Floods kill 25 miners in Central Otago

26 July 1863

William Hodgkins painting of Clutha River diggings, c. 1862–63 (Alexander Turnbull Library, A-253-035)

Approximately 25 gold miners died on the Arrow diggings, north-east of Queenstown, in a series of flash floods and slips caused by 24 hours of heavy rain. It was the worst day of a brutal winter during which an estimated 100 miners were drowned, buried by mudslides or died of exposure.

The worst single tragedy occurred on the upper Shotover River, where mudslides had blocked a creek in the middle of the night. When this temporary dam burst, about 15 miners were swept away in the deluge along with their huts; 12 of them drowned.

A landslip on the lower Shotover, near Moke Creek, killed seven men. Three drowned near Arthur’s Point, and another three in a raging creek 3 km from Arrowtown.

The floods were followed in August by snowstorms that caught out unwary travellers on high-country trails, literally freezing some in their tracks. Central Otago’s rudimentary hospital facilities were soon overwhelmed, and many of the survivors lost fingers or toes to frostbite.

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