When the NSW Government wiped away its old gold mining legislation in spring 1866 and replaced it with a new regime, the change was tipped to usher in a new beginning for the State’s goldfields.

Out with the boom and bust settlements populated by transient mining communities. In with settled communities based around long term mining ventures needing both capital and labour to develop their resources. Then, as the ink was still drying on the legislative print, just such a community lined up as the litmus test for the new regime.

News of the discovery of a new boom field next to the Weddin Mountains broke in September and by Christmas around 3,000 people were present on the Emu Creek field in the process of building a new town called Grenfell. What happened next was undoubtedly THE mining story of 1867.

Left: The Albion Hotel in George Street in 1869. Courtesy Grenfell Historical Society.

The first indication of a thoroughly modern regime based around the primacy of law and order came at the start of January, when one enterprising gentleman took advantage of a legal loophole to threaten the whole stability of the new goldfield.

As a result of the Robertson Land Acts of 1861, unsurveyed land in an area which had been declared an agricultural reserve in designated unsettled areas could be selected and bought freehold in 40-to-320-acre lots of Crown land.

Owing to a delay in declaring Emu Creek as a gold field prior to the start of 1867, William Redman, a former member of Parliament and attorney of the Supreme Court, went and selected 100 acres of land in the middle of the field. He then informed all the miners that they were his tenants and he would charge them a levy on all the gold they recovered. This one imagines could have led to riots breaking out - but it didn't.

1st February 1867

These actions ..”Of course caused a ferment throughout the whole diggings, for Mr. Redman had opened up a subject that not only interested the fifty or sixty men whose claims were on the selected land, but in its future application was of the highest importance to the mining community.” …”Luckily he has to do with an orderly lot of men, who, instead of taking the law into their own hands, have appealed to the resident magistrate, and a summons under the Gold fields Act has been issued against Mr. Redman for the trespass he has committed upon the occupation lot of one of the miners.”

Read Newspaper Clipping

28th March 1867

As well as making an official complaint against Redman for trespass, the miners referred the matter to the Minister for Lands who advised them that …

“Under any circumstances, however, Mr. Redman had no right to touch the gold, or to allow others to do so, on paying him a fee or remuneration, as under the Crown Lands Alienation Act of 1801, minerals on conditional purchases are specially reserved.”

Round 1 to the miners.

Read Newspaper Clipping

29th March 1867

To better understand the issues in play over the Redman selection case, it is valuable to read the letter sent to the Herald in late March outlining just what fundamental issues were at stake in the matter.

Given Redman’s standing as a pillar of legal fraternity it is not surprising that when he lost out in the first ruling, the matter ended up going through two appeal processes to the full court where it was heard by three judges including the Chief Justice.

Read Newspaper Clipping

1st July 1867

The results of this appeal process saw the original rulings overturned in favour of Redman.

This decision was a most serious one as it effectively stated that until a gold-field was proclaimed, a miner had no legal right of possession to his claim, and that he was liable to be ousted at any moment by the free selector.

Read Newspaper Clipping

A feature of Emu Creek was the way it challenged the conventional expectations of a rush to a new field.

The easy opening days of alluvial miners breezing in to strip the field of its bounty of loose gold never applied here.

At Emu Creek the riches were always in the reef gold and panning up alluvial gold was what you set one of your party to do so as to cover expenses while the rest of your syndicate focussed on the main game - developing your reef mine.

Accordingly with the prospect of a long term venture opening up, many shopkeepers and tradespeople flocked to the new site to stake their own claim to the commercial success attendant on a rich new field. In this way the new town of Grenfell arose at the same time as the first mines were being developed.

1st January 1867

From the outset, Emu Creek was never a poor man’s field. Just the simple need to purchase water to survive amongst other things meant that …

“if a man have not a good capital to carry on with, he is certain to meet with disappointment; and if he have capital, he has a chance of success, but even then there is uncertainty at every step he takes.”

Read Newspaper Clipping

15th March 1867

The need for proper investment was emphasised early on in the new year when the rough and ready dams thrown up quickly across creeklines were washed away in the first serious thunderstorm to strike.

Several took heed and set to work on much more substantial structures, while water diviners plied their trade seeking new wells urgently. Meanwhile miners subscribed £300 towards a hospital and £70 towards a church – social investments as well were a priority it seems.

Read Newspaper Clipping

17th May 1867

By May, sufficient rains had arrived to allow work to get moving on processing the gold and the results were spectacular. “It rarely happens that quartz mining assumes so prominent a position in the development of a new field so rapidly as this branch of mining has on this, and to my mind speaks well for the future stability of the now established town of Grenfell.”

Read Newspaper Clipping

21st June 1867

“Alluvial is going out of favour. Every young man engaged in mining considers it to be the correct thing to have a share in a reef, situated no matter where, so long as it has been named. These enthusiastic amateur miners are fair game for enterprising speculators and hard-up claimholders on duffer reefs.

The discovery of new reefs is now almost of daily occurrence, and activity in speculation is the result, sellers of shares being rushed by buyers.”

Read Newspaper Clipping

One of the crucial problems of developing any reef mining venture was the problem and expense of getting the ore crushed.

Quartz crushing and processing equipment involved much more than just the actual stamper unit. They also needed boilers to drive them, buildings to house them and associated equipment for preparing the mercury to coat the plates and then processing the resulting gold laden amalgam.

Such infrastructure was beyond the means of the small claim holders and they hence had to carry their ore off to be processed. This could easily involve some distance and as a result you were very selective about just what ore got sent away for processing.

The good news for the Emu Creek field by mid winter was hence that “several owners of crushing machinery in the Western District have visited the goldfield and closely inspected the reefs. They pronounce them highly satisfactory, and that Emu Creek, as a reef mining district, has never been equalled in the colony. Arrangements have, I am informed, been made by them to remove suitable machinery at once to the field.”

16th August 1867

Hence one year on from the initial discovery of gold at O’Brien’s Hill, the town of Grenfell was well established and the Emu Creek field looked ahead to a prosperous future.

A significant feature of the field was the sheer extent of the quartz veins running across very large areas of countryside such that it effectively merged with the Burrangong field to the south to make a very large gold district indeed.

Read Newspaper Clipping

16th August 1867

In the process of establishing the new field, the spotlight had been placed well and truly on the new leasing system designed to encourage major mining investment by offering access to larger areas of the field than could be had via a miners right.

This proved a problematic introduction given it made it easier for speculators to lock up large areas of ground with little intention of actively mining them. The suggestion was made that only companies prepared to install their own crushing equipment should have access to leases.

Read Newspaper Clipping

6th September 1867

Against this backdrop, the article which appeared in early September with a detailed report on the finacial structures and operations of the new field makes for rivetting reading.

It relates just how miners worked in cooperation with local storekeepers and other financial stakeholders. This was a system in transition – the miner on their own was irrelevant, but the rise of the formal incorporated companies role in mining still lay ahead.

Read Newspaper Clipping