Effects of the Victorian Goldrushes on South Australia

The effect of the Victorian
gold rushes on South Australia.

In June 1851 there appeared in the Adelaide newspapers the first reports of really large gold discoveries, unfortunately not in South Australia but in New South Wales and later Victoria. These naturally had a much greater impact than any of the Californian reports, which had been published since 1849.

As distance seemed to add enchantment, thousands of men, including tradesmen and professionals such as teachers, policemen, clerks, engineers, butchers, accountants, publicans, bakers, lawyers, priests and doctors dropped their tools of trade, left their wives or families to fare as best they could, and headed for the eastern colonies as fast as possible by ship, or on horseback, but mostly on foot. Historically gold had been the property of Kings, Queens and those in power. Now it belonged to those who found it.

Finally there was a real chance for anyone, particularly a workingman, to become instantly rich without the need to invest large amounts of money. After all, gold was there to be picked up by anyone who found it. First come, first served!

In their haste to join the rush, postmasters left their wives in charge and as a result of a depleted police force towns were unprotected and local courts almost ceased to function. Many Adelaide shopkeepers were sorry they had ever served some of their customers on credit. Not only had most of them left, few had bothered to settle their accounts before leaving. Shopkeepers were unable to sue for amounts of less than £20.

The government quickly passed the Small Debtors Accommodation Bill. The first case tried under the new Act was that of Edward Parker. Mary Gill sued him for not paying his outstanding debts. Unfortunately for Mary, it turned out a disaster. The magistrate found no proof and to add insult to injury, he ordered Mary to pay for the cost of the trial. With such decisions it was no surprise that in December 1858 a great number of miners left for the Indigo diggings without having squared up their accounts. This time though they ‘were sent after and made to pay before they left South Australia’.

In an attempt to stop people leaving, and at the same time increase the possibility of discovering gold in South Australia, Judah Moss Solomon, opened a subscription list to raise money for a reward for such a discovery. Judah, an Adelaide auctioneer, born in England in 1818, arrived in South Australia in 1846 to work in his uncle’s business. He subscribed £20. Other businessmen rapidly followed. William Paxton, George A. Anstey and Samuel Stocks promised £10 each while many others subscribed the same or smaller amounts.

Emanuel Solomon, born in England as well, was the son of a pencil maker. He was transported, for stealing some cloth, to New South Wales in 1818 on the Lady Castlereagh for seven years. After completing his sentence, Emanuel, and his family, arrived in South Australia on the Lady Wellington on 17 August 1838. By 1840 Emanuel was in partnership with V. Solomon in the auctioneering business. Later he became a director of the South Australian Mining Association and a promoter of the South Australian Woollen Manufacturing Company. Both Judah and Emanuel later served in both Houses of Parliament.

Meanwhile, questions were asked in parliament, and by the general public, about a geological survey and the need for more help from the government in the search for gold in South Australia. Although copper mining had saved the Colony in the 1840s, and was a major contributor to its later economic prosperity, no government initiative had been shown so far to further the cause of gold mining, nor had a government geologist been appointed yet. It took a long time for the government to realise ‘that in a Geological Survey lay the key to the discovery and development of gold, and other mineral wealth, including water’.

The possibility of finding gold in South Australia, especially during economically depressed times, was seen by many as a heaven-sent opportunity. To them it was the one chance to escape from, or even cure all problems and become financially independent.

Several people unable to leave for the Victorian diggings tried to make money by offering their services to diggers. J.S. Henry of Hindley Street was prepared to pay cash for any quantity of gold or gold dust brought back from Victoria. He soon was in competition with a dozen others who also tried to make a living this way. Almost everyone dabbled in gold dust. A walk through the streets of Adelaide at that time left the impression that the city had been transformed into El Dorado. Almost all shop windows carried signs like, ‘Gold bought, Cash for gold, Advances on gold, and Highest prices given for gold.

T. Williams of the Britannia Hotel, Norwood, recently returned from the Turon goldfield, was prepared to inspect properties near rivers and creeks to detect even the smallest particle of gold. A few months later, W. Pearce’s Tailoring Shop made it known that it would ‘supply good, well made, warm clothing suitable for the coming Golden Winter Harvest and take gold in exchange at market price’.

