Bill Fox – Whofoundit? Whodunit?

Bill Fox – Whofoundit? Whodunit?

Part One: Whofoundit? The Arrow Gorge. It’s early October 1862.

Some gold-diggers are finding fabulous amounts of gold - in secret, because once the word is out, they’ll be invaded by hordes of rapacious miners. They don’t report the gold strike to the officials. Whenever they leave the gorge, they wade down the river and back again so that they don’t leave footprints. They collect provisions from the run-holder, William Rees, at Queenstown. He keeps their secret because he doesn’t want the invasion either. 

Bill Fox and a companion find their way to the gorge. Like every other arrival they are sworn to secrecy. Because Fox has commanding stature and fists, they elect him to ensure that people keep to their own sites. He’s very effective.

But then he betrays the secret – or so they others say. He goes to Clyde, sells gold there and registers the gold-strike with the authorities. Why would he do that? Eventually he’s followed back, and the gold-rush begins.

Some years later he asks the Provincial Government for a reward for finding the gold-field. And prominent businessmen in Queenstown support his claim. Why? The other miners who were in the gorge before him don’t ask for a reward. Perhaps they acknowledge that the true discoverer was Jack Tewa, or Maori jack, a station-hand of Rees.

Part Two: Whodunnit? A pub at Arthurs Point. It’s early in 1864

Having made good money from gold in a very short time, Bill Fox has invested in two hotels and a boat on Lake Wakatipu. Wise move. Then he has a drunken fight with a patron at his pub, and the man is stabbed numerous times. Fox is arrested and charged. But why would he do that? His fists have always been sufficient before. Or maybe he didn’t do it. There were others around them who could. He pleads not guilty and the victim wants the charge withdrawn. But the jury decides against him. Did he do it? Did other people think he did?

To find out more about this forceful and enigmatic early gold-miner, come to the Queenstown and District Historical Society’s presentation of ‘Six People From Our Past’ at St John’s Presbyterian Church Hall, Berkshire St, Arrowtown, on Sunday 10 April from 2-3.30. Entry by gold coin donation.

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Photo caption: In 1962 at the centenary of the Arrow discovery this monument in the gorge was built honouring William Fox as the first finder of the gold. New signage below the town acknowledges Jack Tewa.

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