Gold in Victoria
Gold in Victoria
Did you know the largest nugget in the world, 'Welcome Stranger', was found in Victoria in 1869 and weighed 75 kilograms?
In 2015, a Victorian man found a gold nugget weighing 2.7 kilograms near Bendigo!
Mining and migration
The earliest gold in Victoria was found on the surface. Miners used simple picks and pans to separate gold from rock, soil and water.
People rushed to the goldfields from places including the United Kingdom, the United States, Europe and China. Sometimes there was conflict.
The miners needed goods and services and businesses such as butchers and blacksmiths flourished. When the surface gold ran out, miners dug deep into the ground.
Click on the photos below for more information
'Native Miami', from The Australian Sketchbook by artist ST Gill, 1865. National Museum of Australia.
Aboriginal people, including the language groups that made up the Kulin nation, occupied the land where gold was discovered for thousands of years. The arrival of farmers, then the gold miners, greatly disrupted their way of life. Many Aboriginal people were moved away from their homes to missions and reserves. Others played an active role in the gold rushes as fossickers, guides, police and traders of handcrafted items such as baskets and possum-skin rugs. People of the Kulin nation continue to live in the region today.
Panning for gold
'Prospecting' from The Australian Sketchbook by ST Gill, 1865. National Museum of Australia.
The earliest gold discovered in Victoria was found on the ground, in gullies, rivers and creeks. This was alluvial gold that had been washed away from the rock where it formed. Simple tools such as a shovel, pick, cradle and pan were used to extract the gold. Miners separated the gold from water using a shallow pan, or a wooden cradle with a sieve, which was rocked from side to side.
'Race to the gold diggings of Australia' board game, about 1855. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Lannon Harley.
People came to the Victorian goldfields from across the world. A small number of sheep farmers had been there for a decade or so before gold was discovered. They were joined by miners from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France and the United States. Many people also made their way from China.
Chinese-style scales used to weigh gold and herbs. On loan from Dennis O'Hoy. Photo: Jason McCarthy.
By 1857, nearly 40 per cent of the male population in some regions was Chinese. However, they were not always welcome. The Victorian government taxed Chinese people more than other people, and tried to limit the number of Chinese migrants coming to Australia. European miners often resented their presence and would sometimes attack them in mobs.
A Chinese costume used in the Bendigo Easter Parade from the 1880s. On loan from the Golden Dragon Museum, Bendigo. Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Despite some racial tension, as Victorian goldfield towns such as Bendigo prospered, Chinese people settled in and became part of the community. They established market gardens or opened stores and restaurants, and some became wealthy and prominent citizens. The Chinese community took part in Bendigo's annual Easter parade by the 1880s, a tradition that continues to this day.
Shoes worn with Chinese costume, 1880s. On loan from the Golden Dragon Museum, Bendigo. Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Banjo scalesCase used to carry Chinese-style scales. The scales are 27 centimetres in length. The guitar-like shape of the case led to the nickname 'banjo scales'. On loan from Dennis O'Hoy. Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Bealiba gold nugget
The Bealiba gold nugget was found in 1957 by Arthur Stewart, 70 kilometres west of Bendigo in Victoria. It measures 128 x 50 millimetres. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Katie Green.
Near the town of Bealiba, Stewart noticed a glint of gold in the ground when he stopped to repair the broken chain on his bike. Digging with his hands, he unearthed the nugget, which weighs more than half a kilogram.
The Victorian goldfields were famous for the number and size of the nuggets found there. The ‘Welcome Stranger’ weighed more than 75 kilograms – the average weight of a woman. Like most nuggets found at the time, it was melted down to make the gold easier to sell, meaning nuggets are now very highly prized.
The publishers of a magazine called Australian Amateur Mineralogist bought the Bealiba nugget to preserve it for future generations. It is now part of the National Museum of Australia's collection.
Blacksmith's candle spike
A candle spike forged by a blacksmith and used to hold a candle in an underground mining shaft. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Jason McCarthy.
One of the best ways to make money on the goldfields was by providing essential goods and services to the miners. Blacksmiths were among the first businesses to appear on most goldfields. Their services, which included making and repairing tools, mining equipment, horseshoes and cartwheels, were in constant demand.
'Butcher’s shamble, near Adelaide Gully, Forrest Creek', by ST Gill, 1892. National Library of Australia, an7537700-1.
The supply of food to diggers on the goldfields was perhaps the most essential of all services. Butchers were in heavy demand. Using meat supplied by local sheep farmers, butchers were able to offer one of the few sources of fresh food available on the goldfields. With no fridges, the butcher hung the meat on hooks at the front of his shop, which attracted swarms of flies. The offal and other unused parts of the sheep were thrown out the back of the store, which created a powerful smell, particularly in warmer weather.
'Golden Point, Mt Alexander, Victoria', by D Tulloch. National Museum of Australia.
Bendigo, first known as Castleton, then Sandhurst, grew quickly after gold was discovered there in 1851. The diggings were initially regarded as an extension of the Mount Alexander diggings. Within three years a permanent town had been established, with a post office, police station, government offices, shops, local newspapers, a hospital, library and hotels. With the discovery of gold-bearing quartz reefs deep below the ground, Bendigo continued to thrive well after the alluvial deposits near the surface had begun to run out.
'Deep sinking, Bakery Hill, Ballarat, Victoria,1853', by ST Gill. National Museum of Australia.
When the surface gold ran out, people had to dig deeper into the ground. They used hand-operated windlasses with buckets on ropes to bring the dirt and gold to the surface. Eventually, the gold was so deep, and in such hard rock, that expensive heavy machinery including rock drills and crushing batteries were needed to reach and extract the metal. This also required a larger and more organised workforce.
Postcard dated 1909 showing two prospectors at work, by AH Fullwood. National Museum of Australia.
Mining pickShort-handled pick, suitable for working in underground mining shafts, late 1800s. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Katie Shanahan.
Gold washing cradle
Gold washing cradle used by miners to seperate gold from rock and dirt, 1800s. National Museum of Australia. Photo: George Serras.
This cradle is made of timber, joined with handmade metal nails and corner fixtures. It is similar in design to cradles used in earlier American gold rushes. Miners filled the top of the cradle with soil and water. It was then rocked from side to side, forcing the water and soil down through the sieve on top, and leaving any gold behind.