Early Gold Discoveries in Australia
"Gold?...that damned Queen won't let you touch it."
Although the first major gold rush in Australia occurred in early 1851, there were a number of minor gold discoveries "Down Under" that took place in the years leading up to Edward Hargraves' discovery of major gold placers in New South Wales in late 1850. For better or worse, these early discoveries were either deemed too distant, too hard to work, too small (not commercially viable), or the knowledge of their existence was deliberately withheld from the public and the authorities for any number of reasons.
Gold Prospecting Books
Some of the latter included justifiable fears of theft or worse (remember, Australia began as a penal colony for convicts) and a major distrust of the Crown authorities. As one cynical Aussie wag of the day quipped, "Gold? Even if there were mountains of gold about, that damned Queen won't let you touch it." In many respects, he may have been right.
At any rate, here is a list of those early Australian gold discoveries:
In 1814 a group of convicts working on a road to Bathurst uncovered small quantities of placer gold in the dirt and gravel they were excavating and shoveling. Interestingly enough, Bathurst would figure prominently in Hargraves' discovery nearly 40 years later.
The first officially "verified" gold discovery in Australia occurred in 1823 when Crown Surveyor James McBain discovered placer gold flakes and nuggets at various locations along the Fish River (note that the Fish River area is also near Bathurst).
An unlucky convict endured a public flogging in Sydney in 1825 because he was suspected of stealing gold. Where did he get the gold? He told authorities he had found it "laying in the dirt out and about in the bush." (Records of the time don't state where exactly his find took place, however.)
In 1844 a lawman/bounty hunter was sent to capture a gang of outlaws ("bushrangers" in the vernacular of the day) on Kangaroo Island (Australia's 3rd largest island) which is off the coast some distance from Adelaide. On the way to the coast our enterprising criminal chaser found what he described as "a reef of quartz rock with yellow metal in it." He believed this yellow metal to be gold and duly reported his find to the authorities who promptly filed it away to gather dust.
1848 was a signal year for gold discoveries as James Marshall triggered the California Gold Rush by finding a few small placer nuggets and flakes in a millrace at Coloma. At nearly the same time in Australia, specimen gold in quartz was discovered on the flanks of Victoria's Pyrenees Mountains. These gold specimens elicited little interest, even after they were displayed for some time in the shop window of a Melbourne jeweler.
An Aussie named Tom Chapman also found gold in Victoria at a location called Daisy Hill in 1849. His finds included a single nugget weighing 16 troy ounces, or 1.33 troy pounds. After selling his gold in Melbourne, Chapman fled to parts unknown. He was afraid the authorities might hound him about the gold he had found and wanted no part of any legal actions.
The same year that Tom Chapman fled the authorities in Melbourne, two "Williams" (William Clarke and William Vicary) were prospecting near Smythesdale, Victoria when they discovered an area containing fair amounts of gold in quartz.
Many Aussies "Shipped Out" for the California Goldfields.
Despite these finds and the gold they contained, they triggered no substantial gold rushes in Australia. Yet, when news of the fabulous wealth of the California goldfields reached Australia, thousands of Aussies would "ship out" for the the Motherlode, leaving untold wealth behind in their native state. The truly ironic factor in all this is that, in some instances, more gold than they could imagine already lay beneath their very own feet.
A hearty "G'day" to all my readers Down Under and in beautiful New Zealand (I'm working up some posts for you too!). Good luck to you all and be safe out there.
If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Main Types of Gold Ore-Bearing Material"
(c) J.R. 2009
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