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some Indian tribe or ancient possessors of the land had buried a
treasure. Examination, however, shewed the whole soil to teem
with the precious metal ; and then mounting a horse, he rode down
to carry the intelligence to his partner. To none but him did he
tell the story of his discovery, and they two agreed to maintain secret
the rich reward. Proceeding together to the spot, they picked up a
quantity of the scales ; and with nothing but a small knife, Captain
Sutter extracted from a little hollow in the rock a solid mass of gold
weighing an ounce and a half. But the attempt to conceal this
valuable revelation was not successful. An artful Kentuckian
labourer observing the eager looks of the two searchers, followed
and imitated them, picking up several flakes of gold. Gradually
the report spread, and as the would-be monopolists returned towards
the mill, a crowd met them holding out flakes of gold, and shouting
with joy. Mr Marshall sought to laugh them out of the idea, and
pretended the metal was of little value ; but an Indian who had long
worked elsewhere in a mine of the costly metal, cried : ' Oro ! oro ! '
and 'Gold ! gold !' was shouted in a lively chorus by the delighted
multitude. This is the account we have from Captain Sutter him-
self. In other narratives, the history of the discovery assumes many
different forms and colours. A squatter constructing a shanty found
gold in the stones employed to build it ; a traveller traversing a
stream fell into the water, and the precious dust glittered in the
mud adhering to his clothes ; a hunter in chase of the elk lay down
to sleep in a cavern shining on all sides with scales of gold these
and other accounts have been promulgated. The rumour was
spread abroad, and the people of San Francisco began to leave the
town and swarm to the ' diggings.' A large body of Mormon
emigrants had just entered California through the south pass of
the Rocky Mountains ; they immediately encamped near Sutler's
Mill, and within a few days more than 1200 men were at work,
with buckets, baskets, shovels, spades, and sheets of canvas, seeking
for gold in the sand of the south fork of the Rio des los Americanos.



Perhaps in no other country, at any period of its history, has so
sudden and wonderful a revolution taken place ^as that which
followed this discovery : as well over the Rocky Mountains as by sea,
ceaseless arrivals from all quarters of the globe swelled the popula-
tion (previously only 25,000 souls). The towns on the coast were
soon almost wholly deserted, and the few residents that remained
made ample fortunes by levying exorbitant sums for the entertain-
ment and supply of the travellers who came to the port. Vessels in
the harbour were deserted ; the harvest was at first unreaped ; and
the industry of the country suddenly stopped, as though struck by
a universal paralysis, while the flood of population contracted and
poured into the valley of the Sacramento. Along the borders of the
rivers, and in the rapines of the wild hilly country, camps were
formed, and tents, bowers, mud huts, and rudely erected sheds,
multiplied and covered the ground. Still, hundreds slept in the
open air, and these hundreds swelled to thousands as each mail
carried to the United States more glowing accounts of the gold.

A few instances of the incidental features of society after the
spread of the mania among the adventurers in search of wealth may
neither be out of place nor unentertaining.

In May 1848, the negro waiter at the San Francisco Hotel, before
the mania had reached its greatest height, refused to serve his
master at the rate of less than ten dollars, or about two pounds a
day. But the universal rage was so strong, that the ' mineral yellow
fever,' as it was termed, left San Francisco at first almost wholly
deserted ; and at the same season a large fleet of merchant-vessels
lay helpless and abandoned, some partially, others wholly deserted.
One ship from the Sandwich Islands was left with no one but its
captain on board ; from another the captain started with all his
crew, replying to an observation on his flagrant conduct, that the
cables and anchors would wear well till his return, and that as every
one was too busy to plunder, he ran no risk by deserting his duty.
The Star and Californian newspapers, published at San Francisco,
ceased appearing, as the whole staff, from the editor to the errand-
boy, had gone to dig for gold ; and among the most active workers
in the valley was the ' attorney-general to the king of the Sandwich
Islands.' The influence of this wonderful excitement extended all
over the world, but was felt most powerfully in the neighbouring
regions of Oregon and Mexico. There, during the early period of
the excitement, the public roads and especially the nearest way
over the hills were crowded with anxious travellers, each face bent
towards the ridges of hills dividing their adopted country from the
gold regions. Whole towns and villages were left peopled by
scarcely any other than women, while the men were devoutly on the
pilgrims' path to the shrine of mighty Mammon.