Captain Phillips of the South Australian Gold Company had invented a gold washing machine in 1850 and demonstrated it at the stores of Montefiore & Co in King William Street. Two large bags of sand gave one ounce of gold each. A year later N. Denmead of Currie Street hoped to make money from the gold discoveries as well. He had invented an even better gold washing machine and advertised its success.

In July 1852 the attentions of diggers was directed to Southam’s newly invented and highly effective gold washing machine, which was far superior to anything in use. It would thoroughly wash the dirt and save ALL the GOLD! To prove it, John Southam invited any digger to come and watch it in operation at Millbank on the Torrens. According to him his machine was even superior to any in use at the Californian goldfields. An experienced gold digger from Victoria had already used it and said that it was superior to anything invented yet for washing stiff soil or saving gold.

On 12 December 1851, the Hon. John Morphett, Speaker of the Legislative Council and early investor in the Princess Royal Mining Company, suggested the appointment of a duly qualified Commission to examine the geological formation of South Australia and more particularly the occurrence of gold. He recommended that the terms, on which gold licences were to be issued by the government, should be printed in the next Government Gazette.

That same day the Legislative Council presented a memorial to the Governor ‘praying to appoint a Geological Commission and to place a sum of £1,000 on the estimates for the discovery of gold’. It was all well intended but did not stop men, and even some women and children, from leaving South Australia for the spoils of the Victorian diggings.

In a desperate effort to keep South Australians at home looking for gold, which had to exist, a memorial signed by many of the most influential people of Adelaide stated that the goldfields of the neighbouring colonies were taking away South Australia’s productive classes en masse and that a state of fearful collapse would result. The only way to prevent this was for the Governor to obtain the services ‘with as little delay as possible’ of the Rev. W.B. Clarke, often thought of as the founder of Australian geology, who had found gold in the 1840s, or Edward Hammond Hargraves. They were convinced that from the ‘rumours that daily reach us we feel certain that a scientific search by one of these gentlemen will be crowned with success’.

As most people were convinced that gold existed in South Australia and that it was only a matter of finding it, Hargraves was invited but his services almost immediately cancelled as large amounts of the long anticipated gold were finally discovered at Echunga in the Adelaide Hills. This, as far as the government was concerned, solved that problem for the time being at least, without incurring any expense. Instead of a geological survey or search for minerals, a new set of mining regulations was issued.

The labour shortage in and around Adelaide, caused by the Victorian gold rushes, prompted the amendment of the Masters and Servants Act, first proclaimed in December 1836. John Jenkins, a furnace builder from Llanelli, came out under contract with the Patent Copper Company of Burra in 1849. He, like thousands of others, did not take any notice of the Act, or the contracts they had signed, and left for Bendigo in 1852.

John Deason had his trip to South Australia paid for to start work for the Burra mine. He did not bother about the Masters and Servants Act, or other government regulations either. Arriving on the Epaminondas on Christmas Day 1853 at Port Adelaide it took him, and his young family, just under a month to reach Melbourne. From there they made it to the goldfields. His quest for gold was unrelenting and finally rewarded when he, and his long time friend, Richard Oates, discovered the Welcome Stranger on 5 February 1869. It came in at 210 pounds troy and after cleaning at 2268 ounces, making it the largest nugget ever found anywhere in the world.

The acute labour shortage in South Australia made some people propose the introduction of Asian labour. Not all agreed and during the debates in the Legislative Council one member said that he would give every facility to capitalists to introduce labour from England for their own benefit, but he was not willing ‘to facilitate the introduction of bloodthirsty Malays and other natives of the East, who were entirely unsuited to the colony’. He was against the introduction of ‘Hindoo, Chinese and whole tribes of useless Asiatics’. In the hope of stopping the unstoppable exodus, newspaper articles were published to show that it was far better to stay home, quoting Johannes Menge who had stated that the Adelaide Hills were full of gold. To prove him right, gold had been found near, and in the Torrens, South Para and Onkaparinga Rivers by anyone who had searched for it, including some German farmers who had come across it while cultivating their land.

