The Discovery Of Gold

Importance of the Year 1851. The year 1851 was in many ways an

eventful one to Australia. In that year the colonies received from

the Imperial Parliament the amended Constitutions they had so long

expected. Tasmania, South Australia, Port Phillip, and Western Australia

were now no longer under the absolute control of Governors sent out by

the colonial authorities in England; they could henceforth boast the

dignity of
eing self-governed communities, for, in 1851, they were

invested with political powers which had previously been possessed by

New South Wales alone. They now had the privilege of electing two-thirds

of the members of a Legislative Council which not only had the power of

making laws each for its own colony, but also of framing any new

constitution for itself according to its own taste and requirements.

Each colony kept its Legislative Council for only a year or two until it

could discuss and establish a regular system of parliamentary government

with two Houses and a Cabinet of responsible Ministers. Again, it was on

the 1st of July in the same year that Port Phillip gained its

independence; from that date onward its prosperous career must be

related under its new title--Victoria.

But the event which made the year 1851 especially memorable in the

annals of Australia was the discovery, near Bathurst, of the first of

those rich goldfields which, for so long a time, changed the prospects

of the colonies. For several years after the date of this occurrence the

history of Australia is little more than the story of the feverish

search for gold, with its hopes, its labour, its turmoil, and its

madness; its scenes of exultation and splendid triumph, and its still

more frequent scenes of bitter and gloomy disappointment.

Early Rumours of Gold. For many years there had been rumours that

the Blue Mountains were auriferous. It was said that gold had been seen

by convicts in the days of Macquarie, and, indeed, still earlier; but to

the stories of prisoners, who claimed rewards for alleged discoveries,

the authorities in Sydney always listened with extreme suspicion, more

especially as no pretended discoverer could ever find more than his

first small specimens.

In 1840 a Polish nobleman named Strzelecki, who had been travelling

among the ranges round Mount Kosciusko, stated that, from indications he

had observed, he was firmly persuaded of the existence of gold in these

mountains; but the Governor asked him, as a favour, to make no mention

of a theory which might, perhaps, unsettle the colony, and fill the

easily excited convicts with hopes which, he feared, would prove

delusive. Strzelecki agreed not to publish his belief; but there was

another man of science who was not so easily to be silenced. The Rev. W.

B. Clarke, a clergyman devoted to geology, exhibited specimens in

Sydney, on which he based an opinion that the Blue Mountains would,

eventually, be found to possess goldfields of great extent and value.

Some of these were taken to London by Strzelecki; and in 1844 a great

English scientist, Sir Roderick Murchison, read a paper before the Royal

Geographical Society in which he expressed a theory similar to that of

Mr. Clarke. In 1846 he again called attention to this subject, and

showed that, from the great similarity which existed between the rocks

of the Blue Mountains and those of the Urals, there was every

probability that the one would be found as rich as the other was known

to be in the precious metals. So far as theory could go, the matter had

been well discussed before the year 1851, but no one had ventured to

spend his time and money in making a practical effort to settle the


Edward Hargraves. About that, time, however, the rich mines of

California attracted a Bathurst settler, named Edward Hargraves, to seek

his fortune on the banks of the Sacramento; and though, among the great

crowds of struggling and jostling diggers, he met with but little

success, yet he learned the methods by which gold is discovered and

secured, and laid the foundation for adventures in Australia which were

afterwards to bring him both wealth and renown. Whilst he toiled with

increasing disappointment on one of these famous goldfields, the scenery

around him, and the appearance of the rocks, recalled to his memory a

certain secluded valley beyond the Blue Mountains, which he had visited

thirteen years before; the notion floated vaguely through his mind that,

perhaps, in that silent spot, there might lie great treasures, such as

he saw his more fortunate companions from time to time draw forth from

the rocks and soil around him. Day after day the image of that winding

creek among the hills near Bathurst recurred with increasing vividness

to stimulate his imagination and awaken his hopes. At length this

feeling impelled him to seek once more the shores of Australia in order

to examine the spot which had so often been present to his day-dreams.

