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Unknown in the Unknown: A. J. Barrington – Prospector, Explorer, Likeable Rogue?

Aat Vervoorn1

Heroes Return

On 15 June 1864 in the recently established gold town of Queenstown, New Zealand, the local newspaper, the Lake Wakatip Mail, contained a dramatic story. A party of three prospectors who had last been heard of some sixteen weeks earlier, when they set off to explore the rugged mountains to the north, had returned. They were alive – just – and had discovered gold. The policeman stationed at the head of the Lake, at what is now Glenorchy, reported on 11 June that the prospectors had arrived there ‘after an absence of over three months. They are very much reduced in flesh – in fact, their appearance is that of living skeletons’. They were ‘wrecks of humanity’, commented one local who had helped them back to the settlement; in his opinion they had ‘endured much greater hardships than even Burke and Wills’. The trio was transferred to the new district hospital at Frankton, where by 24 June it was reported that they were doing ‘exceedingly well’. All they had needed was food and rest. In fact, by 18 June the Lake Wakatip Mail had already managed to obtain a brief description of their journey from one of the party, A. J. Barrington, with an assurance that the public could expect a full account in the near future.2 Between 2 and 16 July the newspaper printed Barrington’s complete journal, and on 20 July Barrington supplemented this by addressing a large public meeting in Queenstown.

Barrington’s Journey

Barrington’s journal3 is fascinating reading, written in a style that vividly conveys the hardships endured. Amongst other things, it tells us that the journey of sixteen weeks which attracted so much attention had been preceded by nearly another three months of travel in the largely unexplored, difficult terrain to the west of the Main Divide, where the annual precipitation can be as high as 10 metres and mountainsides not under permanent ice and snow are covered in dense bush.

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Barrington first set off into the mountains at the head of Lake Wakatipu on 21 December 1863, having already spent a month prospecting near Glenorchy. With Edward Dunmore and William Baylis, and ‘a good dog’ belonging to the storekeeper at the head of the Lake,4 he went up the Dart River to the Route Burn, then turned up the North Branch of the latter in the direction of the Main Divide. There they were fortunate to encounter another prospector called Joseph McGuirk (Barrington spells it M’Guirk), alias ‘the Maori Hen’,5 who had quite a reputation. McGuirk had crossed from the Route Burn to the West four times already and had reached Lake Alabaster on the Pyke River. He offered to show them the way, in return for which Barrington promised to build a boat to get them across the Pyke, which had halted McGuirk’s previous explorations. They crossed the Divide at what is now North Col, into Hidden Falls Creek, which was then followed up to Cow Saddle and the head of the Olivine River. From there the route crossed the Bryneira Range to descend to the Pyke River just upstream of Lake Alabaster. Eventually they camped where the Pyke River flows out of Lake Alabaster, where they found the remains of earlier campsites and a broken oar, the latter possibly left by Alabaster’s party in June 1863, which had discovered the lake after coming up the Hollyford Valley from the sea by boat.6 Barrington now kept his word and took the lead in making a vessel for his mates, hollowing out a kahikatea trunk with a tomahawk.

On 6 January 1864, while Dunmore and McGuirk went prospecting, Barrington and Baylis set off for Lake Wakatipu for more supplies. Baylis proved more interested in drinking and bragging about the gold he claimed they had found than getting supplies ready. The result was that he was left behind by Barrington, who set off again for Lake Alabaster with James Farrell, ‘a gentleman’ who seems to have been as interested in seeing the country and shooting as in searching for gold. Thanks to Baylis’ pub talk, they were ‘shepherded’ (trailed) by other diggers keen to share their discovery. Despite making every effort to get back to their mates with food as quickly as possible, the bad weather they encountered meant that it was to be exactly a month after leaving it that they finally made it back to their camp. Not surprisingly, they were worried about what they would find.

February 6th. Beautiful morning. Made the depot at 2 p.m., and went down to the tent. Saw Edward Dunmore sitting on a stone by the river side. Crossed the river, and got down to where he was – but what a sight! A complete living skeleton; I never saw anything like him alive. Took him over to the tent, put him in bed and made him a little gruel. He had not eaten any food for twelve days, and for seven previous to that he had only 1½ lb. oatmeal. He said as soon as the provisions were done, the “Maori Hen” left for the Lake, saying he would make for Fox’s [Arrowtown].

It was long thought that the Maori Hen must have come to grief on his bid to reach Arrowtown and had disappeared without a trace; only recently has he been identified as Joseph McGuirk, who in 1872 took up land at Lake Hayes, between Arrowtown and Queenstown, holding it until 1901. Expert bushman that he was, McGuirk managed to get out of the fix alive.7 Three days after reaching Lake Alabaster, Barrington again left for Lake Wakatipu, ‘for more provisions and mates’. Striking reasonable conditions this time, by 14 February he was able to start on the return journey, together with three new companions. One of the new men was ‘a Frenchman, Farrell’s mate, name Antoine Simonin’. They reached Lake Alabaster on 21 February, where they found Dunmore and Farrell, ‘the former recovering fast’ from his ordeal.

Dunmore had had enough and returned to Queenstown with two of the recent arrivals. Only Barrington, Farrell and Simonin were keen to carry on. They decided on a change of strategy. If they were to venture further afield, repeated trips back to Lake Wakatipu for more supplies would be out of the question. The only alternative was to try to live off the land. ‘Farrell, Simonin and I resolved to go back and fetch powder and shoot, as it was impossible to carry provisions to prospect the country north from here, where we believe the gold to exist’. So Barrington and Farrell made one more journey back to Lake Wakatipu, while Simonin waited at Lake Alabaster. On 15 March, accompanied by their dog, the trio finally set off northward up the Pyke Valley.

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A week later they reached Lake Wilmot, which on account of the prolific game encountered there they called Plenty Lake. They continued up the Pyke until its valley swung to the east, then headed north up Durward Creek and over a low saddle into the head of the Jerry River, which they followed down to its junction with the Gorge River, only a few kilometres from the sea. Here they turned inland, to trace the Gorge River to its head, prospecting as they went. Gold, Barrington says, they could find ‘almost anywhere’; however, the weather was appalling and game was scarce. Getting enough food to stay alive had become a constant concern.

April 12th. Rained in torrents all night. At daybreak we were forced to turn out in the rain and shift our tent further into the bush. Had we not awoke, both we and the tent would have been hurled down the creek in ten minutes more. So rapid did it rise that before we could get the things shifted the river was running over the ground where we had our tent pitched. A creek, where yesterday evening there was only a few inches of water trickling through the boulders this morning was a large foaming river, with water enough to launch a good sized schooner in, and running at the rate of twenty knots. Continued to rain all day; no game, consequently nothing to eat. Here was the first place our dog turned traitor to our cause. When we took him in the bush to hunt for kakapo8 – which is our chief food – he would go and catch one, stop and eat it, and then he would not hunt any more for us.

April 13th. Turned out early, still raining. Killed a robin and three wrens; roasted them: the smallest joints I ever saw.

