Little Biddy of the Buller, Pipe-Smoking Gold Miner

Photo from Nelson Provincial Museum

Photo from Nelson Provincial Museum

Bridget Goodwin, also known as Little Biddy because of her diminutive size, was a rare female gold miner in 19th century New Zealand.

Born in Ireland at some point between 1802 and 1827 (records were clearly sketchy), Biddy moved to Australia and then NZ's West Coast near the Buller River during the gold-mining boom of the 1860s.

Despite her small build and four-foot height, Biddy was a capable gold-panner and stood for hours in the cold rivers searching for gold. She lived and worked with two other men, neither of whom she was married to (gasp). Apparently their love of alcohol overruled any desire to save their gold nuggets, and they quickly drank away all their earnings.

Her male companions passed away in the 1880s and Biddy lived until 1899, spending her final years in Reefton as "Old Biddy" and entertaining visitors with stories of her colourful past.

Biddy was a very unconventional figure for her time. Described as an enthusiastic pipe smoker with a fondness for alcohol, she wore pants and boots like her male counterparts and lived life her way.

Source: Katherine W. Orr. 'Goodwin, Bridget', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand