with a corrugated iron roof.
The outbuildings include a mud brick dairy, a sod out house (which includes the privy), a corrugated iron workshop and an iron garage.
Public NZAA Number
31st August 2004
Report Written By
Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)
Land Information New Zealand
SO 4559 (1898)
Macraes Mining Company
Macraes Mining Company
Petchey, P.G. (1994) 'Dredge Pond License PL 31-2633, Macraes Flat. Archæological Survey', Report for Macraes Mining Company; Petchey, P.G. (1997) 'Gifford Road Chinese Camp Site', Report for Macraes Mining Company. Petchey, P.G. (1998) 'Chinese Archæology at Macraes Flat', Proceedings of the NZ Conference of ASCADAPI, Dunedin, 1998.
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
P G Petchey,'Gifford Road Chinese Camp Site.' Report for Macraes Mining Company, 1997
P G Petchey, 'Chinese Archaeology at Macraes Flat.' Proceedings of the NZ Conference of ASCADAPI, Dunedin, 1998.
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
Gray, John (2001), 'Louis Gay Tan's Cottage, Macraes Flat, East Otago. Conservation Plan', Oakley Gray Architects Ltd.
A fully referenced version of this 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.