He lost no time in sailing, and scarcely had he arrived in Sydney ere

he set out on horseback to cross the Blue Mountains. On the 11th of

February, 1851, he spent the night at a little inn a few miles from the

object of his journey, and shortly after dawn he sallied forth on his

ride through the forest, carrying with him a spade and a trowel and a

little tin dish. In the cool air of the morning the scent of the

spreading gum trees braced up his frame as he plunged deeper and deeper

among those lonely hollows and wood-clad hills. In an hour or two he

reached the well-remembered spot--the dry course of a mountain torrent

which, in rainy seasons, finds its way into the Summerhill Creek. He

lost no time in placing a little of the grey-coloured soil into his tin

dish, and at once carried it to the nearest pool, where he dipped the

whole beneath the water. By moving the dish rapidly, as he had learned

to do in California, he washed away the sand and earth; but the

particles of gold, which are more than seven and a half times heavier

than sand, were not so easily to be carried off. They sank to the corner

of the dish, where they lay secure--a few small specks, themselves of

little value, yet telling of hidden treasures that lay scattered in all

the soil around.

A few days were spent in a careful examination of the neighbouring

valleys, and when he was absolutely certain that the hopes he had so

warmly indulged would not prove empty, he set out for Sydney, taking

care, however, to breathe no word of what he thought or of what he had

proved. On the 3rd of April he wrote a letter to the Colonial Secretary,

in which he stated that, if the Government were willing to give him

L500, he would point out localities in New South Wales where gold was

abundantly to be found. In reply, the Colonial Secretary announced that

no preliminary reward could be given; but that, if he chose first of all

to point out the localities, he would afterwards be recompensed in

proportion to the results. He accepted these conditions; and Mr.

Stutchbury, the Colonial Geologist, was sent to accompany him to the

Summerhill Creek. On the 8th of May they set to work, and soon obtained

several ounces of grain gold; on the 13th, they discovered a single

piece worth L30, and next day Mr. Stutchbury reported to the Government

that he had seen enough to convince him that the district was rich in

the precious metal. Five days afterwards, the little valley of the

Summerhill contained four hundred persons, all stooping over the creek

in a row about a mile long, each with a dish in his hand, scarcely ever

raising his head, but busily engaged in washing the sand for gold. Lumps

were frequently found of value varying from L5 to L200. A week later,

there were a thousand persons at work on the creek near the formerly

lonely gully.

Rush to the Goldfield. The excitement throughout the colony now

became intense: workmen quitted their employment, shepherds deserted

their flocks, shopkeepers closed their stores, and a great tide of

fortune-seekers pressed onward, day by day, to the west. Most of these

had sold everything they possessed, in order to make up a little bundle

of necessary articles. Yet there were very many but ill-provided for a

lengthened stay; they hurried along the road with the fallacious idea

that gold was simply to be shovelled into bags and carted to Sydney. But

when they came upon the scene, and saw that in the case of most of them

it would only be after weeks and months of severe and constant toil that

they could be rich, they grew faint-hearted, lounged for a week or two

on the diggings, and then started for home again; so that, for some

time, there was a counter-current of grumbling and discontented men

passing back to Sydney by the road. These men thought themselves

befooled by Hargraves, and it might, perhaps, have cost him his life had

he fallen into their hands. On his trip to Sydney he was careful to

disguise himself, to avoid their threatened revenge. He received from

Government, however, his preliminary reward of L500, and, in after

years, New South Wales voted him the sum of L10,000, which was

supplemented by a present of L2,381 from Victoria. Other profits also

accrued to Hargraves; so that he was, in the end, recompensed for his

toil and trouble with a handsome competency.