Although a gold discovery at the South Para had only produced a few small specimens, the Register was convinced that ‘from all appearances a great discovery awaits steady perseverance’. Other newspapers stated that the discovery of a workable goldfield in South Australia was very desirable at the present time, because it would check ‘the abstraction of labour from South Australia’.

Opinion makers warned intending gold diggers not to leave South Australia for the ‘dangerous and maddening pursuits of gold digging’. Remember they said, ‘those who threw up their employment in feverish haste to get rich suddenly on the fields of Sacramento in California, the land of lynch law, of gambling and of ague’. The best chance for a man was to remain where he was, plough the fields and sell the grain to the diggers on the goldfield.

Richard Vounder Rodda warned intending gold seekers, who had no knowledge of mineralogy or geology and madly rushed off, that they would soon discover that ‘all is not gold that glitters’. There was no doubt in his mind that there was gold in South Australia but if men were determined to risk their health and even lives by searching for it, he said, let them do so here, for they can get rid of both at a much cheaper rate than at Bathurst or California.

The correspondent of the Mining Journal of 26 June 1852 approached the problem from a different angle by asking, ‘Who is to say that South Australia may not any day develop goldfields equal, if not superior, to anything hitherto discovered by our neighbours. I am confident that sooner or later we shall not be behind them’. This hope and expectation of large gold deposits in South Australia would be echoed many times in one form or another during the next 150 years.

No matter how many reports were published about gold discoveries in South Australia, hundreds of people, whom the Register called the idlers, the dissatisfied, the reckless and the wild just kept leaving for the eastern colonies every day. Governor Young, who in October 1851 had stated that he did not anticipate that the eastern gold diggings would tempt too many South Australians to leave, now showed his dislike of labourers who went for their quest of gold. He described them as ‘the floating scum of the population’ while William Stawell, attorney general of Victoria, called them vagrants.

At Wellington the ferry worked day and night to take people across the Murray. During the last quarter of 1851, some 3,688 passengers and 738 vehicles crossed, while in February 1852 alone, 1,234 passengers and 1,266 horses and bullocks and 16 carriages were taken across. Extra police were stationed at Wellington to recapture the many horses stolen by diggers in too much of a hurry to walk. There were so many suspicious characters on the roads that honest travellers were advised to carry certified papers to be able to identify themselves.

Some of Governor Young’s so called scum, and Stawell’s vagrants, left in style too! One party had a farewell spree at the City Bridge Hotel for ‘a parting jollification where C. Walsh would sing Billy Barlow’s Farewell on Going to the Diggings, accompanied by Old Joe on the pianoforte’. Most diggers walked to Victoria with some of them losing their way and dying of thirst. Those with money and in a hurry boarded heavily overloaded and overcrowded ships to Melbourne.

On 14 December 1851, Emily Clark wrote in her diary, ‘We hear nothing but gold, gold. People are leaving by the hundreds and homes and land are being sold for half their value. Trade is very bad, shopkeepers are in despair. Fifty went from Kensington last week and there are no less than twelve vessels advertised to sail for Melbourne’.

Three months later though she commented on the positive effect of it all when she stated that her brother Vincent had been making cradles for the gold diggers and sold them as fast as he could. On 10 January 1852, Henry Hussey recorded in his diary ‘This day Adelaide presented a most singular appearance, the streets being almost deserted, Tradesmen much depressed, and little or scarcely any business doing.

Eleven vessels advertised for Melbourne’. Mrs Evans, daughter of George Fife Angas, wrote, ‘the discovery of gold has turned our little world upside down; thousands have left the settlement for the diggings. In Adelaide windows are bricked up, and outside is written, gone to the diggings’. A woman who sent her little ones along Morphett Street to the baker’s for some bread had them coming back screaming that they had seen a man.

There is the story by Robert Harrison (tongue in cheek!) about the effect gold mania had on some women in South Australia. Apparently the ladies of Thebarton in their distress, resolved upon a plan that they thought would afford some relief from the lack of male company. They secured the last male left at Thebarton with a bullock chain while he was asleep. They took no notice of ‘his beseechings, bewailings and lamentations’. These were of no use. He just had to enjoy the charm of compulsory female society.

