Above: Panorama of Hawkins Hill, American and Australasian Photographic Company. Reproduced courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW: On 4 Box 71 No C: a2825324

Just imagine a vast underground treasure chest 400 metres long and 50 metres deep filled with gold. There was such a treasure chest once. It was buried 20 metres below the mine entries dotted along the slopes of Hawkins Hill, Hill End.

In an era noted for its dramatic gold discoveries, the sheer richness of this area’s quartz veins was unparalleled. It was from this treasure chest that Hill End’s golden legends were drawn in the opening years of the 1870s.

Speculators also dipped deep into Hill End’s renown. With investors in Sydney clamouring to pour their money into Hawkins Hill’s mines, the town provided unlimited opportunity for fraud and swindle. This highlighted the need for investment regulation and helped hasten the formation of the Sydney Stock Exchange.

5th January 1870

The forerunner of the Sydney Stock Exchange – Grevilles Commercial Room, Sydney – was established at the start of 1870 in response to a general demand for a business forum where investors could meet to access information and buy and sell stock in all commodities.

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11th January 1870

Amongst the first items of news to be processed in the new commercial room would have been the news a week later of another spectacular crushing of Hawkins Hill quartz in the Victoria crushing mill some 10km up the road at Tambaroora.

Also doubtless discussed was the fact that all the holdings on the hill at this time were mining syndicates comprised of just a handful of stakeholders and that the time would likely come when the owners would likely seek to float their claims as companies.

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21st February 1870

One item which would have definitely commanded the attention of the business enclaves gathering at Grevilles Rooms would have been the changes to the Gold Field Regulations the Government brought in during February.

These had the effect of massively favouring the interests of small scale miners working ‘hand to mouth’ over and above those of venture capitalists who might seek to make significant, long term investments in gold mining.

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8th March 1870

In a detailed expose of the short-sightedness of this response, a letter to the Herald several weeks later makes for compelling reading.

It includes a detailed description of the vital role investment needed to play in gold mining, and how under the new regulations “not a single public gold company can be formed, and capital will be entirely banned from that source of industry”.

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25th March 1870

The clamour in response to the new anti-investment regulations was so strong that the Government was forced to adopt a time-honoured, face-saving-delaying tactic and appoint a commission of inquiry into the overall operation of the goldfields.

This major undertaking hence had the effect of putting the whole of the fields’ investment future into a limbo period for at least a year while the commissioners undertook their work and prepared their report.

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Of particular interest to potential investors in mining ventures at that time would have been the annual Gold Commissioners' reports.

These could be either major documents full of pertinent insights and information or else an obvious annoyance that the commissioner seemingly dashed off before attending to other more important matters relating to the supervision of the fields.

12th April 1870

The report from the commissioner for the Western District fields falls into the latter category. While there is much valuable summary material to gain a snapshot of the overall activity of the district in the year 1869, little can be gleaned from this that hadn’t already been well reported in the media.

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14th March 1870

In comparison, the Commissioner for the Southern District’s annual report is a document well worth a considered assessment.

Certainly one can easily imagine several cigars smoked and brandies consumed while dissecting its findings amidst the comforts of Grevilles Rooms.

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15th June 1870

Annual reports were indeed valuable, but as ever it was the latest news from the fields that had people leafing through the pages of their morning papers to see if any special new reports were at hand. Reports such as this opposite would have caught their attention, especially where it relates that the Hawkins Hill reefs had produced “more gold per ton for the past five or six years than have any reefs yet spoken of in mining history.”

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There you had it - Hawkins Hill reefs had been breaking gold yield records for the past five years. Why were people only just starting to hear of them now?

The fact was that the Hawkins Hill claims were largely the part-time occupation of small syndicates of miners living in the adjacent town of Hill End. There they mixed in some farming and small business ventures with developing their claims on the hill.

The crushings may well have been very rich, but then for a long time not that much stone was crushed. The nearest battery was at Tambaroora 10km away and getting the ore there was problematic. Hence they tended to crush what they needed and to keep on quietly developing their workings, confident that their patience would be rewarded.

3rd August 1870

And if you wanted to get some idea of how close knit this mining community was, consider this report of how “Mr T. Brown has bought his old claim back again from Messrs. Bell and Anderson, for the round sum of £6000.”

Yes that’s right – £6000, from the pocket of a small stakeholder living and working at Hill End. Plus, these sums were traded within the community – at least for the moment that was. The time for public floats would come – but first there was gold to be had and profits to be taken.

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