Archivists strike historic gold dust

GO WEST, YOUNG MAN: : Archivist and historian Graham Langton with one of Charles Edward Douglas's maps of Westland, drawn and coloured between 1896 and 1903.
CRAIG SIMCOX/ The Dominion Post
GO WEST, YOUNG MAN: : Archivist and historian Graham Langton with one of Charles Edward Douglas's maps of Westland, drawn and coloured between 1896 and 1903.

Two large maps of Westland have been made available to the public by Archives New Zealand more than 100 years after they were drawn by an explorer with a love of prospecting.

The larger of the two maps by explorer Charles Edward Douglas – at 5 1/2 metres long – is "by far" the largest seen by Archives staff.

They were painstakingly drawn and coloured between 1896 and 1903 for an international exhibition in Christchurch and transferred to Archives from the Department of Lands and Survey in 1976.

They gathered dust in a storeroom until archivists rediscovered them three years ago. Now they have been logged on Archives' digital register and made available for public viewing.

Douglas was born in Scotland in 1840 and emigrated to Otago in 1862, where he worked on a sheep station and as a gold miner. From 1868 he mapped and recorded parts of south Westland, often alone, and was later paid by the Survey Department as a full-time explorer.

For the maps – on which each inch (2.5cm) represents a mile (1.6km) – he took information from his own explorations and the work of other geologists and surveyors to show Westland's minerals, geographic features and places where gold had been found.

Archivist and historian Graham Langton said Douglas found traces of gold, but never struck it rich. He died in 1916, aged 75. "One of his life-long dreams was that he would find a load of rubies or a vein of gold. But he never found any."

Archives staff needed about an hour to retrieve the maps from a temperature-controlled room and prepare them for public viewing.

The larger of the two covers an area from Okarito to Big Bay, at the southern tip of Westland. The other is about half as long and covers from Okarito to Hokitika.

Archivist Jeff Carr has just added the maps to Archives New Zealand's online search engine Archway – to join more than 1.5 million records at the Wellington building.

"The maps are pretty awesome, and being over 100 years old, they are the best early geological maps of the Westland region."

Mr Langton said Douglas would have walked every valley on his maps during more than 40 years spent in Westland. At the time he made them he was aged 60 and suffering from arthritis.

"It's by far the biggest [map] I've seen here. The fact that it's so detailed and so carefully coloured shows you just how long he would have spent doing it. It's a work of love. He hasn't just done it for display. He's done it because he loved doing it."

As one of New Zealand's greatest explorers, he has a peak, a glacier, a pass and a river – all in Westland – named after him.

The Dominion Post