31 January 2017

Tucker ground & homeward bounders

How many diggers made good on the goldfields? The typical digger, as we have seen, nursed no foolish fancy of finding enough gold to fund a life of idle wealth, but hoped more wisely to grubstake himself into a farm or shop or workshop. He spoke of four classes of ground. Tucker ground kept the digger fed without earning anything more. Wages ground paid the digger something like a labouring wage. Riser ground earned well, allowing the digger to build up savings. A piler or homeward bounder was so rich that the digger after a few weeks or months could sling his hook.

Golden Bay gave many men risers of £20 weekly. A farm labourer lucky enough to work six days a week for all four seasons in Britain, meanwhile, could only hope to earn about £30 yearly. Francis Flowers won £250 above costs in seven weeks, while 'considerably more' was won by others of his party. Another party washed gold worth about £300 in only three hours of work. Wages and tucker claims were widespread too. A weekly wage of about £5 was reckoned as average on the field by a writer looking back over the first four years of Golden Bay.

'Of course, like other gold fields,' he added, 'ours have partaken in some degree of the character of a lottery'.

A digger who won good gold from a riser or homeward bounder headed away to the settled districts or his homeland, few staying in Golden Bay. Heinrich Wilhelm Roske bought a farm on the golden banks of the Wangapeka. John William Bain, who had landed in the colony as a labourer and said proudly with his broad Scots accent that he was on 'the fust of the diggings', was one of the few who bought land in the bay. Lively, joking, a violinist, he owned about sixty hectares by his middle years. George Pickett Graham, a former bricklayer, won enough gold to buy nearly as much land which he planted with hops and hedged with barberry. A thriving family was founded by each of the two former diggers. Graham was well-to-do enough late in life to be able to travel by ocean liner and visit his kin back home in England.

- Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Diggers, Hatters & Whores, Auckland, 2008, p.471

See also:
HistoryThe inimitable Thatcher, 22 March 2014
History: Gold has been all-in-all to us, 4 October 2011
History: 'Austrians' on the gumfields, 14 July 2011

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