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Australian Gold Rush

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Mining History

The Australian Gold Rush started in 1851, soon after the California Gold Rush ended. It lasted for the latter part of the 19th century, starting in the state of New South Wales and shortly spreading to the state of Victoria with further discoveries of gold. Victoria remained the epicenter of the Australian Gold Rush, though smaller subsequent gold rushes occurred in other parts of the country in the years following. The Gold Rush took Australia from being a penal colony and an exporter of wool to an exporter of gold through the 1850s and 1860s. During this time, Australia exported more gold than wool and in the 1850s, the state of Victoria actually produced one-third of the world’s gold.[1] The Gold Rush also sparked economic activity in the colonies and tripled the country’s population within 20 years. The building of Australia’s first railroads and the installation of the country’s first telegraph lines were a direct result of the Gold Rush. The Australian Gold Rush dramatically influenced and shaped Australia’s economy and national development.

Contents

[edit] History

[edit] Edward Hargraves Discovers Gold

Remote pockets of gold had been reported in the Australian colony of New South Wales as early as 1820. Australia was divided into different states occupied by the British. It wasn’t until 1851 that Edward Hargraves, a prospector returning from the California Gold Rush, discovered gold at Lewes Pond Creek near Bathurst in the state of New South Wales. Hargraves discovered the first payable gold of the Australian Gold Rush on February 12, 1851, at an area he would later refer to as Ophir.[2] His experience mining in California helped him identify similarities between the goldfields of California and those in Australia. Hargraves also knew how to build a rocker. Along with his guide John Lister and assistant James Tom, Hargraves set out for Lewes Creek by horseback in February 1851. He starting digging, panning several loads of gold-bearing gravel before his instincts finally led him to gold. He later traveled to Sydney to negotiate a reward with the colonial secretary for having found gold. A ban publicizing gold findings had been lifted in order to encourage mineral exploration on the continent following California’s gold rush. John Lister and James Tom stayed behind at Ophir to prospect, producing additional nuggets of gold. Hargraves purchased some of the gold and mailed it off to the colonial secretary. He also launched a publicity campaign about his gold discovery. Soon, he was proclaimed a hero and received a generous reward of £10,000 plus a lifetime pension. In addition, he was named Commissioner of Crown Lands for all the gold districts. The contributions made by John Lister and the Tom brothers received formal recognition only in 1890.[3] The official news of a gold rush in the state of New South Wales broke on May 22, 1851 in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.[4] Soon local newspapers were advertising items for miners to take with them to the gold fields. Shopkeepers quickly began selling mining equipment and supplies. Just four months after Hargraves initial discovery of gold at Ophir, around 1,000 prospectors had settled there.[5]

[edit] The Gold Rush Spreads

The Australian Gold Rush started in New South Wales in the 1850s and moved counter-clockwise from there to the state of Victoria. The Gold Rush lasted in both areas through the 1850s and 1860s and was later followed by smaller subsequent gold rushes in the later half of the 19th century again in New South Wales, Queensland, Darwin, and later, in Kalgoorlie.[6] By 1852 the amount of gold yielded from the gold rush in New South Wales was equivalent to 26.4 tons.[7] In fact, authorities feared a population loss as Victoria residents rushed over to join the gold rush in New South Wales. The state formed the Gold Discovery Committee, offering a reward of £200 to any person finding gold within a 200-mile (322-km) radius of Melbourne.[8] Only six months after the gold rush was announced in New South Wales more gold was found in Victoria at Ballarat, Bendigo Creek, and Mt. Alexander.[9] The gold deposits at Ballarat were extremely abundant. Just forty miles from Ballarat the goldfields of Mt Alexander proved to be even richer than those at Ballarat with the gold resting very close to the surface and easily accessible to diggers. Within seven months, approximately 2.4 million pounds (1.1 million kg) of gold were extracted from the area and sent to Melbourne and Adelaide.[10]

[edit] Immigration of Diggers

The spread of the gold rush in Australia brought immigrants from all over the world. Australia was no longer viewed as a penal colony for convict exile, but a place worthy of immigrating to and investing in. The largest influx brought mostly British and Irish immigrants.[11] Other groups included American, French, Italian, German, Polish, and Hungarian exiles. By 1852, approximately 370,000 immigrants had arrived to Australia. Through the Gold Rush years the continent’s population tripled from 430,000 in 1851 to 1.7 million in 1871.[12] The new immigrants brought new skills and professions to the country, boosting the Australian economy. Many of these immigrants made their way to the goldfields, living in temporary tent settlements. Some even hoisted flags from their tents advertising their nationality. There was a deep sense of camaraderie between diggers out in the field and class distinctions simply dissolved. The only social distinction made was between "old chums" and "new chums." Old chums were native-born Australians or those who had lived in the colony for a long time; some were even ex-convicts. The old chums considered themselves superior to the new immigrants who were deemed new chums. Sometimes new immigrants would work tirelessly to fit in and pass themselves off as old chums.[13]