Before long, a number of unsuccessful and successful diggers had returned and Grace Howard recorded in her diary on 10 July 1852, ‘the streets are in a dreadful state with tipsy diggers and the shops filled with their wives, it is getting quite impossible for ladies to walk in Hindley Street without a gentleman’.

Matthew Moorhouse, Protector of Aborigines, warned that as a result of emigration to the Victorian goldfields, insufficient labour was left to attend the flocks. To solve this problem he instructed station owners to keep tribes as much as possible in their own districts to be ready to assist such settlers as might be in want of labourers. Police were withdrawn from several country towns to protect Adelaide.

This in turn led settlers at Encounter Bay to fear that ‘the natives would become troublesome during the winter months’. Gawler residents too felt unprotected with nearly its entire male population leaving for Victoria. Business of all kind was suspended and even some of the hotels closed. Everything seemed at a standstill and ruin was predicted not only for Gawler but the whole of South Australia.

Those left behind petitioned the government to appoint a Justice of the Peace with powers to swear in Special Constables. The labour shortage exasperated the Commissioner of Police too. On 26 August 1852 he wrote to the Colonial Secretary that the excitement caused by the gold rush, as well as the sudden rise in the cost of provisions, will, I fear prevent me from obtaining persons to join the police force at the present rate of pay. Unless it is increased immediately to 5 shillings a day I shall not have a man left within six weeks.

During most of this time settlers at Robe employed Aborigines to look after more than 150,000 sheep, replacing their shepherds who had left for Victoria. Later, the gold rush had some unexpected side effects for South Australia when nearly 16,000 Chinese arrived at Robe, bound for the Victorian goldfields. Many of the locals at Robe were quick to cash in on this bonanza. They charged five shilling per man to bring them ashore and a further £50 per party to escort them to Ballarat. No sooner were they near or across the border than many of the guides would vanish leaving the Chinese on their own in the wilderness.

As late as 1857, five Dutch ships arrived at Robe with some 2,000 Chinese miners. Unfortunately one of these ships, the Koning William II, after landing her passengers, was wrecked at Long Beach near Robe with the loss of 15 crewmembers on 30 June 1857.

When mail arrived from Melbourne, post offices were thronged with women eager for news from their relatives and ‘many were the ludicrous scenes that occurred whilst the grass widows held possession of the town’. Not all country males left for Victoria to obtain gold; some found it easier to stay home and rob unsuspecting travellers. Mrs Spencer of Aldinga Plains, on her way to the bank in Adelaide, was robbed of £3 worth of gold, from her saddlebags, in front of the Horseshoe Hotel at Noarlunga and Thomas O’Brien was arrested for stealing four ounces of gold from James Grey of Adelaide. James Cronk, on his way back to South Australia, was robbed of every ounce of gold he had dug and arrived home penniless.

If it had been known that in January 1852 James S. Clark at Noarlunga had found the largest piece of gold in South Australia up to that time, many probably would have stayed home and prospected their own local area. Many others satisfied their quest for gold in a much more constructive and honourable way. Farmers and millers from Encounter Bay to the Barossa struck their own golden bonanza as they despatched shiploads of produce to Victoria, giving them an increased price for their goods in Adelaide as well.

Gumeracha millers, William, John and Elliott Randell were able to satisfy their quest for gold by supplying flour direct to the diggings by taking it up the River Murray. A Clarendon farmer, instead of following the thousands of hopefuls, stayed home and sent drays with bacon and hams to Mount Alexander. Nathaniel Hails made substantial profits from selling prefabricated wooden huts, which he had bought cheaply in Adelaide.

Naturally, the government wanted to stop the massive movement of South Australians across the border to Victoria and New South Wales as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the attached conditions of its reward scheme for finding gold in South Australia made it almost impossible to claim the money. One of the conditions to claim the reward was that within two months of its discovery £10,000 worth of gold had to be produced from the discovery.

This was additional to the requirement that within those same two months the value of licences taken out to mine the area had to be equal to the possible £1,000 reward. At the going rate of 30 shillings it meant that 667 people had to take out a licence before the government was satisfied that it was a substantial discovery. It did not persuade too many men to stay in South Australia to try their luck prospecting for gold.

