Named after Brigadier General Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence, who died in the Siege of Lucknow in 1857, the sleepy Central Otago town ofLawrence is just over an hour’s drive from Dunedin. It came into existence when gold was found in Gabriels Gully 4km (2.4 miles) away. While some people stop in Lawrence on the drive from Dunedin to Central Otago’s popular holiday towns, most drive straight through as there was little to see or do. When I was a Dunedin based TV cameraman I frequently drove through Lawrence on filming trips to Queenstown and Wanaka. I do remember one occasion when the road to Dunedin was closed due to flooding and we spent a night in the town’s only hotel. Other guests were there for the same reason. By eight o’clock the town had gone to sleep.

Most international tourists seldom venture anywhere near Lawrence so the Tuapeka Lawrence Community decided to do something to attract more tourists so three years ago, as part of a beautification project, figures from the town’s rich past were erected to add some visual interest for those passing through. Lawrence born, but now Australia based, Kelly Aitken created the figures, carving them from wood before painting them. It was a fun way to depict some of the town’s first settlers. Her three bollards represent Gabriel Read, Black Peter and Helen Munro.


Gabriel Read:

Motivated by a £1000 reward for the discovery of ‘payable quantities’ of gold, Gabriel Read re-located from the Victorian gold fields to Otago and discovered gold just 4km (2.3 miles) from Lawrence on the 23rd of May 1861. This started the first full-scale gold rush in New Zealand and one of the largest in the world. A population of 24,000 people were in the area at the height of the Tuapeka gold fields rush. Today, as the 2018 census revealed, just 447 people live in Lawrence.

Black Peter:

Black Peter arrived in the country from Bombay in 1853 and worked in the Lawrence area as a drover and handyman. He was unsuccessful in finding gold himself but was happy to indicate to others where success might be found.

Helen Munro:

Helen, with husband George Munro, arrived from Scotland in 1857 and was one of the first permanent settlers in the Lawrence area. Inspired by the talk of gold, she started exploring in the valley nearby and found gold in what is now known as Munro’s Gully.


Recently, four more 2.1m (6 ft) sculptures depicting more of the town’s original inhabitants from the 1860s and 1870s were installed around the town. One represents schoolteacher John Joseph Woods, who in 1876 wrote the music to accompany Dunedin poet Thomas Bracken’s national anthem, “God Defend New Zealand” which was first performed in Dunedin’s Queen’s Theatre on Christmas Day 1876. Beside that bollard, at the entrance to Gabriels Gully, is one in the image of John Stenhouse, an Edinburgh-born teacher who taught for 46 years in the Lawrence area. Bollards representing Archibald McKinlay and Edward Herbert, who came to the town in 1862 and established a successful trading business around the goldfields, stand near the grocery store. The new carvings were made by three local artists. These unique fixtures are having the desired effect as people arriving in Lawrence are now stopping to take photos and to wander along the main street searching for more of these fun bollards. Some even pop into a store for an icecream or pie, thus spending money in the town, which was one of the intentions of the project. The figures also make great additions for selfies thus creating an awareness of this little town on Instagram and Facebook.

(Clutha Photos)


As part of war reparations decided at the Treaty of Versailles, the Germans were ordered to pay the winning powers for the damage caused by the war they lost. New Zealand Prime Minister, William Massey had hoped to receive 10 million pounds. However, he received a piddling 500,000 pounds, along with some captured German field guns and oddly, 136,000 litres of German wine. Twenty casks, with the capacity to hold 1,500 gallons each, soon arrived in the country. Five were sent to New Zealand’s first horticultural research station at Te Kauwhata in the North Island to be blended and bottled with local wines. It is not known what happened to the other fifteen casks.

The research station used the casks for storing wine until 1994 when the facility was sold to Rongopai wines. They were not interested in the casks as they were wanting to use stainless steel vats. In 2001 they offered the rotting German casks to the local Lions Club to sell off for firewood. However, some enterprising members of the club came up with the idea to pull apart the casks and re-build one replica from the good timbers that were salvaged. Today, the huge, unusual cask, with an interesting history, is on display by a carpark in the town.

Ceidrik Heward

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