William Chambers.

Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

. (page 11 of 58)
Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 11 of 58)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

have noted how different a thing it is to pick up nuggets of pure
gold, and to extract laboriously a small percentage of the precious
metal from the quartz. Captain Hardy, who sent an account of the
Nova Scotia diggings to one of the English newspapers, after
noticing a few instances of the more fortunate kind, said : ' But let
it be stated for the information of individuals who may contemplate
seeking their fortunes in these nearest of the yet-discovered American
gold regions, that they are not in the least likely to repay the man
who may embark without capital, expecting to hew out his golden
treasure in large nuggets, and with little labour, from the narrow
quartz veins which intersperse the clay-slate of the gold district.
Without doubt, quartz-mining will repay companies organised to
prosecute mining on an extensive scale, with capital, and with the
requisite machinery for crushing the quartz ; but I can aver that in
the numerous instances of solitary gold-seekers working their narrow
claims of some thirty feet square, which are purchased of the pro-
vincial government for 4, and on a year's lease, they have not
been repaid for leaving their rightful trades and avocations.' Between
1861 and 1868, Nova Scotia produced 160,000 oz. of gold, value

Australia we have already noticed, in connection with the feverish
excitement which arose out of the discovery of gold in 185 1. There,
as in California, the population settled down by degrees into some-
thing like regular order. Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, bene-
fited much more largely than Sydney, the chief city in New South
Wales partly because the produce in the first-named colony was


larger than in the second, partly because Melbourne had certain
commercial advantages. Victoria had the renown of bringing to
light the largest mass of nearly-pure gold the world has ever seen
so far as records afford the means of judging. It was discovered at
the Ballarat diggings in 1858, and at once received the name of
the 'Welcome Nugget/ The weight was 2166 oz., and the value
.8376. This value shews, by its near approach to 4 per oz.,
that the purity must have been about equal to that of sterling
or standard gold (3, 173. gd. per oz.). New South Wales pro-
duced gold to the total weight of 3,281,000 oz., value 11,683.857,
in the first ten years of her operations (1851-60). Victoria exceeded
this quantity nine-fold : her produce in the same ten years reach-
ing the enormous quantity (in round numbers) of 26,000,000 oz.,
value 104,000,000. We can well understand the pride and pleasure
with which that colony sent the ' Gold Trophy' to the International
Exhibition in 1862. It was an obelisk, 45 feet high, by 10 feet
square at the base, representing in cubic content the bulk of all the
gold raised in the colony in eleven years 1851 to 1861 inclusive.
Down to the end of 1867, the sum-total was reckoned at 136,000,000
besides the gold of New South Wales. Taking the two colonies
in six years, the relative degrees of activity which they have presented,
in the export of gold in the various forms of coin, bars, and dust,
are :

Victoria. New South Wales.

1862 9,300,000 3,000,000

1863 g,300,000 2,400,000

1864 8,800,000 3,000,000

1865 8,500,000 2,800,000

1866 8,400,000 3,300,000

1867 7,800,000 2,600,000

But these figures do not accurately denote the quantities of new
gold raised year by year, seeing that the mints at Sydney and
Melbourne coin for other colonies besides their own, and include
large portions of such coinages among their exports. A recent
Report states that there were 63,181 gold-miners at work in Victoria
in 1868, earning an average of 105 per man in the year. The race
between California and Victoria has been close : the one, 147,000,000
in nineteen years ; the other, 136,000,000 in seventeen years. It
will serve to illustrate the great difference between finding pure gold
in the forms of nuggets and grains in sand and mud, and extracting
it by mechanical processes from quartz, to state that, out of 350,405
tons of quartz crushed in Victoria in one year, the ratio of gold only
averaged 17 dwts. 2 grains per ton not much more than i part
of gold in 40,000 parts of quartz.

