The Victorian Goldfields
Victorias First Gold Find:The first person to find gold in Victoria has been a matter of dispute ever since that distinction was attributed to James Esmond, who was officially recognised by a Gold Discovery Committee set up in 1851 by Governor Charles J La Trobe, as being the first person to find payable gold.
History records it was actually William Campbell who first claimed to have found gold in 1850 on Donald Cameron’s station in Clunes, one year before Hargraves’ discovery, but fearing that his station would be overrun by unruly diggers, like many others before him he decided to keep quiet about his find.
Victoria was Desparate for Payable Gold:Meanwhile, during this same period of time things were not going well for Victoria as the newly established goldfields in New South Wales were increasingly threatening the States economy, and in a state of desperation Governor Charles J La Trobe assembled a Gold Discovery Committee on June 9, 1851. This committee then decided that a reward of £200 would be offered to anyone who found payable amounts of gold within 200 miles of Melbourne, (unaware that gold had already been found) and it was then on July 8, 1851 Donald Cameron finally announced his discovery.
Two seasoned veterans of the Californian goldrushes Edward Hargraves and a young Irish prospector named James William Esmond, who were travelling companions on board the ship which brought them from California to Australia were both destined to play a major role in the finding of gold in Australia. By the time of Cameron’s announced gold find Hargraves had already found gold in NSW and Esmond after hearing of this announcement by Cameron, in the accompaniment of a Dr George Bruhn, preceded to where Cameron had made his find (now known as Clunes). Here in June 1851 Esmond and Bruhn found £50 worth of gold on Cameron’s station, where a claim was then made and worked by Esmond who became the first person to actually work a payable claim in Victoria.
To complicate the matter of who found the first gold find in Victoria even further, at almost the same time gold was discovered at Andersons Creek, Warrandyte, and local historians from this area still claim to this day that this find was before Esmonds claimed gold find at Clunes, however the £200 reward for the first payable gold find was ultimately awarded to Campbell, Esmond and Bruhn by the Gold Discovery Committee.
The Rush was on:These finds were the start of the great Victorian gold rush which finally ended the alarming exodus of Victorian men to NSW, and prospective gold diggers now began rushing to Central Victoria with hopes of striking it rich. In August 1851, Thomas Hiscock (the local blacksmith) and party struck upon gold in Buninyong, and between 21st and 24th of August, 1851, two other men, James Reagan and John Dunlop, camped north of Buninyong on a bend of a creek at a place the aborigines called "Ballaarat" and they also struck upon rich alluvial gold. This find at what is now Ballarat and another find in December of the same year by Henry Frenchman in Bendigo were to later become two of the richest goldfields in the world.
Further findings were also made at Ararat, Mount Alexander, Creswick, Daylesford, Maryborough, St Arnaud, Maffaking, Pleasant Creek (Stawell), Deep Lead and McIvnor’s Creek and within a short period of time an estimated 250,000 ounces of gold had been taken from the Central Victorian region It was the discovery of gold at Ballarat in 1851 that resulted in Victoria's gold boom. Ballarat was recognised as probably the richest alluvial goldfield in the world at its peak between 1852 and 1853. The rush spilled over to the Mt Alexander field at Castlemaine and by December 1851 the field had attracted 20,000 diggers and was yielding 23,000 oz of gold a week.
The search moved further north to the fabulous finds at Bendigo and in April 1852, two adjacent claims at Peg Leg Gully yielded a total of 324 pounds of gold. The riches of nearby Eagle Hawk Gully were like a magnet, with up to 6,000 diggers joining the rush each week. By June 1852 Bendigo had a population of 40,000.
Gold found at Stawell:William McLachlan discovered a small amount of gold at Pleasant Creek in May 1853, however, as his find was only small not many diggers were attracted to the area at the time. The area was rather remote, water was virtually non existent, and food supplies were not readily available however some people did come and there were also people passing through here from South Australia to the Victorian goldfields who stopped and washed small quantities of gold. During the next four years the area was revisited by several parties of diggers with only moderate results until August 1857 when a big rush occurred at what became known as Commercial Street, Pleasant Creek and this rush then spread across to Deep Lead where it was reported that at the height of the rush, there were 25,000 to 30,000 people there.
Through 1853 there were also further discoveries at Daylesford, Creswick, Maryborough and Maldon. In the second half of the 1850s there were rushes to the west - St Arnaud, Ararat and Stawell as well as Rutherglen and Chiltern - and the mountains of the east, with discoveries at Beechworth, Jamieson and Walhalla.
The most significant alluvial gold finds were made in Central Victoria in the area that was in more recent times to become known as the Golden Triangle, of which some of these events are documented below.
April 1853 to 1857. McIntyres Diggings:These goldfields (McIntyres-Rheola-Orville) spread out along the northsouth road between Kingower and Mt. Moliagul ... originally opened by diggers from Korong soon after the discovery of gold at Moliagul at the end of 1852. A note in June 1855 said that 800 ounces of gold had been found in a chain of nuggets in shallow sinkings at McIntyre’s
1 March 1857. McIntyres. 801 ounces found in a small neck of gully leading from the Granite Hill to the old Wet Sinkings (almost certainly No. 2 gully, one of three or four coming down from the high hills on the west side of the
2 March 1857. Discovery of 805 ounce nugget by Charles McCartin and Patrick Mulcahy at a depth of one foot in No.1 Gully, McIntyres (Wet Diggings).
