TURNER Part 3: Otago, New Zealand 1863 – 1865


The rush to the Otago gold field followed a discovery by Gabriel Read in 1861 at Tuapeka, in the Province of Otago.  The news of gold in the South Island of New Zealand had travelled quickly across the Tasman Sea and was widely reported in the Melbourne papers.  With Turner coming out of insolvency and failing to secure a hotel licence in Melbourne, the opportunist chased the gold to another new destination.

“The excitement soon became intense; thousands were bitten by the gold-fever, and abandoned their ordinary pursuits to try their luck at the diggings. The contagion spread to the adjacent provinces, to the North Island, and finally to Victoria and the other Australian Colonies. The rush to Otago soon assumed enormous proportions. In 1860 only sixty-nine vessels entered inwards. In the following year 256 vessels, many of them of large tonnage entered the port. The population, computed in December, 1860, at 12,691, had increased by December, 1861, to 30,269. Within the short period of twelve months the population had been more than doubled. The imports and Customs duties had increased threefold, the exports tenfold, and the territorial revenue by one-half.” (9)

Victorian immigration records show that on January 8, 1863 Mrs. Turner (29), William Turner (nine), John Turner (two), and an infant (11) sailed on board The Bruce, a ship of 1110 ton under the command of Captain McFie.  It carried general cargo and 450 passengers. The Otago Daily Time reported “the ship Bruce had a passage of 11 days, characterised by very fine weather, never having stowed a Royal until the day before arrival.” (10) A contemporary report describes the approach and arrival to Dunedin in 1863:

“As we drew near the shore we coasted for miles past rocky hills of all shapes and sizes, varying in colour from the deepest red to a fine buff brown, in many places covered with timber, cut here and there by gorges, small bays , and creeks, and patches of white sand and isolated rocks (one very noticeable called Gull Rock), varying the scenery till we reached the Heads. From the Heads past Port Chalmers to the town of Dunedin the mainland and the small peninsula (which protects the town from the ocean) fit into each other like lock and key, the watery arm that divides them winding between rock and rock in the post picturesque manner imaginable. On either side the trees grow from the summit of the hills to the very water’s edge, the whole forming one long panorama of the most exquisite beauty.

Dunedin itself is built on the level land lying at the foot of a semicircular mountainous range running from Anderson’s Bay to the North-East Valley, some of the houses being dotted midway up the hills. There are two daily newspapers, three good (branch) banks, five large places of worship, besides three or four small Jewish synagogues; but the town has quadrupled itself within the last 18 months. The Bank of NSW which opened a branch office here about 12 months ago, with a staff of four offices, has now business enough to employ 23 clerks. The gold escorts are continually arriving night and day. Our advent was almost simultaneous with that of some 1,000 miners from Melbourne. Since then 2,000 more have arrived.” (64)

There were many opportunities to thrive in business in Dunedin, as the population skyrocketed.  James worked as a watchmaker while in Dunedin and is listed as such in the Wises Dunedin directory. A letter dated 19 September, 1865, 12 indicates that James worked for well-known Scottish watchmaker and jeweller Arthur Beverley while in Dunedin. He was well regarded and the company supported James in later years when negative rumours circulated after he moved to Hokitika.

Arthur Beverley Reference (West Coast Times 16 Sept 1865)

Arthur Beverley Reference (West Coast Times 16 Sept 1865)

While he lived in Dunedin James travelled to Queenstown and met local man, John M. Proctor. The Proctors held James’ mail for him in Queenstown and were aware of the move north to Hokitika. In published letters they converse with familiarity.  Life in Dunedin would have been challenging.  Hundreds of public drinking houses sprouted up to cater for the inbound and departing miners, accompanied by the inevitable prostitution.  Food and housing costs were high.  The influence of gold lead to great stone buildings and churches being erected, but equally most dwellings were tents and small wooden buildings.  In the early 1860’s ‘mud-edin’ was the popular nickname around town for the city of dirt streets. 65

Rattray Street, Dunedin; 1864

Rattray Street, Dunedin; 1864 (66)



Princes Street, Dunedin; 1863 (65)


At some point Mary Turner disappeared from the records.  After the emigration notice in 1863, research has not uncovered records of Mary.  An advertisement appeared in The Argus, in Melbourne in October 1866, searching for Mary, indicating that Mary may not not written to her sister, Ann, in New York about their relocation from Australia to New Zealand:

“Information wanted of Mrs Mary Turner, wife of James Turner, who formally resided in New York city, and about five years since was said to be the proprietor of the Mercantile Hotel, in Melbourne. Any information of her or husband, if living or not, will be thankfully received by her sister, Ann E Robinson, Jamaica, Queens County, New York.” (14)


The Argus, 15 Oct 1866.

The Argus, 15 Oct 1866.

At the time of the advert, James Turner was in Hokitika.  There is a family story that comes from the family of Anne Catherine Turner that James’s wife Mary (Anne Catherine’s mother) died in 1864. This has not been verified, but it certainly fits in the time-frame of the family’s movements.  If these facts bear out, the next move that the Turner family made, to Hokitika in 1865, would have been with James as a single parent with three young children.

EDITS: 1 May 2016.  William James Larkin-Turner, stepson of James and son of Mary, was mentioned in the West Coast Times on 29 September 1868, in which James publicly refused to acknowledge any debts contracted by his son.

NOTICE: I will not hold myself responsible for any Debts contracted by my Son WILLIAM JAMES TURNER, or to any one giving him credit after this date.  JAMES A. M. TURNER.  Westport, September 26, 1868.


West Coast Times, Pg 3, 29 September 1868



9 – Loughnan, Robert Andrew. (1906) The First Gold Discoveries in New Zealand.  Kiwi Publishers. (Kindle Locations 483-488).

10 – “Port Chalmers”,  Otago Daily Times, 20 Jan 1863. P. 4.

11 – Index to Outward Passengers to Interstate, UK, NZ and Foreign Ports 1852-1923.  Public Record Office of Victoria

12 – Advertisement.  West Coast Times. 19 Sep 1865. P3

65 – Princes St, Dunedin, 1863, 1863, Dunedin, by William Meluish. Te Papa (O.001625)

13 – Advertisement.  West Coast Times. 23 Sep 1865. P3

14 – Missing Friends, Messages Etc.  The Argus (Victoria, Australia).  17 Oct 1866. P.1

66 – Rattray Street, Dunedin in 1864. From the album: Early Dunedin, Meluish – Burton – Muir & Moodie, 1864, Dunedin, by William Meluish, Muir & Moodie. Te Papa (O.030522)

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