New Zealand, another among the gold-fields of the southern
hemisphere, is late in date and small in richness compared with


those just named ; yet it has been the means of giving to the Middle
Island (as it is called) a great preponderance in wealth over the
Northern Island irrespective of the troubles pressing on the latter
consequent on the warlike proclivities of the Maories. The first
discovery was made in the province of Otago, in June 1861. The
discoverer, Mr Gabriel Read, descried the precious metal at a spot
since called Gabriel's Gully, on a small river about forty miles from
Otago, the chief town in the province. He notified the fact to the
provincial council, by whom he was rewarded with the very modest
sum of 500. Within two months from the day of the discovery,
3000 persons were at work on the banks of the Tuapeka, getting
gold to the extent of 6000 oz. per week. About a year afterwards,
the place and the scene were described in the following words : ' The
immediate effect of the discovery of gold was to attract immigrants
from Australia and from the neighbouring New Zealand provinces.
Since then, the population of Otago has doubled, being now esti-
mated at 25,000. Gold to the value of more than a million sterling
has been exported from Dunedin, and that small body of settlers
have suddenly found themselves raised to circumstances of afflu-
ence.' That these discoveries must have been very advantageous to
the province of Otago, and indirectly to the whole of the colony, is
made manifest by the following figures, relating to the quantity of
gold shipped from New Zealand down to the end of 1867 : 194,234.
oz. in iSoi ; 410,862 oz. in 1862 ; 628,646 oz. in 1863 ; 480,187 oz. in
1864; 574,574 oz. in 1865 ; 735,376 oz. in 1866; and 686,753 oz. in
1867 gold to the value of 14,508,749 in seven years. Recently,,,
valuable gold-discoveries have been made in the North Island also.

Lastly (for it is hardly necessary to speak of isolated deposits
dotted about in various parts of the world), we may say a few words
concerning the four sections of the United Kingdom. The dis-
coveries made by antiquaries shew that gold was well known both
in Britain and in Ireland many centuries ago, in the form of orna-
ments ; and it is probable that some at least of this gold was found
in Scotland.

In more than half the counties of England, gold has been dis-
covered in small quantities ; and there is evidence that, not only in
medieval times, but as far back as the Roman occupation, the
deposits were worked in a rude sort of way. About the year 1853,
much excitement sprang up in Devon and Cornwall, due to the
introduction of an ore-crushing machine of great efficiency. It has
been long known that gossan and mundic, two mineral substances
found in tin and copper mines, contain a little gold ; but the expense
of extracting the precious metal was more than the value of the
extract. Professor Ansted stated, as the result of experiments, that
if ore contains so little as half an ounce of gold to the ton, Berdan's
ore-crushing machine would separate it at a profit. The question
thence arose, What is the percentage of gold in the various mineral


substances found in copper and tin mines ? The entire quieting
down of gold-mining speculation in our counties supplies the
answer ; the percentage is too small to attract much notice from
commercial men.

There is more chance in Wales than in England ; the surface is
more mountainous, and the mountains contain a good deal of
metallic wealth. Almost all the twelve Welsh counties have yielded
gold, in the copper, lead, and tin mines. In 1861 and 1862, much
attention was bestowed on the Vigra gold mines, as they were called,
about midway between Dolgelly and Barmouth. The gold was found
in small veins in slaty beds, interlaid between coarse, greenish-gray
gritstones. A water-wheel was erected on the spot, sixty feet in
diameter, employed in working a powerful Cornish crushing-
machine. The machine was capable of crushing forty tons of ore
daily. In 1860, the whole Welsh produce was set down at 740 oz.
Some of the ore yielded only from 3 to 19 dwts. per ton ; but the
produce of the Dolgelly district was found in 1862 to yield 353 oz.
per ton. The works are still being parried on at a fair profit ; but
the really rich spots are few in number, and do not attract any large
amount of capital or enterprise.

Ireland had a noticeable gold-fever in the last century. In 1/96,
a little nugget of gold, weighing somewhat under half an ounce, was
found among the Wicklow Mountains. The news spread like wild-
fire. Male and female, young and old, rushed to Croghan Kinshela;
and gold to the value of .10,000 was found before the government
took any steps in the matter. Probably the storms of ages had
washed out numerous small bits of gold from the crevices of the
rocks ; but when this surface-store was exhausted, and arrangements
made for a deeper and more scientific exploration, it was found that
the expenses overbalanced the returns. And so died away the credit
of the ' Wicklow gold mines.'