When people continued to leave in droves, the South Australian government became justifiably worried as ‘Thousands are now on the wing for the purpose of trying their luck at the new wheel of fortune. In fact the working classes have gone mad and there seems nothing left for us but to yield for the moment to the storm, as sober argument is on all hands set at naught and trampled under foot’. Needless to say the terms of the reward conditions were later modified, but not by much!

Many of those remaining at home voiced their concern that eventually, somehow, someone would have to pay for the maintenance of wives and children left without a breadwinner. The Destitute Board was quick to give notice that it would not maintain families of men who had left for the diggings and published a notice that ‘Married Men proceeding to the goldfields are hereby informed that the Board will not afford relief for any wives and families that may be left behind in a state of destitution’. It was not long before ‘stark poverty’ forced a softening of its views. So thoroughly distressing were some cases that ‘the Board did not feel justified in refusing aid altogether’.

As late as 1856 the Board reported a large increase in destitution caused by ‘the heartlessness in most instances of fathers of families, who being at the diggings and in all probability having quite enough for themselves and in sufficient means to bring them back, neither return, write, nor send the means of support to their families’. Among the women listed who had not heard from their husbands for up to four years were several with six or more children.

Among the numerous women supported by the Destitute Board were 30 years old Susanna Daw of Bowden with four children. Her husband had been away for more than two years. Rosina Darling, also 30, had five children and had not heard anything for 15 months whereas Eliza Goodman, 28, of Nailsworth had been looking after four children for two and a half years. A number of men had left from Cox Creek, among them James Rudd, Noah Nichols and Richard Searle. Margaret Searle had to bring up eight children and Margaret Young of Hindmarsh six. Both had not heard from their husbands for over two years. M.A. Broadbent, a 21 year old mother with one child, had to be supported as her husband had deserted her for the lure of gold and never contacted her again.

Not all deserted women applied for assistance from the Destitute Board. One Adelaide woman, named Conroy, walked all the way overland to the Mount Alexander goldfields, in search of her husband from who she hadn’t heard for four months. When news of the Victorian gold discoveries reached Burra, most of the copper miners, who had a steady job, were not so eager to leave for Victoria. Instead they resolved to send a deputation to look around and report on the diggings before they would make a move. Excitement ran high when it returned with very encouraging and convincing news. As a result the vast majority of the Burra miners, and their Captains, made their way across the border. Most were so anxious to clear out that they sold most of their belongings for next to nothing.

One of the Captains was Matthew Bryant, the second highest placed manager at Burra. He had arrived in South Australia on 24 October 1846 from Plymouth to work for the Barossa Range Mining Company. Within a year he was earning £12.10 per week at the Burra mine. While on the Victorian goldfields he was given a roving commission to persuade ex Burra miners to return. Bryant himself eventually returned to Burra as well and was sent to the northern Flinders Ranges in 1858 to examine the Mochatoona and other mines. Yet after 15 years of faithful service he was dismissed on account of his ‘intemperate habits’.

In December 1851 about a hundred Burra miners arrived at Port Adelaide to board ships for Victoria. Competition for a space on board ship was great and people were crowded together like sheep and suffered many privations during the passage. These were ‘cheerfully undergone in order that they might reach the wonderful El Dorado where gold was to be had in such abundance’. Those unable to secure a space, or without the means to buy one, made their way overland.

In January 1852 John Oliver left his dugout home at the Burra Creek for Ballarat. Initially he did well and in October arranged for his wife and two daughters to make the trip by ship and join him at the diggings. No sooner was the family complete again than things started to go horribly wrong. His little daughter Catherine died from dysentery aged only two years and eight months. His wife Elizabeth deserted him and returned to South Australia, leaving their seven year old daughter Elizabeth with her husband. Later little Elizabeth, left in the tent by herself, was raped while John was out digging. John died on 2 February 1857 leaving Elizabeth to fend for herself.

