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Early gold discoveries

"Put it away Mr Clarke, or we shall all have our throats cut". - Sir George Phillips, 1844 after Reverend WB Clarke presented his gold discovery.

Gold in Australia before 1851 was a dangerous commodity. The Califorian gold rush drew people from across the globe to the 'wild west' coast of America. It was feared a similar chaos would ensue if such discoveries were made in Australia, drawing a restless population of convicts and farm workers away from their posts. The existence of Australian gold in payable amounts was thus kept confidential by fearful authorities.

Gold had been found in Australia as early as the 1830s. Explorer Paul de Strezlecki discovered gold in the Victorian Alps in 1839 and William Campbell found gold on his sheep run in Strahlodden, Victoria, in 1840. Gold was also discovered at Montecue, South Australia, in 1846, and Glenmona Station in Victoria, in 1849. Those who found gold kept the knowledge to themselves. Squatters wanted to protect their sheep runs from the undesirables who may come in search of gold. Others simply didn’t want to share the potential wealth. Convicts who discovered gold while working on the land were often accused of stealing it and flogged for their trouble. Shepherds and farmers were known to appear in Sydney, disposing of these finds with as little fanfare as possible.

Simultaneously however, the NSW colonial government was faced with a manpower drain as men from the young colony left for the rush in California. In 1851, one of Australian history’s most bizarre and fantastic characters emerged to reverse this trend. His name was Edward Hargraves.

A convict ploughing team breaking up new ground at the farm - Port Arthur
Courtesy of the La Trobe Collection
State Library of Victoria


By Benjamin Hoban

Douglas Fetherling, The Gold Crusades : A Social History of Gold Rushes, 1849-1929, University of Toronto Press, 1997.

Marion Place, Gold Down Under, The Story of the Australian Gold Rush, Crowell-Collier Press, 1969.

Gold 150, Celebrating 150 Years of Australian Gold-Rush History.


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