Historical Background

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Discovery of Gold

FIRST GOLD FOUND: THE RICHEST FIELD EVER KNOWN James William Esmond is credited with the first discovery of gold in Victoria at Clunes, on June 29, 1851. Like Hargreaves, he had found gold two months earlier at Ophir, near Bathurst in New South Wales. Esmond had been on the Californian gold fields and knew where to look for gold. The gold was taken to Geelong and early in July his discovery was made public, and parties were soon out in all directions gold-hunting. Mr Hiscock, a prospector from Geelong, early in August obtained gold in a gully which now bears his name, near Buninyong. As the mount was a prominent landmark, a village had grown up there during the pastoral era. It was soon augmented by the gold-seekers, mostly from Geelong, and these men began to push out in little prospecting parties into the surrounding country. Two parties claim the honour of being the first discoverers of the Ballarat gold-field. One of them consisted of Connor, Woodward, Brown, Jeane, Smith and Thornton, and the other of R. Turner, Dunn, G. Wilson, C. Fitzgerald, and J.F.C. Merrick. Both parties originally started from Geelong, tried their luck at Buninyong, and, not meeting with success, pushed farther afield, and during the last week in August, 1851, about the 25th, found wonderfully rich ground at Golden Point, a low slope at the junction of the Caledonian Creek with the Yarrowee. The news spread like wildfire. On September 1 another party arrived from Buninyong, consisting of Messrs James Oddie, Thomas Bath, Francis Herring, George Howe, Reece, and Walker, and soon men were pouring in from all directions. Several of the Clunes diggers were amongst the early arrivals. These included Esmond and his mate Kavanagh, and it is said these two men obtained 600oz. of gold in two days. Soon afterwards White Flat, Canadian Gully, Brown Hill, Black Hill, and Little Bendigo Gully were proved to be auriferous and a year later the Eureka Lead was discovered. Thousands of men were then on the field and its fame became world wide. Subsequent development proved it to be one of the richest mining fields ever discovered. Some idea of its wealth, and of the part which gold-mining has played in the fortune of Australia since the first discoveries in 1851 may be gained when it is remembered that the total value of gold raised in Australia from that year to the end of 1903, was, in round numbers, 443 millions sterling. Of this total Victoria produced 259 millions, Queensland, 69½ millions, New South Wales, 56 millions, West Australia, 49½ millions, Tasmania, 5½ millions, and South Australia 3 millions. Of Victoria’s great total, the Ballarat mining division has contributed considerably more than a fourth. viz 76½ millions. [1]

Early Protests about the Licence System

Opposition to the proposal by Governor Charles La Trobe was voiced from the Argus in 1851 and this paper remained critical of, and was vocal against the licence system.[2]

Argus Saturday August 30 1851

Our readers will do well to recollect that a public meeting is convened for to-day at three o’clock, to take into consideration the lately promulgated regulations on the subject of gold discovery. These regulations, utterly absurd and mischievous as they are in the present position of mineral discovery in the colony, have been formally announced to come into force on Monday. On that day, the Government either places itself in the ridiculous position of having issued proclamations which amount to nothing, or through their staff of newly appointed Commissioners, they will have to drive off the poor diggers in a mob, and restore Anderson’s Creek, the Clunes diggings and the Buninyong country to their original seclusion.

As to any number of licences being taken out by men not averaging their expenses already, the thing is too preposterous for anything but a Victorian Government to expect. That gold exists throughout this Colony, possibly in profusion, there is little doubt. There is just as little doubt that the people, left alone, would find it.

It would appear to require some ingenuity of folly and impracticability, upon the part of the Government, to check the spirit of discovery, which might have placed our diggings on a level with those of Turon; but which once deadened again may leave our treasures unfound for half a century, and direct all our more energetic spirits in an exhausting stream towards Bathurst.

When the fine weather sets in, and men begin to move off in reality, our householders, farmers, settlers, and other employers of labour may, perhaps, learn another bitter lesson of the benign influences, which a faithless and incapable ruler is capable of shedding upon the people whose bread he eats, and whose interests he is sworn to foster.[3]

Argus Friday December 12 1851

Fellow Diggers!

The intelligence has just arrived of the resolution of the Government to Double the Licence Fee. Will you tamely submit to the imposition or assert your rights as men? You are called upon to pay a tax originated and concocted by the most heartless selfishness, a tax imposed by Legislators for the purpose of detaining you in their workshops, in their stable yards, and by their flocks and herds.''

They would increase this seven-fold but they are afraid! Fie upon such pusillanimity!1 And shame upon the men, who, to save a few paltry pounds for their own pockets, would tax the poor man’s hands! It will be in vain for one or two individuals to tell the Commissioner, or his emissaries, that they have been unsuccessful, and that they cannot pay the licence fee. ' But remember, that union is strength, that though a single twig may be bent or broken, a bundle tied together yields not nor breaks. Ye are Britons! Will you submit to oppression or injustice? Meet – Agitate – Be unanimous – and if there is justice in the land, they will, they must abolish the imposition. We meet at the shepherd’s Hut at four. Fie upon pusillanimity!''[4]

See also



  1. Argus, 3 December 1904.
  2. Argus, Saturday 30 August, 1851
  3. Argus, Saturday 30 August, 1851
  4. Argus, December 12 1851

External links

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Caption, Reference.