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Edward Peters Memorial

Issue date: 
Sunday, 12 April 2009
Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, GNZM, QSO

May I begin by greeting everyone in the languages of the realm of New Zealand, in English, Maori, Cook Island Maori, Niuean, Tokelauan and New Zealand Sign Language. Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni and as it is the afternoon (Sign)

May I specifically greet you:  Alan Williams, Chairperson, Glenore Manuka Trust and fellow trustee, Nancy Allison; Hamish Anderson, Deputy Mayor of Clutha District; Ratilal Champaneri, President of the New Zealand Indian Central Association; Edward Ellison, Kaumatua of Te Runanga o Otakou; Distinguished Guests otherwise; ladies and gentlemen.  And in the context of today's gathering, may I add the greetings: Namaste, Namashkaar, Sat sri akal, Salaam walaikum, Kam cho.

Thank you for inviting my wife Susan and I Glenore for this celebration to mark the 150th anniversary of Edward Peters' discovery of gold.
May I then pay my respects to the land on which we stand and the surrounding districts which 150 years ago yielded up gold and which brought people and investment and wealth such as added weight to the development of this province Otago and our country New Zealand.

Since ancient times, gold has held a fascination for man.  Nations have gone to war over it.  Civilisations have been founded on it and others destroyed because of it.  

Like a double-edged sword the discovery of gold has made some individuals rich whilst ruining the lives of others.  As the British writer Samuel Butler, who lived in New Zealand about the time of Peters' discovery so cannily noted: "Though wisdom cannot be gotten for gold, still less can it be gotten without it."

The development to which I referred brought people from many parts of the world; Australia, the US, and China.  In that context came Edward Peters, an Indian man known locally as "Black Peter", who is believed to have been born in Mumbai and came to Otāgo in 1853 as a cook on the sailing ship Maori. 

He took "French leave" from the ship, and as required, having spent a required six weeks in gaol, settled in the province, heading south to this area to working on the new farms being established.

Little would probably have ever been known of him after that if he had not been helping two other shepherds move some sheep across the south branch of the Tokomairiro River in late 1858.

According to Alan William's history, the party had camped by the river edge and after their evening meal, Peters took the wash basin down to the river's edge. Cleaning up the dishes, and having worked the Californian gold fields, he decided to pan for gold.  He ended up finding sufficient gold to be turned into a ring that is now held by the Otago Settlers Museum.

But as the saying goes, all that glitters is not gold, and it was Gabriel Read, who having learned of Peters' find, set off looking for gold and in 1861 laid claim to finding gold in Otāgo.

It was Read, rather than Peters that received £1000 from the Otago Provincial Council for his find and who has gone down in history as the discoverer of gold in Otāgo.  Such is fortune's fickle hand.

The gold rush changed Otāgo forever, with the thousands from throughout the world being lured to New Zealand to prospect for gold.   It is estimated Dunedin's population more than doubled from less than 13,000 to more than 30,000 in the space of six months in 1861.

Parliament was petitioned in 1885 for recognition of Peters' discovery.  While a parliamentary committee decided he had not established his claim, it recommended the government pay him £50 if a similar amount could be raised by public subscription. 

Such was the affection with which he was held in the community, and the support of local MP Vincent Pyke, that the money was quickly raised.  It provided a pension for him until he died in 1893.

No doubt historians will continue to argue about who was first to do what and when for many years to come.  However, it is important that Edward Peters' story not be forgotten.  I would therefore like to congratulate the Glenore Manuka Trust and all those involved in organising for organising this memorial to him to be erected.

Edward Peters' story also speaks to us today of those first Indian migrants to New Zealand.   Until the period after the Second World War, people of Indian origin lived here in relatively small numbers.  Among them were my parents, who had migrated to New Zealand from Fiji in the 1920s, their own parents having migrated from India to Fiji.

New Zealanders of Indian descent have contributed to our country's economy and society in a number of ways through participation in many disciplines from business to medicine, the law, sport and academia to name but a few.

Like all migrants to New Zealand, whether they were from Asia, Pacific or Europe, and whether they came on canoes, sailing ships, ocean liners or aeroplanes, they were all seeking to build a new and better life here in New Zealand.  As noted New Zealand historian, the late Dr Michael King, once wrote: "In a country inhabited for a mere one thousand years, everybody is an immigrant or a descendent of an immigrant."

And on that note, I will close in New Zealand's first language Māori, by offering everyone greetings and wishing you all good health and fortitude in your endeavours. No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.

Last updated: 
Wednesday, 15 April 2009

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