On 16 April, crossing Gorge Saddle eastward into the Cascade Valley, they were fortunate enough to strike fine weather, but were caught by nightfall well above the river. They camped on the only piece of level ground they could find, ‘about six feet square with precipices on either side’. Next morning, when they reached the Cascade River, their spirits rose. Geologically, the country looked promising; they were near a contact zone of different rock types, with lots of quartz showing in the river. When they panned the river gravel they found gold; when they pitched camp they were able to dry blankets and clothing that had been wet for a fortnight. They felt so optimistic that they decided to give the location a week’s trial.

Crossing the Cascade River where two islands divide it into three streams, below Falls Creek, they made for a lake they had seen from the top of Gorge Saddle a few days earlier, in the bush a couple of kilometres east of the river. The lake, called Theta Tarn on modern maps, struck Barrington as attractive, and not only because it contained ducks and eels. But even before they could pitch camp the weather had deteriorated seriously.

April 21st. Very heavy rain has now set in and every appearance of it continuing. This is the heaviest rain I have seen since leaving Victoria. The lake has risen four feet to-day, and the rivers are at a fearful height. Nothing to eat since a small snack this morning. There is nothing at all that we can find here eatable – no fern root, no spear-grass, no annis, or any vegetable whatever; nothing but stones, timber and water…. It continued to rain at a fearful rate during the four following days, and flooded the lake and river, entirely precluding any work. Obtained just sufficient game to keep life in us, only after great hardships and difficulties.

Their situation, which had long been serious, had now become critical. They argued about what to do, but in the end agreed to try to follow the most direct route back to Lake Wakatipu, while they still had strength to move. On 29 April, about halfway between Theta Tarn and the Cascade River, beside Elsie Creek, they dumped as much equipment as they could to lighten their swags: picks, shovels, chisels, a spokeshave, tin dishes, gimlets, nails… When one reads the list one realizes how much they had been carrying. Then they set off, following the Cascade River upstream. On 1 May they clambered up the side of the 50 metres high Durward Falls, their ‘lives at many times depending on a few blades of grass, which grow out of the face of the rocks’. Two days later, from the flats above the falls, they climbed bare slopes to the crest of the Red Hills, probably well to the north of the highest point. Then they traversed south along the crest until it was possible to begin to descend the western slopes, camping at nightfall in a high basin containing several small lakes, almost certainly in the head of what is now called Peridot Stream.

The following day, 4 May, disaster struck. Traversing the bare mountainside in rain and cloud, Barrington became separated from his mates. ‘I cooeyed and got no answer. Thinking they were ahead I hurried on, but left them behind. Cooeyed all the way as I went, but got no answer’. The situation could easily have proved fatal for Farrell and Simonin as well as Barrington. They only had one tent between them, which Barrington was carrying, and while both parties carried a gun, the dog – also essential for survival – was with Farrell and Simonin. The only option for Barrington was to continue in the general direction they had agreed, in the hope they would meet up again. So he descended to the Pyke River, to trace it upstream. The following evening he camped near the headwaters of the river, alone, in torrential rain which the next day turned to snow. The journal gives heartfelt expression to his misery:

May 6th. Still raining, with snow mixed. I am certain this is snow on the mountains; if so I shall have a hard matter to get over. Very cold; could not sleep last night, my teeth cracking together all night with cold, and cramp in my legs. I do not feel at all well. The rats stole my little duck, which I intended for this day’s food. This is the first day I have been heartily sick of the country. Nothing to eat; cannot light a fire; all my clothes and blankets wet. I am indeed miserable.

There he remained, in the Pyke Valley below Stag Pass, with ever more snow falling and almost nothing to eat, for eight days. For a while he considered going back down the Pyke River, all the way to Lake Wilmot (his Plenty Lake), and retracing their outward route back to civilization. It was an option that might have worked, for Barrington at any rate, and may even have saved him three or four week’s hardship; for Farrell and Simonin, on the other, it would probably have proved fatal. But he decided to push on in the previously agreed direction. After several attempts to escape his predicament, on 14 May, terribly weak from cold, starvation, and lack of sleep, he set off in an all-or-nothing attempt to reach Stag Pass. After taking all morning to travel a couple of kilometres in deep snow, he emptied his swag of everything not absolutely essential. ‘I threw away everything but my blankets, gun, and a little powder and shot, which were my only dependence. Amongst the things I abandoned was a couple of specimens which we got in the Little [Gorge] River, and a small parcel of gold which we found in prospecting, with maps, books, etc…’ With a much lighter swag, he was able to carry on. Slowly, he managed to make his onto the saddle, then stagger down the other side to reach the large flat of the upper Barrier River before nightfall. There, while looking for a campsite, he saw smoke. To his immense relief, there were Farrell and Simonin. ‘They were surprised to see me’, Barrington notes laconically.

They still had hopes of finding a route back to Lake Wakatipu more direct than their outward journey. Accordingly, on 16 May, they made their way up the South Branch of the Barrier River, which more or less came from the direction they wanted to travel, unaware that it would take then into country far more difficult than anything they had struck so far. That night they camped not far from its source, the Barrier Glacier, which descends from the Olivine Ice Plateau. A ‘fearful day’s toil’ followed. Turning aside, they clambered up a very steep gully – Barrington says at an angle of 75 degrees; no doubt it felt all of that – to Intervention Saddle, only to be faced with a descent just as steep on the other side, down to the head of the Forgotten River. Here it was Simonin’s turn to have a narrow escape:

At one time Simonin was behind me; I heard him sing out “Look out”; I turned around and he was coming down the snow at a fearful rate, head first, on his back. He held the gun in one hand, but had to let it go, when both he and the gun passed me at the rate of a swallow, and did not stop till they reached a little flat two miles down, with a fall of 1,000 feet. I thought he was killed, but he was all right, with the exception of being a little frightened. We got down to the head of the flat and camped. Such a day I hope never to see again.

From Intervention Saddle they had seen enough to conclude that to press on in the direction they had hoped was out of the question: ‘Nothing but mountains of snow as far as we could see, in every direction but west’. They descended the Forgotten River, which first runs southwest, then west to join the Olivine River. Here, on the flats where the two rivers meet, they could still have saved themselves three very miserable weeks, had they been aware of it. By turning left, up the Olivine River, they could have reached their outward route, below Cow Saddle, in a single day. Instead, they took what seemed like the cautious and sensible option, following the Olivine River down in the direction of the familiar Pyke River.

May 21st. Travelled down a large flat and entered into the heaviest and steepest gorge I ever saw. Here we were very near losing Farrell. He volunteered to be lowered down by a flax rope on to a rock about 14 feet over the water, and thus pass our swags across; but when he got half way down down the rope broke and he went into a fearful boiling eddy in the creek. I looked but could not see him anywhere for over a minute and a half, when I saw him rise just at the top of the precipice and seize at another rock, which he succeeded in catching hold of and getting upon. If he had gone 4 ft. farther, he would have been dashed down a precipice 200 ft. so that he would never have been seen any more. Camped that night on the bare stones by the side of the creek. Nothing for a bed and nothing to eat. Very cold.

