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small veins of blue clay which lie almost immediately above the
pipe-clay, in which no trace of the ore has been discovered. The
ore is to all appearance quite pure. It is found occasionally in
rolled or water-worn irregular lumps of various sizes, from a quarter
or half an ounce to two ounces in weight, sometimes incorporated
with round pebbles of quartz, which appears to have formed its
original matrix ; at other times, without any admixture whatever,
in irregular rounded or smooth pieces, and again in fused irregular
masses of pure metal of great beauty, weighing in some instances

seven to nine ounces I may give your lordship some idea

of the value of this partial deposit, however, when hit upon, by
stating that I witnessed during my visit the washing of two tin
dishes of this clay, of about twenty inches in diameter, the yield of
which was no less than 8 poundweights of pure gold ; and I have
seen two, or at most three cubic inches of the same yield four

ounces One party is known to have raised 16 poundweights at

an early hour of the day, and to have secured 3 1 poundweights
value about 1300 in one day's work. Many parties of four men
have shared, day after day, 10 ounces per man value at least ,30.
I can testify to the fact of 10 poundweights value about ,400 or
440 and upwards being the produce of a single working during
one of the days of my visit, and I have no reason to believe that
this case was at that time an isolated one.'

In attempting to describe the state of excitement into which the
population was thrown by the news of these occurrences, he says :
' Within the last three weeks, the towns of Melbourne and Geelong,
and their large suburbs, have been in appearance almost emptied of
many classes of their male inhabitants. Not only have the idlers, to
be found in every community, and day-labourers in town and the adja-
cent country, shopmen, artisans and mechanics of every description,


thrown up their employments, and in most cases leaving their
employers and their wives and families to take care of themselves,
run off to the workings ; but respectable tradesmen, farmers, clerks
of every grade, and not a few of the superior classes followed some
unable to withstand the mania and force of the stream, or because
they were really disposed to venture time and money on the chance,
but others because they were, as employers of labour, left in the lurch,
and had no other alternative. Cottages are deserted, houses to let,
business is at a standstill, and even schools are closed. In some of
the suburbs, not a man is left; and the women are known, for self-
protection, to forget neighbours' jars, and to club together to keep
house. Even masters of vessels, foreseeing the impossibility of main-
taining any control over their men otherwise, have found the only
way was to join them, make up a party, and go shares with them at
the diggings.'

When the excitement consequent on the discovery of the Ballarat
Diggings was beginning to abate, and many men returning to their
employments, it received a fresh accession of strength, and was
turned into a new direction, by the report of those found at Mount
Alexander. This is a hill about seventy miles north-west of Mel-
bourne, part of the granitic district of Mount Macedon and Mount
Byng. Writing in December, Mr Latrobe said : ' I will here only
briefly state, that the gold raised upon the Mount Alexander gold-
fields is now calculated by hundredweights, and arrives in the cities
by the government escort or ,'private conveyance at the rate of
probably two tons per week so it has been at least for the last two

Those of the labouring class who returned successful, naturally
committed all sorts of extravagance : some ordered the best and
most expensive silks and dresses for their wives and children, as
well as gold watches and chains, the most costly that could be got ;
bank-notes were eaten between slices of bread and butter, and other
stories are current, such as one reads as told of sailors paid off with
prize-money during the war. One deep old file, an old soldier in
every sense of the term, had a child born to him at one of the
diggings, and instantly seeing his chance, went round with a hat to
make a collection for 'the little stranger' 'the first child born at
the diggings :' the value of his hatful was found to amount to about
3000 !