The population that was suddenly gathered together in the valley
of the Sacramento was among the most motley and heterogeneous



ever collected in any spot on the surface of the globe. Californian
Indians, with their gay costume in gaudy mimicry of the old nobility
of Castile ; rough American adventurers, lawyers, merchants,
farmers, artisans, professional men, and mechanics of all descrip-
tions, thronged into the scene. Among them were conspicuous a
few ancient Spanish dons in embroidered blue and crimson clothes,
that in their own country had been out of fashion for forty years.
A few gentlemen, and numbers of women, were among the delvers ;
while, after some months had elapsed, even China opened her gates
to let out some adventurous house-builders, who took junks at
Canton, sailed across ten thousand miles of sea, arrived at San
Francisco, and there betook themselves to their calling, and made
large fortunes by the construction of light portable buildings for the
use of the gold-finders in the hot and populous valley.

Within eighteen months, 100,000 men arrived in California from,
the United States, and settled temporarily in the valley ; though,
after a short period, the return steamers were as well laden with life
as the others. Nine thousand immense wagons came through the
pass of the Rocky Mountains, with an average of five persons to
each vehicle ; 4000 emigrants rode on horseback through the same
route ; and of the others, many crossed the Isthmus of Panama,
where the passengers were sometimes so impatient, that the govern-
ment packets were pressed into their service, and compelled to start
on their voyage before the arrival of the mails. Others made the
sea-voyage of 17,000 miles round Cape Horn. In a New York
paper, sixty sail of ships were advertised to sail for the gold region
in one day. The route by the emigrant trail was at first one of
the utmost weariness and peril. The road, rough and broken
as it was, was thronged with an almost perpetual stream of caravans ;
whole armies appeared to be marching to the gold regions ; and
ach of these, as it passed, opened an easier way to its successor
by levelling the mounds, throwing bridges across the water-chasms,
filling up ravines, and hewing shorter routes through the woods.
Yet numbers fell by the way, and died of hunger, or thirst, or sheer
fatigue, though many were relieved at the settlement of the Mormon
Saints, on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

Arrived at their destination, their first care was to provide them-
selves, if not already prepared, with implements pots, kettles, crow-
bars, colanders, baskets, and cradles. These and other instruments,
various and multiplied, constituted the wealth of the gold-seeker.
The towns on the coast were in a continual bustle ; every remnant
of their population was engaged in working at high rates of remune-
ration to supply the wants of new-comers. Captains were compelled
to handcuff their men, to prevent their yielding to the attraction of
the magnetic mineral lying in the valley. Labourers could only be
induced to remain with their employers for a week or two at ten
dollars a day ; carpenters and blacksmiths were paid with a daily



ounce of pure gold : laundresses received about thirty-five shillings
for every dozen of articles they washed ; cooks commanded thirty
guineas a month ; and houses recently bought for a barrel of ' strong
water/ sold for 20,000 dollars. One speculator spent 45,000 on
the erection of a three-story frame hotel, and immediately found a
tenant, who paid him 20 per cent, on the outlay, and let some of the
rooms, each at the rate of 400 dollars a month, for gambling purposes.
The whole place was a theatre of excitement, and in the delirium of
the mania, persons even far removed from the scene of enthusiasm-
committed acts of the utmost folly. They shipped whole cargoes of
fine calicoes and rich silks to a land where there was hardly a female
population at all ; they transported immense consignments of costly
furniture to towns where the habitations were mere mud hovels or
timber-frames ; they brought in one mass tobacco enough for several
years' consumption ; paper, which, as the Americans said, 'the
stupendous wastefulness and extravagance of all the Congresses
since the Union could not have consumed since the Declaration ;*
and a number of magnificent pianofortes, which sold for their value
as cupboards I

