The Lonely Graves at Horseshoe Bend are a poignant reminder of the tragedies that went hand in hand with the achievements of Central Otago pioneers. This touching story has become firmly entrenched in local lore.
The Lonely Graves are alongside the Clutha River 8km southeast of Millers Flat; turn off SH8 by the Millers Flat Bridge. Horseshoe Bend goldfield was home to about 2000 miners and shopkeepers in 1863. By 1865 the population had dropped to 72.
Legend has it that near the end of 1865 William Rigney, an Irish miner at Horseshoe bend gold diggings, came across the body of a young, good-looking man. The police were called and permission was given for the unknown man to be buried.
A funeral was held and attended by everyone from the diggings. William Rigney arranged for a pine slab to be erected with the words: “Somebody’s Darling Lies Buried Here.”
William Rigney died in 1912 and according to his instructions was buried alongside the unknown man. His headstone reads: Here lies the body of William Rigney, the man who buried Somebody's Darling."
It is a moving story, but there is a more formal version that claims William Rigney did not find the body, but that he did help build the fence around the grave and arranged for the headstone. It seems there is no record of the burial, but there was an inquest, which identified the dead man as probably Charles Alms, a butcher who drowned while herding cattle across the river.
Apparently, the story was first published in the Tuapeka Times in 1901 and William Rigney responded by writing to the editor and confirming his limited involvement.
Whatever truly happened we may never know, but the Lonely Graves remain stirring monuments to the spirit and humanity of Central Otago gold miners.