The Victoria Gold Rushes

The Victorian gold rush was a period in the history of Victoria, Australia approximately between 1851 and the late 1860s. In 10 years the Australian population nearly tripled

The Victorian gold rush, which occurred in Australia in 1851 soon after the California gold rush, was the biggest of several Australian gold rushes. That gold rush was highly significant to Australia’s, and especially Victoria's and Melbourne's, political and economic development. With the Australian gold rushes came the construction of the first railways and telegraph lines, multiculturalism and racism, the Eureka Stockade and the end of penal transportation..

Mitchells Creek Goldfield is claimed to be Australia's first goldfield. It is located at Bodangora near Wellington, New South Wales.

Gold was apparently first found in this area by a shepherd called Hugh McGregor in Mitchell’s Creek on the Montefiore's squatting run, Nanima in 1848 (about four years before the “official” discovery of gold in Australia). Newspaper reports of early prospecting are a bit confusing as another Mitchells Creek (now called Sunny Corner) was also a goldfield and was located 80 miles (130 km) to the south–east.

The Bathurst Free Press noted on the 25th May 1850 “Neither is there' any doubt in the fact that Mr. McGregor found a considerable quantity of the precious metal some years ago, near Mitchell's Creek, and it is surmised he 'still, gets more in the same locality”. Bathurst Free Press 25 May 1850 which pre-dates the extravagant claims of Edward Hargraves to be the first discover of gold in Australia.

In 1851 a prospector by the name of Edward Hammond Hargraves proclaimed that he had discovered gold on a site he called “Ophir” in Bathurst, New South Wales Australia.

On July 1, 1951 the British Government separated the area from New South Wales, proclaiming a new Colony of Victoria.

Nerrena Fossickers in Nerrena Creek outside Ballarat

During this era Victoria dominated the world's gold output. Ballarat for a while ranked number one in terms of gold production.

Gold discoveries in Beechworth, Ballarat and Bendigo sparked gold rushes similar to the California Gold Rush. At its peak some two tonnes of gold per week flowed into the Treasury Building in Melbourne.

The gold era evolved Victoria from a sheep grazing economy based around squatters, into an emerging industrial base and small (yeoman) farming community. The social impact of gold was that Victoria's population boomed and the lack of available land for small farming generated massive social tensions, especially among Victorian Aborigines. Those on-going tensions around land and selection (small farming) culminated in the Kelly Outbreak of 1878.

Melbourne was a major Boomtown during the gold rush. The city became the centre of the colony with rail networks radiating to the regional towns and ports. Politically, Victoria's goldmines introduced male franchise and secret ballots, based on Chartist principles. As gold dwindled, pressures for land reform, protectionism and political reform grew and generated social struggles. A Land Convention in Melbourne during 1857 demanded land reform. Melbourne became one of the great cities of the British Empire and the world. Following the huge gold rushes were the Chinese in 1854. Their presence on the goldfields of Bendigo, Beechworth and the Bright district resulted in riots, entry taxes, killings and segregation in the short term and became the foundations of the White Australia policy. In short, the gold rush was a revolutionary event and reshaped Victoria, its society and politics.

Australian gold rushes

Ballarat's tent city in the summer of 1853 - 1854 oil painting from an original sketch by Eugene von Guerard

Various gold rushes occurred in Australia over the second half of the 19th century. The most significant of these, although not the only ones, were the Victorian gold rush in 1851, and the Western Australian gold rush of the 1890s. Both were highly significant to their respective states' political and economic development as they brought a large number of immigrants to the states, and promoted massive government spending on infrastructure to support the new arrivals that came looking for gold. While some found their fortune, those who did not often remained in the colonies and took advantage of extremely liberal land laws to take up farming.

Gold rushes happened at or around:

  • Ballarat, Victoria
  • Bathurst, New South Wales
  • Beechworth Victoria
  • Bendigo Victoria
  • Canoona, Queensland
  • Charters Towers, Queensland
  • Coolgardie, Western Australia
  • Halls Creek, Western Australia
  • Hill End, New South Wales
  • Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
  • Queenstown, Tasmania

Notable gold finds

  • 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.
  • 1823, 15 February - The first verified discovery of gold in the colonies was by Assistant Surveyor, James McBrien, who discovered numerous parts of gold in Fish River, about 15 miles east of Bathurst, New South Wales.
  • 1825 - A convict flogged in Sydney on suspicion of having stolen gold, which he stated he had discovered in the bush. An anonymous letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald on 20 May 1851 identified the location of the find as "Big Hill".
  • 1829 - Mr. Jackson Barwise claims he had his attention drawn to gold by a James Ryan. They wrapped the gold up and Mr. Barwise took this back to Sydney where he was told to keep quiet or he would be locked up as being insane. This was supposed to be to stop the shepherds running away to find gold.
  • 1844 - Mr. Alexander Tolmein, sent by Governor Grey to Kangaroo Island to capture a gang of bushrangers, reported that he had when about 20 miles S.S.W. from Melbourne seen a quartz reef with yellow metal in it, which he was afterwards convinced was gold.
  • 1846 - The first group of women ever was to discover gold in Southern Gippsland near Koo Wee Rup, Victoria.
  • 1848 - Gold specimens found on the spurs of the Pyrenees Mountains, Victoria; exhibited in the shop window of Mr. Robe, jeweler, Melbourne.
  • 1848 - Gold found at Mitchells Creek near Wellington NSW on the Nanima squatting run,
  • 1849, 31 January - Gold discovered at the Pyrenees, Port Phillip, by a shepherd.
  • 1849, January - Thomas Chapman discovered gold at Daisy Hill, Victoria and sold it to Mrs. Brentani, Collins Street, Melbourne, a nugget which weighed 16 ounces. Afraid of the Melbourne authorities, the discoverer bolted to Sydney in the 'Sea-horse'.
  • 1849 - William Clarke, Jr., with William Vicary, found auriferous quartz at Smythesdale, Victoria.
  • 1851, January - Edward Austin brought to Sydney a nugget of gold worth £35, which he found in the Bathurst District.
  • 1851 - Gold was discovered in Anderson's Creek, Warrandyte, Victoria by Louis Michel, named as Victoria's first official gold discovery.
  • 1851 - Gold was discovered in Bendigo, Victoria in what is now a state park.
  • 1851 - Sofala, New South Wales.
  • 1858- Welcome Nugget found at Bakery Hill at Ballarat. Second largest nugget found in Australia.
  • 1865 - Richard Daintree discovered the Cape River goldfield in North Queensland.
  • 1872 - A more significant Queensland field discovered at Charters Towers soon moved attention to this area, while in the same year mining began on the Palmer River near Cooktown.
  • 1872 - Darwin felt the effects of a gold rush at Pine Creek after employees of the Australian Overland Telegraph Line found gold while digging holes for telegraph poles.
  • 1872 - World's largest ever gold nugget was discovered by Bernhard Otto Holterman.
  • 1893 - Paddy Hannan and two companions discovered gold, leading to establishment of Western Australia's eastern goldfields in what is now the twin towns of Kalgoorlie and Boulder
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