All ordinary employments, and all the ordinary relations of society,
were meanwhile undergoing a strange revolution in Melbourne. One
of the judges was so deserted of all servants, that, but for the
assistance of his sons, he, being lame, could not have been drawn in
his wheeled-chair from his house to his court. A gentleman offered
a man half-a-crown to take a letter to the post-office, a distance of a
few hundred yards. The man looked disgusted. ' Why,' he replied,
* I would not take my pipe out of my mouth for that sum.' Another


offered a digger a shilling to lift a bag of sugar off his dray. The
digger looked at him a moment, and then, putting his foot on a
stump, said : ' There, tie my shoe, and I '11 give you five shillings.'
It was also related, that a sheep-farmer, who had been deserted by
his men, went after them to the diggings, and tried to wile them
back by an offer of what would, in ordinary circumstances, have been
extravagantly high wages, when they coolly made the counter-pro-
posal to him of a still higher salary, provided he would stay and
act as their cook. All the successful gold-diggers did not act with
extravagance. Captain Chisholm, within seven weeks after his
arrival at Port Phillip, had received not less than .2000 in gold-
dust, from labouring-men, to pay the passage out of their relatives
at home.

By the month of September 1852, the accounts from Australia
gave such a view of the progress of the gold-digging as exceeded
the most sanguine expectations that were originally formed upon
the subject. The product of the precious metal in the Victoria
fields, and especially at Mount Alexander, was of astounding magni-
tude. The first year of the Australian gold-mining, ending in May
1852, saw 3,600,000 exported to England. This, of course, at once
enriched the colony, notwithstanding every drawback produced by
the derangement of ordinary industry.

There was one little attack of the same gold-fever in another part
of Australia, and at a much later date. But this was rather the fever
of failure than of success, seeing that there was very little gold to
reward the seekers. This time it was further north than either New
South Wales or Victoria, being in Queensland. At a part of the
east coast of Australia, 900 miles northward of Sydney, gold was dis-
covered in 1858, on either side of Fitzroy River. No settlers in that
region had found a means of existence, except the owners of a few
sheep-farms and cattle-runs, stores, and drinking-booths. Unluckily,
the reports were exaggerated. One rumour was to the effect that
* one man in a party of three had made 7000 as his share in one gold-
field.' The Sidney Morning Herald made a determined attempt to
trace this story to its origin, and found (as in the older story of the
Three Black Crows) that the truth diminished in importance the
farther back it was traced. ' A gentleman in office, Mr A., had heard
it mentioned by Mr B. of the Exchange, who, it was said, had seen
the letter describing the discovery. A second gentleman had it on what
he considered most reliable authority namely, five mercantile men,
and one high official. As the official resided out of town, we deferred
further inquiries until Tuesday morning. Yesterday, we sent to Mr
B., who said he heard it from Mr C., a custom-house agent. To Mr
C. accordingly we went, who referred us to Captain D. This gentle-
man was not at home ; but a relative of his informed us that she had
heard her brother mention that such a letter had been received,
although she herself had not seen it. Pursuing our inquiries, we at


length Heard that the letter was in the possession of the toll-keeper
at the Paramatta toll-bar. A special messenger was at once sent
thither. The toll-keeper said he had heard of the letter, but had not
seen it.' And so the story of the 7000 vanished.

But the news spread like wild-fire before the correction could
come. During one single month, the Sydney shipowners despatched
no less than 27 vessels, taking out more than 3000 adventurers-,
diggers, storekeepers, &c. ; Melbourne sent an equal number ;
while Brisbane and Newcastle helped to swell the list. Every one
talked of Port Curtis, Gladstone, Rockingham, and other places near
the Fitzroy, as if they were paved with gold. High and low were
attacked with the fever. Those who did not go in person racked
their ingenuity to prepare outfits for those who did. Six or seven
thousand persons started nearly at one time, in ships which also
carried deals, posts, rails, palings, shingles, doors, sashes, iron store-
houses, blankets, mattresses, clothing, picks, shovels, axes, camp-
kettles, portable stoves, belts for stuffing with gold, scales for weigh-
ing gold, and countless other articles. Workmen left their benches,
labourers their fields, shopmen their counters, clerks their desks-,
fathers their families, to rush off to El Dorado prepared for
nothing but success ; seeing that they were wholly unfitted to
encounter failure or disaster. The result was a lesson of a severe
kind. The voyage of many hundred miles was succeeded by a land-
journey of thirty-five miles, from the landing-place at Rockhampton
to the auriferous spot at Canoona, through a region having no
roads, and very few vehicles. A little gold had really been found
by the early adventurers ; but those who came after, weary and foot-
sore, had nothing but disappointment in store. Some, going west-
ward to the diggings, met others returning east, impoverished and
heart-sick. Plenty of stores were sent out, but were not owned by
the gold-seekers, and could not be obtained by them for lack of
money. At Canoona itself (the weather being very dry), water sold
at sixpence a gallon. An eye-witness, representing one of the Sydney
newspapers, said : ' Many hundreds of the adventurer's, dismayed by
the cries that met them, never went to Canoona at all ; they landed,
took fright, and sought eagerly for a return passage to Sydney.
Hastily-built stores at Rockhampton were in imminent danger of
pillage by the more ruffianly of the disappointed adventurers. Many
of the passengers, startled at this state of affairs, did not land at all ;
they quietly returned to the port whence they came, wiser, but poorer
than before. Many of the merchants and agents, going out with
ventures of merchandise, resolved, under the circumstances, not to
break bulk at all ; they either held back for a time, or returned to
Sydney. The sufferings of many on shore were very great, for
Rockhampton and Canoona could not accommodate all, even if
money had been at hand ; while those whose little store of cash had
been exhausted by the outfit and the voyage were reduced to absolute


