Our History

From around 1200-1600 Maori hunted Moa, leading to their presence in the area. The most important artefacts have been found at Miller's Flat and Beaumont. There was a nohoaka of Te Kohai just upstream from Beaumont at the mouth of the Belleburn, near where the river slows above a large gravel bar. This was known as one of the safest places to cross the river on a mokihi (raft).

Artefacts including a Pututara, tools, sharpening stones and Huia feathers have been found in caves and sites around Beaumont.

Maori used the river trail through the Beaumont Gorge for mahika kai (traditional hunting, fishing and food gathering), for warfare, and for access to distant greenstone rivers. This trail is one of the oldest in Otago.

European Settlers
Settlers arrived in the late 1850's as people migrated inland. Beaumont was originally named Dunkeld by the surveyor John Turnbull Thomson, a Gaelic name from Perthshire, Scotland, meaning Fort of the Caledonians. But although Dunkeld was on the first survey maps, the nearby Beaumont Burn was more familiar to residents of the area who continued to go to “the Beaumont” or the “Beaumont Ferry.” Inevitably, they called the area Beaumont - a French name meaning beautiful mountain.

Early Beaumont

The location afforded a natural river crossing at the junction of regional trails, so Beaumont soon became an important staging post for trade and travel, and the head of navigation for steamboats, which plied the Lower Clutha River from 1863 to 1939. The wreck of the steamboat Matau, which operated between 1882 and 1901, is still in the river near the Clydevale Station below the Tuapeka Punt.

Farms began as small holdings which were combined to form large stations. Robert Wood built up Dunkeld Station to 21,000 acres. The Bellamy Station run extended from approximately Evans Flat through to Beaumont and was originally owned by Walter Davy and Edmond Bowler from Dunedin. Beaumont Station, formerly known as Gardeners, was taken up in December, 1858, by Archibald Anderson.

Sorting Potatoes at Beaumont Hall, 1920's

Gold Fever
The Clutha Mata-Au is reputed to be the second richest gold-bearing river system in the world, second only to the Yukon in North America.

Gold was discovered in May 1860 at Gabriel's Gully. The gold-rush brought miners and Chinese immigrants to Beaumont. When alluvial gold became scarce, massive gold-dredges were employed to scour the riverbeds and banks.

Gold-miner, Beaumont

Gold-dredging was pioneered in New Zealand at Beaumont as early as 1863. The boom years were in the 1890's with several dredges working on the river near Beaumont. There were around 150 gold-dredges on the entire Clutha River.

Golden Gravel Dredge

Punts and Bridges
The first Beaumont punts operated from 1860, free of charge. A wooden toll bridge was opened in 1874. A high toll was charged for crossing the bridge, so the ferry continued to operate successfully in opposition. The great flood of 1878, however, promptly wrecked most punts and bridges on the entire Clutha River. Debris from the Roxburgh and Miller’s Flat bridges destroyed the Beaumont bridge, all of which later destroyed the Balclutha bridge. The ferry was re-instated and remained the only means of crossing at Beaumont for nearly a decade.

Beaumont Punt

The second bridge was opened on March 3rd, 1887. It was the first '4 iron' bridge to be completed in New Zealand. It has three 35m and two 17.8m wrought iron trusses supported on concrete piers. It was constructed by John Anderson of Christchurch, with the first and longest single spans of their kind in the Southern Hemisphere. This iconic bridge remains in daily use and connects both halves of Beaumont.

Beaumont Bridge, 1887

The Community
In 1870 there were three hotels - the Crookston, the Beaumont Ferry and the Duke of Edinburgh. The impressive two-storey Bridge Hotel was built in the mid-1870's by J F Kitching. It was replaced by the present hotel in 1938, built by the proprietor Ted Pearson.

Bridge Hotel

In 1887 Beaumont also had a store, butchery, bakery, smithy, school, church and a Post Office. The cemetery's first recorded internment was in 1885, but there were many more before this date.

Beaumont Shop, with School in background

School was first held in the church in the early 1870's, until the school was built in 1872. During the railway boom years there were four teachers and over eighty pupils. The school closed in 1989.

Beaumont School

The Beaumont Racecourse was built in 1870, and race meetings became a seasonal attraction. The celebrated 'Beaumont Races' remained on the Otago Race meeting calendar until the 1980's.

At the Beaumont Races, 1915

The Chinese
The Chinese came to Beaumont seeking gold. Many found work in orchards, market gardening and laying poison for rabbits. There was a large settlement of up to 200 residing at Chinaman Flat.

Some Chinese were buried in Beaumont rather than being customarily shipped back to their homeland. The last surviving Chinese in Beaumont was named Ah Tie. He is buried in the Beaumont Cemetery.

Ah Tie

1910 -1923 was the era of greatest population at Beaumont because railway workers were living here while the line was taken from Big Hill (Beaumont) to Miller's Flat. The railway was opened in 1915 and closed in 1968.

