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MOSES BROWN's story

This account has been adapted from "Browns of Kyeburn Peninsula" by Wally Brown - to whom many thanks




Moses was born in the little Yorkshire village of Sawdon, the fifth child of William Brown and Elizabeth Green on 2nd September 1855 and became a ploughboy at the age of 15. He was of the first generation to have compulsory education, leaving school at 9, and it is certain that he had the skills of reading and writing - skills denied to most of the preceeding generations. It seems likely that his acquaintance with Methodism derived from the villages in which he was bought up, each of which was blessed with a Wesleyan Chapel - in his family bible there was found a few years ago a Wesleyan Methodist membership card for Moses dated to his time in Yorkshire. His work on a farm did not seem to last long for he then became a "puddler" in a local ironworks. If you would like to know more of the work of puddling, click here

A report in the Otago Daily Times in 1939 on Moses' life says:

"The puddler's life was then the hottest in existence, and he remembers his cheek and arm as being almost raw from the burning heat. He still has the scars to recall that job and wonders how the others in the same work stood up to it, for he remembers how their arms and cheeks looked like raw beef"

There was a trade recession in 1879 which led to the closure of the ironworks There can be no surprise that he was looking elsewhere for employment, and since the rich gold finds in Otago were well known, his decision to emigrate with his brother John was not only logical but wise. Life expectancy for a puddler was not great, and unemployment meant starvation: there was no welfare state in those days.

Moses and John paid their fares of 10 each for steerage accommodation in the "Coromandel", a ship going to New Zealand, and took up residence in the steerage section of the ship - in the bow where bunks were provided, segregated from the women who lived aft. On the same vessel was a young woman, Elizabeth Ellen (Ellie) Osborne, who was travelling free with her sister and her brother in law, Mr and Mrs A C Broad, in a cabin. (At this time young women went free at ages between young teenagers and the thirties to provide servants and perhaps wives for the settlers.) Both the Broads and the Osbornes were staunch Methodists and one can imagine that on the 3 month journey Methodist services were held at least weekly. This seems to be the most likely point for Moses and Ellie to meet; certainly it would have been difficult to meet casually or to court from Kyeburn Diggings to Dunedin - it would have taken a couple of days travel in each direction to visit.

Ellie was ill on the voyage, coughing up blood - a common feature of consumption, also known as tuberculosis or in those days,"phthisis". She must have recovered to an extent, but she died of the same disease some twenty one years later with the same diagnosis - not before she had given birth to six children, Moses and she having married on 8 February 1883.

. Moses did not let the grass grow under his feet. As soon as he arrived in Port Chalmers, Dunedin, on 2nd April 1880, he travelled the hundred or more kilometres long road, through the wild and desolate contryside of Otago to the Kye Burn valley, some eight or so kilometres northeast of Naseby and 2000 feet up in the mountains, to reach the goldfields. Fortunately it was autumn and not winter, for the winters in the Otago hills used to be severe, but it is not known whether he walked or had been able to get a horse.



A modern replica of the Cobb coach being driven by its maker in 2008, Peter Robson

Alternatively there was the The Cobb and Co Coach which started coming to Naseby in 1869, as part of a service which ran from the east coast (Dunedin and Palmerston) to the goldfields of Dunstan (Cromwell area) which took three days. The Naseby stop allowed the horses to be changed and the passengers to have refreshments.. It seems that John did not accompany him at this stage. Moses set to work immediately along with hundreds of other miners, at this stage almost certainly digging the paydirt out and then panning in a stream - probably the Kye Burn. Within four years he had made enough money (1500 - a princely sum in those days) to buy out a fairly valuable claim from a John Christian, who had difficulty in working it.



Rosedale - Moses and Ellies first house, burnt down about 1916

Moses had married and built a house for his new bride at Kyeburn Diggings in 1883, and had planted trees around the house which can be seen in the photo above. They are still there, even though only a few crumbling remnants of the original house remain. The outer walls were made of mudbrick - made in wooden moulds and left to set, then taken out and allowed to harden before use.The floor and dividing walls were of wood, which presumably had to be brought from Naseby or somewhere alse and transported by cart. Ellie lived the rest of her life here, and died in 1901. After the fire, Moses moved with his family to Naseby.