The next day they made it down to the Pyke River, which they could follow back to their camp at Lake Alabaster, reaching it on 25 May. Yet even now their troubles were far from over. The weather became worse than ever; so much rain fell that Lake Alabaster – with a surface area of about five square kilometres – rose by at least four or five metres.

May 29th. This is the most miserable day of my existence. We had to turn out last night at 10 o’clock, and the water rose so fast that we could not get anything away but our blankets. Had to wade to the side of the range up to our middles in water. We tied the powder and guns and a few other things to the ridge pole, afraid to carry them away in case of getting them wet. The night was very dark and before [we rea]ched the hill I got up to my arms in water. [I thought] I should never get across, but we reached the land safe about a quarter of a mile distant. Had to walk up and down all night, the rain still pouring down. If this night does not kill us we shall never die. Got a fire this morning: kept it going all day, but could not get back to our tent, as there is ten feet of water to go through, so we shall have another night, which I hope will be fine or we shall perish.

It was not until 1 June that they were able to start on the final leg of their journey, along the route they had travelled several times before: over the Bryneira Range to the head of the Olivine River, across Cow Saddle to Hidden Falls Creek, then over North Col to the North Branch of the Route Burn. Winter was setting in and days were short. Bad weather trapped them for several days in Hidden Falls Creek. Barrington reflected that what on other occasions had taken him one day had so far taken them six. They seriously considered the possibility of having to follow the creek down to the Hollyford River and make their way down to the sea, to try to survive the winter there. But on 7 June they managed to cross North Col to the Route Burn; four hungry days later they caught sight of Lake Wakatipu, and next morning made their way down the Dart River to the island, where they were lucky enough to find a local shooting party with a boat. The shooters went to Glenorchy for help, which soon arrived in the form of a whaleboat rowed by five locals. That night they were back in the settlement. According to Barrington’s journal it was 12 June 1864; according to the police constable’s official report of their rescue it was 11 June. We have to assume that during his ordeal Barrington got his days muddled somewhere and that the policeman was right.

The Journey’s Aftermath

The diggers of the Lake were moved to compassion and generosity by the party’s hardships. The small community at the head of the Lake immediately contributed fifteen pounds for their needs; a week later another forty pounds was donated by miners from Queenstown and Arrowtown. Not everyone, however, took their story at face value. One sceptic went so far as to suggest that Barrington and his mates had never left the head of the Lake, that they had been ‘on the spree in the shanties’ there and that the diary published in the newspaper had been fabricated by a Queenstown wit. Barrington wrote to the editor of the newspaper rebutting these ‘cruel and unjust’ assertions. They were, he declared, ‘were personally offensive to some of my party’.9 What made some observers sceptical was that although Barrington said he had found payable gold, his party had returned with no gold to show for its efforts. Barrington undertook to tell a public meeting all about his discovery and the editor of the Lake Wakatip Mail urged the paper’s readers to attend: ‘We trust the attendance will be large, and that honour will be paid to the bravest of explorers New Zealand has seen’.10

The meeting of 20 July was well attended. To an enthusiastic audience Barrington recounted the details of their journey and the discovery of a new gold field some thirty miles from Jackson Bay on the West Coast. He and his mates would be returning to try their luck, he said, but they would not travel overland again. They planned to charter a boat and sail around to Jackson Bay, taking with them a year’s provisions. Anyone who wanted to would be welcome to do likewise. Some members of the audience still wondered why Barrington had not brought any of the gold he said he had found back with him, and pressed him on the matter with what the newspaper reporter judged ‘great ill taste’. Barrington explained that when he had emptied his swag in his moment of desperation below Stag Pass, he was so weak from hunger and cold that it did not occur to him to pick up the bag of gold that fell at his feet; he had more pressing matters on his mind. The doubters were persuaded, or at least asked no further questions. The meeting unanimously thanked Barrington and his party for their exploration of such a difficult and unknown region, and wished him success in developing the new gold field.11

Ten weeks later, accompanied by some fifty other diggers, Barrington (there is no mention of Farrell and Simonin) arrived at Jackson Bay to pursue his discovery. Several small vessels had been chartered to convey the diggers, their gear and provisions. They soon realised that Barrington had been mistaken in his geography. The site of his gold field was not on a river running into Jackson Bay, as he had assumed, but rather in one that reached the sea to the south. Nonetheless, the diggers set about exploring the locality and quickly found their way up the Cascade River to Barrington’s camp at Linger and Die Lake, as he had called Theta Tarn in his published account. Although they soon found the equipment dumped there, they found none of the gold that Barrington claimed to have discovered nearby; nor did they find any gold in the Arawata River, despite prospecting a long way up its valley. The only place that payable gold was found (offering very modest returns of between seven shillings sixpence and ten shillings a day) was on the beach at Jackson Bay itself. As might be expected, Barrington’s companions were disappointed and angry; just how angry is apparent from the report of the police sergeant at Greymouth, further up the West Coast, where the majority of the party arrived on 21 December 1864, having decided to cut their losses:

Two cutters the Nugget and Petrel have just entered the Grey River, they came from Jackson’s Bay. They, the party, have been prospecting that district for the last ten weeks. The well known prospector Barrington was the leader of the party. After giving the country a fair trial, they have arrived at the sorry conclusion that payable gold is not to be obtained in Jackson’s Bay. At one time they intended taking summary vengeance on Barrington, as it was through his statements at Queenstown, they have been induced to incur the expenditure of chartering two crafts to prospect his supposed Eldorado. The two parties together number 38 men. They have arrived here in a complete state of destitution, as their all was risked on the success of the expedition. It has proved an utter failure. They intend giving the Grey another trial. They also report that the cutter Thames remains still at Jackson’s Bay, the Captain having refused to give the diggers a passage to Nelson under four pounds per man. This they could not pay, having nothing. It was mooted to take both the craft and Captain back to Nelson and lay the case before the owners of the craft. 12

Obviously Barrington was regarded as a liar who had deceived everyone by talking up what was either a fraud or a delusion. A number of reports dispatched to various newspapers at the same time as the above letter confirm the widespread resentment and indignation directed against him. A correspondent to the Nelson Colonist was particularly scathing:

I think it would be very beneficial to the public, if you would publish the following facts, for the accuracy of which I vouch:– The cutter Petrel from Nelson, and Nugget, from Invercargill, with 38 diggers, have just put in here. They have been out prospecting Jackson’s Bay and surrounding country for three months, finding only the color of gold in one place. The Nugget is commanded by Barrington, of Queenstown celebrity, and was fitted out for the purpose by private enterprise, on the famous statement of Barrington and party when they came back to Queenstown from a prospecting tour towards the West Coast from Lake Wakatipu – “that they had found payable gold, and had got several ounces of nuggetty gold, but had dropped the bag on the ground, and being so weak from want of rations that they could not pick it up and carry it further, so they left it there”. (But then they carried a double-barrelled gun, and about ten pounds of powder and shot.) The parties belonging to the Petrel complain very much about Barrington’s conduct; he has completely led them astray. There is no such gold field as he represented.13

Barrington the Man

What sort of man was Barrington? Although, as Nancy Taylor says in her introduction to her edition of his journal, the journal tells us almost nothing about Barrington,14 it reveals a lot. Put this together with what can be deduced from his behaviour in Queenstown and later on the West Coast, and it becomes possible to form a good idea of his character.