3 March 1857. Discovery of the McEnvoy nugget (1068 ounces (or 810 ounces)) on the surface near Matrix Reef at McIntyres by Nicholas McAvoy and Walter Palmer; 20,000 pounds worth of gold obtained from shallow sinkings on the reef where it outcropped on the surface including 227, 136, 107, 57 and 26 ounce nuggets found near the reef.
4 May 1857. McIntyres. Large gold specimen weighing 1848 ounce, and another of 1284 ounces, on top of the main hill at McIntyre’s, in what was later called the Matrix Reef ... also large nugget found in No. 3 Gully.5
1868. Berlin Diggings:The original discovery of what the discoverer called Byr Lyn, but which the diggers immediately called Berlin, was the opening of Clelland’s Gully by Alexander Clelland on 21 August 1868, from which he received an official reward of £100. Clelland found a 60 oz. nugget in his first shaft at Berlin, and John Catto, with Dennis Courtney, opened Fortunate Gully, which was rushed on about 19 September. Between Clelland’s discovery and the end of December 1868, 340 nuggets from 440 oz. down to one oz. were unearthed.
Kingower Goldfield: 1853 -1870:Kingower, one of the richest nugget fields in Victoria, was discovered by Captain John G. Mechosk (called Mechoski) in August or September 1853
June 1855. Kingower. Nugget bed gains yielding prodigiously: 912 ounces of nuggets together in Long Gully and two others weighing 357 oz. Also opened in 1855 were Potters and Black Jack gullies.
1856. Kingower. Stockyard Gully and Scrubby Gully; also Smith’s Gully, about two miles towards McIntyre’s; and McKenzie’s Gully south of the town where three Aberdeen men unearthed 893 ounces of gold in three large pieces.
Billy Goat and Porcupine were also occupied in 1856.
1857. Another large rush to Kingower and gold was found in Hard Gully and Ironbark. Tumbler’s Hill was a favourite spot, Slaughteryard Hill was rushed, a town was being built, and on 27 August a nugget weighing 1743 ounces was dug up by Robert and James Ambrose of Gravesend and Samuel and Charles Napier of New Brunswick. It was named the Blanche Barkly after the Governor’s daughter and is the third largest nugget to be found in Victoria. The field declined in importance by 1870 and from then on the field has been revitalised on occasions by the discovery of a large nugget. The last of the large nugget discoveries was a massive 60 lb. nugget the “Hand of Faith” found at the rear of the old Kingower school house in the early 1980s.
Wehla Goldfield:Gold was first discovered at Wehla Goldfield sometime in 1853, but the first record of gold digging in the area was “Jordan’s Rush” in April 1857 and almost immediately the area over the hill further north, at what the diggers called Jericho, was also rushed. It was a small field, but in parts very rich, and there was a wild rush of about 5000 diggers.
In the Mean While:Gold nuggets of considerable size were also being found in Moliagul, Goldsbrough, Dunolly, Maryborough, Avoca, and many of the other goldfields in the Central Victoria region. From the Dunolly district alone while by no means a complete listing, the weights of some of the nuggets found were - 440 oz. Sparkes Gully - 114 oz. Donovans Golden Goose Reef - 360 oz. Clodhopper Gully - 113 oz. Bulldog Lead - 150 oz. Three Chain Gully - 100 oz. Mormon Gully - 150 oz. Gipsy Flat - 300 oz. Green Gully - 296 oz. Milkmaid Gully - 363 oz. Welshman's Gully - 144 oz. Pensams Gully - 1218 oz. Old Lead - 205 oz. Nuggety Gully - 254 oz. Nuggety Gully - 515 oz. Nuggety Gully - 360 oz. Christmas Flat - 156 oz. Caledonian Gully - 444 oz. Clovers Gully - 288 oz. Clovers Gully - 384 oz. Nuggety Gully.
On Friday 5th February 1869, John Deason unearthed the Welcome Stranger nugget at Moliagul which, even after a portion of gold had been removed and given to friends still weighed 2,268 oz. 10 dwts. 14 grs. when sold to a bank in Dunolly, this remains to this day the largest single gold nugget ever found any where in the world. Victoria was to become one of the richest gold provinces in the world with the richest gold producing areas being Bendigo (700 tonnes), Ballarat (400 tonnes) and Castlemaine-Chewton (130 tonnes). Since the first discovery in 1851, the State has yielded about 80 million ounces (2500 tonnes), making up about 2% of all the gold ever mined throughout world history. It provided the foundation for the ultimate prosperity and population growth of Melbourne. Victoria is still regarded as having significant potential for new gold mines and it is only in recent years that Victoria's total gold production has been surpassed by Western Australia's.
From the time that gold was first found in Victoria to the present, gold has been found in so many localaties with some being very rich and other lesser known areas being somewhat marginal, this makes the compiling of a comprehensive listing rather difficult. However the following listing is of some of the better known areas where gold has been found, including many where gold may still be found to this day by using modern prospecting equipment and methods.
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Baccus Marsh Goldfield
Barkers Creek Goldfield
Deep Lead Goldfield
Great Western Goldfield
Mount Alexander Goldfield
Mount Egerton Goldfield
Pleasant Creek Goldfield
St. Arnaud Goldfield
Woods Point Goldfield