The worst financial depression NSW has faced was not in the 1930s, but rather four decades earlier in the 1890s.

The 1890s depression was characterised by a severe financial crisis that saw more than half the various trading banks suspend payments and many non-bank insitutions fail. By comparion only a few small insitutions failed in the 1930s. Likewise unemployment is assumed to have been even worse in the 1890s financial meltdown.

In this climate, any hope of serious private investment in mining disappeared and the government looked to encourage the unemployed to get out of the towns and cities and into gold prospecting.

Left: Mines Department Annual Report 1895. Images and content presented here from this report reproduced courtesy of NSW Trade & Resources, Minerals & Energy


This initiative of getting the unemployed out onto the old goldfields seemed to work well as the 1895 report noted that:

“The decided increase in the yield of gold within this Colony during the past four years is no doubt partly due to the work of this large body of men throughout the Colony, who, from all reports received, were able to at least earn rations, and some of the more industrious, good wages.”

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“Without a doubt the increase in gold produciton is in a measure due to the large number of unemployed men sent to the gold-fields as fossickers, as the marked increase dates from the inauguration of that scheme.”

“Although the earnings of these men were much restricted by the exceptional drought experienced throughout the Colony during the year, the increased yields from the Lucknow and Hillgrove mines did much to make up the decrease from this cause.”

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