After some years Elizabeth returned to South Australia. When only 25 years old she became the first, and only, woman to be hanged in South Australia. Her crime: the wilful murder of her husband Thomas Woolcock. Neither mitigating circumstances, such as aggravated cruelty, nor the many petitions, could persuade the court to pass a more lenient sentence.

Among the many others to join the rush to the Victorian goldfields were Benjamin, George, Oliver, Richard and Thomas Ragless. They too left in January 1852 and took nearly four weeks to reach Mount Alexander. After paying for expenses, each man was left with nearly £300 after ten weeks of work. Compared with the average workingman’s wage of less than £100 per year, they had done remarkably well. So had Tom Davey, a water carrier from Burra. He and his mates each made £200 worth of gold in 14 days.

Others who followed them were W.H. Martin, brothers John and James Treloar, Thomas Major and Cornish preacher William Moyle, who ‘was richer in grace than gold’. In February 1852 Johannes Menge led a group of 50 eager Germans overland to Forest Creek to dig under his instructions. Here, Menge was the first to work an auriferous quartz reef. Up to that time diggers had only confined their attention to alluvial deposits. Menge died later that year in his tent on the diggings.

Forest Creek, the first town on the Mount Alexander diggings, was discovered in September 1851 and named by the diggers because of the abundance of trees along the creek. Later it was renamed Chewton. The presence of large numbers of South Australian miners is shown by names such as Adelaide Street and Adelaide Flat. Later J.W. Cole wrote to his sister Harriett, ‘I left with my little son Willie for the diggings. After seeing Mount Alexander I was forcibly reminded of an immense graveyard. Every way I saw nothing but yawning pits, so close together that they were within a foot or two of each other. Never in my life worked so hard. As soon as it was daylight we were at it and kept on till dusk in rain or sunshine and sometimes ankle deep in mud and slush. If I am spared to return I will have a trial at digging in South Australia’.

In September G.W. Vivian, mine clerk of Burra resigned from his job and joined those who had left earlier in the year. When more reports came back about fabulous strikes, brothers John, James and William Whiford left Burra on 9 October. They found their first gold on 10 November 1852.

Although many of the Burra miners had been brought out from Cornwall by the South Australian Mining Association to work their Burra mine, few bothered to honour their contract when instant riches were available across the border. A substantial number of those leaving South Australia for the Victorian goldfields were Cornish settlers. Most of this group were copper miners and proved to be a very mobile group, which could be found, then and later, on most of Australia’s goldfields. Many changed from copper mining to gold or silver and back to copper again.

Edward Dunstan, who had arrived with his parents in 1847, settled in Kapunda, where his father was employed. In 1851 he left with his father and brothers for the lure of Victorian gold. After their return Edward went twice more on his own. After his last return he found work at Blinman but soon moved back to Kapunda. Within a short time he was on his way again for such golden destinations as New Zealand, Gympie, Rockhampton and Peak Down. After all this roaming he finally settled down at Belalie and bought land. He was certainly a classic example of a mobile Cornishman.

However not all who left South Australia were Cornish and not all were miners from Burra either. James Neale from Houghton walked to Victoria but not having any luck walked straight back again. Samuel Pearce, another Houghton resident had more luck. He found gold in May 1864, not in Victoria but in the neighbourhood of Chain of Ponds and Gumeracha. John Maslin and his wife Mary arrived in South Australia in 1850. John went to Bendigo several times and must have been fairly successful as he bought land at Maslin Beach, which was named after him, and later became the owner of Bundaleer Station.

There was a great exodus from Gawler and several of these men returned late in 1852 having made as much as £1,000 each. Henry Calton did not return though, he died at Bendigo Creek from ‘an attack of inflammation of the bowels’ on 12 June 1852. Francis Treloar hailed from Watervale and sailed on the Annie on 9 March 1852. He found his first gold on 12 April. On 8 August he delivered two pounds, eight ounces to the Commissioner’s tent followed by another five pounds on 27 September. On 7 November he sent only 28 ounces home and two weeks later sailed back arriving home again on 30 November 1852. His journey had been more than worthwhile.