The gloomy reports of returning diggers checked for a time the flow of

people to the west; but in the month of July an aboriginal shepherd on a

station near Bathurst burst in upon his master while seated at dinner,

his eyes glistening with excitement. He was only able to stammer out:

"Oh, massa, white man find little fellow, me find big fellow". When his

master drove him in a buggy through the forest, the shepherd pointed to

where a hundredweight of gold was sticking out from a rock. It was so

heavy that they had to chop it in two with their axes before they could

lift it into the buggy. It was afterwards sold for L4,000. So splendid a

prize, obtained in so easy a manner, was a temptation too dazzling to be

resisted; and the stream of people along the Bathurst road was now

tenfold denser than before.

Government Regulations. When the population on the goldfields began

to grow numerous, the Government found it necessary to make arrangements

for the preservation of law and order. A commissioner was appointed, who

was to act as a magistrate; he was to be assisted by a small body of

police, and was to take charge of the gold escorts. As the lands on

which the gold was being found were the public property of the colony,

it was thought to be but just that the community, as a whole, should

participate, to some small extent, in the wealth raised from them; and

the order was, therefore, issued that diggers should in all cases take

out licences before seeking for gold, and should pay for them at the

rate of thirty shillings per month.

New diggings were, from time to time, opened up, and fresh crowds of

eager men constantly pressed towards them, leaving the towns deserted

and the neighbouring colonies greatly reduced in population. For some

months the Turon River was the favourite; at one time it had no less

than ten thousand men upon its banks. At Ophir, and Braidwood, and Maroo

the most industrious and sagacious miners were generally rewarded by

the discovery of fine pieces of gold, for which the Californian name of

"nuggets" now began to be extensively used.

Gold in Victoria. When Latrobe was sworn in to fill the office of

Governor of Victoria on the 16th July, 1851, it appeared probable that

he would soon have but a small community to rule over. So great were the

numbers of those who were daily packing up their effects and setting off

for the goldfields of New South Wales that Victoria seemed likely to

sink into a very insignificant place on the list of Australian colonies.

In alarm at this prospect, a number of the leading citizens of Melbourne

on the 9th of June united to form what was called the Gold Discovery

Committee, and offered a reward of L200 to the person who should give

the first intimation of a paying goldfield within two hundred miles of

Melbourne. Many persons set out, each in hopes of being the fortunate

discoverer; and a report having been circulated that signs of gold had

been seen on the Plenty Ranges, there were soon no less than two hundred

persons scouring those hills, though for a long time without success.

The first useful discovery in Victoria seems to have been made on 1st

July, by a Californian digger named Esmond, who, like Hargraves, had

entered on the search with a practical knowledge of the work. His

experience had taught him the general characteristics of a country in

which gold is likely to be found, and he selected Clunes as a favourable

spot. He found the quartz rock of the district richly sprinkled with

gold; and his discovery having been made known, several hundred people

were quickly on the scene. Almost on the same day, gold was discovered

by a party of six men, at Anderson's Creek, only a few miles up the

Yarra from Melbourne. It is thus difficult to determine with certainty

whether or not Esmond was in reality the first discoverer; but, at any

rate, he received honours and emoluments as such; and in after years the

Victorian Parliament presented him with L1,000 for his services.

Ballarat. On the 10th of August the Geelong newspapers announced

that deposits of auriferous earth had been discovered at Buninyong, and

very soon the sunny slopes of that peaceful and pastoral district were

swarming with prospecting parties; the quietly browsing sheep were

startled from their favourite solitudes by crowds of men, who hastened

with pick and spade to break up the soil in every direction, each eager

to out-strip the other in the race for wealth. This region, however, did

not realise the expectations that had been formed of it, and many of the

diggers began to move northwards, in the direction of Clunes. But at

Clunes, also, there had been disappointment, for the gold was mostly

embedded in quartz rock, and these early miners were not prepared to

extract it; parties from Clunes were therefore moving southwards to

Buninyong, and the two currents met on the slopes of the Yarrowee, a

streamlet whose banks were afterwards famous as the Ballarat diggings.