Moses house in Naseby, taken in 1984

Moses set about solving the problems of John Christian as soon as the claim was his. He innovated the use of pipes having high pressure water for sluicing, presumably having read of the practice in California, and an account of the system he used may be seen here. John, who had gone to Australia was persuaded to join Moses and the two of them had a moderately successful gold mining business for many years.

Soon after he started sluicing he was employing men on twelve hour shifts at 1 shilling an hour; and expansion of the business meant that he and John were also dredging the Kye Burn.On 25 November 1897 the Otag Witness reported that Moses was elected a director of the Kyeburn Gold Dredging Co. This type of work continued for some time until the escalating costs caused by WW1 made the profits from dredging diminish. During this time it was not uncommon for Moses to bank 50 or 60 ounces of gold at Ranfurly Bank for a few weeks work, and in 1939 he was still working a good claim at Kyeburn Diggings, helped by his son and nephew.

The Cyclopaedia of New Zealand (vol 4, p 601) describes Moses. "He has long been known as a prominent miner and water-race owner in the Kyeburn district, and one of his water-races in which he is concerned is fourteen mile long. Mr Brown has had fair success as a miner and is a director of the Kyeburn Dredging Company. He resides at Kyeburn Diggings and holds an occupation license of 60 acres in addition to an acre of residence area."

The gold finally ran out in 1941, a year after Moses had died. He had a stroke and spent the last days in Maniototo Hospital in Ranfurly. The notice in the deaths column of the local newspaper reads:

"At Maniototo Hospital on August 27th, Moses, beloved husband of the late Elizabeth Ellen Brown,
and father of Osborne, of Naseby, and Arthur and Wilfred of Taranaki, aged 85 years.
The funeral will leave his late residence for the Kyeburn Diggings cemetery on Tuesday, August 29 at 2 p.m.
Ball and Son, Undertakers"

This has been about what Moses did in his career, but says little about the man. so what was he like? Leaving school at 9 years of age he had the tools with which to learn, and clearly did so, and in 1926 he was able to write a series of articles in the Mount Ida Chronicle called "The Goldfields of Maniototo", from which his substantial knowledge of geology is apparent. He had such a good understanding of astronomy that he would use his pocket watch to time planets and stars to verify their positions - so much so that his granddaughter, Betty Bain remembers him instructing a school teacher on the rotation of the solar system!

He had an interest in spiritualism, and would go to Dunedin to attend meetings, and this seems a logical extension to his propensity for dreaming. He believed in acting on his dreams, and used to arrange his mining accordingly (and successfully).. On one occasion he dreamt that Ellie, who was heavily pregnant, was about to give birth. He woke his wife who said that she was all right, but he saddled up his horse, rode into Naseby and returned with the doctor, just in time for the baby's delivery! At another time Moses told the children not to go onto a certain bridge because it was dangerous. Inspecting it later the children found part of it washed away.

Spelling tended to be phonetic, with 'e as he and 'ave as have, but Moses was one on his own - he added the letter H where it was not needed - hence a letter from him which says "Hi had hay dream". He believed in corporal punishment, as did most people at the time, and there is a lovely story about Arthur, his son, who had committed some misdemeanour and hid under the bed. Moses flicked his riding crop under the bed a couple of times, said"Come out from there you young cuss", and Ellie, who was worried about Arthur's eye being damaged pleaded with Moses to be careful, when a little voice came "Iss orright, Mum - he can't hurt me. I'se in the close basket"

Knowing that Moses had a Methodist upbringing helps in understanding his love of singing. He had a fine voice, and sang "Soldier Laddie" on stage in Naseby for the send-off and welcome home socials of World War 1. He seems to have encouraged his children musically, for a large proportion of his descendants now play an instrument - violin being the most popular. He was also well known for his fund of stories - the gift of storytelling has been passed down the generations.

And to conclude - here is a photo of Moses taking just under 60 ounces of gold to the bank!



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