Scotland has also had its periods of excitement arising from dis-
coveries of the precious metal; and as the recent Sutherland adven-
tures illustrate very well the forms which this excitement assumes,
a brief notice of the doings at Helmsdale will be welcome. Mr
Gilchrist, a native of Sutherland, while engaged at gold-digging in
Australia, was struck with a similarity in appearance between some
of the creeks in the colony and those in Kildonan strath ; and on his
return home, he resolved to search for gold at the last-named place.
The most northern railway station in Great Britain is (1869) at
Golspie, near Dunrobin Castle; 17 miles beyond this is the town
(or village) of Helmsdale ; and 10 miles west of Helmsdale he found
gold in the strath. The precious metal, in very small quantity, was
obtained from the mud or alluvial deposit of a burn which flowed
down from the hills. No sooner was this discovery noised abroad,
than adventurers flocked in from the neighbouring districts. There
being no town or village near the spot, the men took with them


blankets and poles to form tents, and a few implements and cooking*
vessels of the simplest kind. During the winter of 1868-9, great
hardships were endured ; some of the men sleeping under canvas in
piercing cold, some trudging to and from Helmsdale every day.
The operations were of a very simple kind, involving no boring or
blasting. The diggers, with pickaxes and crowbars, broke up the
alluvial deposits which had been washed by the stream into the
crevices of the rocks. Basins, frying-pans, &c. were filled with this
earth, and washed in the stream until everything was washed away
but small spangles of gold. These spangles were- so few as greatly
to dishearten most of the diggers. When washing apparatus of a.
little better kind was used, the produce was somewhat increased.
In the month of August 1869, about 300 persons were employed at
Kildonan in gold-digging ; and as bakers, butchers, and store-
dealers had followed in their wake, the semblance of a small colony
was making itself apparent. Indeed, two clusters of this singularly
located community invented Gaelic names for their settlements,
equivalent to ' Gold City' and 'Tent Town.' Not so much for the
sake of profit, as to avoid occasions for dispute, the Duke of Suther-
land granted licenses to the diggers, each for a certain area of
ground. Many experienced miners from Australia have expressed
a belief that the alluvial gold met with in Kildonan strath will be
small in quantity (the largest nugget recorded weighed only 2
oz. 20 grains) ; and that, if the precious metal exists in quartz
rock near at hand, it must be worked by better combinations of
labour and machinery than have hitherto reached that spot. The
Sutherland diggings have suggested the probability of gold deposits
being met with in many other parts of Scotland, especially in
the districts of Breadalbane, Braemar, Galloway, Lammermuir,
Tweedmuir, and the hilly parts of Argyle, Ross, and Inverness.
The Caledonian, the Deeside, and the Highland Railways give easy
access to many of these spots.


The foregoing pages convey some information concerning the pro-
cesses by which the precious metal is obtained from the soil. But it
may be desirable to give fuller particulars. The best way, perhaps,,
will be to suppose a party of men going out to a new gold-district,
or to new diggings in a district already partially occupied to begin
at the beginning, and thus trace the manner in which the operations
develop themselves.

It has been found by experience that a gold-digging party
should consist of not fewer than four people. To pursue the occu-
pation to the best advantage of health and comfort, and therefore
permanent profit, they should be provided with a small tent, with a
stock of blankets, and a sufficiency of coarse clothing to afford a



change from wet to dry, with a cradle, and a stock of pickaxes,
crowbars, and shovels. A wheel-barrow, a sieve or two, and one or
two flat tin dishes, like milk-pans, are also necessary. For food, a
stock of flour, of tea and sugar, and perhaps of salt pork, is neces-
sary. A strong, light one-horse dray or cart is about the best
conveyance on which to pack and carry these articles, the party
proceeding for the most part on foot. If they are going to explore
new ground, they should have some previous knowledge or experience
to guide them in the search, it being absolutely necessary that they
should know what kind of rock, or what kind of ground, will not
produce gold, in order that they may avoid wasting their time on it.
We will suppose them to have reached a probably auriferous region,
through which it is possible somehow to get their dray. They arrive
-at the bed of a water-course or river, and they succeed in finding a
water-hole. The dray is stopped in the most convenient spot, and
set up for the night without unpacking. The horse is taken out and
watered, and then tethered in the best spot of grass that can be
found ; meanwhile a fire is lighted, and the kettle set on to boil.
Jf the ' damper ' has been all exhausted at the last meal, one of the
party proceeds to make another after the following fashion : He
selects some smooth flat stone, or slab of rock, on which he lights a
fire, and accumulates a mass of glowing embers. He then takes
one of the tin dishes, half fills it with flour, which he mixes with
water into a stiff paste ; and when the slab of stone is sufficiently
heated, he brushes aside the embers, spreads the paste upon it, and
then piles the embers over it again, till it is baked into a roundish
flat cake, about a foot in diameter, and an inch in thickness. But
whether a damper or a loaf, a rasher or a steak, tea or coffee, beer
or spirits, our party take their meal according to the exigencies of
the situation. The horse is re-watered and re-tethered in a fresh
locality, if necessary, and then wrapping himself in a blanket, each
man lies and sleeps where he finished his supper. If it were in a
very remote district, it would be wise if each one kept watch in
turn through the night, with a gun loaded in his hand, to guard
against possible mischief.