Yet the prices paid for merchandise and commodities really
wanted were extraordinary : blankets at eight guineas each, fresh
water at a shilling a bucket. Wines and liquors were consumed in
profusion, though to be procured only for extravagant sums. Gold-
dust, doubloons, and dollars were the only money accepted ; and a
traveller has declared that many of the miners flung away showers
of small coins, rather than be troubled with the possession of them !
But this feverish fit, like all other paroxysms, was temporary, though r
while it lasted, San Francisco was worthy to be the capital of a gold
region. In the cafes, you were charged, for a small slice of ham,,
two eggs, and a cup of coffee, twelve shillings ; and all other pro-
visions sold at equal rates. Powder was very costly, and yet intoxi-
cated men rushed through the streets discharging guns, pistols,
and revolvers, through mere recklessness ; while others, mounted on
horses hired at several guineas a day, galloped wildly without purpose
along the beach. The whole town was a Babel, and in its outskirts
the scene was no less confused, and still more picturesque. A vast
camp stretched around it, and along the shore, to a considerable
distance on either side. Tents of all sizes, shapes, and colours
crowded the mist-covered hills, and piles of merchandise obstructed
the passages between. Immense fires burned in all directions, and
uncouth groups were busy round them, engaged in the various pro-
cesses of cooking or preparing their clothes, arms, implements, or
equipage for the journey to the valley of the Sacramento. Such is a
sketch of the gateway of this region as it appeared under its new
aspect in 1848.

The early processes of gold-finding at California may now be
described. The gold flakes were found impregnating the sand or


shingle, either actually below water, or left dry by the absorption or
diversion of some current from the hills ; though in the gullies and
ravines large lumps were plentifully discovered in the crevices of
rocks, in cracks in the ground, or among the roots of trees. The
sand in the streams was usually worth, in the gross, from one to two
shillings a poundweight. The soil was composed largely of gravel,
full of small stones like jasper, fragments of slate, and chips of
basalt, evidently washed down from the mountains. At first, the
simplest method was employed to collect it Tubs, pails, and tin
pans were filled with mud and water, which was rapidly stirred,
allowed to settle for a moment, and then poured off, leaving the
heavy portion precipitated to the bottom. This was found a tedious
and incomplete process. Sieves of woven willow-twigs were next
tried, and for the same reason abandoned by all who could procure
more serviceable utensils. Some ingenious miner invented the
' rocker,' a wooden cradle raised more at one end than at the other,
and thus forming an incline. Across the bottom are nailed some
broad laths, and over the top is placed a grating or perforated plate
of tin. Some are small, and worked by one man, who first piles the
auriferous earth on the upper tray, and then with one hand rocks the
machine, while with the other he bales water into it with a tin pan.
Some of them, however, occupy four men, whose division of labour
is complete : one with a suitable spade shovels the earth into his
pans ; the next carries it to the cradle, and flings it heavily on the
close grating ; the third rocks the machine ; and the fourth continually
pours water upon the mass inside. A heavy sediment, rich in gold,
is left at the bottom, while all the light substances are washed away.
In the upper districts, the gold was principally found in the bed or
dry beds of mountain torrents, between rocky and precipitous
channels, in a yellowish-red soil. The finer dust was found in the
lower region, the rough lumps in the more elevated. Massive pieces
were discovered only in the upper country.

The scenes presented in the gold region by the busy multitude
toiling in it were thus described at that period : ' In one spot may
be seen a party of newly arrived emigrants, each armed with a
shovel, a tin pan, a sieve, or a colander, and all standing in the
water scooping up the sand into buckets, stirring the contents with
their bare arms, and watching the result with glistening eyes, as the
water is poured off, and the precious sediment revealed ; in another,
men are busy in collecting the gold-dust, after passing through the
first rough process of cleansing, in small, closely woven baskets of
Indian manufacture, which are arranged on the ground in the full
glare of the sun ; in another, a large party is labouring with the
immense rockers or gold-canoes, as the Indians term them
gravely, as though accustomed to their task ; in another, scattered
individuals are groping with knives, crowbars, and even common
sticks, in the dry ravines, expecting by this desultory labour to earn
5i 9


more by picking up small masses of pure ore than by industriously
toiling amid the sands ; in another, the miners are spreading their
shining stores to dry on pieces 'of canvas ; while everywhere multi-
tudes of men, in all varieties of costume, and collected from all
quarters of the world, maintain an incessant motion and hum, sug-
gesting the idea of some colony of gigantic ants engaged in collecting
the materials for their dwellings.'