There can be no doubt that Barrington was tough, adaptive, a quick learner, and that he great confidence in himself and his ability to cope with difficult situations. That confidence, together with his general optimism, seems at times to have led him to downplay negative factors and, to some degree, skew his judgement, perhaps even result in self-delusion. At the same time, though, he had a sense of humour which in even in the most trying circumstances could be directed against himself. It takes someone with a reasonably well developed sense of the absurd to be able to comment, when ravenously hungry and reduced to sharing a tiny robin and three wrens with his two comrades, that they were ‘the smallest joints I ever saw’.

Not only could Barrington laugh at himself, even when he was anxious and hungry, he could still respond to natural beauty of the landscape in which he suffered. In late December, when faced with the uncertain prospect of crossing the Main Divide by the steep snow slopes of North Col, wrote: ‘Camped just under the snow…. Weather fine but cold; beautiful scenery. The cotton plant [Celmisia or mountain daisy] grows profusely here and of a splendid quality’. Lake Alabaster, he declared on finally managing to reach it, was ‘a beautiful little lake’. In April, when finding enough to eat had become an ever-present anxiety, on reaching Theta Tarn he could still muster enough enthusiasm for his surroundings to respond to the their aesthetic qualities: ‘Found the lake about one mile east of the river; a very fine one, one mile square, with a beautiful grassy mound all round it’. An ability to appreciate pretty scenery is not usually evident among those close to starvation.

From both the journal and his conduct in Queenstown, it is obvious that Barrington saw himself as a leader of men; in general he does seem to have shown the initiative and sense of responsibility for his companions looked for in a leader. He also had a pretty good sense of direction, an eye for topography, and knew something about maps and navigation. One type of initiative that deserves special mention because it was to be evident also later in his career: entrepreneurial flair, an eye for business opportunities sharper than his skill as prospector. Despite being half dead from hunger, on returning to Queenstown he still had his wits about him sufficiently to get his journal published in the newspaper. Presumably he did not offer it for publication for nothing, but even if he did, his dealings with the paper and the way he handled the public meeting imply an appreciation of the potential benefits of publicity that seems very modern. Before coming to New Zealand, he had decided in Victoria that there was more money to be made from selling to miners than from prospecting with them; in the years to come he was to make his living from a number of commercial ventures.

There can be no doubt either that Barrington was an educated man, one who was good with words, both spoken and written. In Queenstown he confidently addressed a big public gathering and was given a rousing reception, which may not have been easy for someone uneducated. His journal is not only well written –perhaps the Lake Wakatip Mail’s editor should get some of the credit for that – but the fact that it exists at all is evidence of the value Barrington attached to the written word. In the brief account published by the newspaper on 2 July 1864, to whet its readers’ appetites for what was to follow, Barrington indicated that the only reason his journal had survived the journey, rather than being jettisoned along with most of the contents of his swag, was that he was in the habit of stowing it rolled up in his blankets to keep it dry; to undo his bedroll had simply been too much effort for a man at the end of his tether. While that makes good sense, it does not explain why he kept on writing it under the appalling conditions he encountered. It is all too easy to underestimate the self-discipline and determination required, when suffering from hunger and cold, in wet clothes and blankets, to keep a journal up to date. The only plausible explanation is that he believed that their journey mattered and that it mattered, too, to have a written account of the journey. Most men would have stopped writing very early in the piece and resorted, one particularly dismal morning, to using the notebook to light the fire.

Was Barrington a liar and a fraud? The information available does not warrant such a conclusion; in fact, it suggests the opposite. No sane person leads a party of fifty or so robust, armed diggers to a remote location, to find gold he has assured them is there, unless he his convinced that it actually exists. A fraud would make sure that he is a long way from those he dupes before they realise what has happened. Barrington was intelligent and enterprising, but he never had much success as a prospector. In this instance, it appears, the hardships he and his party had undergone made it necessary for him to believe that they must have found gold. Graham Bishop, a government geologist who in the 1970s and 1980s mapped much of the country traversed by Barrington’s party, is of the view that while it is likely that they would indeed have found plentiful signs of gold in the Gorge River, the Cascade Valley is a very different proposition; Barrington’s optimistic assessment notwithstanding, from a geological point of view it simply is not a good bet.15

A fraud Barrington was not, but neither was he an angel. That there were limits to his honesty, especially in his personal life, will become clear from the account of his life that follows.

Tracking Barrington

The only autobiographical information included in Barrington’s journal is an allusion to having lived in Victoria, and the statement that for most of 1863 he had worked at Arthur’s Point on the Shotover River, without success. The Lake Wakatip Mail gave Barrington’s first name as Alphonse. It also reported that he informed the public meeting in Queenstown that he had been searching for gold for ten years, and had worked in silver mines near St Arnaud in Victoria, before arriving in the Queenstown district in January 1863. This was not much from which to try to discover more about Barrington. However, it seemed logical to start with the assumption that since things went rather badly for him in New Zealand, he probably went back to where he had come from, that is, Victoria.

That assumption proved correct. Barrington remained in the Greymouth area for almost a year. On 5 December 1865, he boarded the Gothenburg at Hokitika, which finally sailed for Melbourne eight days later. According to the passenger list, he was 29 years old and single, and his occupation was miner.16 Yet it appears that during his time in Greymouth Barrington was involved in activities other than prospecting. On 7 July 1866 the recently established Grey River Argus recorded that an A. I. Barrington, one of the owners of the Canterbury Hotel, together with his partners had been charged with failing to keep a light burning at night over the entrance to the premises. His partners were fined five shillings each; Barrington was fined one pound for failing to appear in court. Given that by the time the matter was handled in court he had been back in Victoria for six months, his non-appearance is understandable. Then on 16 June 1865 the Grey River Argus reported another court matter: in the affair of Lurghton versus Barrington, concerning an IOU of twenty-eight pounds six shillings, the court decided in favour of the plaintiff, while reducing the amount to be paid to twenty pounds. Barrington was not a common name in New Zealand in the 1860s, so it is highly likely that the person who features in these reports was our man.

