The Bathurst Gold Rush, 1851 Home

The Bathurst Gold Rush, 1851



From the Times newspaper, London, September 2, 1851

 

Gold is likely to prove a drug in the market. There has been a fresh discovery of this precious metal in New South Wales. Advices recently received from Sydney inform us that gold has been discovered in large quantities at Bathurst, 150 miles from that place ...

It does not appear that the report has been set afloat in any loose and unsatisfactory manner. The news came with all the confirmation it can receive from the seat of government, Inspectors, Corporation, and magistrates and leading personages in the colony.

We are told that such was the credit attached to the rumour upon the spot, that people of all callings and denominations had abandoned their usual business, and hurried off to the gold districts of Bathurst. Both sexes, all ages, and all professions had become confounded in the universal appetite for gold. The blacksmiths could not furnish picks fast enough, to supply the captivity or eagerness of the adventurers.

The gravest personages were to be seen trotting to the scene of action, their saddle bows laden with domestic implements which might, upon an emergency, be made to serve as mining instruments, wash-hand basins, cullenders, tin pots, garden hoes -whatever, in short, came first to hand, was converted into a rough machine for turning up the soil, or sifting the same, which might be supposed to contain the precious dust.

Whatever of exaggeration there may be in the thousand rumours that were flying about, there can be no doubt as to the impressions and feeling in the colony itself. A blanket, a “damper”, and a pick axe, were reckoned an ample outfit for the future Millionaire.

All the usual avocations of the colonists had been entirely deserted in consequence of the universal and all-absorbing thirst for gold. The question naturally arises, what degree of credit can we, living in England, attach to a report which is likely to exercise so important an influence upon the destinies of mankind?

We knew even before that the soil of Australia was teeming with mineral treasures of every kind. There is not a prior improbability in such a discovery. On the contrary, we should be led to expect, where other metals were found in so great abundance, that gold and silver formed no exception to the general rule.

When we come to look for positive evidence, we find it stated that the son of Mr. Neal, a brewer, had picked up in the Bathurst district, a piece of gold weighing eleven ounces, which he had disposed of for £60. An old man had found several pieces in masses, the united weight of which amounted to two or three pounds. The manager of the Union Bank of Australia, no mean authority, one should suppose, had met with a success similar in kind, although less in degree. He too had picked up some fragments of the precious metal, and the few handfuls of loose earth he brought back with him from the scene of action had been properly manipulated, and from them a piece of gold had been extracted, about the size of a pea.

The strongest testimony remains behind; in a case of such importance we need offer no apology for copying here the exact words of our intelligence:-”On Wednesday morning last Mr. Hargraves, accompanied by Mr. Stutchbury, the Government geologist, went to the diggings, and with his own hands washed a pan of earth in his presence, from which twenty-one grains of pure gold were produced. He afterwards washed several baskets of earth and produced gold therefrom. Mr. Stutchbury thereupon expressed his satisfaction, and immediately furnished him with credentials, Which have since been forwarded to Government.” However small the credit we might be disposed to attach to any mere popular impulse, it is undeniable that in the present instance the frenzy of the colonists has not been without some foundation, in sober reason.

It is all very well for us, sitting here in judgment upon the impulses of our antipodes, to hear such a report as this with suspicion, let us ask what our own behaviour would have been, had the leading geologists in the mother country certified that scarcely below the surface of the Welsh mountains, lumps of fine gold were to be had at no greater cost of labour than is involved in scratching the soil, and sifting the surface earth in our own basins?

Ere a week had elapsed, what would have become of a large percentage from two and half million inhabitants of London? The wisest and most cautious amongst us would suddenly have discovered that the mountain air of Wales was peculiarly grateful to the human constitution. Some of us in first class carriages, some in second, some in no carriages at all, we should all have made our way to the scene of action, and endeavoured to make our fortunes at one bold stroke.

There is no inherent improbability in the report. It comes to us confirmed by the strongest positive testimony, Australia may yet put California to shame. It is said that from the mountain ranges to an indefinite extent in the interior, the region named is one vast gold field. If the expectations of the discoverers should prove true, and the tract of country in the neighbourhood of Bathurst produce the expected crop of bullion, the exchanges will ere long be seriously affected, and all the commercial transactions of mankind respond to the depreciation in the price of Gold.

We know but of one consideration which might, to a certain degree, affect the credibility of the report. For the last sixty years, if we are not mistaken, the tract in question has been wandered over by the colonists and their convict servants; but until the present moment not a syllable has ever been breathed of the neighbourhood of Bathurst as a gold producing region. The ignorance of the settlers and their domestics may, however, bo accepted as a sufficient counterpoise against this drawback; and in the face of positive testimony we do not know that it should be permitted to turn the balance.

Everything must have a beginning, and it would be hard to say that the value of the Mexican or Californian mines has been ushered into notoriety under fairer auspices. There is, however, one thing to be guarded against, the discovery of this Australian gold field is the commencement of a popular delusion. It must be remembered that under the most favourable circumstances a very small proportion of the adventurers will reap fame or fortune as the result of their enterprise.

Almost certain disappointment, if not misery and death, awaits the great bulk of the actual adventurers. As far as mere speculators are concerned, before this report has assumed a definite commercial shape, we solemnly bid them to remember the experience of their predecessors, in the South American mines, about a quarter of a century ago.. Some few men will make large fortunes; the great bulk of the adventurers will lose their time and probably their lives in the pursuit of a sudden transition of fortune.

Mining operations pre-eminently require skill and experience; without these indispensable qualifications, for one prize there are ninety-nine blanks. These warnings apart, it is impossible to regard the discovery of so vast an amount of gold in Australia otherwise than as one of the most important events of our time. It would seem to be established as a law of modern development that when it becomes necessary that a race or people must be spread, the soil to which they should be tempted is baited with gold. The impulses that bind men to their native country are powerful, but cannot resist the glitter of actual gold thrown broadcast upon the surface of the earth.