At earliest dawn, or before it, all hands would be astir, and while
one prepared the breakfast, and another attended to the horse, the
two others would probably be searching the bed of the river, or
prospecting for gold. Digging down at some sandy spot, spadeful
after spadeful of the earth would be carried in the tin pan to the
water, half immersed, and then gently agitated, and shaken round
and round till any particle of gold would have time to sink to the
bottom of the mass. The coarse stuff is frequently skimmed off and
thrown away, care being taken, of coarse, to throw away no visible
pebble or nugget of gold; and the washing and sifting continued
until nothing but a little sand, perhaps, is left, and this is carefully
examined to see if it contain gold. When gold occurs, and probably


also when it does not, there is often found a heavy metallic sand,
said to be titaniferous iron ore (called in Australia ' emery ' ), and
possibly other minerals in a fine state of comminution. Should
this trial be unsuccessful, our party pack up their traps, and continue
their journey, choosing the easiest and openest route for their cart,
which one or two of them accompany, while the others explore the
river at other places, or search in the beds of its lateral creeks.
Eventually, perhaps, they stumble on some rich diggings, when of
course they set up their tent, unpack their cradle and tools, and set
to work in real earnest. One of their number will then perhaps
have to start to the nearest town or station for a fresh supply of
provisions, and thus the news of their success becoming known,
other persons follow them, and a great camp, or perhaps the elements
of a town, is formed.

If, in place of exploring for themselves, our party go at once to
a well-known locality already partially occupied, they will of course
have to select a spot still untouched, or to purchase a partially
explored one. In either case, they will have a certain plot of ground
marked out for them, and each will have to take out a license to dig.
Having procured their licenses, settled their claims, set up their tent,
and made arrangement for the supply of food, the party set to work.
If they have any depth of soil or earth to clear away, it will be
necessary that two should work at the actual diggings, one should
wheel the earth to the cradle, which the fourth should rock and
keep supplied with water. The ordinary cradle very much resembles
in form the domestic article from which it takes its name. It is,
however, open at the foot ; while at the head, instead of a hood, it
has a sieve fixed like a gravel-sifter's ; and across the bottom, inside,
there are one or two cleats or wooden bars nailed.

On bringing the earth to the cradle, a shovelful of it is thrown
upon the sieve, and a ladleful of water poured over it. More earth
and more water are added alternately, the cradle all the while being
kept in motion by rocking, until the sieve is full of the larger pebbles
or fragments of rock. When that is the case, the sieve is carefully
examined, to see whether it contains any large nuggets of gold, and
the fragments are then thrown away. The water thrown into the
head of the cradle carries away all the mud and sand out at the
foot ; but as its current is arrested by the cleats or bars across
the bottom, it deposits against them most of the golden dust and
scales that it contained. This common cradle is, however, a
rather wasteful contrivance, as a large quantity of the very finest
and thinnest gold-dust is apt still to be carried away with
the mud and sand out of the cradle, and lost. The Californian
cradle, is, therefore, adopted' whenever it can be obtained. This
contains a compartment full of quicksilver, through which all the
mud and sand is made to pass. Now, quicksilver has such a love
for gold, and the affection is so mutual, that whenever they come in


contact, they immediately unite and form an ' amalgam,' a compound
of gold and quicksilver, which it requires a very powerful heat to
dissolve. The quicksilver thus licks every particle of gold out of
the earth ; and when the amalgam is put into a proper apparatus,
and the requisite heat applied, it is sublimed into fumes, lets go the
gold, which falls down pure, while the fumes may be caught in a
separate chamber, and recooled back into quicksilver again.

