Bridget (Biddy) Goodwin (1802/27?-1899)


A story goes that Biddy brought
A pigeon to the ground,
But when she ran and pick'd it up
No injury was found;
For when the poor old pigeon saw
The one who held the gun,
The shock was quite sufficient so
He tumbled down - said one! (1)

This is the third stanza from a long ode to Biddy Goodwin, a West Coast legend. Goodwin was a rarity - a female goldminer. Four foot nothing, she wore moleskin trousers, smoked a pipe, drank hard, and - shocking to many - lived with two men, neither of whom she was married to.

Her origins are mysterious. She was born somewhere in Ireland, sometime between 1802 and 1827. There is evidence to suggest that her surname at birth was Dunbar, and that she later married a Mr Goodwin, but we can not be certain.

Her mining career began in Australia - at Bendigo and Ballarat. Then in the 1860s with her two male friends in tow, she followed the goldrush to New Zealand. They mined around Collingwood in Nelson, then made the long trek to the West Coast and the Buller River. It was here that she was given the nickname that would stick for the rest of her life - 'Biddy of the Buller'.

Goodwin probably had little or no education, and it is believed that she could not read or write. However, she was strong and physically capable, and was firmly in charge of her two men, making the decisions and giving directions. When their goldmining efforts had earned them enough money, the threesome would live it up for several days, until they had drunk every last penny away.

In the 1880s and 1890s, Goodwin and her companions probably lived together in a hut near Lyell township. By now they were getting old. One of the men died, and several years later, the other - who is believed to have been called Jack - also passed away. By all accounts, Goodwin was heartbroken. She settled in Reefton for the rest of her life, and became a practising Anglican.

By some Victorian standards, her morals were questionable, but her generosity and loyalty won her many friends. Parishioners from her church visited her regularly to be regaled with tales of her early life.

At least twice in the 1890s, Goodwin was admitted to Reefton Hospital with unrecorded ailments. She died in Reefton on 19 October 1899. How old she was is another mystery. Depending on whom you choose to believe, her age at her time of death was seventy-two, eighty-six, or maybe even ninety-six.

Reference

(1) Burns, Berta, Sinclair. editor. (1946). The Poetical Works of Hugh Smith: the bard of Inangahua. Christchurch: Hugh Smith. p 259.

More information

The following publication may be found on the Discovery Centre bookshelves, or in Te Aka Matua Library and Information Centre on Level 4. Photographs of Te Papa collection items may be ordered from Images, on Level 4.
  • Orr, Katherine W. (1990). Bridget Goodwin 1802-27?-1899 in The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. vol. 1. Wellington: Department of Internal Affairs.



 

Biddy of the Buller
Courtesy of the Nelson Provincial Museum
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