My goodness – what a year this was.

1872 stands as the defining year of the NSW goldfields – the year that cemented their place forever in the annals of the world’s richest gold discoveries and the year that also contained the imminent seeds of demise for the NSW gold mining industry.

The iconic image that captures the mayhem and madness of that 12 months will always be that of the massive specimen of gold and quartz removed from the Beyers and Holtermann claim on Hawkins Hill in late October.

Bernard Holtermann had been the former part owner of the mine prior to it being floated as a public company earlier in the year and he retained a key role in its management. It was however, no more his big rock than any other of the company’s many shareholders. He was just flamboyant enough to claim all the PR rights.

Left:Group of men including B.O. Holtermann to the left of Holtermann Gold Specimen, Hill End, NSW, 1872. Reproduced courtesy National Library of Australia nla.pic-vn4728797

The year started out as strongly as expected with claims of extraordinary riches continuing to echo from the mines on Hawkins Hill.

“From Tambaroora the news is uninterruptedly good. There have been again some wonderful and scarcely credible finds in the claims of Paxton and Co. and Krohmann and Co. In the former it is said to be like breaking out clubs of gold, and one gentleman who was permitted to inspect the material broken out, describes one particular piece as being like a sirloin of beef with a thick layer of fat, the fat representing the quartz end, the lean the gold.

The piece of stone, if it may be so called, weighed rather more than one hundred and fifty pounds and of that weight there were more than one hundred pounds weight of gold. Krohmann has also got upon a new vein, and is breaking out stone as rich as any he has ever had before.”

20th February 1872

When these dramatic pieces of quartz from Paxton and Holman’s claim were processed, they again claimed fresh headlines with unheard of results showing over 4,000 oz of gold being recovered from two tons of ore.

To put this in context, this is 2,000 times higher than the then generally considered payable rate of 1oz gold recovered per ton of ore processed.

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26th February 1872

The mining report of that month made the telling point that the dramatic revival of interest in the state’s goldfields and the resultant huge flows of investment being generated, were directly down to two reasons.

One was the exceptionally rich returns from the deep lead mining at Gulgong. The other were the exceptionally rich returns from the reef mines at Hawkins Hill.

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26th February 1872

And finally, the big name claims started to surface as publicly floated companies open to the general investor.

Beyers and Holtermann Star of Hope claim was first up, being put on the market for £72,000. Alongside this, Creighton and Beard’s claim was a positive steal at £36,000.

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7th March 1872

What though of the costs in preparing the rich gold claims for sale to shareholders?

A letter from a miner to the Herald at that time explained that the wellbeing of the workers came a distant second in the rush for profits and that Government supervision was needed to ensure mine safety on the field.

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1st April 1872

Mine safety however it seemed was not the Government’s most pressing concern with mining regulation at that time. When yet another massive set of new mine regulations were issued in April, the problems of the leasing system were once again at the forefront of its attention.

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20th April 1872

The effect of the new regulations was the lead item in the Mining News feature of that month – closely folowed by some spectacular reports from the Gulgong fields.

Then came further details from Hill End before finishing with a brief summary of news from some of the other fields.

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Alongside the breaking news from the goldfields which had long been a topic of interest in the media, 1872 saw a new field of gold reporting emerge - the action in relation to the stockmarkets.

Following the initial frenzy associated with the set up of new companies at the start of the year, some measure of sober assessment was beginning to creep into the equation. As the above report noted for example, “Fresh companies are floated almost daily, but the mining furore which set in a month or so ago has somewhat abated, and speculators are acting with more caution. The quantities of gold that are being obtained from many claims keep up a great deal of excitement, and a great amount of capital is being subscribed for working new mines. The development of this, one of the most important resources of the colony, is being extended daily.”

18th May 1872

“Since the discovery of gold was first made known in the colony in 1851, there has been nothing like the interest in mining enterprises which now prevails.”

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15th May 1872

The daily news from the exchange almost read like the call of a horse race.

It only takes a very slight reordering of the narrative to see: Kohmanns out in front pulling away at 45s. a share while Browns closing fast to take in a thousand at 21s. Carol and Beards keeping pace with the field at par while Lady Belmore is showing more activity than we’ve seen from this old stayer for some time … 🙂

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10th July 1872

As ever, information was strength in these heady times. Accordingly the annual reports from the Gold Commissioners for the Western and Southern Goldfields would have been eagerly appraised.

Once again too, the Western Goldfields report was a bit thin on detail, but as he apologised – he had a lot on his plate at that point in time.

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24th July 1872

By contrast the report from the Southern Goldfields was far more expansive. It does note the Gulgong rush had drawn a fair slab of miners of the Southern fields in the year just past.

In general it seems that most of the fields under his jurisdiction had very little of the fervour then associated with their neighbours just to the north.

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Things were all a bit soggy with the coming of spring that year. Abundant rainfall helped provide water for the estimated 8,000 new residents of Hill End, but it did rather tend to fill up the mines as it drained down the hillsides.

Fortunately with the creation of many new crushing mills around the town, getting the ore out for processing was no longer the big problem it had been in previous years. Production rolled on as did the incredible reports still issuing from the big name claims.

6th September 1872

The lead news item at the start of spring was “the magnificent stone from Beyers and Holtermann”.

The remarkable thing was it wasn’t even the legendary Holtermann Gold Specimen – that particular rock was still buried!

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25th October 1872

When the monster mass of gold did emerge from the Beyers and Holtermanns claim in late October it created quite a stir – even in a town used to seeing and hearing of large masses of gold and quartz.

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19th December 1872

As news of the find hit the Sydney markets it once again caused a spike in the already high demand for stock in the main Hawkins Hill mines.

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19th December 1872

This brief surge in gold stock prices however was amongst the last the market would see for a very long time to come. By year’s end the return on investment of even the richest mines was being questioned.

More importantly however was the level of widespread fraud and speculation that had attended the creation of so many ‘duffer’ companies that year. Already it seems the party was over and the hangover commenceth.

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