The first gold discoverers were shepherds, surveyors and clergymen. As early as 1823, surveyor James McBrien noticed gold particles by the Fish River east of Bathurst.
Shepherds searching for grazing lands travelled westwards over the Blue Mountains and moved onto land which revealed gold-bearing quartz reefs.
An ex-convict and shepherd named McGregor found many pieces of gold in the Wellington region and chipped parts off to take to Sydney where it was displayed in jewellery shop windows.
However it wasn’t until the 1840s that gold exploration was seriously discussed by geologists such as the Reverend William Branwhite Clarke. Anglican clergyman and geologist, Rev. Clarke was principal at the King’s School, Parramatta and later the rector at St Thomas’, North Sydney. His passion was geology and in 1841, while exploring the Blue Mountains for fossils, he examined granite slabs near Hartley and discovered particles of gold.
Clarke wrote that the country would be found 'abundantly rich in gold'. He continued to collect specimens and in April 1844 he informed Governor Gipps of his finds and later claimed that the governor directed him to 'Put it away, Mr. Clarke, or we shall all have our throats cut'.
The ruling elite feared that a predominantly convict population striking it rich would lead to greater crimes or result in a convict rebellion brought on by greed for gold.
A gold rush in the bush, away from the main population centre could upset the status quo of the ordered convict society.
Edward Hammond Hargraves
Edward Hammond Hargraves was a shrewd gold promoter, credited with discovering the first payable goldfields near Bathurst, New South Wales.
Returning unsuccessfully from the Californian goldfields, Hargraves decided to travel west to Wellington in search of Australian gold during the summer of 1851. Visiting an inn at Guyong owned by the Lister family, he changed his travel plans and relied upon local knowledge of the area.
With the son of the innkeeper, John Lister and the Tom brothers, William and James, he started panning for gold at Lewis Ponds Creek. Hargraves taught the young men how to make a Californian cradle which he had seen on the Californian goldfields. This wooden contraption could be rocked from side to side so that the heavy gold particles were retained when the lighter gravel was sifted through.
On February 12, 1851 Hargraves, along with his assistants, discovered flecks of gold in the Lewis Ponds Creek.
Hargraves wrote to William Northwood, a Sydney business man, announcing his gold discovery. His letters are cross-hatched, a common method of conserving paper at the time.
Wellington Inn Goyong
11th February 1851
I arrived here last evening the weather was exceedingly hot indeed nearly as much so as in California I am scarcely 250 miles from Sydney. The horse is the greatest brute I ever rode after the first days journey he would stumble twenty times in one mile – I am obliged to hold him up and by the end of the day my arms are tired however I hope to get him along after a days rest. His pedigree is as follows. Bred by Mr. Collett’s Mount York sold by him to Mr. Kendall at Fish River who sold him to Raper in consequence of his buckjumping propensities. He nearly killed Mr Kendal who is a native and an excellent horseman – Mr Raper sold him to a hackney coachman and after a while bought him again he had got the character of being a good horse if not allowed to be idle but his stumbling is a bad thing Mr. Kendall says if he is stabled for 10 days no man can sit on his back but as feed is exceedingly scarce and dear and in some places not to be got at all I hope to keep him under. Indeed he will be a pretty object if you ever see him again. I am now going to the “McQuarie River” and trace up the source of the “Bell”
and Tooron Rivers a distance of 150 miles I strike the Macquarie 20 miles from Wellington at Bunnalong I have got hopes of success but the scarcity of water will prevent my making such a research as I should wish you will not hear from me for 3 weeks or a month. It is superfluous for me to say that my most undivided energies will be directed towards the object in view. I have been over a country of 30 to 40 miles abounding with copper – the resources of this country are little known it is no doubt a rich mining country and new discoveries will be made every day.
You had better send 200lbs. flour up to the house in a fortnight and write me about the same time giving me what news you can “address Post Office Bathurst” – I shall then know how things are going on – I am now at the world’s end and am going nearly 200 miles beyond it a little news will be acceptable. When I come into the world again – I met Mr.Icely as I was coming up from Sydney He was going down and gave me a very pressing invitation to go to his house at “Coombring” – I did not go. I may call coming back if I want to rest the horse Don’t forget to speak to Mr. Suttor as I shall be regularly stumped by the time I get to Bathurst
P.S. I have got the horse fresh shod the Blacksmith tells me the brute will not stumble so much when his feet are shorter. EHH Mr W Northwood Agent Market St at Sydney
Prima Castra Arouya
Goyong Die Saturni
My Dear Sir
In my last dated 22th inst you were informed I was about to proceed into the wilderness on my mission.The following day I did so and be it remembered on the memorable day To Wit on the 12th day of February in the year of our Lord – one thousand eight hundred and fifty one I did at my “Prima Castra” on Arouya Goyong in the very first bowl bowl of earth washed – discover “Gold” amalgamated with the earth precisely in the same way in which it is in California - Mexico –Chilli – Peru and South America hence I claim the right of discovery You will of course keep this letter as an important document – I knew I was in gold country 70 miles before I made this discovery but being no water I could not try the earth and being near a sheep station expecting the sheep to drink I did not further disturb the earth but carefully put up my 5 little specks or grains away – I am now perfectly
satisfied of its existence and shall launch out to a remote place to try for a rich place and when I can do that I shall return to Bathurst and take across the mountains to Gundagai. I shall then have travelled over a country in extent 600 miles – I do not hesitate to say that I have now been over at least 80 miles of a gold region but the want of water precludes me from making such a research as I could wish Therefore in this my present communication I wish you distinctly to understand that I cannot for the want of water make at all a satisfactory research indeed such is the scarcity of water that I have had great difficulty to get water for self and horse Where I am going now to the Toroon River there is water but no grass – I have got bran and hay but in all probability I shall be able to get Mr. Kendall to keep the horse alive for a few days – Mr Suttors will be out of my way and 20 miles for a tired man and horse is a great deal – You had therefore better therefore enclose me a five pound note. Address to Through the post to Bathurst as I shall not have a feather to fly with on my arrival there. My opinion is that the Gold Mines of New South Wales are more extensive than those of California, the richness of which I cannot as yet form the most remote idea.
Yours very truly
Mr William Northwood
Market Street West
John Lister and the Tom Brothers
Edward Hargraves travelled to Sydney to negotiate with the Colonial Secretary regarding his reward for finding gold. His assistants, John Lister and William and James Tom continued working their cradle and located four ounces of gold further downstream from Hargraves’ first find, including a two-ounce nugget that William Tom noticed in a rock crevice. Hargraves purchased these nuggets and sent some by mail to the Colonial Secretary. Announcing that it was he who had discovered payable gold in the district, Hargraves began a publicity campaign, generating much discussion in the region and naming the part of the creek which yielded gold the FitzRoy Bar after the Governor and the area Ophir, after the biblical city of gold.
Hargraves was feted as a hero and was rewarded by the government with £10,000 and an annual pension of £250 and was given the position of Commissioner of Crown Lands for the gold districts. He received many valuable gifts and was the subject of many triumphant portraits.
It was a number of decades before John Lister and the Tom brothers received formal recognition of their part in the discovery of gold, finally being acknowledged by a select committee of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1890.
William Tom wrote an account of meeting Hargraves and the work these men undertook in prospecting for gold as part of their evidence to the NSW Legislative Assembly.