John Allen, a draper’s assistant, Robert Dunstone, mason, and farmers William Pedlar and William Mildren all came from Adelaide. Zacharias Carthew and his son were miners and worked at the Worthing mine near Adelaide whereas William Christopher, John Rowett, John Rogers and John Harris came from Kapunda. Jane Harding, who had just married John Magor of Kapunda, was on her way with him for the Victorian diggings. John’s brother Thomas went to the diggings too. He did very well and opened the first brewery in Ballarat. After returning to South Australia he built several hotels and became Mayor of Port Pirie in 1887.

Among those departing from Callington were Captain Absalom Tonkin, William and Josiah Odgers, Robert Peters and James Jenkins. Tungkillo miners John Dunstan and Thomas Teaque also decided that Victorian gold was a better proposition than South Australian copper. John Harman Eamer, son of a London stockbroker and grandson of Sir John Eamer, Lord Mayor of London, arrived in Adelaide with his wife Louise in 1850. He too was attracted by the potential riches of the Victorian fields and left his wife in 1852 to dig for the yellow metal. He wrote to both his wife in Adelaide and mother in England telling them that he had ‘even picked up small pieces of gold lying on the ground which a heavy shower of rain had brought to view’.

Henry Holroyd gave it a go as well and was rewarded with more than one pound of gold for his efforts. A pound of gold at that time would have been worth about £42, or nearly half a year’s wages. He did even better when he returned to Adelaide where he eventually became Inspector of the Mounted Police. James Tonkin of Torrens Vale worked for nine months at Forest Creek before returning in 1852. Charles Forbes of Myponga, who had ‘met with considerable success at Eaglehawk and Bendigo’ in 1851 returned and started hotel keeping at Mount Torrens.

The same could not be said for Robert Bain of Morphett Vale who had ‘failed to secure any very tangible results in return for his enterprise’. Thomas O’Sullivan, who was only 17 years old and also from Morphett Vale, spent only three months in Victoria before returning home. However he too found that gold mining, as an occupation, possessed a singular fascination for those who had tried it and even though the rewards were often elusive and alluring, he went back for a second time.

G.P. Bayly of Coromandel Valley had been moderately successful in Victoria and on his return formed a partnership with Charles C. Collison as Gold Buyers. John James Rudd, who had arrived in South Australia on the Buffalo in 1836, had been working as a woodcutter at Bridgewater and wondered if he could do better at Forest Creek. He soon was in luck and his travels and prospecting in Victoria proved to be very successful. Father Backhouse went to the goldfields following his people from Clare. Backhouse was born in Paderborn, Prussia in 1811 and had studied at the University of Wurzburg and Rome before he was ordained in 1836. Dr Backhouse arrived in Adelaide in 1847 and was eventually posted to Clare. He did remarkably well and accumulated considerable wealth.

The majority of the 15,000 people who left South Australia to try their luck did not find their wheel of fortune in the eastern colonies. One digger wrote home that out of every 100 diggers, five made their fortune, 45 made wages and the other 50 starved.

Charles Rowland Thornber tried his luck at Bendigo and Forest Creek but unable to make a pile joined the Gold Escorts several times under Inspectors Tolmer and Alford. After his marriage to Elizabeth Ann Gardiner, the couple moved to Yorke Peninsula where he became Postmaster of Moonta for the next 40 years. He died at his son’s residence in Western Australia on 14 October 1920. Benjamin Pickworth Hunt arrived in South Australia in May 1852, was appointed police trooper on 8 June at five shillings per day and was soon on his way with the Gold Escorts as well.

Samuel Thomas Gill, the great chronicler of the goldfields, born on 21 May 1818 at Perriton, Devonshire, was the son of a Baptist minister and schoolmaster. He arrived with his parents in South Australia in 1839. He too joined the rush to make his money. Gill did not dig for gold but instead became the most recognised of all artists who recorded the life of the ordinary digger, and others, on the goldfields. His first collection of lithographs was published in 1852. Sadly though it did not bring him all that much luck or money and taking to the bottle he died drunk and destitute on the steps of the Melbourne post office on 27 October 1880.

Irishman John Moore from Adelaide spent five years at the Victorian goldfields without having accumulated any gold at all. Francis Treloar was back in 1853 working as a teamster in Burra. John Bull found a little gold and returned to work as a stockman for the Chambers brothers in the Flinders Ranges where he discovered copper in 1856. Captain Tonkin returned after seven years to Callington where he opened a general store. Many diggers returned to South Australia much poorer than before they had started.

