Picking up where 1872 left off, the fortunes of the state’s goldmining seemed to revolve ever more closely around news emerging from the Hawkins Hill mines at Hill End.

Star performing claims like Beyers / Holtermanns and Krohmanns carried the hopes of many at this time as some of the very few companies to actually pay dividends to their shareholders.

For most investors though there was only bad news to be had as making money from their investments became a distant dream and calls went out for people to reimburse the unpaid portions of their share purchases in a bid to get additional working capital into failing mine ventures.

Left:Bernard Holtermann (left) and Louis Beyers on Hawkins Hill ridge, Hill End. Reproduced courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW. Call no: ON 4 Box 10 No 70197 Dig no:a2822899.

BEAR MARKET: A market condition in which the prices of securities are falling, and widespread pessimism causes the negative sentiment to be self-sustaining. As investors anticipate losses in a bear market and selling continues, pessimism only grows.

It was a matter of some incredulity for many, that only months after the extraction of the world’s largest single mass of gold ever discovered, the slump in Hill End shares commenced to suck all the state’s mining investment down the gurgler.

15th January 1873

Even as rich gold returns continued to flow from many mines on the hill, investors it seems had stopped believing there was redemption afoot any time soon.

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24th February 1873

In its monthly report, the Mining Summary looked also at the issues facing the small start up companies working in the shadow of the big names on Hawkins Hill.

“Thus money is muddled away, shareholders become sick of paying calls after calls, with no prospect of a dividend, and the claim is allowed to lie idle, or to be worked in spasmodic fits and starts, and confidence is gradually lost.”

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24th February 1873

The thing that was becoming fully apparent at this time was just how big a mistake it was to focus on bonanza discoveries as a rationale for investing in gold mining.

Victorian goldmines were the immediate example of how it needed to be done – given they were well established, making shareholders a profit and looking forward to a flourishing future. Once again the message was simple – focus on getting efficient and reliable gold recovery and smile sweetly if you happen to hit a rich patch.

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19th April 1873

Further support for this approach was evident in the mining summary in April where the deficiencies of a system where mines outsourced their ore processing to private crushing plants was emphasised.

“The owner of one of our Hill End crushing machines which has a high reputation has recently been on a tour to Victoria, and was at once compelled to admit that his operations were very far behind those he found there.”

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The middle of autumn brought with it annual report time from the Gold Commissioners and the chance to reflect more broadly upon the state of the southern and western goldfields.

An interesting feature of these was to note how the additional investment in mining had allowed deeper levels to be accessed than had previously been possible with small scale syndicate ventures.

3rd April 1873

“At Sofala, Wattle Flat, Trunkey Creek, and Tuena, quartz-reefing, which for a time had languished, has been resumed with vigour, and with every prospect of success when a sufficient depth shall have been attained.

“Indeed the fact has now everywhere been proved to demonstration that the permanent and most valuable deposits, both in alluvial and quartz mining, lie at a depth.”

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19rd April 1873

The Southern Goldfields Commissioner’s summary was later summarised in the overall mining report. One interesting aspect of this account was to note that:

“At Grenfell mining matters are in a highly satisfactory state, and all the principal claims there have been purchased by and transferred to companies, which are very successfully formed, and which possess capital necessary to ensure the proper and systematic working and arrangement of the mines.”

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One of the overall features of the mining operations at this time was actually how primative they were in their operations.

Very little capital investment had been directed into things like proper winding and pumping equipment using steam power to get material and water up and out of the mine. Likewise the very small extent of the claims on offer meant that completely independent ventures worked cheek and jowl alongside each other with little incentive to pool their resources to a common cause.

In the absence of this horse power still literally drove the field, complete with all the attendant limitations of this.

12th July 1873

This was especially noticeable at Hawkins Hill where eventually it was left to the quartz crushing operators to finally set up a tramway to get the quartz out for crushing more efficiently.

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12th July 1873

Away from the golden claims of Hill End, the full impacts of the speculative boom that these rich ventures had visited upon NSW gold mining was becoming fully apparent.

“Many seem at a loss to understand the great depression in mining matters, especially when there are here numerous large and well-defined reefs, which in Victoria might prove a source of wealth to hundreds were capital judiciously expended on their development.”

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6th September 1873

Nor were the days of speculation and fraud altogether at an end by this time. In breaking news in September, an account of how fake telegrams were sent to directors, falsely reporting non-existent discoveries reveals how swindlers had not yet completely retired from the field.

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2nd December 1873

In its final account of 1873, the mining report had some optimistic news to end the year on. A new Mines Department would be established to help the long term development of mining in the state and serious investors were regrouping as the fortune seekers walked away from their ventures.

Also alluvial options remained strong with both Gulgong proceeding well and a new field opened up at Parkes.

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