Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 29, October 1985


James Liddell's father was Captain James Liddell and his mother Mary Abba Liddell. His father was born at Alloa, Scotland in 1807 and arrived in Sydney at the age of 19. At this time he was Chief Officer of a brig and by the age of 23 was master of the brig, "Admiral Giffard", trading from Sydney to New Zealand. In 1938 [1838 – E] he was whaling out of Hobart and in one trip filled his ship in just 6 weeks. For a period he farmed in New Zealand but after his homestead was burnt he returned to Victoria and finished his working days as ship's pilot. He died at Queenscliff in 1878. His family consisted of six sons and six daughters.


One son, named James, born in 1832, arrived on the West Coast of New Zealand in 1864, at Hokitika. Accompanying him was his mining mate, Donnelly, and two storekeepers, J. Hudson and J. Price. Hudson and Price erected a canvas store with a log frame (l2ft. x 20ft.). This was Hokitika's first building. Meanwhile Liddell and Donnelly went prospecting and found gold in the area, later known as Donnelly's Creek.

Liddell was unwilling to disclose the news of discovery to other miners at Hokitika, although their suspicions had been aroused and various methods, including an assault and an endeavour to make the prospector drunk were attempted to procure the secret.


After a time on the West Coast, James Liddell moved to the northern goldfields. The "Thames Advertiser" of 16 March 1875 carried a report, mentioning James Liddell –

"James Liddell and some others were on 13th February last prospecting at an unfrequented place between Karangahake and Te Aroha. They came upon the remains of a burnt camp where a tent had stood, and amongst the debris they found the barrels, locks, etc. of two rifles, from which the stocks had been burnt, also several broken bottles, and one full, one about half full of rum. Where the camp was discovered is considerably off the track, in a sort of blind gully. It is supposed the debris has been in its present state at least 3 years (since 1872).

"Liddell brought one of the rifle barrels to the survey line, and left it with a (metal) match box containing a description of how it was found and other circumstances connected with it. It may be recollected that some time ago it was rumoured that a skeleton of a man had been found on a hill adjoining this locality. Quite possibly some unfortunate prospector had been discovered in the ranges and was summarily disposed of either with a bullet or a blow on the head."


In 1882 McCombie obtained some compensation for his disappointment at Waihi by discovering a payable reef at Karangahake. Other lodes were found nearby by the prospectors Liddell and McWilliams.

Around June 1883 the Ivanhoe claim of 23 acres was taken up by James Liddell. A company was formed and by 23 June 1883 400 pounds worth of shares had been sold. Mining commenced and also the building of a tramway to the Hauraki Battery. This tramway was completed by 8 November 1883 and meanwhile some adits had been put into the reef. At the end of 1883 prospecting was commenced in the Sir Walter Scott claim and by May 1884 ore from reefs on this claim was being crushed at the Hauraki Battery. Up to June 1884 500 pounds had been spent on development work on the Ivanhoe. Work commenced on the Truro claim about this time. (The Ivanhoe claim, together with the Sir Walter Scott and Truro claim were situated on Taukani Hill.)

The following report appeared in the "Thames Advertiser" on 28 April 1885:-

"Messrs Liddell and Shepherd were getting timber for their mine some 200 feet below the mullock tip, when one of the workers sent a truck of quartz boulders over the tip head. One of the boulders of about 50 lb hit Mr Liddell fair in the face and knocked him senseless. He was endeavouring to save a cross-cut saw at the time. He received two bad gashes. After he regained consciousness he was assisted by his mates to his whare where he was attended by Mr H.M. Shepherd. Meanwhile Mr W. Cornes rode in and wired for Doctor Cooper of Te Aroha who reached Karangahake in less than four hours after the time the telegram was sent. Liddell will be confined to bed for some time."

Up to March 1887, 675 tons of ore were treated which yielded 690 oz of bullion. The claims were then taken over later in 1887 by Mr C.P. Cox.

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James Liddell continued to be associated with a number of other mining ventures and although it is known that he was also part owner of the Hauraki claim, recorded details are sketchy. After a very adventuresome life he died at the residence of his nephew, Thomas Liddell, at Owharoa on 26 October, 1914. He was buried at the Paeroa Cemetery.

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Ed. note: Information for this story was supplied by Mr Ray Liddell of Waihi.