Shetlanders at Charleston, New Zealand

Nine-mile Beach settlement near Charleston Nine-mile Beach settlement near Charleston Charleston is a small township 24 kilometres south of Westport on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. From the 1860’s when it was part of the West Coast gold rush it boasted 37 hotels and population of 5000. Today it is a small settlement with no pub, a hall and club, cafe, base for Geotech, a ground engineering company, a motel, a few permanent residents and a number of holiday homes. It has two cemeteries – Catholic and non-Catholic. The latter has a number of gravestones that give an indication of Charleston’s connection with Shetland. In the 1860’s and 1870’s some Shetlanders arrived to seek gold, settling at Nine-mile Beach,  a few km north of Charleston. The names of some of the families can be found on gravestones in the non-Catholic cemetery - Harper, Johnson, Mouat, Anderson and Laurenson, all from Unst.

Low tide at Nine-mile Beach exposes the remnants of the sluicing structures that the Shetlanders used to win the gold from the black sands. Two pipes that would have carried water for sluicing can be seen protruding from the bank beside the beach. There is no obvious evidence of the small settlement on the flat area beside the beach apart from some old macrocarpa trees and stumps and the odd brick or two.

Charleston is one of a number of isolated South Island localities where Shetlanders settled in the 1870’s following the Clearances. Others included Karamea (West Coast of the South Island) and Port William (Stewart Island). A small group even went to the bleak and windswept Campbell Island to graze sheep!

Remains of Shetland gold miner’s sluicing operation. Remains of Shetland gold miner’s sluicing operation.

Remains of Shetland gold miner’s sluicing operation. Remains of Shetland gold miner’s sluicing operation. The Shetlanders later moved to other parts of New Zealand, many living in and around Wellington. Shetland’s loss as a result of the Clearances became New Zealand’s gain as the Shetlanders applied their honest, hard work ethic to their lives in this new home on the other side of the world.

From Headstones in Charleston Cemetery

Gilbert Harper (10), 14.03.1883. Native of Unst. Son of James & Margaret Harper

Gilbert Harper (39), 29.05.1882. Native of Unst

Ann Johnson (75), 19.07.14, Native of Shetland

Barclay Mouat (79), 29.10.1918, Native of Unst

Marion Mouat (46), 27.07.1886, Native of Unst

Elizabeth Mouat, (30), 18.04.1892, Native of Unst, wife of John Robert Mouat

John Anderson (79), 02.12.1936, Native of Unst, husband of Elizabeth

Elizabeth Anderson (89), 13.10.1951, wife of John

Matthew Laurenson (47), 17.07.1906, husband of E. Laurenson, Native of Unst, accidentally drowned.

Charleston Cemetery Charleston Cemetery