The Victorian records of births, deaths and marriages list two A. J. Barringtons whose dates make them candidates for identification with the New Zealand prospector. By coincidence, both lived in the northwest of the state, in the general vicinity of St Arnaud, mentioned by the prospector to the Queenstown meeting. One was Alpheus John Barrington, who on 16 November 1857 married Elizabeth Craven in Melbourne. The marriage certificate indicates that he was born in Newfoundland, where his father was a farmer; that he was 25 years old (that is, born in 1832); and that he was a storekeeper living at Kingower (halfway between Bendigo and St Arnaud).17 The other was Albert John Barrington, who on 5 April 1875, in Horsham, married Isabella Powell Smith. According to the marriage certificate he was then 27 years old (that is, born in 1848) and came from Ireland, where his father was a doctor of medicine; his occupation was mariner.18

Most of the evidence pointed to Albert rather than Alpheus. As the son of a doctor, Albert could be expected to be well educated and able to write; he was single, and as a sailor perhaps inclined to travel and adventure. But his stated age was a problem: in 1864 he would have been only sixteen years old, much too young to lead a prospecting party. Alpheus, on the other hand, would have been about the right age – 32 years old in 1864 – but older than the 29 year old Barrington who left New Zealand on the Gothenburg in December 1865. Moreover, he was married, had a farming background and the sedentary occupation of storekeeper. Since Albert’s youthfulness could be accounted for by assuming that he resorted to the then common practice of lying about his age in order to marry a younger woman (Isabella was 20 years old when they married), he seemed the more likely of the two. Initially, further investigation supported this hunch.

Ultimately, the truth proved much more interesting. A search of the first electoral role for the Province of Westland, published in the Grey River Argus of 13 April 1866 – only a few months after Barrington had returned to Victoria – revealed an A. J. Barrington officially still residing at section 3, block IX, Mawhera Quay, Greymouth. The trouble was, it was Alpheus, not Albert. That was unexpected. It prompted a search of the passenger lists of vessels leaving Melbourne for New Zealand towards the end of 1862 (since Barrington told his Queenstown audience that he arrived in the district in January 1863). Sure enough, there he was, on the Aldinga, which sailed for Port Chalmers (Dunedin) on 22 November 1862. But it was Albert, not Alpheus, and he claimed to be twenty-five years old and single.19

The only likely explanation is that Alpheus and Albert were in fact one and the same person, a man given to changing his name, age, and marital status when expedient. All subsequent information has confirmed that this was so. Moreover, it was a pattern that continued for many years, becoming in effect a distinguishing characteristic rather than something that obscured his identity.

Nonetheless, the personal details that Barrington provided to officialdom on the occasion of his first marriage, in 1857, are likely to be correct. While Alpheus was, and still is, an unusual name in Australasia, and not the sort of name someone constructing a new identity would tend to choose for himself, in the nineteenth century it was not uncommon on the eastern seaboard of North America. In ancient Greece, Alpheus was the name of a Peloponnesian river and its god. According to mythology, the river’s waters flowed beneath the Ionian Sea to emerge in the fountain of Arethusa, near the Greek colony of Syracuse in Sicily. So from ancient times the name was associated with migration; in North America it was given to a son who would carry on the family line in the new land beyond the sea. Barrington said he came from Newfoundland, where in the nineteenth century the name certainly was in use. Around the time of the major gold discoveries in Australia and New Zealand, as for most of Newfoundland history, it was the sea that provided a livelihood for the bulk of the male population. Many men worked on transatlantic passenger ships, which following the gold discoveries in the southern hemisphere also undertook voyages to ports such as Sydney, Melbourne, Dunedin and Auckland. Nor was it uncommon for crew members to jump ship to try their luck at the diggings.

The discovery, in 1853, of the Kingower goldfield in Victoria, where Barrington lived at the time of his marriage in 1857, was credited in a newspaper account written in 1862 to four Canadians, although it was a local, Captain Mechosk or Mechoski, who received official recognition and a government reward for the discovery. What was for some years the largest gold nugget discovered in Victoria was found at Kingower in August 1857 by a team four miners that included the Sam and Charles Napier from New Brunswick, the Canadian province adjacent to Newfoundland. Sam was the mate of a ship that plied between Liverpool and Melbourne, who left when she reached her destination.20 While it is possible that there was something of a Canadian connection at Kingower, there is no reason to assume that Canadians were more numerous there than at any of the other Victorian goldfields. Anyway, in 1864 Barrington said that he had been searching for gold for ten years, which means that he must have arrived in Victoria around 1854, and it is unlikely that he would have gone directly to Kingower. By 1857 he had given up prospecting, at least for a while, to run a store at Kingower. (This was a pattern also to be repeated several times during his life.)

However, in addition to his Newfoundland background, there are a number of reasons for thinking that Barrington came to Australia as crew member of a ship. First, his name does not appear in passenger lists of vessels arriving in Melbourne in the 1850s, nor Adelaide, the next most likely port. Second, from his New Zealand journal and the associated newspaper reports it is clear that he personally carried a copy of a recently compiled chart of the coastline, that he was experienced in the use of map and compass, and also that he knew how to draw a map. In an early journal extract appearing in the Lake Wakatip Mail on 2 July 1864, Barrington said that when, in deep snow below Stag Pass, in desperation he emptied his swag of everything non-essential, it included ‘a chart of the colony of New Zealand’ and ‘a chart of eighteen inches square, which I took a deal of pains to draw up on the road, showing the country we had been through’. (These details were edited out of the version of the journal subsequently published.) Third, on the occasion of his second marriage in 1875 he stated that his occupation was ‘mariner’, which is easy enough simply to assert on a marriage certificate, but presumably would have to be backed up in his new wife’s presence with evidence of some sort of nautical knowledge and experience. Knowledge of navigation would be more likely on the part of a sailor than someone with a land-based occupation, especially an officer, who could be expected to some formal education and a responsibility for such matters. In 1854 Barrington would have been 22 years old, old enough to be an officer.

If Alpheus was his real name, why did the Lake Wakatip Mail call him Alphonse? In some of the Victorian records, Alpheus is wrongly transcribed as Alphens, which when spoken sounds very much like Alphonse. Further, it is quite likely that at least some of the time the three prospectors spoke French together. The initial newspaper report of their return said that two of the party were French, when actually this was true only of Simonin. Given that Farrell was a ‘gentleman’, however, it is likely that he would have been able to speak French, and Barrington informs us that Simonin and Farrell were friends. Coming from eastern Canada, it is quite likely that Barrington, too, knew something of the language. It is not difficult to imagine how, amongst a party of French speakers, the name Alpheus, especially if first corrupted to Alphens, could converted into Alphonse and become a nickname; and if, during the months spent together, his companions had got into the habit of calling Barrington Alphonse, it would have been a habit hard to break on their return to civilization. Another possible explanation, of course, is that for some reason Barrington wanted to keep his true identity to himself, and therefore was careful not to correct the newspaper.

The fact that he changed his first name from Alpheus to Albert in November 1862, when boarding the Aldinga in Melbourne for Dunedin, suggests that he wanted to avoid detection. Calling oneself Albert John Barrington instead of Alpheus John Barrington hardly amounts to a clever disguise, but the fact that he also misstated his age, claiming to be 25 rather than 30 years old, and said that he was single rather than married, does seem to imply that he wanted to leave the country with a minimum of attention. However, Victorian police records of the time make no mention of an A. J. Barrington having committed an offence. Perhaps, then, Alpheus was simply intent on doing what so many of his contemporaries did, that is, deserting his wife to make off to the latest gold discovery? While that is an easy assumption, in Alpheus Barrington’s case things had gone the other way.

