Lye Bows Historic Area

Butchers Gully, Alexandra

  • Lye Bows 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 7547 Date Entered 25th June 2004 Date of Effect 25th June 2004


Extent of List Entry

Lye Bow's Historic Area consists of the surviving evidence of the orchard and surrounding wall with an adjacent area of alluvial gold workings and associated features, including a representative length of the Alexandra Borough Water Race, and the probable site of Lye Bow's house.

City/District Council

Central Otago District


Otago Region

Legal description

The proposed Historic Area includes land within the following parcels

- Sec 25 Blk II Fraser SD

- Crown Land Blk II Fraser SD

- Crown Land reserved from Sale (marginal strip)

- Pt Sec 18 Blk II Fraser SD

- Sec 1 SO 24421 Conservation Purposes NZ Gazette 1997 p.3871.

- Pt Sec 1 Blk II Fraser SD

- Pt Sec 1 Blk II Fraser SD (RT OT313/12)

- Closed Road Blk II Fraser SD

- Sec 20 Blk II Fraser SD

It does not include the legal road (Lye Bow Road Parcel ID 3184965)


Bow's Historic Area was one of the sites identified for registration as part of the Chinese Site Registration Project in 2001.

Lye Bow's Historic Area consists of the surviving evidence of the orchard and surrounding wall with an adjacent area of alluvial gold workings and associated features, including a representative length of the Alexandra Borough Water Race, and the probable site of Lye Bow's house.

Lye Bow's market garden, orchard and associated workings represent the interrelationship of goldmining and support industries in Otago. It also provides an important illustration of the transition from gold miner to settled orchardist, a relatively rare example of such long standing operation run by a Chinese immigrant in Otago.

The proposed Lye Bow's Historic Area provides archaeological and historical insight into the life of a Chinese market gardener and orchardist who operated a commercial concern for over forty years in the arid conditions of Butchers Gully. The associated gold workings and remaining section of water race, later sold to the local Council by Lye Bow for town supply, provide essential context emphasising the interrelationship of mining, supply services and water in this spectacular landscape. The nature of the surviving historic evidence means that this site tells the story of Lye Bow's life, and has the potential to provide further understanding of that story through archaeological study and interpretation.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Lye Bow's garden and orchard at Butchers Dam developed out of the goldmining period on the Dunstan Field. Lye Bow operated the orchard and market garden as a commercial concern for over forty years, a significant period in the history of the area, and a rare one for a Chinese miner from the goldfield era. Lye Bow is significant in the history of the area because it was his much sought after water right which he sold to the Council that formed the basis for the first Council water supply in Alexandra.

Goldmining in Otago was a pivotal period in the development of the region, the alluvial remains and associated stories forming a fundamental part of the history of the region. The support structure, such as stores and gardens were also a vital part of the story, but that story is not so well known, the Chinese stories even less so. The history of Lye Bow's orchard, associated workings and water race are an important representation of the interrelationships between mining and support services, such as food supply, in goldfield's Otago. Given the comparative lack of written historical material this site is the remaining story of Lye Bow's life and work.

Lye Bow's orchard and associated remains provide archaeological evidence of Chinese market gardening and orcharding in Central Otago in the nineteenth century. The lack of subsequent intrusive development means the site has survived relatively intact, and can be recorded and studied in its entirety. The alluvial gold workings provide important context, as it was goldmining that brought the Chinese to Central Otago, and the mining population provided a market for Lye Bow's produce. The surviving remains are intact enough to be meaningful for both visitor interpretation and archaeological study. The close juxtaposition of the workings, orchard and water race creates a very compact and easily intelligible complex. There are no other registered sites representing these interrelationships in the context of Chinese history in this area. The closest is Arrowtown Chinese Camp, and while that contained gardens it did not so much tell the story of an individual such as Lye Bow.

The area has strong aesthetic values. The site is set in the spectacular arid schist and tussock hills characteristic of the area surrounding Alexandra. The stone walls and workings contribute to the dramatic aesthetic character of the area. The plantings and gardens are an oasis of vegetation in this otherwise sparse landscape. The siting beside the lake and the dam itself give the area strong visual appeal.

The site has cultural links to the early New Zealand Chinese community. Lye Bow's life particularly illustrates the change from sojourning gold miner to permanent settler working the land to provide their income through supplying fruit and vegetables to the Chinese and European communities.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

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.

Construction Dates

Completion Date

31st August 2004

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Archives New Zealand (Dun)

Archives New Zealand (Dunedin)

DAAC/9075/AccD239/451 Lye Bow's will and probate 1930

Hocken Library

Hocken Library, University of Otago, Dunedin

Janine Smith, History Assignment- Lye Bow, Misc-Ms-1168.

McCraw, 2000

J McCraw, Mountain Water and River Gold: Stories of Goldmining in the Alexandra District. Square One Press, Dunedin, 2000

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 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
Store house
Water Race