Gold Buyer, Forest Creek
Courtesy of the La Trobe Collection
State Library of Victoria
As the gold diggers found gold, they needed to sell it. Gold dealers set up tent offices on the goldfields, offering the diggers money for their gold, often at prices well below the official rate.
But what could the diggers do? If they took their gold to the official gold brokers in Geelong or Melbourne themselves, they risked losing their gold claim to someone else, or being robbed by bushrangers along the way.
The dealings in the gold buyers tent reflected a cross-section of the goldfields' society. Some diggers had struck it lucky, while others struggled to earn enough to feed themselves. Some were conned by unscrupulous gold buyers, and others drove hard bargains.
British and American banks employed gold buyers to set up shop on the diggings and buy gold from the diggers. From there it was transported to the Treasury and gold vaults in Melbourne, and to a lesser extent in Adelaide.
The gold buyers paid the diggers with paper money, promissory notes and tokens.
"GAVIN RALSTON begs leave to inform his friends at the diggings that he has taken one of Mr. Rucker's offices, No 17, Elizabeth Street, where he will be in attendance daily during business hours.
He engages to obtain the highest market price for all gold consigned to him, and the proceeds of which he will remit or otherwise dispose of, as instructed with all possible despatch.
Orders for supplies will meet prompt attention.
Cash advances, if required, will be made at his stores near Victoria Escort Company's office, Forest Creek, on escort receipts of that company, for gold consigned to him.
Full particulars of charges and his mode of transacting business, may be ascertained on application to Mr. Warner, at Mr. Ralston's Stores, Forest Creek, or at his office, No. 17 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne."
Gold Buyers Notice, Argus, 7 August 1852.
Gold buyers had keep a careful eye on the finds offered to them. Gold plated copper nuggets and pieces of iron were sometimes included in the gold.
Similarly, most of the gold buyers were quite reputable, and gave the diggers a fair price for their gold. Some however, were unscrupulous and conned many unaware diggers.
Here's a report of a classic cons some gold buyers tried.
"The gold broker has a happy facility in converting into an office any space large enough to contain himself and a pair of scales. The passage or private entrance of a shop is frequently made into an 'office' by having a green baize partition at the back of the broker, who pays about £5 per week for the accommodation. Some of these take in diggers to a great extent. One of their tricks is as follows:
A digger goes into one of these offices with his bag of dust and nuggets, which the broker requests him to empty on a large sheet of whity-brown or other large paper. He then begins a vigorous 'rousing' with his fingers and a magnet to extract the ironstone from among it; and, a good deal of blowing and shaking having been gone through in a careless, off-hand manner, he empties the lot into the scale. 'Seven and four is eight, eight and three is eleven, eleven and four is fourteen: fourteen ounces, four pennyweights and a half, at £3.7s and ounce, is £43; there's a check sir.'
Now, all this shaking, etc, is to make a portion of the gold pass through two nicks each in two sheets of paper. When he takes it to put the gold into the scale, he shifts the two sheets, so that the nicks are no longer over each other, and consequently cannot be seen, even if the seller has any suspicion. Sometimes after shaking and blowing the gold in the above manner, he offers 2s. per ounce less than the digger can get anywhere else, who of course declines selling, and goes away with an ounce or so less than he came in with. Some never buy an ounce, but have a pound or two to sell at the end of a week. Some scales have the beam divided unequally, so that it takes a quarter of an ounce to turn the scale. If one half of the beam is the 16th of an inch longer than the other, it will take this. The way to beat them at this work is to reverse the gold and weights from one scale to the other."
The Australian and New Zealand Gazette, 15 January 1853, pg. 56