About three and a half months after marrying Alpheus, Elizabeth ran off to Melbourne to live with a brickmaker named George Preston; at the time she was 18 years old, while George was only 17. Moreover, when she left she must have been about three months pregnant, for on 8 September 1858 she bore a son, William James Barrington. Presumably Barrington was the father, though it is far from clear what happened in the early months of his marriage. When the child died, in December 1860, the father was recorded as being John Benjamin Barrington.21 The informant was Elizabeth’s father, who may have been uncertain about his estranged son-in-law’s correct name. However, in later life, Barrington seems to have been widely known by his middle name, John, so it could be that he got into the habit of calling himself John considerably earlier. This would help to explain how he came to be so indifferent to his first name and periodically changed it: as far as personal identity was concerned, he found it largely irrelevant.

Losing his wife to a seventeen year old boy may have been painful and humiliating for Barrington, especially if he had reason to think that he was not the child’s father. However, if he was so sensitive as to allow this make him want to leave the country anonymously, it is unlikely that he would have waited four or more years before doing so, spending some of the intervening period, as he told his Queenstown audience, working in silver mines near St Arnaud. The most likely explanation of Barrington’s covert removal to Otago in 1862 is still that he was set on avoiding personal responsibilities, especially those relating to paternity. There is evidence of at least four women in Barrington’s life; it is likely that he was also involved with others not mentioned in official records. It would have been quite commonplace, during the period in question, for a youngish man (whether separated from his wife or not) to have a relationship with another woman, get her pregnant, and then discover in himself a renewed desire to find gold, preferably in a far away place.

For whatever reason, Alpheus went. Elizabeth probably discovered fairly quickly that he had disappeared overseas; anyway, she seems to have assumed that she was rid of him for good, for in August 1864, while Barrington was in Queenstown planning his return to the West Coast, she married George Preston.22 As will be discussed further below, in December 1877, after Barrington had returned to Victoria and had also married for the second time, he took the step, somewhat belatedly, of divorcing Elizabeth, who by this time had six children by George Preston. In January 1878, less than three weeks after the divorce was finalized, Elizabeth and George set the official record straight by marrying for the second time. They must have been worried about the illegality of their relationship, for although at this time they were living near Barham, in New South Wales, on the northern side of the Murray River, they went to the trouble of arranging their marriage and registering it on the Victorian side of the river.23

During the years 1866-72 there is no mention of Barrington in official records and what he got up to is unknown. Perhaps he spent some time at sea; after all, in 1875, when marrying Isabella Smith, he did say that his occupation was mariner. On the face of it, however, there is no more reason to believe that than the other claims he made on that occasion, namely, that he came from Ireland (County Cork, he was to specify later), where his father was a doctor of medicine and his mother came from the Montague family.24

What is certain, on the other hand, is that in 1873, in Melbourne, he fathered a son by a young woman – all of Barrington’s women were young when they became involved with him – called Sarah Gee. At its birth, on 18 June 1873, the baby’s name was registered as Montague Charles Gee; it was labeled ‘Illegitimate’ and the father not identified.25 Some time later, however, the child’s name was changed, presumably unofficially, to Alpheus John Barrington. We know this only from the documentation relating to the boy’s death, which occurred seven years later, as discussed below.

As mentioned earlier, in 1877, two years after marrying Isabella, Barrington (reverting temporarily to the name Alpheus) divorced Elizabeth. His petition to the court makes no mention of the fact that he as well as his adulterous wife had remarried, since presumably this would have required him to explain to the Court his double identity.26 The reason he sought a divorce almost certainly was that his second wife Isabella insisted on it, having learnt about his first marriage and his double identity, and perhaps also his child by Sarah Gee. At least that would explain why Isabella and Albert’s marriage fell apart as quickly as it did.

According to Isabella’s petition for divorce in 1893, it was some two and a half years after their wedding (that is, about the time of his divorce from Elizabeth) that Albert ‘began to acquire intemperate habits’ and mistreat her. The situation cannot have been helped by the fact that at the time he was employed as barman in a Horsham hotel. Then in August 1978 he used the title deed of the land on which they lived, which belonged to Isabella’s father, to borrow money to open his own hotel, not a good strategy for someone with a drinking problem. Barrington’s Hotel, as it was called, lasted only eight months before its proprietor was declared insolvent. The years that followed were miserable for both husband and wife – especially the latter. For a while both worked on a station near Mt Arapiles, Albert as station hand and knockabout, Isabella as domestic. Then Albert got drunk, beat Bella, and was duly sacked. Isabella allowed herself to be persuaded to live with him again in Horsham, only to have the experience repeated. Albert got drunk often and demanded money from her, she stated, on one occasion threatening to shoot her if she refused. By July 1880 she could not stand it any more and fled to Adelaide, where she worked as a servant.27

At this point Albert also appears to have left the Horsham district, the scene of his (second) marital disaster. He returned to Kingower, where he had lived before going to New Zealand, to work as a miner, reverting also to the name Alpheus. His son by Sarah Gee, Alpheus John Junior, then seven years old, seems to have lived with him there. It may be that Sarah, having suffered from the social disapproval directed against the mother of an illegitimate child, and in August 1876 having married a Melbourne clerk called George Anderson, was eager to put the boy in his father’s care. Unhappily, on 15 October 1880, only a few months after Barrington’s return to Kingower, young Alphy was drowned on the way home from school, while playing in the water of a mining dam. A neighbour passing the dam recognized the boy’s boots lying at the water’s edge; the wife of the owner of the property on which the dam was located alerted Barrington to the fact that Alphy may have had an accident. With the others, Barrington went to the dam, stripped off, and searched the water. After about twenty minutes he found Alphy’s body in water two metres deep. The death certificate states that Alphy’s mother was Sarah Barrington nee Gee. At the inquest, his father said that the boy had turned seven in April that year, which would mean that he had been born in April 1873. Sarah Gee’s son Montague was born on 18 June 1873. Surely it was the same child.28

Barrington must have left Kingower soon after this. In January 1883 he opened a fruit and fish shop in the town of Nhill, between Horsham and Adelaide, giving it up a few months later to start a shop selling books, newspapers, stationery and music.29 In the years that followed he expanded the business, while at the same time becoming very much part of the local community and active in its affairs. For example, in November 1883 he began to help organizing events for the Nhill Athletic Club, an interest he was to maintain for the rest of his life; in May 1884, when the new Nhill Agricultural and Pastoral Society was formed, he became one of its committee members. Clearly, in Nhill Barrington’s life became more stable and (probably) more satisfying than it had been for a long time.

Much of the credit for this transformation must go to Alice Hardingham, originally from Horsham but with relatives in Nhill (her uncle, Clem Hardingham, had opened the Union Hotel, one of the first establishments in the town, some seven years earlier). Albert and Alice appear to have been happy together; although it must have been common knowledge in the town that their relationship had never been formalized, they were respected, and treated as husband and wife. Assuming that their de facto relationship started no later than 1884 – their first child, Kate, was born in Geelong in 188530 – Alice would at most have been 22 years old when she became involved with Albert, who was then 53 years old but claiming to be much younger. At the time of Albert’s New Zealand adventure in 1864, Alice had been only two years old. When Albert became involved with Isabella, he had lied about his age, saying he was sixteen years younger than he in fact was; now, to avoid deterring young Alice, he made another five years disappear.

