This series has five easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Just Where He Thought It Would Be.
Edward Jenks was a famous law professor whose reputation rested primarily on his books on law and government. After spending time in Australia he published A History of the Australasian Colonies in 1895. And now, Edward Jenks.
Time: February 12, 1851
Place: Lewes Pond Creek
In the year 1851 Edmund Hammond Hargraves, an old settler in New South Wales, returned thither from California, where he had spent about eighteen months in the search for gold. His efforts in California resulted in no immediate prosperity, but he gained much useful practical experience. More than this, as he looked at the natural features of the California gold-fields, a great idea grew up in his mind. Though not a geologist, he appears to have had a quick eye for stratiform resemblances; and the more he studied the peculiarities of rocks and soil in California, the more he became convinced that he knew, in his own colony, a district which presented the same features and which, therefore, might be expected to produce the same results.
Remaining in California only long enough to verify his observations, he returned to Sydney at the beginning of the year 1851. Seldom has such absolute confidence in unverified observation proved so completely justified. According to Hargraves’s own account he went without hesitation to a spot on the banks of a little stream known as Lewes Pond Creek, a tributary of Summer Hill Creek, itself a tributary of the Macquarie River, and there at once, on February 12, 1851, found alluvial gold. In April he had so far advanced as to be able to write to the Government offering to disclose his treasures for five hundred pounds. But he subsequently decided to trust to the liberality of the Government, and offered at once to show his workings to the government geologist, an official recently sent out from England to report upon gold prospects. On May 19th Mr. Stutchbury officially reported the discovery of gold in workable quantities at Summer Hill Creek, and by the end of the same month the immigration to the diggings had begun. Hargraves himself took no part in the digging, merely pointing out to others, without reserve, the places in which his experience led him to predict discovery, and instructing them in the processes of washing and cleaning. He was soon made a commissioner of Crown lands, and received a reward of ten thousand pounds.
Now began a period which can have no complete parallel in earlier history, save the almost contemporaneous parallel of California.
For in days when news traveled slowly, and traveling for ordinary men was still slower, in days when governments jealously prohibited the expatriation of their subjects, and only allowed the immigration of aliens under strict limitations, nothing like the Australian gold-rush could have taken place. As it was, everything favored the stampede. The Australian colonies themselves were anxious for immigrants. The European disturbances of 1848 had led many Continental rulers to the conclusion that it was wiser to allow turbulent spirits to go than to attempt to keep them. The new era of industry had completely unsettled the old relationships and awakened a spirit of restlessness. Finally, the recent application of steam to sea-going ships had rendered a rapid decrease in the length of the voyage from Europe a practical certainty. From the moment that the genuineness of Hargraves’s discoveries was placed beyond doubt a swarm of pilgrims from all parts of the world set their faces toward the diggings. Many, perhaps the majority, of the arrivals were totally unsuited for the actual work of mining. Some of these turned to other pursuits in the neighborhood, and, in no small number of cases, did far better than the diggers whose gold they received. But thousands turned back in despair after a few days’ experience of the hardships of the life; so that, almost from the first, there was an enormous traffic to and fro, and strong division of parties upon the gold question. An extreme view of the effect upon population may be obtained from a comparison of the statistics of Victoria at the close of the years 1850 and 1855 respectively. At the former date the population was under seventy thousand; at the latter, it was upward of three hundred thousand. But no other colony increased to anything like this extent during the gold rush.
The first care of the Government at Sydney, on receiving the official report of the existence of gold, was to decide upon the attitude to be assumed toward the diggers. It was abundantly clear that the establishment of mining industries would mean a great increase of expense to the Government. It was equally clear that, as the law had been declared over and over again in the colony, unauthorized digging on Crown land constituted a trespass, for which the digger was legally responsible. But the Governor was wise enough to see that no threats of prosecution would deter men bent on digging in unoccupied lands, even if it were possible to preserve the lands of private owners from forcible intrusion. The “squatting” question had demonstrated that, beyond a certain point, the theory of Crown occupation of waste lands was liable to break down.
So the government advisers suggested a compromise. Falling back on a still older feudal doctrine, they asserted the indefeasible right of the Crown to all gold found either on private or public lands, but recommended that licenses to dig should be granted on easy terms, which would have the double effect of providing revenue and of preserving an acknowledgment of the Crown’s title.
Acting on this advice, Governor Fitzroy, on May 22, 1851, issued a proclamation forbidding all persons to dig for gold on any lands without license, but expressing the willingness of the Government to grant licenses at a fee of thirty shillings a month to diggers on Crown lands. For the present, the Governor refused to allow digging on private lands without the owner’s consent. The proclamation also announced that no license would be given to any laborer or servant unless he could produce a certificate of discharge from his last service. At the same time the Governor established the practice of appointing special commissioners for the gold-fields, charged with the administration of the licensing system and the general maintenance of order in their respective districts. He also strengthened the police force by every means in his power, and then awaited developments.
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