A tangible link with goldmining
Mitchells Cottage is an exceptional example of craftsmanship and is is listed as a Category I Historic place. It is one of the best surviving examples of the stonemason's craft in New Zealand.
It was built by gold miner, Andrew Mitchell, for his brother John and sister-in-law Jessie. Andrew began the project in 1880 and using local stone built the cottage with stone masonary techniques he had learned from his father at home in the Shetland Islands. Andrew also built several other buildings in the Fruitlands district, known then as Bald Hill Flat and prior to that as Speargrass Flat.
Building the cottage became a long-term project. It was finally completed in 1904 and housed John and Jessie's family of 10 children.
The cottage and its grounds were purchased for a historic reserve in 1980. The cottage stands amongst large schist tors with a fantastic view over Fruitlands Valley. The cottage has five rooms. Additional rooms are situated at the rear of the cottage.
Andrew Mitchell planted holly, spruce and other trees that remain today. He has also left another legacy of his remarkable skill - a sundial chipped out of a solid block of schist.
The hunt for gold - the reason for Mitchells Cottage
The Mitchell brothers, Andrew and John both left the Shetland Island as young men. Andrew, the older brother mined gold in Victoria, Australia and arrived in New Zealand in the 1860s, following his cousins, the Whites who were mining at Gabriels Gully.
As gold ran out in Gabriels Gully, miners headed north in search for other gold findings. Andrew Mitchell came across gold near Bald Hill and decided to stay and mine the area. He discovered a quartz reef in the mid 1870s and asked his cousin James White to work the reef with him. In 1884 they sold the mine claim to Robert Symes & Co.
John Mitchell arrived in Fruitlands and with his brother Andrew began mining Obelisk Creek at Bald Hill Flat in 1886. They had to construct a water race as there was no water onsite so they could sluice their claim.
About the area
During the gold mining peak Bald Hill Flat had a large enough population to support a local store and hotel. However, the gold mining era came to an end in 1907, as gold proved difficult to find. Many miners turned to farming and rabbiting.
After World War I, the Government planted 60,000 fruit trees as part of the soldier’s settlement. This land became known as 'Fruitlands'. However, very few fruit trees survived the harsh climate and the venture was unsuccessful.
The water races established by the miners are still valuable today, supplying water that is used by local orchardists and farmers.
The Fruitlands district is located on SH 8, 27 km north of Roxburgh and 13 km south of Alexandra. Turn off the highway into Symes Road and travel a kilometre to the Mitchells Cottage Historic Reserve carpark on the right.