One of the most memorable events for gold in NSW in 1855 came in May that year when the first ever colonial branch of the British Royal Mint was established in Sydney.

Planning for the mint went back to late 1852 / 53 when it was realised that unprocessed gold was increasingly being used as “black market” currency.

Hence from May 1855 onwards regular supplies of gold from the banks, private individuals and the gold escorts were delivered each week to be turned into coin of the realm.

By the following October it was reported that 14,000 oz of gold each week was being processed this way.

Left: “Coin, sovereign, Queen Victoria made by the Sydney Mint, NSW 1855.
Reproduced courtesy Powerhouse Museum Sydney object N6028.

While the echoes of rebellion sounded from the goldfields of Victoria at the start of 1855, these upheavals appear to have had little impact on the NSW fields.

The NSW diggings had already gone through their first round of license reforms by this time and while further amendments were necessary, these tended to play out in a considered manner across the course of the year.

Part of this lack of uproar may well have been due to the fact that the density of miners on the NSW fields was anything but high. This was still the period when Victoria was attracting all the attention. The pressing need to attract more miners to the NSW fields to begin to realise their potential was commonly pointed out in the media.

23rd February 1855

Part of the need for additional labour on the fields was to encourage mining companies to start up new ventures to tap into the rich veins of quartz reefs that lay on the ridgetops between the Turon and Mudgee.

Already three major reef mining ventures were in play on these fields. While the Louisa Creek operation was struggling to make a go of things, two reef mining ventures at Tambaroora held out much promise of success.

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4th June 1855

Nor was interest in reef mining limited to the NSW side of the border at this time. In Victoria the need to begin to tap into the reef gold resource was all too apparent, and the importance of marshalling sufficient capital to do this was likewise a matter of debate.

In this environment a splendid article designed to inform potential investors as to what they may be getting into provides us with a fine account of the state of gold mining technologies at this time.

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30th March 1855

One of the striking features of media accounts of the goldfields is the strong sense of community and purpose that infused life on the diggings.

One correspondent who travelled north over the state border from Victoria visited the Adelong diggings and wrote a glowing account of life there, adding that he had “not spent a happier two months of his life anywhere than the two months he spent at Adelong”.

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11th May 1855

So what then for those who planned to take up the life of a digger? Where should they start, which field should they go to?

On such matters an article from the Victorian fields cut straight to the chase saying to beware of the biggest name fields as all the best ground was likely to be already taken. It was also recommended to stick fast to your ground once you’d set up, rather than to roam endlessly in search of greener pastures.

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One of the significant features of the colony at the time of the gold rushes was the fact that its borders were open to all who might wish to come and either visit or settle there.

Prior to the discoveries of gold, immigration restrictions were the last thing a colony looking to expand had contemplated. The major influx of Chinese miners onto the Victorian fields however caused that state to limit the further influx of 'celestials' by imposing a landing tax to discourage them offloading at Port Phillip Bay.

7th May 1855

By mid 1855, it was estimated that around 10,000 Chinese miners were established on the Victorian fields primarily at the big three centres of Bendigo, Ballarat and Forrest Creek.

In a considered article relating to the isues surrounding the Chinese presence, caution was urged not to react on prejudice, but rather to undertake systematic enquiry as a basis for any considered response.

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12th June 1855

As the Victorian Legislative Council grappled with “the Chinese Question” commentary continued a plenty in the press as to how they should respond.

Foremost in the minds of at least some correspondents was the fear that an overwhelming influx of Chinese could be “an invasion by foreigners not necessarily by force of arms; and the people of this colony have made up their minds that this country – which they have chosen for themselves and their children – shall remain theirs.”

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15th June 1855

Meanwhile the NSW legislature was also hard at work on their revisions to the gold fields regulations.

The Parliamentary debates in this regard as reported in the press are full of interesting insights into the management of the goldfields at this time – in particular the costs of providing services relative to the funds raised from license fees.

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11th June 1855

… and on the very issue of money, there was much discussion also as to the merits of the newly introduced Sydney Mint and of the colony coining its own currency.

This also provides crucial insights into the impacts of gold on the NSW economy at that time.

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So much then for the goldfield's management - but what of the fields themselves. How were these faring at this time some 4 years on from the original Ophir discoveries of May 1851?

In this both newspaper correspondents reports and the all important Gold Commissioners report unite to tell the real story of the state of the diggings.

22nd August 1855

The Gold Commissioner for the Western Goldfields – Mr Green – gives a compelling account of a diverse network of gold communities.

Far from license fees being an issue on the fields, he reports that the real problems all stemmed from claim and counter claim over just who owned the rights to work a particular piece of ground.

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20th September 1855

Alongside the Gold Commissioner’s observations, correspondent accounts spoke more directly about the living conditions on the fields.

In particular this report notes that …”for any steady working man, good wages can always be obtained; during the winter they have never been less than £3 per week good hand as generally getting £4, certainly a far higher rate of wages can be obtained on the gold fields than at any other employed in the colony.”

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With things progressing nicely on the western goldifelds at this time, how were things going on the southern fields around Goulburn?

The Tuena field bridged the divide between the two fields - a waypoint on the road to the dominant gold centres of the south around Braidwood.

5th September 1855

Reports in from Tuena at this time speak of some surprisingly good returns holding out the prospect of an increase in the size of this small mining community.

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19th September 1855

Just as Tuena held out good prospects, so too did Araluen with a rush occurring there after some promising finds.

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5th October 1855

For all this potential however, it was still the Western Goldfields of NSW that held out the major promise for the development of gold in NSW and of attracting a greatly increased mining population out onto the fields.

A call of the card for these diggings hence largely defines the state of gold in NSW as summer approached towards the end of 1855 and all eyes turned to the opportunities awaiting in the year ahead.

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