A party of 14 men, residents of Houghton and the Little Para, returned from the diggings unsuccessful and penniless, begging their way home. Richard George Clode wrote to his mother in England that he had left on foot in October 1851 but was ready to return for the South Australian goldfields in 1852. William Haines from Tea Tree Gully had to join the Victorian Police to make a living while on the goldfields. He too returned and did much better in Tea Tree Gully where he became a hotelkeeper, District Clerk and later a member of parliament.

Some came back in record time too! The Gee brothers managed to cover the distance on foot in 20 days. They left Mount Alexander on 27 February and arrived in Adelaide on 18 March, delivering a letter to Mrs James of the North Arms Hotel in Rundle Street from her husband who had just reached the diggings. Not all returned empty handed though. From Forest Creek it was reported that one Adelaide party of six men had amassed 260 lbs of gold in five weeks, and another party, consisting of three members, had uncovered 70 lbs of the yellow metal in one week.

James Coglin arrived in South Australia, with his parents, Rebecca Boyce and Bartholomew, and brother Patrick in 1837. James worked as a builder and erected the first altar in Adelaide for the Venerable Father Vincent to say Mass. After his stint at the Victorian diggings he returned more than a pound of gold to his brother Patrick with the first gold escort. Carl Blume, who arrived with his parents in Adelaide on the Patel in 1845, went to the Bendigo diggings and did well. On his return to South Australia he became an agriculturalist and pastoralist and one of the largest landowners in the South East. Alexander Kirk of Kirklands near the Little Para was successful too. He ‘took to the gold fever’ and after nine months at Mount Alexander, he and his mates ‘carried home 40 pounds of gold’.

Henry Tilley and his son of thirteen, left for the diggings and on their return were able to buy a section of land for £800. Most Crown Land at that time was sold at £1 per acre. John Baker carried 500 ounces of gold dust back to South Australia. Thomas Magor returned after four months with 18 pounds of gold! He went back for more and later tried his luck in New Zealand before settling down in South Australia and also becoming Mayor of Port Pirie.

The most successful digger from South Australia appears to have been George Lansell who won more gold at Bendigo than all South Australians would in the next 50 years. He arrived on the diggings in 1853 and became the richest man in Bendigo, making for some time as much as £1,000 per day from his investments. Not all diggers returned to South Australia. Many remained in Victoria or New South Wales where they went from field to field or found themselves a wife or job and settled down.

Instead of digging for gold, C.H. Green got the job of Commissioner of Crown Lands for the gold district of New South Wales. Edward Snell, who had arrived in South Australia in 1849, decided in 1852 after having tried his hand at several jobs, to give the diggings a good look. He must have found something for he never returned.

Dr Eugene Mahony of Port Adelaide practised at Forest Creek and Dr Hugh Smith of Adelaide later became a prominent citizen of Bendigo. George Bradhurst, engineer of Kapunda took his wife Lavinia and one year old son George to Victoria and stayed as well.

Unfortunately there were large numbers of South Australian diggers who seemed to have forgotten they had family in South Australia. For a number of years Adelaide newspapers, which were available on the Victorian diggings, carried a section ‘Messages To The Diggings’, which contained urgent messages from worried relatives hoping that at least some would write or come back. As most of these had to be paid for by cash-strapped wifes or family members, they were invariably short and to the point. A Message to John Bezley of McLaren Vale simply said, ‘This is to inform you that your wife is dead and that your family wish you to return immediately’. A message to David Daw read, ‘You are earnestly requested to write to your wife immediately. It is five months since she received your last letter’.

The Adelaide Post Office held thousands of unclaimed letters, presumably most of them addressed to men who had left for the diggings. Those who did come back, successful or not, had gained valuable experience. Many of them would apply it in South Australia.

If you would like to find out more,
please go to HOME PAGE for more information.
Thank you for visiting Flinders Ranges Research,
We hope you enjoy your stay and find the information useful.
This site has been designed and is maintained by FRR.