Up until the time of the Gold Rush in New South Wales and Victoria, most people coming to Australia were convicts or free settlers. Many of the free settlers were lured to Australia with the promise of becoming ‘landed gentry’ or people of means, something they were unlikely to achieve in Britain. Britain was a class structured society, and it was difficult for ambitious, creative people to make a success of their lives. Many free settlers were trying to escape the crowded cities of Britain, and the madness of the ‘Industrial Revolution’. Others were in debt, and their only way of paying off their debt was to emigrate to Australia.
Whatever the reasons free settlers came to Australia, not too many came at once. However, all this changed in 1823. A government worker found alluvial (surface) gold in a river bed in Bathurst, New South Wales. Gold was also found inBathurst by an explorer, Strzelecki who also climbed and named Mount Kosiosko. However, no credit was given to him and he was upset that a reward of ten thousand pounds went to Edward Hargraves: On October 16, 1839, Strzelecki wrote to James Walker: `On this side of the Dividing Range the variety of rocks and embedded minerals augment indications most positive of the existing gold and silver veins.’ Ten days later, on October 26, 1839, he wrote to James Macarthur: `I have a specimen of native silver in hornblende rock, and gold in specks in silicate, both serving as strong indications of the existence of these precious metals in New SouthWales.’ Another place where Strzelecki found gold was the bank of Cox River, near Hartley. However, the Governor of the colony, Sir George Gipps, requested him to keep the news secret because the maintenance of discipline among 45,000 convicts would become impossible. However, the government kept this news quiet, as it didn’t want people to leave the colonies, especially the convicts or their guards.
In 1851, Edward Hargraves found gold in Ophir, New South Wales. Thousands of hopeful seekers came looking for the gold treasure, and so the first Australian Gold Rush had begun.
Melbourne was only a small city in the early the 1850’s, and so many people were leaving to seek their fortune in New South Wales, that the government offered a reward to anyone who could find gold in Victoria, which was a brand new colony. In the same year that Victoria gained its independence from New South Wales, gold was found in Ballarat. The following year gold was found in Bendigo.
Soon more gold was found in Castlemaine, and Beechworth and there were 10,000 men on the ‘diggings’ in Victoria. Gold was also found at Stawell, Chiltern and Gippsland.
The cities of Geelong and Melbourne and most farming areas lost many of their working men to the gold fields. As the alluvial gold disappeared, most of them returned to their previous work and helped to keep the trade flowing between the colonies and Britain.
Portland and Warrnambool were smaller ports, but they were important centres for conveying farming produce, such as wool, potatoes and wheat, to the major cities, whaling (the bones and baleen were used in the construction of ladies garments, the oil for lighting and the blubber for cosmetics and soap), and for receiving products that couldn’t be manufactured in the South West. At this stage, ports were integral to the success of the colony because the roads were rough and undeveloped. It wasn’t until Cobb and Co introduced the American Stagecoach that road travel could show minimum improvement in comfort and speed. It wasn’t until later in the 19th Century that the introduction of trains made connections between cities and towns more effective.
By 1852, when news of the discovery of gold had reached Britain, Europe and the rest of the World, gold seekers flooded into Victoria. In 1851, the the population of Victoria was 77,000. In 1861 it had swelled to 500,000.
The Gold Rush in Victoria lasted for ten years. After that, only companies that could afford the expense of deep shaft mining could continue. Many of the alluvial miners then moved on to Queensland, Western Australia or New Zealand which also had smaller gold rushes.
After the Strike – Taking the Gold
There are two different types of gold – alluvial and mined
Alluvial Gold was basically mined in two ways:
- Panning– a gold pan was about thirty centimetres in diameter at the tops and twenty centimetres at the base. When the miner panned he filled the dish to about 3/4 and rotated it rapidly from side to side. With the dish tilted forward the prospector carefully ‘washed’ the dirt and stones away except for the gold, which is heavier than the other material and would stay at the bottom of the pan.
- The Cradle – The prospector (alluvial miner) filled a box, which looked like a baby’s cradle, and rocked and washed the material through the sieve and riffle bars. Any gold would catch behind the riffle bars or in the apron.