Sept/Oct 2012

The rush for gold: part 2

The gold rushes of Australia and New Zealand

By Fathi Habashi


The Australian gold rushes began a few years after the California Gold Rush. In 1851, prospector Edward Hammond Hargraves discovered gold near Bathurst, New South Wales. This initial discovery set the trend for what was to come: gold was found in Victoria at Ballarat just six months after, followed by a discovery at Bendigo Creek. Gold was then discovered in all the other Australian colonies.

Hargraves was born in Gosport, Hampshire, England. He went to sea at 14 and arrived in Sydney in 1832. He worked on a property at Bathurst and, in 1834, took up 100 acres near Wollongong. In 1839, he and his wife moved to East Gosford where he became an agent for a navigation company. A decade later, they sailed for California during the California Gold Rush but his prospecting in California was not successful. The geological similarities of the California goldfields to the Macquarie Valley in New South Wales inspired him to return to NSW to prospect. On February 12, 1851, Hargraves claimed to have found gold near Bathurst, at Ophir Valley, and the Ophir Township was later established there. In 1853–54, Hargraves visited England and was received by Queen Victoria. He published Australia and its Gold Fields in 1855.

Gold was originally discovered in Australia in 1841, but local authorities did not want to let the largely convict population know for fear of creating chaos in the area and suppressed the news. For a while, Ballarat was the richest place on earth in terms of gold output. Gold was responsible for Melbourne’s growth to one of the great cities of the British Empire.

New Zealand


Gabriel Read, an Australian who prospected for gold in both California and Victoria, Australia, discovered gold in New Zealand on May 20, 1861. The deposit was in a creek bed at Gabriel’s Gully, close to the banks of the Tuapeka river. By Christmas of that year, 14,000 prospectors were on the Tuapeka and Waipori fields. A second major discovery took place in 1862, close to the modern town of Cromwell. By the end of 1863, the rush was over, but companies continued to mine the alluvial gold. The number of miners reached its maximum – 18,000 – in February 1864.

The city of Dunedin reaped many of the benefits, briefly becoming New Zealand’s largest town, even though it had only been founded in 1848. Many of the city’s stately buildings date from this period of prosperity. New Zealand’s first university, the University of Otago, was founded in 1869 with wealth from the goldfields. However, the rapid decline in gold production from the mid-1860s on led to a drop in the region’s population.

Gold was discovered in the Wakamarina river in Marlborough in 1862, and 6,000 miners flocked to the district. Although they found alluvial gold, there were no large deposits.

Gold was also ­­discovered at Oka­rito, Bruce Bay, around Charleston and along the Grey ­river in 1865. The west coast of South Island became the second-richest gold-bearing area of New Zealand after Otago, attracting miners from Victoria, Australia, where the gold rush was nearing its end. In 1867, more gold was discovered on the west coast but it was in quartz veins, so few miners had the capital to extract it. Some miners stayed on as workers for large mining companies that could fund the cost of processing gold found in quartz veins.

After the main gold rush, miners began laboriously reworking the goldfields. In 1871, there were about 5,000 European miners remaining in the region. They were joined by thousands of Chinese miners whom the province invited to help rework the area. Attention turned to the gravel beds of the Clutha river, and miners worked it with a steam-powered dredge. In 1881, the Dunedin became the world’s first commercially successful gold dredge. The Dunedin continued operation until 1901.

Suggested Reading

F. Habashi, Gold. History, Metallurgy, Culture, Métallurgie Extractive Québec, Québec City 2009, 277 pages. Distributed by Laval University Bookstore “Zone”.

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