Many adventurous dealers established stores or improvised shops
at the diggings in the following way : In front was placed a large
awning, with a barrel set upright at each corner. Four broad
planks formed convenient counters on each side, and on these were
displayed the articles for sale. The miners, clad in greasy deer-
skin pantaloons, and red hunting-shirts the common costume in
the diggings came to the store, and produced, from the folds of
a sash or handkerchief, leathern pouches full of gold scales, which
they shook into the balance to the amount demanded. Some of the
dust often fell on the board, and the storekeepers volunteered to
return it ; but unless it was a large quantity, the general answer
was: 'No; keep it: there's plenty more where that came from.'
One man came to them for a bottle of brandy, and bought it for
half an ounce of gold-powder, inviting the Americans to drink with
him. They declined ; he insisted, and they still refused ; when he
dashed the bottle to shivers against a tree, and went on with other

The gains amassed by the miners were regulated partly by the
shrewdness of the individual in the choice of his locality, and partly
by accident. Some collected gold at the rate of half an ounce,
others of an ounce, a day ; while there were instances of a thousand
dollars per man per day. Some of the miners were accustomed to-
toil incessantly for a long period, and then, assembling near some
well-provided store, to spend most of their gains in one extravagant
fit of luxury, when they returned to their labour, to renew the feast
as soon as new treasure had been accumulated. They spread an.
awning overhead, supplied themselves with brandy, champagne, and
choice provisions, ate and drank to repletion ; and when satiated
with the costly indulgence, rushed out among the tents with
brandished knives or rifles, shooting at any mark they fancied.
But worse than mere reckless squandering occurred. Many of
the men were desperadoes, and their success was distributed
unequally. Here at once was a source of disorganisation. The
unfortunate envied the prosperous, and these suspected all others.
Partnerships were formed in sanguine hope, and broken off in bitter

To what extent the gold-workings of California have been carried
on in subsequent years, we shall notice in a later page. At present,
we dwell only on the extraordinary scenes of excitement which the
first year or two of the discovery presented. And now it will be


interesting to trace the production of scenes very similar in character,
in a wholly distinct part of the world.


Every one knows that Australia is a great squarish-shaped
island, or rather continent, in the southern hemisphere, about 2000
miles across from north to south, and 2500 from east to west, with
the tropic of Capricorn running through the middle of it, so that its
northern coasts reach within 1 1 degrees of the equator. Along its
eastern side there runs a band of mountainous country, from Cape
York on the north, to Wilson's Promontory on the south. These
mountains rise 6500 feet in a part called the Australian Alps, or
Snowy Mountains, in about south latitude 36, and this is the
loftiest point at present known in the country. There are numerous
summits rising 4000 feet all along the course of the chain as far
north as Cape Melville, near south latitude 14, beyond which it
gradually declines in height and importance. In the colony of
Victoria are several short ranges of mountains, fifty miles long or
so, running north and south, and rising 3000 or 4000 feet above the
sea. The great eastern chain is very largely composed of granite,
which forms some of its most lofty and massive mountain groups,
and often appears in the beds of its ravines beneath the other rocks.
On the granite rest great but irregular masses of gneiss, mica-slate,
chlorite-slate, clay-slate, and other metamorphic rocks. These are
frequently traversed by granitic dikes and veins, as also by large
intrusive masses of granite, syenite, porphyry, greenstone, and other
similar igneous rocks. Upon this metamorphic set of rocks rest
here and there large and regularly stratified sheets of unaltered rocks,
principally sandstone, with interstratified beds of shale, and some
beds of limestone. These rocks are full of fossils, resembling those
found in the Devonian and Silurian rocks of Western Europe ; and
among the mineral treasures contained in them, gold is now known
to be one.