Whichever cradle they may use, our adventurers must now live a
life of great toil, of some hardship and privation, and of great
monotony. The rising sun must find them at their work, and when
setting, look with an approving eye as they are preparing only to
finish their labours. As the sun himself is, in those latitudes, a very
regular and steady-going character, rarely varying more than half
an hour from six o'clock in his rising and setting, this will give
twelve regular hours of labour throughout the year. To unwonted
hands and sinews, twelve hours at pickaxe and spade, even if varied
by a turn at the wheel-barrow, or at the water-scoop and cradle, are
quite sufficient to make sunset no unwelcome sight. Then comes
the hour of tea and damper, of lying at the tent-door in the cool air,
made fragrant by the evening pipe, with the dews falling around
from the clear Australian sky, in which the stars glisten and sparkle
like living gems the hour of silence, broken only, perhaps, by the
distant howl of a wild-dog, or the plaintive cry of the thick-knee'd
plover, or perhaps by the confounded hum of half-a-dozen mosquitoes,
that come buzzing around you, looking for a soft place in which to
insinuate their long, stinging proboscides, and make you start from
your reveries, inclined to devote all the race of gnats as an offering
to the infernal deities. Still, wearied with the day's toil, our party
sleep, in spite of mosquitoes and all other discomforts soothed,
perhaps, by the remembrance of the ever-expanding little bag of
gold-dust, the reward of their labours. Even at their daily digging,
the constant chance of a rich prize, that may turn up at any moment,
tends to keep men to their work as no other inducement would, and
perpetuate an excitement which makes labour pass unnoticed, that,
under other circumstances, would be felt as irksome and distressing
beyond endurance.

With regard to the actual diggers at the two great scenes of
industry, it may be remarked that, unlike California, the order and
regularity among the gold-diggers of Australia, and especially of New
South Wales, has been something wonderful. A writer, speaking
of the period soon after the discovery, said : ' Sunday has been kept
sacred from toil, as it were by common consent, and in many places
service has been performed with great regularity. Disputes have
been referred to the commissioners, and their decision at once
accepted ; and little robbery or violence has as yet taken place.
With the consciousness of this peace and order reigning among
so rough and miscellaneous an assemblage, it must be an interesting


sight to look down from some wooded eminence on one of these
auriferous valleys, to see the lines and clusters of tents of all kinds,
from the canvas marquee to the little bark " gunyah," gleaming in
the sunshine, or peeping out here and there among the bush ; and
to look on several thousand men, in red or blue woollen shirts, with
cabbage-tree hats, and "bearded like the pard," all busily and
eagerly intent on their work ; some digging, some wheeling and
carrying, some washing and rocking, each acting independently,
and yet all working together, with a willingness, intentness, and
pertinacity, that nothing but the expectation of immediate gain could
rouse in so many men at once. Notwithstanding the business and
the work, or perhaps in consequence of it, silence is said to reign
over the scene, undisturbed except by the hum of the rocker or
the wheel-barrow, or the taps of the picks.'

But we must now say something concerning the quartz diggings.
The underground working for gold does not differ materially in
character from that of metallic minerals generally. In some
districts a band of rock contains veins of quartz in which gold is
disseminated ; and the mining processes depend in detail on the
direction which the veins take access being obtained by vertical
shafts and lateral galleries. The auriferous vein may be quartzose,
or talc-slate, or pyritical, or any one of many different kinds, and
the mining processes vary somewhat according to this circumstance ;
but in Australia and California the predominant gold-vein is quartz.
In one place the vein averages about three feet in width, and stands
vertically between walls of talcose slate ; in others, talcose or
quartzose, the vein is horizontal, inclined, or even tortuous. A
vein sometimes thins away to nothing ; and one vein may contain
a hundred-fold as much gold as another. The actual facts cannot
be ascertained without excavating. A shaft. may be twenty or thirty

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 11 of 58)