In the early 1860s the colony of Queensland was bankrupt. Then a quietly-spoken, solitary man called James Nash discovered gold in the area now known as Gympie. The government of Queensland had offered a reward of £3000 for anyone who could locate a new payable source of gold within 90 miles of Brisbane. In August 1867, Nash located gold near the Mary River. He kept his findings quiet initially, until reporting his discovery to the Queensland Government on 16 October 1867. The report kicked off one of the ‘wildest rushes of Queensland’s history’. Nash attempted to claim the £3000 reward from the government, but the area was outside of the 90 mile specification, and so he was only awarded £1000.
The Welcome Stranger
The world’s largest alluvial gold nugget, the Welcome Stranger, was the discovery of Cornish miners John Deason and Richard Oates, gold prospectors hoping to find their fortune in Victoria. On the morning of 5 February 1869 they were working in Bulldog Gully, near Moliagul in Central Victoria when Deason’s pick struck something hard a few centimetres beneath the surface. It turned out to be a single nugget of alluvial gold that weighed around 70 kilograms. Deason and Oates transported the nugget to London Chartered Bank in Dunolly. It was so large that it had to be broken into pieces on an anvil before it could be weighed. Deason and Oates were paid £9563 for the nugget, believed to be worth around $3-4 million in today’s money.
Edward Hammond Hargraves is generally credited with being the man who started the first Australian gold rush. In the effort to stop losing its population to the Californian gold rush, the New South Wales government offered a reward to whoever could find payable quantities of gold in Australia. Hargraves, who had been in California, returned to Australia in 1851 hoping to collect the reward. He travelled to the Bathurst plains where he enlisted the help of John Lister, and brothers William, James and Henry Toms. After finding £13 worth of gold specks, Hargraves left the others to continue the search and showed his finds to the Colonial Secretary, deliberately misrepresenting the quantities discovered and downplaying his colleagues’ efforts. Once he was assured of winning the reward, Hargraves announced his discoveries, sparking the first Australian gold rush. Eventually the Toms and Lister were awarded £1000 each in recognition of their efforts.
Henry Thom Sing
During the gold rushes, many Chinese immigrants settled in Australia and made their lives here. Henry Thom Sing, also known as ‘Ah Sin’ or ‘Tom Ah Sing’, was a Chinese-born entrepreneur and community leader who settled in Launceston. Tasmania. Sing travelled to Australia to take his chances in the Victorian gold rush. In 1868 he came to Launceston, Tasmania. Sing spoke excellent English, worked as an agent and interpreter for Chinese speakers, and imported goods from China. Sing was a keen supporter of local businesses and held a number of spectacular Chinese carnivals around Launceston to share Chinese cultural heritage. Sing’s St John Street premises are still a part of Launceston’s commercial sector, and his name is remembered as part of Launceston’s history.
Adelaide Ingots and Pounds
When gold was discovered in Australia, there was only so much currency circulating in the colonies. With the huge influx of people to the goldfields, Australia quickly ran into currency shortages. Within a few years there was pressure to convert gold into coins or tokens to ease the pressure on the colonies’ currency. In 1852, the Adelaide Assay Office started to produce small gold ingots, stamped with their certified weight and fineness, which banks could use as security to issue their own banknotes. These became known as ‘Adelaide Ingots’ and they were technically Australia’s first gold currency. A tradeable currency was still required, so the South Australian Legislative Council made changes to its Bullion Act in late 1852, allowing for the issue of gold tokens with the denominations of 10 shillings, £1, £2 and £5. The Adelaide Assay Office produced a number of these ‘Adelaide Pounds’ for circulation. In 1855, the first branch of the Royal Mint opened in Sydney. There are only a few examples of Adelaide Ingots and Pounds left, and the Royal Australian Mint holds several in the National Coin Collection.
Camels of the Goldfields
Camels and their cameleer handlers played crucial roles in the gold rush and the development of Western Australia’s gold mining industry. Camels were first introduced to WA in 1875, but it was after gold was discovered in WA that large numbers of cameleers travelled to the region. They were all grouped under the name ‘Afghans’ but they came from a range of places, particularly Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran and the Turkish Empire. While their skills were very welcome, there were occasional racial and religious tensions between the mainly Muslim cameleers and the European miners. Nevertheless, settlers who were tired of the alcohol-fuelled violence common on the goldfields, welcomed the quiet and moderate habits of the cameleers. Many of the cameleers remained in Australia, and their descendants still live in the region.
Loong, the Dragons of Bendigo
Bendigo has a family of dragons in residence. Dragons Sun Loong and Dai Gum Loong are the descendants of the original Bendigo dragon, known as Gum Loong or simply ‘Loong’. Loong was brought to Bendigo by Chinese residents who had moved to the area to prospect for gold. In 1869, the Bendigo community held the first annual Easter Procession and three years later the local Chinese community decided to participate with a dragon dance, traditionally performed at festivals such as New Year to bring good luck. Loong was imported from China by the Bendigo Chinese Association. His dance was used to raise funds for a local hospital and the benevolent fund – a way for the Bendigo Chinese Association to contribute in a tangible way to the community, and a link to traditions back in China that could be enjoyed by the entire community.
Lola Montez and the ‘Spider Dance’
The gold rushes attracted people from all walks of life. Exotic dancer Lola Montez , famous for her beauty, scandalous behaviour and celebrity romances, came to Australia in 1855 hoping to attract some of the wealth from the Ballarat goldfields. After performing her most famous dance, the ‘Spider Dance’, she was reputedly showered with gold nuggets from the audience. Montez was notoriously bad-tempered. When Mr Seekamp of the Ballarat Times published a review that Montez disliked, she set on him in a bar with a whip. He retaliated and soon the two were embroiled in a furious fight as bar patrons attempted to separate them. Stories such as the ‘Battle of Ballarat’, which was enthusiastically reported in the press at the time, reflect the rambunctious nature of life on the goldfields.
Raffaello Carboni at Eureka
The Victorian gold rush attracted hopeful prospectors from across the world, and from a range of cultural and social backgrounds. Raffaeollo Carboni was a highly educated Italian who found himself succumbing to gold fever, and unexpectedly caught up in the drama of the 1854 Eureka Rebellion. Carboni came to know Irish miner Peter Lalor, who became the leader of the miner’s revolt after Carboni’s nomination. Lalor reached out to Carboni to organise the non-English speaking European miners, and Carboni became part of the inner circle of the Eureka rebellion, although he was not present during the actual battle. Carboni was charged with high treason after the rebellion, however public opinion favoured the miners, and no jury would convict him. Carboni chronicled the events at Ballarat in a lively book as a tribute to those who fell. It is the only first-hand account of the Eureka Stockade and the events that led up to it.