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A Gilded Life
The history of gold hunting in New Zealand is replete with the little-known story of a gold-digger with an Indian connection.
Anu Kumar

n Arthur Conan Doyle’s collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes, there is a story of a vile and vindictive sea captain named Peter Carey, a man so perpetually drunk that it only added to his other sins: of hurling abuse at his family and picking fights with neighbours, so much so that he lived apart, alone in an outhouse, where he was found dead one afternoon, a harpoon through him, and no one was left much the sadder. The story was titled “Black Peter”, suggestive of the evil in the sea captain.
december 28, 2013 vol xlviII no 52
EPW Economic & Political Weekly


in urged by the prospecting experience he had gathered in succession. supis believed to belong to Bombay and was on first discovered pliers and others. did press claims but to no was once with EPW and is now a US-based in Otago that led to a memorial in Peters’ honour being writer who blogs at anukumar. account places him as an Anglo-Indian. He accepted. marginal and ill-documented – as was were earlier efforts to recognise Peters’ efforts. A report in 1854 by a committee set up by farmers and other landowners. it was the life of Edward Peters. Read received Booker-winning novel. Along with the miners No one knows the origins of Edward Peters. Edward Peters (Black Peter): The Discoverer of the First Workable Goldfield Anu Kumar (anukumar0811@gmail. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. where people like Peters in one instance. and Peters remained in his old occupation. that he was a Sidi – he dredged up helped pay for his provisions. and to another for his explorations and for It is believed that Peters was camping with a group of spreading information on the discovery of gold in Victoria. This amount the South Island. his story was disregarded and has only Otago. when largest cities and the second-largest city in the South Island. helped serve as a pension for Peters until his death in 1893. differing amounts of reward. and some of the early gold that perhaps Economic & Political Weekly EPW december 28. The region saw a huge influx of recently been resurrected with the help of Peters was the man. across this rocky region of Glenore. who first discovered gold there. became one of New Zealand’s he simply decided to abandon post one day. Dunedin. drawn by these stories. this region was one of the last the wrong done to him was attempted to be undone only in 1885.POSTSCRIPT HISTORY Black Peter wasn’t just a mere character in fiction. it is now widely of just six months in 1861. in from the sea-faring community of East Africa. he was never credited with the discovery. offering his services to sheep the highest levels. the £1. championed by the legislator and newspaperman Vincent whalers had found gold up on the Coromandel Peninsula of Pyke. and also at Nelson. which is set in Hokitika. and Edward rush in Otago. on the west coast of New Zealand’s Peters. sheep farmers when he went out one evening to wash the Despite the belated honour. The issue was debated at He moved into the interior. It was three years later that. But the most significant gold findings were in Otago. One exceptionally fine. Fifty inaugurated in Glenore in 2009. the very area where Peters years before Conan Doyle’s collection was published. Gabriel’s Gully. Small streams and canals cut the Victoria Legislative Council in Australia recommended. for his part. At first significant gold later. Australia and. gold ever found”. who came up an entire support system of traders. but his find on one occasion was enough for the provthe 1840s when prospectors and adventurers crossed seas in ince’s chief surveyor to describe it as the “best sample of search of fortune. Yet he did turn For years the dilemma persisted of who really deserved himself in to the authorities. The rush had been on since teur. Most name. Portuguese. Read died in an asylum in Tasmania.. a man hunted for gold. findings were in That initial discovery of gold sparked the gold Indeed. It was late 1857. in the South of the gold he did find was drained away in the washing. Some of South Island. it docked at Port Chalmers in New Zealand. and spent Edward Peters was the man. and Peters went out to see for himself. which can still be time immemorial. Though there and even in Pakistan. the coast. serving as a cook when gold there the Otago Region.000 bounty promised by the Otago Provincial Council. they were hardy soldiers and experienced sailors. on the north coast of public too managed a contribution of £50. The historian Alan Williams has been instrumental Sidi communities live on in pockets of the west coast of India in penning Peters’ story from old records. growing by the thousands in the space dedicated historians. Or perhaps it was life and character will always remain a mystery. the principal city of board the ship The Maori. not merely to offered help as hut builders and mule drivers who escorted the discoverer but even to those who had conducted research cattle across difficult terrain. last of all. The parliament promised to raise a similar sum if the the North Island. 2013 vol xlviII no 52 141 . much of Edward Peters’ dishes at the nearby Tuapeka stream. A year accepted. based on his epithet. There can someone in the group who told him that the clay there was be only speculation about his early life in Bombay. Serving variously in the kingdoms along found in the Otago Museum. One could California. In the mid-1860s.and then British-owned. and served a full six weeks of credit – the discoverer of the gold reserves or the one who hard labour before giving himself up to a peripatetic life. when the New Zealand Parliament heard a petition places in New Zealand where gold was found. moving between California. This was in 1857 when the heady days Some surveyors he took around dismissed him as an amaof the Gold Rush were still on. Peters found gold in members have been sailing across the Arabian Sea from sufficient quantity to fashion a gold ring. developed them into a gold mine. a One of the stories relating to this gold hunt and the myriad Tasmanian called Gabriel Read struck gold in the area close characters involved in it makes up the premise of the recent by that now bears his name. population. called Edward Peters. for Bombay was. William’s painstaking research in his book.. whose the company of two other shepherds. on the subject.the most his last days at the Benevolent Institution. who bore the same egregious nickPeters was just a dabbler who used primitive tools. it is now widely . Island of New Zealand. A year later. unexpectedly discovered gold in Otago. Earlier on. New Zealand.