Coal Creek Gardens, Greymouth, 1860s

This is a very interesting and very early outdoors photograph.  The caption on the back reads "Coal Creek Gardens, Greymouth".  What does the photo reveal?  It shows a steep bank, perched at the top of which is a small and fairly new-looking building with a corrugated-iron roof and vertical boards for walls. It appears to have a verandah all round.  To the left end of the building appears to be a sign or hoarding, and above the roof is a flagpole and flag, suggesting a store or trading post.   The sign presumably faces the road, and the road leads onto a bridge.  The photographer appears to be perched up high on the opposite bank of the creek.  Behind the building is a steep bluff.

There are a number of tree-ferns along the side of the building we can see, which give the appearance of having been planted for a garden - two of them form a gateway at the top of the timber stairs leading up from the creek.  They presumably form part of the "gardens" noted on the back of the photo.

There are quite a few people posing for the photo. There are three men standing at the left end of the verandah; there is a small girl and another two men standing on the stairs.  Further to the right is a man in a jacket and boater, behind him with his back to the camera is another man, and there is a woman seated at the back of the building.  To the left of the last tree-fern is another man with his back to the camera.   He is wearing no jacket.  There are two other shadowy figures further to the right which suggest that the man without the jacket failed to stand still for the camera.  Ten people in all (not counting the extra two shadowy figures).

All of them appear to be well dressed and clean, which suggests to me that this is a Sunday, the day of rest.  

The number of small row-boats tied up at the foot of the stairs is impressive.  Are they boats for hire - pleasure boats?  Or are they the run-abouts for the locals further up the creek who have come down for Church (somewhere nearby, perhaps?) and re-stocking the pantry?  Perhaps they are used to get to larger vessels standing further out?  I am not much of a boat-person, so if anyone can shed light on the boats that would be helpful.

As to the date of the photo - the card on which the photo is mounted suggests a date in the 1860s, as do the men's jackets with the single button at the top, and the little girl's crinoline frock.    A key thing to know would be when the bridge at Coal Creek was built.  (Anyone?)  Also the store.

West Coast Times , Issue 26, 29 July 1865, Page 2
Great inconvenience is felt at the want of a bridge across the lagoon which divides tho new town from the old settlement called Blaketown ; but I hear that the Government have set men on cutting timber for this much needed roadway, for as it is, a distressing tax is laid on the people by having to pay Is for crossing, oils 6d for crossing the lagoon and the return trip.

Perhaps the the bridge mentioned in the West Coast Times is the one in the photo, but as I don't know the geography of Greymouth I cannot say.

In a new gold-rush community you would expect to see numbers of young men, and that is what we see in this picture.  Not many brought their families with them.  The woman and child in the photo, and probably the man at the centre and front of the picture are possibly associated with the store.

This photo appeared in George Griffith's eldest daughter's photo album.  Did he send it to her?  Did he bring it home with him?  Is it his writing on the back?  Well, I'm short of a signature for comparison.  with a bit of luck one will turn up one day.  The photo may have been taken before George ever set foot in New Zealand.  It may have been a "tourist" photo sold in the local stores, or by the local photographer.

If anyone would like to comment on the foregoing, please feel free.


  1. My family have owned the farm at Coal Creek since 1997. I was told stories of the old days, that it was popular for people to paddle from Greymouth and Cobden up the Grey river and up Coal Creek to have evening gatherings. I was under the impression the Coal Creek gardens were at the former "Gang house" behind Wingham park. The photo would suggest it might have actually been by the road, perhaps near the site of the old Smiths brewery

  2. I shall have to let you be the expert as to the location of the gardens and the building - I have never been there and haven't a clue. Not for the want of good intentions but life got in the way. (I live in Melbourne)

    What is a "gang house"?


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