Alice, however, must have been a strong and remarkable young woman. Even from the scant information available, one gets the impression that she knew her man well and was more than able to hold her own in the relationship. The fact that Albert’s drinking problem seems to have disappeared probably owes a lot to her presence and influence. They had four children together, though only two reached maturity. It seems that Albert tried to ‘do the right thing’ by Alice. In August 1886, that is, after their daughter Kate had been born, he travelled to Adelaide and turned up on Isabella’s doorstep asking for a divorce. Isabella, who had good reason to be resentful and spiteful, told him it was out of the question.31 However, this setback did not dissuade Alice from continuing the relationship.

Albert was a likeable character who played an active part in community life. He appears to have been regarded as something of an intellectual, with knowledge of literature and the arts. In light of the quality of his New Zealand journal, a literary interest comes as no surprise. That he also had a musical bent is event from the fact that, in July 1887, when a group of local enthusiasts decided to form a brass band, Albert was chosen as Leader32; These literary and musical interests leanings also given commercial expression: his shop, which developed into a mixed – very mixed – business that sold books and musical instruments along with stationery, ‘fancy goods’, French perfume, tobacco, and sporting equipment. (It also employed men’s and women’s hairdressers.) In the Nhill Free Press, Barrington advertised a wide variety of instruments, including organs and pianos ‘by best makers’, accordions, cornets, violins, clarinets, and flutes. The advertisements are an eloquent testimony to his enthusiasm for music, but do little to demonstrate his commercial good sense: the number of pianos, organs, clarinets and violins sold in the Nhill district during the 1880s and 1890s surely was very small.

Eighteen-eighty-eight was a year of mixed fortune for Albert and Alice. In February that year their second child, Albert John was born.33 In May, when the Nhill volunteer fire brigade was established, Albert Senior was elected Treasurer. Perhaps this initiative was in response to messages from the Ether about things to come, for on 20 November the same year a massive fire in the town destroyed eight shops, including Barrington’s. There was little doubt that it was in Barrington’s shop that the fire started, at around three o’clock in the morning (mice playing with matches were thought to be the likely cause), spreading from there to adjoining properties. The buildings were wooden and the region was in the grip of a drought; the new fire brigade performed admirably but could do no more than try to contain the blaze. Barrington was fortunate in that he only rented his business premises, he did not own them; further, like most of the others affected, he had some fire insurance, though whether it was enough to cover the value of all his stock and fittings is unclear. In the 23 November issue of the newspaper he appealed to townsmen with accounts outstanding to settle them, for his account books had also disappeared in the fire.34

The last five years of Barrington’s life cannot have been easy. As well as having to struggle with the financial consequences of the fire, he and Alice had to cope with births and deaths of a number of children. Kate, their eldest, died in 1889, only three years old. The following year a second son, Matthias, was born in 1890, only to die later in the same year. The youngest child, Nellie, was born in 1892; she died in 1976, having married twice and borne four children.35


In March 1893, Barrington’s legal spouse Isabella began legal proceedings against him for divorce, giving willful desertion without cause and adultery with Alice Hardingham as grounds. Why she took the step at that particular point in time is unclear. Her petition to the court, giving the details of her relationship with Albert, certainly does not show him in a good light. Albert did not contest the case; he had no reason to, since he and Alice had long wanted his marriage to Isabella annulled. On 15 December 1893 Isabella got her divorce, with costs being awarded costs against Albert.36

From about the time of his arrival in Nhill, Albert had been aware that he suffered from a heart complaint. On 14 November 1893 the Nhill Free Press informed its readers, regretfully, that ‘our townsman, Mr A. J. Barrington’ was in a critical state of health. Although he managed to pull through the crisis, the end came soon. He died on 15 December, the very day that Isabella was awarded legal costs against him. Poor Isabella, she was unjustly treated to the very end: even with the support of the law she was unable to extract her wifely dues. Barrington’s funeral, the newspaper reported, was attended by ‘a large and representative gathering of the townspeople and others, Mr Barrington having been an old resident and having made many friends throughout the district’. The newspaper said he was 45 years old, his death certificate 43; in reality he was 61 years old. It was Alice’s brother George (who also lived in Nhill) who reported his death to the appropriate authority, declaring his relationship to the deceased to be ‘Brother in law’. A subsequent annotation of the death certificate in the local registry noted that ‘Brother in law in 7th column should read friend’. Clearly somebody cared about bureaucratic accuracy.37

Barrington’s death left Alice in a difficult situation, with two children under the age of five to look after, not to mention the demise of her partner’s ailing business along with his person. Six weeks after he was buried she was declared insolvent, with pressure from creditors and sickness being identified as the cause of her predicament. Her assets amounted to 65 pounds, her liabilities to 324 pounds 19 shillings and 10 pence.38 Eventually Alice moved back to her home town Horsham, where in August 1896 she married William Lawrence, a gardener her own age. They had four children – three girls and a boy – and brought up the two surviving Barrington children as well. Alice died in 1941 in Horsham. Her son William Lawrence Junior eventually went into politics and for many years was the Federal Member for Wimmera. He still lives in Victoria, and at the age of 97 remembers his mother as a remarkable woman. Albert Barrington Junior he also remembers well, despite being 14 years his junior. Albert inherited his father’s love of music; according to Dr Lawrence he was an outstanding singer and whistler, who once performed for the King. He died in Sydney in 1924.39


A. J. Barrington was one of the many thousands of people who left the Victorian goldfields in the early 1860s to join the rush to the newly discovered central Otago fields. So numerous were these ‘Victorians’ that the original Scottish settlers of Otago became afraid that they and their heritage would be swamped.40 Barrington’s story is interesting not only because he undertook a difficult and dangerous journey lasting several months, and had his journal published, but also because in other respects his life was normal – normal in the sense of more or less representative of those who looked for gold and lived in the raw towns of early colonial Australia and New Zealand. All too often it is difficult to discover much about the private lives of the individuals involved, which makes it all the more satisfying to learn something about the hitherto elusive figure of Barrington.

Pioneers like Barrington were often tough and resourceful; perhaps it is true to say that gold prospectors as a category had to be optimists endowed with remarkable resilience, a capacity to spring back after disappointment, always convinced that success might be just around the corner. In the lives of many, however, the search for gold was a relatively short interlude; those who had no luck soon had to turn to more prosaic ways of making a living. Barrington in fact passed more years as shopkeeper than as gold seeker. One conclusion to which his story leads is that while the hardships and dangers of the search for gold were real and, in retrospect, romantic, in some respects they pale in comparison with the ongoing dangers involved in having children and the difficulties of keeping them alive. Alice Hardingham was no less heroic than A. J. Barrington.

