Long Term Impacts

There is much debate about the extent of the impact that the gold rushes have had on modern New Zealand. Some historians use gold as an explanation for everything, while others downplay the importance of the rushes. Of course, there are some long-lasting impacts that are clearly visible. These are the new towns, particularly in the West Coast, that still exist today having been founded in the 1860’s. Towns such as Hokitika and Collingwood were developed as a result of the gold rushes, and as such possibly wouldn’t still be around without the discovery of gold.

Apart from this however, there have been many different theories regarding the role of gold in New Zealand’s history. Historian Tom Brooking seems to think that the gold rushes played a large part in terms of the development of the South Island in particular. He says that the rushes created the West Coast, and greatly accelerated the growth of Dunedin. A key part of his theory is that the growth of Dunedin led to it becoming an “educational leader” in New Zealand, as schools and a university were built in order to cater for the increased population. Brooking also states that the discovery of gold stopped New Zealand from becoming a “giant sheep run”, as the jobs created allowed the men more choices in terms of how they could earn a living.[1]

Otago University
Otago University, Dunedin

Erik Olssen and Marcia Stenson, authors of “A Century of Change – New Zealand 1800-1900”, agree somewhat with Brooking. They argue that gold, alongside pastoralism, completely changed the demographics and society of the South Island. They also say that these factors created a sense of provincial pride and loyalty for those who live in Canterbury and Otago.[2]

But not all historians agree with the theory that gold is at the heart of the development of the New Zealand. Keith Sinclair, in his book “A History of New Zealand”, claims that the goldfields have not lived on in the imagination of New Zealanders in the same way that they have in other nations. He believes that gold rushes in New Zealand influenced only local communities, such as Thames or Westland, rather than the whole nation. He even disregards the theory that the rushes had a lasting impact on whole regions (such as Canterbury).[3]

Prominent New Zealand historian James Belich comes to the conclusion that both sides of this debate do have their merits. He states that “one strand if New Zealand historiography tends to discount the impact of the gold rushes. In reaction, other historians have argued that they explain almost everything. Both have a case”. He argues that the rushes themselves can be viewed as “tidal waves”, arriving and leaving very quickly, taking much of the profit and impact with them. He also says that the miners and their gold did have a substantial effect on New Zealand, but that gold mining was a global phenomenon, and that New Zealand’s experiences must be viewed from both a local and a global perspective.

James Belich

Kiwi historian James Belich

So there we have it, historians disagree in regards to the extent of the impact gold had on New Zealand. What can’t be ignored is the fact that gold definitely had some sort of short term impact, as populations and economies boomed. Historians such as Tom Brooking go even further, and suggest that the gold rushes helped shape the nation in the long term as well. However, not all gold rushes are equal, as Brooking argues that even though the Otago rushes produced a similar amount of gold to the West Coast rushes, the West Coast rushes were more important. This is because they “created something out of nothing”, and “left a lasting stamp on the character of the region”, as towns and settlements appeared where there had previously been nothing.[4]

[1] Brooking, Pages 73-78

[2] Olssen and Stenson, Pages 166-177

[3] Sinclair, Pages 108-110

[4] Brooking, Pages 73-78


2 responses

3 09 2015

What was the effect on New Zealand’s economy?
can you give the information this please?

28 03 2016

I’m not an actual historian, this is an NCEA project from a few years back. Look at the resources I have listed.

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