Turning the clock back
Column by Len Riggir

James, his wife Betsy (Bess) and 1 year old daughter left Scotland in January 1863 on the ship Electric arriving in Port Chalmers 120 days later.

James and his family settled in Dunedin, and he soon found work as a stone mason. One job he had was in Port Chalmers and on a return trip one night his boat collided with another.

James Ritchie (Snr) and his wife Betsy (Bess) Ritchie. Photo: Courtesy Cromwell Museum

He and one other man were the only ones on that boat to survive.

We conclude that after this incident he decided to seek work elsewhere.

At that time there were reports of gold strikes in various parts of inland Otago and he joined the rush to the Otago Gold fields.

While in the area he also found work as a stone mason working on the roads in the wider area.

He was mining here and there eventually arriving in Cromwell. While in Cromwell he started to build his first home near the junction of Alpha and Inniscort Streets. There was word of a gold strike in the Nevis and the family understand he was there for a short time. In 1865 a very severe snowstorm forced him back to Dunedin.

Whilst there his first son Malcolm (my Great Grandfather) was born. 

When Malcolm was 6 weeks old, he packed up all their possessions and brought his wife, baby and 2-year-old daughter to Cromwell in a tipping dray, with materials to finish his house.

His descendants understand that this was the first iron roofed house built in Cromwell. 

While in Cromwell he divided his time between stone masonry and gold mining. Another six sons were born in Cromwell.

While growing up all the sons were taught gold mining and stone masonry.

We have references of them gold mining at an area known as Deadman’s Flat.

More in later articles.