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The Story of 'Old Hokonui'

The legend of ‘Old Hokonui’ or ‘Hokonui Moonshine’ is celebrated in Gore’s redeveloped museum. This narrative has largely come about through descendants of Highland Scottish settlers flaunting Southland’s Prohibition laws and making their own illicit spirit, some high quality, some less so. 


However, illicit alcohol had been made in Southland since the early 1800’s. Indeed, cooper and carpenter Owen McShane gained considerable notoriety for his cabbage-tree distillate ‘McShane Chained Lightning’which contributed to the demise of at least one ship in Southern waters. Drunkenness was certainly rife within the early whaling and sealing communities of the southern coast and while it was a somewhat lesser problem in the frontier towns of inland Southland, it still inspired early European settlers to instigate a determined campaign to rid the entire south of the ‘demon drink’. 


From the mid-1800’s through to until the turn of the 20th century, active temperance groups brought about a dramatic change to the drinking culture of Southland.  So much so that Prohibition was passed in the Mataura Electorate in 1902 resulting in the closing of 15 licensed hotels and subsequent 51 year ‘drought’. Into the thick of this debate came the McRae clan, Highland Scots, who in the 1870’s brought their time-honoured whisky making tradition to the Hokonui area of Southland, and who, for the next 80 years, were to fall foul of both the law and the purveyors of temperance. With Prohibition in force the localised production of ‘Hokonui’ increased with stills operating out of cow sheds, bush reserves and gullies throughout the region. This activity drew the inevitable attention of Police and Customs and resulted in over 30 prosecutions, crippling fines and even jail sentences.


These colourful stories are celebrated in our museum.

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