Edmund Hammond Hargraves in South Australia

Edmund Hammond Hargraves

in South Australia

After the unsuccessful trips of Babbage, Bonney, Goyder and Selwyn to find gold, the government tried its luck once more with Goyder. Although he was an extremely hard worker, conscientious and highly qualified in many areas, Goyder was by no means qualified for this kind of work. When he too was unable to locate any gold, the government decided as a last resort to bring in a real ‘expert’.

This time it went ahead with the 1851 and 1852 suggestions, to ask Edward Hammond Hargraves or the Rev. W.B. Clarke to look for gold in South Australia. It decided now to invite Hargraves once more. After all he had agreed in 1851 and was supposed to have discovered gold in California and New South Wales.

Hargraves had also written a book, Australia and its Goldfields, a Historical Sketch of the Progress of the Australian Colonies, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, published in London in 1855. It remains a matter of interest if any of the honourable members of the South Australian government had read it or even heard about it.

If they had, they would have noted that it did not contain a single reference to South Australian gold mining or anything else apart from the one line statement that in 1835 a charter was granted for colonising South Australia. Despite this he was commissioned to look all over South Australia and find that elusive large and well-paying goldfield.

Not everyone held a high opinion of Hargraves. At best he was more of a lucky digger than a geologist and it was not likely that he would throw much more light upon a subject than Selwyn, who had claimed that South Australia did not have any gold.

Hargraves’ involvement with gold mining had started on 20 July 1849 when he left Sydney, with another 150 men, on board the Elisabeth Archer for California. He returned to Australia in 1851 without any gold, but had learned a valuable lesson, as Sam Brannan had done before him. Advertising was the key to success.

Within a few months he engineered the biggest gold rush Australia has ever seen in New South Wales, and indirectly in Victoria. He was paid a reward of £10,000 plus a yearly pension of £250 by the government of New South Wales and £2,381 from the Victorian government. Later, on his way back from Western Australia, where he had unsuccessfully looked for gold, he stopped over in Adelaide and made a cursory survey of the hills around Echunga, Meadows and Macclesfield.

Hargraves or no Hargraves, the most important topic of the day in Macclesfield, and many other towns, was the latest gold discovery in New Zealand. Many of the Adelaide Hills men had already left and more were planning to go. With the generally low prices received by farmers, including several from Yankalilla, it was reported that many of them now wondered what success they could meet with in New Zealand. At Port Adelaide the Fanny Fisher, with C. Smith as Captain, was ready to sail for New Zealand and its Coromandel Diggings on 11 October 1862 taking the shortest route to the diggings via Auckland.

During his short stay in the Adelaide Hills Hargraves observed the successful washing for gold and stated that if worked vigorously a goldfield would be found to exist. Some people suggested that he should report on the ranges beyond Willunga and Kangaroo Island as well. After all, in September 1856 gold had been found on Kangaroo Island by an Aboriginal woman known as Betsy. Her reward claim was accompanied by testimonials and a joint claim from Captain Cadell who stated that the gold had been discovered near Cape Willoughby. A month later Alexander Tolmer and a party of prospectors went to search Kangaroo Island for gold.

Hargraves thought that the Adelaide Hills looked highly favourable for the existence of a payable goldfield, but declined to give a decided opinion until he had been able to make a much more careful and leisurely inspection. It was also suggested that during his stay a party should be formed to thoroughly test localities that he considered most likely to contain gold, including the area around Port Lincoln, which had never been examined before.

While Hargraves was in Adelaide, residents of Yankalilla held a meeting, which resulted in an invitation for Hargraves to visit ‘their rich mineral country’. But Hargraves expected £1,000 per year for his services and a minimal term of employment of six months. This in itself was not extravagant; after all he had ‘a name and reputation that would go along in inducing people to follow him’. After some initial squabbling between him and the government, who was reluctant to pay such a sum of money, agreement was reached between them. He was also to receive a reward of £5,000 if he discovered a goldfield.

Unfortunately Hargraves was unable to accept a job offer at this stage, as he already had made commitments in New South Wales and Queensland. However he had created enough interest for the government to declare that pending the search for gold, all land open for private purchase in the Hundreds of Barossa, Para Wirra, Talunga, Onkaparinga, Kuitpo, Moorooroo, Tungkillo, Macclesfield, Kondoparinga, Nangkita, Goolwa, Encounter Bay, Myponga, Yankalilla, Waitpinga, North Rhine (Keyneton) and South Rhine was withdrawn from sale until further notice.

The offer of a six month contract of £500, plus a possible £5,000 reward, must have sounded good enough, for Hargraves was back in Adelaide on 25 October 1863. He soon called at the Crown Lands Office and selected Richard Goss, William Goss and William Chancellor from a dozen applicants to accompany him. His first stop, on his nearly six month long journey, was at Echunga on 3 November.

No new gold deposit was located but after washing some gold at Balhannah on 9 January, he travelled to Macclesfield where more gold was located. However Richard Goss nearly drowned when the hole he was working in collapsed after a heavy rainstorm. No large deposits were found but two years later Edward Morris dug up a little gold from the banks of the Onkaparinga River opposite his home in Balhannah. The hopes for an El Dorado at Balhannah would have to wait a little longer yet.

From the Adelaide Hills the party travelled to Cape Jervis in the south. Nothing even resembling gold was found but two months later it was revealed that several parties had been prospecting in the Waitpinga Ranges for some time. Several tents were pitched and about thirty men were at work. It had long been thought that payable gold might be obtained from the ranges and those at work were ‘very sanguine of success’.

From Cape Jervis they made their way slowly to the north, eventually arriving at Blinman, in the Flinders Ranges, where, after locals were ordered to do all kinds of jobs for him, people were very pleased to see him leave again. From Blinman the party travelled on to Blanchewater in the far north. At the Yudanamutana copper mine, Captain Samuel Terrell showed Hargraves around.

Samuel Terrell, who had married 20 year old Emilie Johanna Christiana in 1854, had been at Yudanamutana with her since 1862. During their stay he had found some gold in the Worturpa area, which would later be the scene of a major rush. However, as Samuel Terrell had a hundred men working at the Yudanamutana mine he had no intention of talking to Hargraves about his gold discoveries.

In the end the outcome of Hargraves’ journey was the same as that of his predecessors, and that of his own expedition earlier in Western Australia. After his visit he stated that there was no gold in South Australia or Western Australia, although he did say later that one day someone would find gold in the Flinders Ranges.

So did many other eternal optimists who continued to hope, believe and prophesise, that South Australia was ‘only at the commencement of its mining career’, and ‘when its mineral riches are fully developed it will be one of the greatest mining countries on the face of the earth’. Most likely they referred to copper mining, which at that time had a record production valued at over £544,372.

Hargraves must have liked what he had seen at Echunga for in August 1864, without a government contract, he was there again, this time in company of some thirty diggers who were all making good wages.

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