Beaumont Railway Station

Having reached the end of their economic life, two "P" Class locomotives were dumped in the Clutha near the Beaumont Bridge in 1922. They were recovered in May, 1992, and taken to Dunedin. These engines are the only ones saved from their class and era. It is thought they may be the oldest surviving eight-coupled British built locomotives anywhere in the word. They are being restored by Project Steam Inc.

Railway at Beaumont

Forestry began in 1927 with the compulsory acquisition of land from Robert Woods' Dunkeld Station by the Government. The first headquarters was at Tramway. These lands formed the largest managed forest in Otago and Southland, and continues to this day.

Forestry Camp, Tramway, 1920's

Beaumont soil, being excellent for vegetables, was planted out in apples, pears, plums and berryfruit. 500 fruit trees at 10d each were imported each year from Australia to build up 40 acres at Riverside Orchard. The fruit was in demand all over the South Island, and owner David Martin - a former farmhand on Robert Woods' Station, was a keen exhibitor and won over 700 pounds in prize money.

E. Pearson started an orchard in 1922-3, and there were also several acres of raspberry cane orchards.

Bickerstaff's Raspberry Orchard

NZ's Most Threatened Town

Since the 1940s hydro dam proposals have threatened our valley and our community. Time and again we have resisted and endured.

In the mid-1990s a petition against a proposed hydro-electric dam that would flood Beaumont was signed by 26,000 people, and the project was "shelved."

In 1996, Contact Energy inherited these controversial plans and numerous properties in the area that their predecessor, Electrocorp, had bought up. The land in question consists of 4,400 hectares, including two commercial properties, 15 residential sections, nine farms, 15 lifestyle blocks and 43 "small properties".

Most of these properties are situated between Miller's Flat and Tuapeka Mouth, and include some in the township of Beaumont.

Over the years, Contact Energy has done little to maintain these properties, so that buildings have fallen into disrepair, reflecting poorly on our community. Contact Energy has also refused to sell back these properties. This, combined with never-ending uncertainty over the future of our community, has effectively stifled local investment.

In April 2009, Contact Energy proposed four further 'Think Big' dams for the Clutha. Two of the options, Tuapeka Mouth and Beaumont, would submerge our valley.

In May, 2012, Contact Energy announced that it had ceased all work on the proposed dams.

Birch Island / Moa Nui Reserve

Birch Island / Moa Nui Reserve is an ecological 'Noah's Ark' in the Upper Rongahere Gorge. This 1km long island, covering seven hectares, became a protected area under the Conservation Act in 2001.

The Otago Conservation Board unanimously called for Birch Island to be given reserve status as early as 1994. The Department of Conservation began a long and complex process of securing protection after Contact Energy announced in 1996 that it had deferred development plans indefinitely. But the land still remained without protection when the National Party lost power in the 1999 election. The Otago Conservation Board strongly supported Birch Island being brought under the Conservation Act, and Land Information New Zealand also supported the change.

Protection status was awarded primarily because Birch Island has a nationally significant population of invertebrates, surviving in their isolated refuge, ostensibly because the island has remained predator free.

In 1995, scientists investigating the invertebrate fauna on the island discovered several new species, including a Peripatus, a genus of Onychophoran. The Onychophora is an animal somewhat like a permanent caterpillar, part insect and worm. It has been suggested they warrant priority for conservation owing to their status as living fossils, being unchanged in 570 million years. Due to their predatory nature they also have potential as an indicator species in the assessment of biodiversity. Scientists also discovered unusual beetles, moths, snails and springtails.

Birch Island has what is considered to be the most intact ecosystem of its kind in New Zealand.

River Trails Old and New

Beaumont is situated at the junction of regional trails, from Southland, Blue Mountains, Central Otago and Lawrence.

One of the oldest trails in Otago is the route through the Beaumont Gorge, used originally by Maori for mahika kai (traditional hunting, fishing and food gathering), for warfare, and as access to distant greenstone rivers. Beaumont had a major role in both Maori and European times as a trail junction and river crossing.

Today, the Millenium Trail follows the river from Beaumont to near Miller's Flat, along part of the original Maori route inland.

A new trail from Roxburgh to Lawrence - the Clutha Gold Trail, is currently being planned by the Clutha Gold Trail Trust. This will eventually form part of a Mighty Clutha River Trail along the entire Clutha Mata-Au from Wanaka to the sea, combining historic routes used by Maori and European explorers, and countless gold-miners.

The Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group proposed the river-length trail in 2003, and now serves as an umbrella organisation for local groups.

Members from the Beaumont Residents Group are involved in trail planning, and together with members of the Clutha Gold Trail Trust and the Parkway Group, we have scouted an excellent route down the true left of the Rongahere Gorge through native bush to Tuapeka. Planning is ongoing.