The first comers began to work at a bend in the creek, which they called

Golden Point. Here, for a time, each man could easily earn from L20 to

L40 a day, and crowds of people hurried to the scene. Every one selected

a piece of ground, which he called his claim, and set to work to dig a

hole in it; but when the bottom of the sandy layer was reached, and

there seemed to be nothing but pipe-clay below, the claim was supposed

to be worked out, and was straightway abandoned. However, a miner named

Cavanagh determined to try an experiment, and, having entered one of

these deserted claims, he dug through the layer of pipe-clay, when he

had the good fortune to come suddenly upon several large deposits of

grain gold. He had reached what had been in long past ages the bed of

the creek, where, in every little hollow, for century after century, the

flowing waters had gently deposited the gold which they had washed out

of the rocks in the mountains. In many cases these "pockets," as they

were called, were found to contain gold to the value of thousands of

pounds, so that very soon all the claims were carried down a few feet

further, and with such success that, before a month had passed, Ballarat

took rank as the richest goldfield in the world. In October there were

ten thousand men at work on the Yarrowee; acre after acre was covered

with circular heaps of red and yellow sand, each with its shaft in the

middle, in which men were toiling beneath the ground to excavate the

soil and pass it to their companions above, who quickly hurried with it

to the banks of the creek, where twelve hundred "cradles," rocked by

brawny arms, were washing the sand from the gold.

Mount Alexander. In the month of September a party, who had gone

about forty miles north-east of Clunes to Mount Alexander, discovered

near the present site of Castlemaine a valuable seam of gold-bearing

earth. The fame of this place soon spread through all the colony; many

left Ballarat to seek it, and crowds of people hastened from Melbourne

and Geelong to share in the glittering prizes. In October, eight

thousand men had gathered in the district; in November, there were not

less than twenty-five thousand diggers at work, and three tons of gold

were waiting in the tent of the commissioner to be carried to Melbourne.

The road to Mount Alexander was crowded with men of all ranks and

conditions, pressing eagerly onward to be in time.

Sandhurst. A few weeks later the glories both of Ballarat and of

Mount Alexander were dimmed for a time by the discovery of gold on the

Bendigo Creek, which seemed at first to be the richest of all the

goldfields. In the course of a few months nearly forty thousand persons

were scattered along the banks of the streamlet where the handsome

streets of Bendigo now stand.

In the month of May, 1852, there must have been close upon seventy

thousand men in the country between Buninyong and Bendigo, all engaged

in the same occupation. Melbourne and Geelong were silent and deserted;

for all classes were alike infected with the same excitement--lawyers,

doctors, clerks, merchants, labourers, mechanics, all were to be found

struggling through the miry ruts that served for a highway to Bendigo.

The sailors left the ships in the bay with scarcely a man to take care

of them; even the very policemen deserted, and the warders in the gaols

resigned in a body. The price of labour now became excessive, for no man

was willing to stay away from the diggings unless tempted by the offer

of four or five times the ordinary wage.

Immigration. Meanwhile the news of these great discoveries had

travelled to Europe, so that, after the middle of 1852, ships began to

arrive freighted with thousands of men of all nations, who no sooner

landed in Melbourne than they started for the diggings. During this year

nearly one hundred thousand persons were thus brought into the country,

and the population was doubled at a bound. Next year ninety-two thousand

fresh arrivals landed, and Victoria thus became the most populous of

the colonies. During the two following years it received a further

accession of a hundred and fifty thousand; so that, in 1856, it

contained four hundred thousand inhabitants, or about five times the

number it possessed in 1850. The staple industry was, of course, the

mining for gold, of which, in 1852, one hundred and seventy-four tons

were raised, valued at L14,000,000. During the next ten years

L100,000,000 worth of gold was exported from Victoria.

Some of the nuggets that were found are of historic note. The "Sarah

Sands," discovered in 1853, was worth about L6,500. In 1857 the "Blanche

Barkly," worth L7,000, was discovered; and the following year produced

the "Welcome Nugget," which was sold for L10,500, and was the greatest

on record, until, in 1869, the "Welcome Stranger" was dug out, which

proved to be slightly larger.