• Ray Salisbury

Discovery of the Tableland

Updated: May 23, 2020

In 1863 Thomas Salisbury forged a route up the leading ridge to Lodestone peak, high above the family farm in the Graham Valley. His ten-day exploration was epic, but was Salisbury the first to make footprints on the Tableland?

Hi there. I've spent ten years living in sunny Nelson, climbing the mountains and bagging the huts. And also reading the history of the early European settlement, and the discovery of the Mt Arthur Tableland in particular. (Yep, that's a selfie on top of the Lodestone, with Crusader and Hoary Head in the background.)

After spending over 100 days in the vicinity, including about 30 days as a DOC hut warden based at Salisbury Lodge, I've spent the past year writing a social history of this 'land uplifted high' we affectionately know as 'The Tableland.' And I've come to some interesting conclusions. Probably the most critical piece of the puzzle was my discovery of Thomas Salisbury's letter to The Colonist on 27 March 1863. It validates the once-accepted knowledge that he was the first white man, and most likely the first human, to set foot on the Tableland. He wrote:

A large tract of open land running due west, and presently described, lies between the Mount Arthur range and the range running from Takaka to Collingwood; and to this open I determined to force my way...

In his enthralling account, he named and summited a 1400-metre peak he named Lodestone, before dropping into Flora's Creek. From there Thomas bashed up Horseshoe Creek and crossed Pyramid Ridge. Eventually, the 31-year-old Lancashire lad emerged onto what became known as Salisbury's Open, by the twin tarns, not too far from where Salisbury Lodge is sited today.

That the whole of this table land possesses all the properties of a rich goldfield, I have not the slightest doubt, and, therefore, have not hesitated to make it known to the public...

Tableland Gold

Thomas carried a tin dish, and he found traces of gold on the Tableland. By mentioning his find in the newspaper, he was hoping that the government would award him the gold bonus. Unfortunately, it led to the plateau becoming gazetted as a gold field, and the Salisbury brothers could not lease the sub-alpine land for pastoral purposes for twelve more years.

While his younger brother John got married and continued to farm in the Pokororo district, Thomas returned to England, only returning to visit once during 1880, when he guided Bishop Suter's large party over the Tableland and up Mt Arthur for a week. (See post on 'Tableland Tours')

Read more in Ray's 70,000-word book titled Tableland - the history behind Mount Arthur. The coffee-table-style book is to be published by Potton & Burton in October 2020.

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