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This Day in History

Australian History

Wednesday, February 12, 1851. :   The first payable gold is discovered in Australia.

     Gold was discovered in Australia as early as the 1820s, but discoveries were kept secret, for fear of sparking off unrest among the convicts. The discoveries were usually made by farmers who did not want to subject their sheep and cattle runs to a sudden influx of prospectors and lawlessness that would inevitably follow. However, as more people left the Australian colonies to join the gold rush in California, it became apparent that the outward tide of manpower would need to be stemmed. The government began to seek experts who could locate gold in Australian countrysides.

Gold was first officially discovered in Australia on 12 February 1851, not far from Bathurst, New South Wales. Edward Hammond Hargraves had carefully studied the geology of the area and, convinced that it was similar to that of the California goldfields, from where he had just returned, went prospecting. He enlisted the assistance of John Lister, a man who had already found gold in the region. Of particular note was the use of the cradle, or rocker, a technology which Hargraves had brought back from California. This device allowed prospectors to search a greater volume of soil at any given time.

Lister, accompanied by William Tom and his brother James, found four ounces of gold using the cradle. They led Hargraves to the location at Summerhill Creek, at a site which Hargraves named "Ophir" after the Biblical city of gold. After reporting his discovery, he was appointed a 'Commissioner of Land', receiving a reward of 10,000 plus a life pension. The New South Wales government made the official announcement of the discovery of gold in May 1851. Lister and the Tom brothers, however, were not given any credit or reward for their part in the discovery.

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