The discovery of gold in Australia, like that of California, was
reserved for an individual who proceeded upon no scientific view
of the subject. Mr Edward Hargreaves, having had a farm on the
flanks of the Conobolas, some thirty miles west of Bathurst, in New
South Wales, went to California in search of gold. While there, he
was struck with the similarity between the rocks and earthy matters
of California and those of his own district. He returned, accordingly,
to Australia, ' prospected ' in his own neighbourhood, and after one
or two months' search (April 1851), found some gold. Being assured
of the valuable nature of his discovery, Mr Hargreaves applied to
the colonial government for reward ; and on his report being veri-
fied by Mr Stutchbury, the colonial geologist, Mr Hargreaves was
rewarded by a bonus of 500, and an appointment as ' Commissioner
of Crown Lands for the Exploration of Gold Districts.'


The excitement of course became intense throughout the colony
of New South Wales, and spread rapidly into that of Victoria.
People, many of them ill provided and ill suited for the work, rushed
to the gold-diggings ; wages rose to great rates ; and the prices of
provisions to extravagant heights. It was soon found, however, that
gold-digging was hard and weary work, and that, carried on without
proper preparation of tools and division of labour, without shelter
and with scanty food, it was too much either for the health, the
strength, or the resolution of most people to endure. A consider-
able reaction took place accordingly, and wages and food sank
again nearly to their original prices in New South Wales. A slight
accession of the gold-fever occurred, in consequence of the discovery
of a hundredweight of gold, or ,4000 worth in one block, on the
Murroo Creek, fifty miles north of Bathurst. This finding of a
hundredweight of gold is so singular a circumstance in the world's
history, that a particular account of it may be acceptable. ' In the
first week of July [1851], an educated aboriginal, formerly attached
to the Wellington Mission, and who had been in the service of
W. J. Kerr, Esq., of Wallawa, about seven years, returned home
to his employer with the intelligence, that he had discovered
a large mass of gold amongst a heap of quartz upon the run
whilst tending his sheep. He had amused himself by exploring
the country adjacent to his employer's land, and his attention
was first called to the lucky spot by observing a speck of some
glittering yellow substance upon the surface of a block of the quartz,
upon which he broke off a portion. At that moment, the splendid
prize stood revealed to his sight. His first care was to start off
home and disclose his discovery to his master, to whom he presented
whatever gold might be procured from it. As may be supposed,
little time was lost by the worthy doctor. Quick as horseflesh would
carry him, he was on the ground ; and in a very short period the
three blocks of quartz, containing the hundredweight of gold, were
released from the bed where, charged with unknown wealth, they
had rested perhaps for thousands of years, awaiting the hand of
civilised man to disturb them. The largest of the blocks was about
a foot in diameter, and weighed 75 pounds gross. Out of this piece,
60 pounds of pure gold were taken. Before separation, it was
beautifully incased in quartz. The other two were something
smaller. The auriferous mass weighed, as nearly as could be
guessed, from two to three hundredweight. The heaviest of the two
large pieces presented an appearance not unlike a honeycomb or
sponge, and consisted of particles of a crystalline form, as did nearly
the whole of the gold. The second larger piece was smoother, and
the particles more condensed, and seemed as if it had been acted
upon by water. The remainder was broken into lumps of from two
to three pounds and downwards, and was remarkably free from
quartz or earthy matter.'


On the first reports of the discovery of gold near Bathurst reaching-
Victoria, many people started, and more were preparing to start
from Port Phillip and the neighbourhood to Bathurst and the Turon.
This would be a journey of between 400 and 500 miles, through a
difficult and thinly peopled country, and would require ten days, even
under the most favourable circumstances. The mass of the people
attempting it would probably require a month. It began soon to
be whispered, however, that this arduous journey might be spared,
and that gold existed within two days' walk or ride of Melbourne.
After many flying rumours and reports during the (southern) winter
months of 1851 namely, June to September certain information
came to Mr Latrobe, the governor of Victoria, which induced him
to make a journey to examine for himself.

In a report to Earl Grey, fated October 10, 1851, Governor
Latrobe described what met his view on a visit to Ballarat : ' Gold
has been detected, I believe, in all the superior formations, even in
the superficial soil. But by far the richest deposit is found in the

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 9 of 58)