[edit] Chinese Diggers

The sense of camaraderie between diggers was not extended to the 40,000 Chinese diggers who made their way to Australia during the course of the Gold Rush. By 1861 the Chinese constituted 3.3 percent of the country’s population.[14] Many of the Chinese immigrants worked off debts incurred for their passage to Australia by working as diggers in the goldfields. Their arrival incited racism and they were treated with great suspicion from the rest of society. Not only did they look, dress, and eat differently, they had an uncanny ability to sustain the viability of their claims longer than their Western counterparts. Most of the claims they reworked were those abandoned by Europeans and they would do so until all the gold-bearing earth had been picked clean.[15] Others saw the Chinese diggers as a threat, especially as alluvial deposits of gold became depleted. Campaigns to oust them from working in the goldfields were eventually held. This led to the passing of anti-Chinese legislation in Victoria in 1855 and a £10 head tax was imposed upon each Chinese person coming into Melbourne. Many evaded the head tax by entering the country through the ports of Southern Australia and then traveling inland on foot to the goldfields.[16] After their debts were paid off, many returned home to China. Of the total 40,721 Chinese arrivals between the years 1852 to 1889, there were 36,049 departures.[17]

[edit] A Digger’s Life

The life of a miner or digger was not easy. Sometimes diggers had to work as far as deep as 33 feet (10 m) underground, submerged up to the waist in water. Other times, digging for gold involved accumulating large amounts of gravel and hauling it over a long distance to a nearby creek or river for washing. Only a small portion of the diggers on the goldfields struck it rich. Others lived in squalor in tents, some with their entire families. The first mining settlements had a reputation for being rowdy and dangerous, breeding both crime and disease. Eventually, once a goldfield had been identified, the state government would set up an administrative body and police force to maintain law and order. Any gold found was weighed and paid out to the miner by appointed commissioners and then transported to Sydney or Melbourne on what was called the "gold escort"—a special two-wheeled cart with a team of four horses protected by a military garrison. The gold was then sent in canvas bags by ship to England.[18] The threat of bushrangers, the name given a bandit or thief, stealing gold and valuables, prevented many miners from holding onto or traveling around with their gold.[19]

[edit] The Eureka Stockade

Between the years of 1851 and 1854 tensions mounted on the goldfields as gold was quickly becoming depleted. By 1854 available placer gold was almost non-existent. The year marked a switch over to deep-lead gold mining that involved digging shafts down into the ground to reach the gold located in quartz reefs. This type of mining involved a greater amount of capital investment and machinery.[20] Diggers were also required to pay a monthly licensing fee from authorities to work their claim legally. The fee was 30 shillings a month for each claim with the average claim size being only 44 feet (13.5 m) on the surface to work.[21] Many miners were forced to sell their personal belongings and sometimes their horses to pay the licensing fee. The licensing fee system and the injustice and corruption of the police in enforcing it brought nothing but discontent. When the fees were cut by as much as two-thirds, the police became even more brutish in enforcing the payment of fees. The "digger hunts," as the miners termed them, became more frequent upon the order of the governor of Victoria. The consequences of not paying were being hauled before a magistrate and paying an additional fine of five shillings. Some miners were even tied up to logs. Such force became common. In 1854 tensions at Ballarat escalated to the point that a group under the leadership of an Irish engineer named Peter Lalor called the Ballarat Reform League was formed. Several miners and Peter Lalor built a stockade and unfurled a Southern Cross flag in an oath to defend their rights and civil liberties. Over 400 troops were sent from Melbourne to crush what was viewed as a rebellion. The troops stormed and rushed the remaining 120 miners in the stockade, killing over 20 of them. The leaders of the rebellion, including Peter Lalor, were charged with treason. Juries in Melbourne, however, refused to find the miners guilty. A Royal Commission also later condemned the goldfield administration and attended to the miners’ grievances including political representation. A year later, Peter Lalor was elected to the Victorian Parliament.[22]

[edit] References

  1. Australian Gold Rush. Encarta. 2008-12-18.
  2. The Australian Gold Rush. Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal. 2008-12-18.
  3. Eureka!The Rush for Gold. John Lister and the Tom Brothers. State Library of New South Wales. 2008-12-18.
  4. Eureka! The Rush for Gold. Off to the Diggings. State Library of New South Wales. 2008-12-18.
  5. The Australian Gold Rush. Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal. 2008-12-18.
  6. Australian Gold Rush. Encarta. 2008-12-18.
  7. The Australian Gold Rush. Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal. 2008-12-18.
  8. Eureka!The Rush for Gold. Rush to Victoria. State Library of New South Wales. 2008-12-18.
  9. The Australian Gold Rush. Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal. 2008-12-18.
  10. Eureka!The Rush for Gold. Rush to Victoria. State Library of New South Wales. 2008-12-18.
  11. The Australian Gold Rush. Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal. 2008-12-18.
  12. The Australian Gold Rush. Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal. 2008-12-18.
  13. Eureka! The Rush for Gold. Mining Life. State Library of New South Wales. 2008-12-18.
  14. The Australian Gold Rush. Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal. 2008-12-18.
  15. The Australian Gold Rush. Patrick Taylor. 2008-12-18.
  16. Eureka! The Rush for Gold. Minority Miners. State Library of New South Wales. 2008-12-18.
  17. The Australian Gold Rush. Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal. 2008-12-18.
  18. The Australian Gold Rush. Patrick Taylor. 2008-12-18.
  19. Eureka! The Rush for Gold. Rush to Victoria. State Library of New South Wales. 2008-12-18.
  20. The Australian Gold Rush. Patrick Taylor. 2008-12-18.
  21. The Australian Gold Rush. Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal. 2008-12-18.
  22. The Australian Gold Rush. Patrick Taylor. 2008-12-18.