1858
1856

1857

Perhaps the most significant legacy for 1857 in NSW gold mining lore was the introduction of new goldfields legislation that adopted the Victorian system of issuing Miners Rights rather than licences.

This system which was introduced into Victoria in 1855 in the wake of Eureka rebellion did – as the very name articulates – identify certain rights on which the miners could rely. This included the right to select a quarter acre of Crown land on the goldfields for a residence.

The introduction of the NSW legislation – AN ACT TO AMEND THE LAWS RELATING TO THE GOLD FIELDS – was the result of much considered parliamentary debate and investigation that drew heavily on the Victorian model.

Left: “Victorian Gold license 1853 and Victorian Miners Right 1856.
Reproduced courtesy Museum of Victoria Reg no:SH 931195 (top) and NU 44735 (bottom)

The new legislation at first glance would have seemed to appeal to the local mining community.

In effect it largely translated all the hard won gains the miners had achieved from the Victorian fields into the NSW context.

It did come however with a clause that allowed the government to charge royalties in relation to a miner's claim. This in turn allowed them to effectively levy an income tax on miner's at the time they went to sell their gold. This was not popular and as a result many miners hung onto their gold reserves, selling only such as was essential for their immediate needs.

15th February 1857

Another significant feature of the new legislation was the way it provided for 100 miners in a region they believe constituted a gold region to petiton the government to have it declared as such and then to set up a gold district complete with a local court consisting of a Chairman and nine elected miner representatives.

In effect this important reform imported from the Victorian fields was the foundation of local government in NSW.

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20th January 1857

An interesting element of the new legislation is the way in which it is almost solely focussed on the role of the individual miner and small syndicates.

Attempts to involve companies in the gold fields development at this early stage had largely failed as reflected in the fact that the major stakeholder on the NSW field at this time – the Colonial Gold Company – wound up its operations just before the new legislation was introduced.

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14th January 1857

It was to be another five years before company reforms in the early 1860s introduced limited liability provisions that reduced the risk to investors of investing in gold mining thus paving the way for significant capital investments on the diggings.

In the meantime, capitalists were largely left to ponder the overall significance of just what the major expansion in the world’s gold reserves would mean for the international banking system.

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So just how much gold had NSW contributed to the world economy by this time?

While a definitive figure is impossible to know owing to the fact that much gold never passed through official channels as could be recorded, an invaluable record of the gold receipts and the fields they came from over five years was published in early 1857.

3rd February 1857

So far so good then – all up an offical record of nearly 750,000 oz of gold at an average price of £3 / oz puts the then value of NSW gold at £2.25m or a present value of $1.1b. Small wonder then that the Government though that putting a tax on gold production seemed like a good idea!

And just to keep the enthusiasm of the workers up with the promise of rich returns yet another new field was announced in February – this time just up the road from Tambaroora.

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16th March 1857

So it happens that a name that was 15 years later to become synonymous with a golden treasure chest – Hawkins Hill – first appears in NSW’s gold story.

For the moment the alluvial flats around the hill (which later housed the township of Hill End) were the focus of attention. It was however to be the subsequent reef mining that followed the alluvial harvest which would forever engrave the hill’s name in the annals of gold mining.

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30th March 1857

In heady times such as these however, no single new field ever held its place in the sun for long. Alongside the breaking news from Hawkins / Bald Hill there was also excited reports coming in from Mudgee about the new Merrendi field, on the lower part of the Meroo, near its junction with the Mudgee River.

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28th April 1857

Merrendi though for all that was not without its problems and within a month there were clarifying accounts coming through about the difficulties being encountered by miners on the field.

These same reports also spoke of revival underway at the old workhorse fields like Sofala before going on to discuss both mining technology and the details and impacts of the new gold tax.

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30th June 1857

Breaking news just in from Adelong! Here in this well established gold mining region there has been a discovery of reef gold so rich that the population of Tumut is in a state of wild excitement about it.

Miners are scrabbling to take out leases over any such part of the reef as they can manage to grab, with the commissioner only handing out claims in 10 foot parcels!

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and then came the grand tour ... over the winter months a correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald went on a grand tour of almost all of NSW's main gold sites (excepting the distant south west sites around Tumut).

This places it as a special event in the goldfields archives. While one off accounts of trips to the goldfields abound, a connected narrative linking them all together in a single trip makes for compelling reading.

Here we pick our journeyman up as he leaves the northern fields and crosses over the Great Divide to Mudgee before continuing southwards to finish at Goulburn

1st July 1857

And what a time it was to hit Mudgee and environs – with the rush to the new Merrindi fields still going with a full head of steam and the issue of getting a gold escort established for the safe transport of the region’s gold on the top of everyone’s agenda.

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3rd July 1857

The road to Burrendong was to prove an eventful one for our intrepid traveller. What all assured him would be a straightforward road to travel (just keep taking the right hand track they said!) proved to be a rough trip indeed.

Once at Burrendong he found a locale well past its prime when a year previously over 600 men worked the field. Still – with 100 souls labouring in the nugget rich soils of “The Potato Field” there was still much to report.

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3rd July 1851

The journey to Muckrawa was one of entering a scene of total carnage as the landscape heaved with the remnants of 1500 men at work on one of the richest gold fields imaginable.

” An enormous quantity of gold has been taken out of the Muckrawa ground, and I was told of finds that made me open my eyes with astonishment, such as parties washing out 50 ounces, 60 ounces, and even 70 ounces a day for a month together.”

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9th July 1857

Still well ensconced in his rambling journey across the tablelands country south of Mudgee, our correspondent then loops back to Avisford, all the while closing in on the iconic gold country to the south around the Turon and Macquarie Rivers.

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15th July 1857

If there was an inland administrative centre for the tablelands region between Bathurst and Mudgee then Tambaroora was certainly the place.

Included in these accounts are how the community is organised along clear religious Catholic and Protestant lines, while also mentioning the large numbers of Chinese being accepted by the community – especially due to their willingness to work over old ground discarded by other miners.

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20th July 1857

Just another account of the perils of the road really – and no it wasn’t  bushrangers – just the steep landscape that was the problem!

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21st July 1857

Sofala – now there’s a town one wonders about. Just how was this pioneer goldfield centre dating back to the very origins of the gold rush faring? How did a community gradually emerge from the chaos that was once a maelstrom of ground shifting diggers?

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29th July 1857

On the road again – and what a road! Not so much the natural landscapes but rather the social ones provide the challenges on this trip into Bathurst – the major administrative centre inland from Sydney – and what a welcome arrival it was!

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3rd August 1857

Taking in the significance of Bathurst to the local region was indeed a worthwhile enterprise – yet once again the road must beckon – ever southward to Tuena and beyond to Goulburn!

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5th August 1857

Once again – the vicissitudes of road speak of the challenges facing any traveller in an age when the landscape was unknown and directions and expectations uncertain.

18th August 1857

And so to Goulburn – there were major diggings to the south of course – down to Braidwood and beyond – but all journeys must end at some point.