want. The diggers or adventurers, arriving at a particular spot, and
finding no gold, sought for some one on whom to cast the blame.
One particular individual, living in the neighbourhood, had been one
of the first to make the announcement of gold at Canoona ; the dis-
appointed and half-maddened people, rushing to an illogical conclu-
sion with the same heedlessness with which they had rushed to the
diggings, accused him of being the cause of their miseries ; and he
was placed in imminent peril of " lynching/' The captains of all the
ships were received with fierce abuse, on the ground that the ship-
owners had, by their exaggerated advertisements, contributed to the
misery.' In later years, the gold-deposits of this part of Australia
were steadily worked with a fair profit ; but the opening scenes in
1858 were indeed desperate. We have stated that these diggings
are in Queensland, but at the time of the discovery they were
included in New South Wales the colony not having been divided
into two until 1859.


Although two particular regions of the globe have been marked
by these extravagant social convulsions, arising out of the discovery
of the precious metal in unexpected places, yet the extraction and
commerce in gold have taken more regular forms in other countries,
and from a very early period in the world's history. Until the
Californian discoveries took place, the chief sources of supply in
modern times were Brazil, Hungary, Transylvania, and Asiatic
Russia. During a long series of years, the gold mines of these four
countries yielded to the value of about 5,000,000 annually. Brazil,
however, as well as Peru, New Granada, and other parts of 'South
America, have gradually fallen off ; because the auriferous sand,
easily gathered, has become well nigh exhausted ; and because South
America does not possess much of the machinery necessary for the
profitable extraction of the small percentage of metal contained in
gold quartz. Hungary and Transylvania, in like manner, have
somewhat declined in recent years as gold-producing countries.

Russia, especially in the Asiatic provinces, has gradually assumed
a somewhat important position in regard to this source of national
wealth. Nominally, there is great individual freedom in the search
for gold ; but practically much of the produce finds its way into the
pockets of officials, who cheat both the revenue and the diggers.
The adventurer may search on any spot not already appropriated,
after certain formalities with the officials. The gold is found mostly
in grains and small fragments in the sandy bed of streams. The
actual workmen employed by the adventurer are mostly the unfor-
tunates who have been banished to Siberia, and who are permitted
to earn a little money in this way under a system of licensing.
When the washings of one season are collected, the adventurer takes


