The story of Australia — XLIX
Discovery of gold
The year 1851 is especially memorable in the annals of Australia, as it marks the discovery of rich gold fields near Bathurst, which were destined to change the prospects and the whole appearance of the colonies.
It had been well known that gold existed in the country, but for various reasons no attempt had been made to work these findings. In 1839 Count Paul Strzelecki, a great geologist, mentioned to Governor Gibbs the existence of a gold field in the Bathurst district. He was requested not to make the matter generally known for fear of the serious consequences which, considering the condition and population of the colony, were to be apprehended by the fact being likely to arouse the cupidity of the prisoners and labourers.
Two years later the Rev. William Clarke, the father of Australian geology, described the existence of a gold field in the same district. For the same reasons as those given to Strzelecki, the Governor requested Mr. Clarke to keep the matter secret.
Hargraves’s rich find
In the years 1848-49 the gold fields of California were attracting the attention of the whole world. Among those who were tempted to seek fortune was Edward Hargreaves, a young Englishman, who had gone as a youth to Australia. He had followed pastoral pursuits in various parts of New South Wales, but without much success.
Disgusted with poor returns from cattle sales he sailed for the Californian gold diggings, where he had fair success at the Wood’s Creek, in the Stanislaus Valley. While there he noticed that the geological formation from which he was getting his American gold exactly resembled the rocky gullies he had seen in Australia. The idea constantly floated through his mind that there was a great possibility that in these rocks there might be great resources.
This feeling became so strong that he felt impelled to cross the seas to test his theory. He reached Sydney on January 7, 1851, and, without even troubling to visit his home, set out for the rough valleys beyond Bathurst that he had in his mind.
At Guyong he picked up a young bushman named John Lister, and with him on February 12 washed the first pan of gold-bearing gravel at the junction of the Summerhill and Lewis Pond’s Creek. A few days were spent in confirming this discovery by further samplings of creek gravel over an area of 70 by 40 miles in the Macquarie Valley. He then hastened back to Sydney to bargain with the authorities for £500 before he disclosed the localities where gold could be found.
His offer was accepted, and within three months 400 diggers were camped at Ophir (the scene of his first discovery), while others were prospecting the neighbouring valleys.
Hargreaves was appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands, and in October, 1853, was granted a sum of £10,000 by the New South Wales Government. In 1854 he visited England, and was presented to Queen Victoria as the discoverer of gold in Australia. In 1877 parliament voted him a pension of £250 per annum for his services. He died at Forest Lodge, a suburb of Sydney, on October 29, 1891.
The discovery of gold was an epoch-making event in Australian history, as a reference to the population figures prior and subsequent to the year 1851 amply demonstrates:—
Population of Australia: 1841, 220,968; 1850, 405,356; 1851, 437,665; 1852, 513,796; 1855, 793,260; 1858, 1,050,828.
Thus, while the average increase in population from 1841 to 1850 was about 20,000 yearly, the increase in 1851 was over 32,000, that in 1852 over 86,000, in 1853-5 over 93,000 yearly, and in 1856-58 nearly 86,000 yearly.
On the Hargreaves gold field in July, 1851, the celebrated Kerr’s Hundred-weight (a mass of gold weighing 106 pounds) was found by an aboriginal shepherd in an outcrop of quartz reef. Immediately afterwards a rush took place, and for a considerable period 4000 to 5000 ounces of gold are said to have been sent away from the field every fortnight.
The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 2 June 1935, p. 29