George Fairweather Moonlight,
so it was rumoured in the pioneered community along the Buller River on
New Zealand's South Island, was a foundling discovered in an Aberdeen
backstreet on a bright night of pleasant weather and clear skies. At
least so the story went.
Such a romantic pedigree suited the man although the truth is that he
was born in 1832 at Glenbervie near Stonehaven, his name a corruption of
the Angus name Munlichty. Moonlight deserted ship to join the California
gold rush (his cousin was a governor of Wyoming) and he followed the
golden thread to Australia and then to the goldfields of Otago. Here we
become aware of a twist in the tale. Moonlight, it seems, merely enjoyed
finding the gold, something for which he seemed to have an uncanny
knack. He never made a fortune; the thrill was in the exploration.
Moonlight Creek near Queenstown in the far south, and Moonlight Gully on
the West Coast bear testimony to his discoveries. Another Scots
goldseeker with a Scots pedigree described Moonlight as possibly the
most intrepid and self-reliant man who ever trod the soil of New
Zealand. Something in the Glenbervie porridge, surely?
Another consequence of Moonlight's search for gold was in the opening
up of the country. He is credited with the discovery of many routes
through the mountains and is the man largely responsible for the
development of the Upper Buller River. In a little twist in the naming
game he left creeks which bear the American Indian names of
Rappahannock, Shenendoah and Minnehaha as reminders of the family
connection with the States.
Marrying and opening a supply store, Moonlight sent pack teams along
the valley to remote outposts. Based in Murchison, at the junction of
the Buller and Matakataki Rivers, he bought the Commercial Hotel in 1877
and also operated at the town postmaster. At a stroke Moonlight became
first citizen of the little township - postmaster, storekeeper, hotel
owner - and unofficial lawman. Despite a disastrous flood which forced
rebuilding of the hotel, Moonlight prospered.
Deep in the mountains of the Upper Buller you will find and area
called Ataura where some of the biggest gold nuggets found in New
Zealand were unearthed, including the 79oz Pessini nugget. Ataura is
Maori for Moonlight - a tribute from the native races to an
When his wife died and the hotel failed Moonlight took to prospecting
again to provide for his children and on one of his sorties he
disappeared. A search was organised and Moonlight was found dead beside
a stream, looking for gold to the last.
Far Off In Sunlit Places
By Jim Hewitson