118yo mystery uncovered: Underwater cameras find remains of Chinese gold miners

The remains of nearly 500 Chinese gold miners missing in a shipwreck off the coast of Northland have been found, something many deep-sea divers were unable to do for 118 years.

Underwater camera technology was sent to investigate one of New Zealand's oldest maritime mysteries. Specialist divers found the SS Ventnor six years ago and new remote-controlled cameras mean they've now also located the remains of nearly 500 Chinese gold miners who set out on the ship in 1902. 

"When we first went out looking for it, no-one thought we'd find the boat, then no-one thought we could get down there to film it and definitely no-one thought we'd find remains," documentary maker John Albert said.

The journey was especially sensitive. The miners had died here and their bodies were going back to families in their homeland so their souls could have peace in line with Chinese culture. 

Peace is what some descendants wish they could have now, having never given consent for the wreck to be investigated. 

"I've spoken to some of the families and they are terribly upset from seeing the footage and reading the news without their knowledge and we'd need to ensure there is dignity in the process," Ventnor Committee chair Meng Foon said.

Albert told Newshub he's telling their story because he believes the remains should still return to China. 

"They did so much to help early New Zealand history and so for me, I think they deserve to be treated with the respect that they wanted to go home," he said. "They paid money to go home."

Some of the bones did wash ashore more than a century ago and iwi buried them alongside their own ancestors' graves.