The abandoned town of Cullensville, which sits at the head of the Mahakipawa Valley about two miles inland from the eastern arm of the head of the Pelorus Sound, was once a thriving goldmining centre.

Gold was reported in Cullen’s Gulley (there was a race to report it as a £500 bonus awaited) in May 1888, and the area was officially declared a gold field in late June, by which time there were hundreds of men on site.  The first flood washed them out the same month.  Cullensville township sprang up almost overnight.  The first business established was a bakery, then stores, a butchery, milk and meat deliveries, blacksmiths, a branch of the bank, and hotels.  The first hotel had people queueing for both drinks and meals.  A Chinese market gardener supplied vegetables from Kaituna.  A new wharf was built at The Grove with revenue from the gold tax, and steamers delivered passengers from Picton. 

cullensville Grand NationalGrand National Hotel. Cullensville. Image supplied by author
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cullensville Mail DayMail day at Cullensville; post would be brought from Havelock in the morning and taken back in the afternoon. Image supplied by author
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There was a school at Cullensville with 40 pupils (about the size of Ward School today) – this eventually closed in 1907, when the Grove school building was moved to Linkwater to serve the whole district.  A new school was eventually built in 1932, after the old one ‘conveniently’ burnt down.  Another Government institution was the Post Office, which operated from 1888 to 1911.

Although the gold was of high quality, the rush was short-lived, and most was exhausted in the first two years.  The township was abandoned, and gradually buildings were demolished for use elsewhere, fell to pieces, or burnt down.  However as late as the 1930s, when another Depression struck, miners were still active in the valley. 

Leo Gilchrist’s parents ran the hotel at Linkwater.  He remembers in his childhood: “The mines used to be working three 8-hour shifts.  They’d start at midnight, change shifts again at 8 o’clock in the morning, and again at 4 in the afternoon.  When the miners come off the shift, whether it was day or night, that was the day’s work, and they wanted a beer.  So consequently the pub used to run 24 hours a day!”  He also recalled Gorton Cuddon (founder of Cuddon Engineering) staying at the hotel while he serviced the mine machinery.

 This story was adapted from one written by Loreen Brehaut for the Picton Seaport News, 2014

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