his gold-dust and fragments to a government establishment. The
gold is weighed, melted down, and poured into iron ingot-moulds,
each of which, if full, would contain about thirty-six pounds avoir-
dupois. The ingot is assayed, and its value per ounce declared.
In all these proceedings there are many loopholes for bribery,
favouritism, and fraud; and much of the precious metal sticks
(metaphorically) to the hands of the officials. The weighing,
melting, assaying, and registering being concluded, the gold is sent
to St Petersburg, and lodged in the royal mint. When coined
into money, a certain percentage is retained by the state, for
the expenses of transport, &c., and the remainder transmitted in
cash to the owner. Some years ago it was stated that the owner
seldom received so much as three-fourths of the registered value,
owing to the doubtful nature of the officialism concerned in the
matter ; but possibly matters may have improved since. Mr Cottrell,
one of the few observant English travellers in Siberia, has given
the following account, to illustrate the precarious nature of gold-
seeking in this region. A Russian gentleman, M. Astaschef, retired
from government service, in order to become a gold-speculator.
He borrowed forty thousand roubles from a merchant named Popof,
who had made money by gold-speculation ; and then joined part-
nership with a third person, M. Riazanof, who had spent no less
than two hundred thousand roubles before finding any auriferous
sands worth working. The partners made a lucky examination of
the sands of a small stream, and agreed that each should take one
bank or side. They realised wealth rapidly, and then established a
company, of which they were appointed managers. Astaschef was
reported -a millionaire after the lapse of a few years ; the tide of
fortune had turned with him just in time ; for thirty-five thousand
out of his forty thousand borrowed roubles were expended before
he hit upon the golden stream, which was in the government of
Yeniseisk, between the rivers Touba and Kan. Another rich spot
owned by him was near the boundary between the governments of
Yeniseisk and Irkutsk. Russia has occasionally yielded gold, in her
Siberian provinces chiefly, to the value of ,4,000,000 in one year, but
generally the quantity has been much less. The great start, from
one or two to three or four millions sterling in a year, was made in
1842, consequent on new discoveries in the provinces of Tomsk and
Yeniseisk. One of the largest nuggets the world has ever seen, valued
at three thousand pounds, was ferreted out of the sands in Siberia.

In various other parts of Asia, besides Siberia, gold has been
found, and for a much more considerable length of time ; but the
quantity in recent years has not been so great as to attract the
attention of Europe. Africa, it is well known, contains gold, chiefly
(so far as has been ascertained) in the sands and mud of rivers.
Indeed, one part of the Atlantic sea-board of that continent has
received the name of the Gold Coast, owing to the fact that the



natives, finding gold in the interior, bring it down for sale at the
European settlements on the coast.

Passing over to the new continent, we have already stated that
South America does not now occupy any very conspicuous position
in regard to gold mines. The prosperity of the trade in that region
culminated about a century ago, when the auriferous sands were
very rich. Small gold-mining, establishments are scattered about in
Brazil, and in some of the numerous republics of South and Central
America ; but the sands are nearly exhausted ; and the extraction
of the precious metal from quartz is effected on a system so rude as
to yield only a small margin of profit. Silver, in South and Central
America, as well as in the Mexican provinces of North America, is
now a more important metal than gold, so far as regards mines and

Of the wonders of California we have treated at length, in'
reference to the wild excitement consequent on the gold-discoveries ;
we may here usefully say a few words concerning the amount of
wealth realised. By the middle of 1852, when the Californian
diggings had been at work about four years and a half, gold had
been raised to the estimated value of 35,000,000 an average of
600,000 per month. Fourteen years later, in 1866, California
claimed to have sent into the market 38,000,000 ounces of gold,
valued at 15 0,000,000; and we cannot be far wrong in setting
down ^200,000,000 as the approximate value down to the end of
1869 a marvellous addition to the wealth of one single country.

British Columbia, another large region in North America, entered
the list of gold-yielding countries about the year 1858. This, the
youngest of England's colonies, is further north than. California, but
is, like it, confined between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific. '
The Fraser River, one of the streams flowing from the mountains to
the ocean, is rich in gold ; and it is a curious coincidence, that as
gold was discovered in California almost at the time of the
annexation of that region to the United States, so was a similar
discovery made on the shores of the Fraser directly after the
formation of British Columbia into an English colony in 1858 it
having previously been a mere hunting-grotmd in the hands of the
Hudson's Bay Company. The discovery was sudden, and was
promising enough to draw numerous gold-diggers from California.
A letter, written in the early summer of 1858, said : ' The gold exists
from the mouth of Fraser River for at least two hundred miles up,
and most likely much farther. Any one working on its banks has
been able to obtain gold in abundance, and without extraordinary
labour ; the gold at present obtained has been within a foot of the
surface. Thompson River is quite as rich in gold as Fraser River.
The land about Thompson River consists of extensive sandy prairies,
which are loaded with gold also ; in fact, the whole country about
both rivers is impregnated with it. I have already seen pounds and



