Gold Prospector

 

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Gold prospector George Fairweather Moonlight....

 

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 extraordinary man.

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
1998
ISBN 0-86241-775-9