The lives of Albert and Alice tell us much about personal and family life in the colonies during the second half of the nineteenth century. Their story undercuts many of the clichés about Victorian morality and social conventions. In communities as fluid as the gold towns of Victoria and New Zealand, where public record keeping tended to be primitive and uncertain, it was relatively easy to disregard or amend one’s past. Not everyone was particular about the formal requirements of the law and religion; finding personal happiness and security was difficult enough without being subject to all the legal constraints and social conventions of polite society. There is evidence that legal and religious authorities themselves sometimes chose to ignore irregularities such as bigamous and de facto relationships, when to pursue them was likely to lead to pointless complications, while for many members of the wider community social conduct and community participation ultimately mattered more than the legal niceties of personal relationships.



1. The research on which this paper is based has benefited particularly from contributions by Sue McBeth of Macbeth Genealogical Services, Hampton, Victoria; Julia Bradshaw of the Hokitika Museum, Hokitika, New Zealand; and John Parsons and other members of the Nhill District Historical Society, Nhill, Victoria. The undertaking has also relied heavily on the assistance of staff of the National Library of Australia, the Australian National University Library, the Hocken Library, Dunedin, and the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The maps were drawn by Jenny Sheehan, Cartography Unit, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University.


The Otago Witness, 25 June 1864 and 2 July 1864. Like most newspapers of the time, the Otago Witness reproduced verbatim interesting items from other papers. In relation to the early gold rushes in Otago this is particularly important because complete runs of local newspapers such as the Lake Wakatip Mail are often difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. Moreover, a complete run of the Otago Witness for the 1860s is available on-line through the website of the National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, at


The full text of Barrington’s journal is available in Nancy Taylor, ed., Early Travellers in New Zealand, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1959, 392-419.


This is Barrington’s only comment on the merits of the dog, whose role in hunting birds was to be critical for the success of the expedition. Subsequent comments tend to be negative and towards the end of the journey the dog was fortunate not to end up in the cooking pot itself. One gets the feeling that Barrington, Farrell and Siminon, because of their limited experience in the New Zealand bush, did not fully appreciate the importance of good rapport with the canine section of the expedition. In the discussion of the journey that follows I use the current official place names rather those bestowed by Barrington’s party.


‘Maori hen’ was the common name for the weka (Gallirallus australis), a species of rail much relied on for food by prospectors and settlers as by Maori.


On Captain Daniel Alabaster’s exploration of the Hollyford and Lower Pyke Rivers, see John Hall-Jones, Martins Bay, Craig Printing, Invercargill, 1987, 38-43.


Hall-Jones, Martins Bay, 113, 115.


Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), a large ground dwelling parrot, once common in New Zealand beech forest but now almost extinct.


Lake Wakatip Mail, 16 July 1864.


Lake Wakatip Mail, 20 July 1864.


It has not been possible to consult a copy of the original Lake Wakatip Mail report on the meeting. The present account draws on earlier discussion by W. G. McClymont, The Exploration of New Zealand, Oxford University Press, London, 1959; 91-92; Taylor, Early Travellers in New Zealand; 418-19; and Philip Temple, New Zealand Explorers: Great Journeys of Discovery, Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1985, 114-41. In some quarters, scepticism regarding Barrington’s journey continued a long time. Noteworthy in this regard was Vincent Pyke (Warden of the Otago goldfields, for whom the Pyke River was named), who in his book Early Gold Discoveries in Otago, Otago Daily Times and Witness Newspapers Co., Dunedin, 1887, 134, commented that in ‘the light of past and recent experience’, Barrington’s account ‘must be regarded as “a traveller’s tale”’. However, Pyke’s scepticism was primarily directed at Barrington’s highly optimistic assessment of the gold-bearing potential of the region his party had traversed.


New Zealand National Archives, Christchurch, CH287 ICPS CP65 39, letter from Sergeant Broham to Canterbury Provincial Government, received 7 January 1865. Punctuation amended.


This and other reports were copied from the Lake Wakatip Mail by the Otago Witness, 14 January 1865.


Taylor, Early Travellers in New Zealand, 389.


Graham Bishop, personal communication, 4 March 2002. In the 1970s, for quite some time, a large mining corporation had a prospecting camp based at Theta Tarn. However, the main object of its search was not gold, but asbestos.


Public Records Office Victoria, VPRS 7786: Inwards Overseas Passenger Lists (New Zealand Ports) 1852-1923.


Victoria, Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (VRBDM), 1857/M3833. In this and the following references, ‘M’ denotes a marriage record, ‘B’ a birth record, and ‘D’ a death record.


VRBDM 1875/M2034.


Public Records Office Victoria, VPRS 3506: Outwards Passenger Lists 1852-192, 1862/19038.


Leila Gillespie, Kingower: The Potato Diggings with a Midas Touch, self-published, Kingower, 1975, 9, 15-16.


Public Records Office Victoria, VPRS 283: Divorce Case Files, file no. 31 in 1861-84 unit 31: Alpheus J & Elizabeth Barrington; VRBDM 1858/B16207, 1860/D885.


VRBDM 1864/M3270.


VRBDM 1878/M232.


VRBDM 1875/M2034.


VRBDM 1873/B16372.


Public Records Office Victoria, VPRS 283: Divorce Case Files, file no. 31 in 1861-84 unit 31: Alpheus J & Elizabeth Barrington.


Public Records Office Victoria, VPRS 283: Divorce Case Files, file no. 37 in 1893 unit 76: Albert J & Isabella Barrington.


Public Records Office Victoria, VPRS 24P: Inquest Files, unit 411 file 1880/869; VRBDM 1880/D9144.


Nhill Free Press, 25 January 1883, 3 May 1883, 8 November 1883; Frank Bound, Golden Years of Nhill A. & P., Nhill Historical Society, Nhill, 1984, 25.


VRBDM 1885/B25692.


Public Records Office Victoria, VPRS 283: Divorce Case Files, file no. 37 in 1893 unit 76: Albert J & Isabella Barrington.


Nhill Free Press, 7 July 1887.


VRBDM 1888/B5306.


Nhill Free Press, 8 May, 23 October and 23 November 1888.


VRBDM 1889/D2652, 1890/B8035R, 1890/D13958, 1976/28998.


Public Records Office Victoria, VPRS 283: Divorce Case Files, file no. 37 in 1893 unit 76: Albert J & Isabella Barrington.


VRBDM 1893/D15541; Nhill Free Press, 19 December 1893.


Nhill Free Press, 30 January 1894.


VRBDM 1896/M5377, 1941/D17505; New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Deaths Index, 1788-1945, 1924/8459; and personal communication, Dr W. Lawrence to Sue McBeth, January 2002.


A. H. Duncan, The Wakatipians, 1888, rpt. Capper Press, Christchurch, 1984; James Forrest, ‘Population and Settlement on the Otago Goldfields’, New Zealand Geographer, vol. 18 no. 2, April 1961, 64-86; Murray McCaskill, ‘The South Island Goldfields in the 1860s: Some Geographical Aspects’, in M. McCaskill, ed., Land and Livelihood: Geographical Essays in Honour of George Jobberns, New Zealand Geographical Society, Christchurch, 1962; Duncan Mackay, Frontier New Zealand: The Search for Eldorado (1800-1920), HarperCollins, Auckland, 1992.


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