pounds of it, and hope before long to feast my eyes upon tons of the
precious metal ; but not a bit of it, unfortunately, is my own. Before
three months are over our heads, we expect to see at least 50,000
miners at work.' A correspondent of the Times told how precarious
was the life of those who reached the diggings without money, and
did not immediately find gold : ' Those who have money to pay for
provisions, can have enough on the spot [at exorbitant prices].
Those who have no money must starve. The alternative is as clear
as the sun at noonday. They can neither buy food nor leave the
place. They cannot spread themselves over the country, for the
following reasons : the banks of the river, high up where the miners
are congregated, are steep and lofty perpendicular walls of rock,
which cannot be scaled ; while the other portions of its banks are
covered with impenetrable forests, without a track or. a trail, which
they dare not penetrate for fear of the Indians.' Some spots,
supposed to be very rich in gold, were so difficult of access as to
present the following picture : ' A man has to carry his provisions
in blankets, on his back, up a laborious ascent in hot weather. He
cannot carry over fifty pounds in weight, besides his traps, tools,
and firearms. He takes several days to perform the journey ; at its
termination, one-third or more of his stock of provisions has been
used on the tramp. He digs, and digs successfully ; but as he is in
a wilderness where his supplies cannot be renewed, after a few
days' work, he must hurry down before his little stock of eatables
is exhausted ; or if he remains until he shall have eaten it all, he
dies of hunger. There is no relief for him. So he comes back with
some gold, but not much. Several are said to have perished of
hunger in this upper region.' Nevertheless, as the gold'was unques-
tionably there, and in large quantity, adventurers conquered all
other difficulties one by one ; and Fraser River and its tributaries
assumed a definite rank among auriferous regions. It was soon
ascertained that the gold in the river-sands was the mere washings
from more copious deposits in the rocks above ; and road-makers
by degrees hewed a path upwards. On the other side, hardy men
from Canada, Red River, and Minnesota, pushed their way west-
ward across the Rocky Mountains, and entered the golden regions
by a new route. It is not easy to say what amount of gold has been
raised in British Columbia ; because, California being nearer, and
more accessible, much of the gold finds its way thither, and figures
in statistical accounts rather as a produce of the United States
than of a British dependency. We find, however, the following
sums mentioned as the value of the bullion and specie exported
from British Columbia: .1,750,000 in 1864; .1,000,000 in 1865;
1,050,000 in 1866; and 700,000 in 1867. It is evident that we
have only got hold of part of the facts here; the item for 1867
can only be a percentage of the value of the gold actually raised
in that year.


Another portion of North America, Nova Scotia, entered the lists
as a humble competitor with California and British Columbia in
1 86 1. In the summer of that year, a man stooping to drink at a
brook discovered something glittering in the water, at a place called
Old Tangier : it proved to be gold. Soon afterwards, the precious
metal was found at New Tangier, at a distance of less than a mile
from the sea. Numerous other lucky spots were hit upon ; and
gold-washing and qtlartz- crushing became regular employments.
One of the gold-fields, Laidlaw Diggings, is within a dozen miles
of Halifax, the capital of the colony ; and it possesses gold in the
forms of small nuggets, specks and scales, and gold quartz. A
' Nova Scotia Gold Company ' was established, chiefly for obtaining
gold from quartz, by well-arranged machinery, but also for washing
auriferous sands. The colony has never yet presented such rich
deposits as the other two regions of North America just noticed.
But, on the other hand, there were less privations in store for the
first adventurous diggers. The country was settled, and a large
portion well cultivated ; the necessaries of life were plentiful and
cheap ; while communication with the busy port of Halifax was
short and easy a port, too, within ten or eleven days of England
by Cunard steamer. In this, as in other regions, careful observers

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 10 of 58)