but the lower hill slopes and valley bottom are well-farmed, in a landscape of enclosed fields and scattered homesteads. It is an attractive countryside, much like home and hard to imagine that little more than a century ago it was scarcely inhabited, its woods and rivers used by the native Maoris for seasonal hunting and fishing. Arrowtown proved to be a small town, not much bigger than Strangford, with a scatter of modern homes along the road to Queenstown.The houses are built of timber, the older with horizontal cladding, painted white or in attractive pastel shades of light green, gray and blue; roofs are mainly corrugated iron, unusual to our eyes but common in New Zealand. The streets in the older part of town are tree lined, and the shops, few in number, have verandahs covering the pavement and proving shelter from summer sun and winter snow. Walking into town is rather like entering the set for a Wild West film; the comparison is apt, for Arrowtown began as a gold-mining camp, its first buildings erected soon after gold was found in the Arrow River in l862. A year after the initial discovery 2000 miners lived in the vicinity and 6000 ounces of gold were being shipped by pack animals to Dunedin and other eastern ports. Most of the miners came from the goldfields in Victoria and southern Australia, and from California and Montana in the U.S.A., where the famed gold –rushes occurred a decade earlier. Some were Chinese who lived in a small community on the edge of town, still known as Chinese Village. Within twenty years mining had finished, but a permanent settlement had been established, acting as a service centre for the farmers who came after the miners, and cleared the woodland and scrub for cultivation. The first crop, a two-acre paddock of oats, was harvested in l862, and was sold for £42! By the 1870ies Arrowtown had three churches, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic; and it had a cemetery, built high on the hillside on the edge of town. Here we started our search for the McKibbins, the group spilling out of the coach and fanning out across the graveyard; it wasn’t long before the cry went up:” Here they are!” Our explorers had spotted three headstones, the largest and most prominent in the cemetery, placed along the boundary wall at its highest point. The most marked the grave of William McKibbin: “Native of Marshall Town, Downpatrick, County Down, Ireland, and late of Crown Terrace and Dunedin. Arrived New Zealand 1868, and died 10 October 1942 Aged 87 years.” Alongside were the graves of William’s two brothers, Henry and John, and members of the family. But how had they come to be buried on this remote hillside, so very far from home? Unfortunately there is very little information among the surviving relatives in Ballyculter. The last contact was a letter to Leslie from William’s grandniece, Elaine Hamilton, who had written following a visit from Mrs. Martin Lowe in l979. She wrote:” We were very pleased to hear there are so many young McKibbins coming on. I’m afraid we are finished in New Zealand.” Elaine had one son, John; she was about 50 when the letter was written, and sadly we didn’t have enough time to see if she is still alive; she seems to have lived in Dunedin, but had a holiday home in Arrowtown. . From the information on the gravestones and from Elaine’s letter, it seems that the 46
Published on Oct 15, 2009
Published on Oct 15, 2009
“For the olden memories fast are flying from us Oh! that some kind hand would come And bind them in a garland e’re the present hardens And t...