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GOLD PROSPECTING LOCATIONS
GOLD LOCALITIES OF TASMANIA
The first payable alluvial gold discovery in Tasmania was at Tullochgorum near Fingal (south-west of St. Marys on the eastern side of Tasmania) in February 1852. It is interesting to note that around 1877, the nearby goldfields of Mathinna and Tower Hill came into being when rich gold-bearing quartz was discovered and several crushing plants were erected.
Charles Gould, a geologist, conducted an expedition to the West Coast in 1862 – 1863 where fine gold was found in small quantities in the King and Franklin Rivers in the country behind Macquarie Harbour. Coarser gold was also found in the banks of the Acheron River being a tributary of the Jane River. In April of 1863, Gould decided to prospect the King River in more detail. He found that the gold here in the slaty country was slightly coarser than in some of the other localities he had prospected.
Between the years 1875 – 1879 several small goldfields in the north west of Tasmania were worked by the Chinese. Perhaps, the largest being in the year 1876 was the camp situated at Hellyer River. The Cam River and the Inglis River were also worked by the Chinese diggers. It was reported that Doctors Rock which is situated between Somerset and Wynyard produced gold which was found in the sand along the shoreline. Several small nuggets were also found here.
The government surveyor, Charles Sprent led his first expedition in 1876 in the country west of Waratah cutting a track east of the Meredith Range down to the Pieman River and then on to Mt. Heemskirk. The party found traces of gold in the many creeks running into the Pieman River. Charles Sprent wrote in his report to the government that ".... As in the case of the Hellyer River so it is with the Pieman River; wherever the softer schists occur gold is found in small quantities, and I have not the slightest doubt that gold will be found in paying quantities, both alluvial and reef gold".
In his second expedition, the party cut a track from the Arthur River to the Pieman River via Rapid River, Wedge River and Pyramid Hill. Here they went east and prospected sections of the Whyte and Heazlewood Rivers. Here they found traces of gold in many places. It was stated that the gold occurred in small quantities almost everywhere. In two instances it occurs with osmiridium, a metal of the platinum class, in the vicinity of serpentine rock.
The year 1878 saw a prospector named Frank Timbs who found a small quantity of gold on his way from Waratah to Heemskirk. In the same year, a Mr. Jack Brown went to an area now known as Brown Plains where he discovered the first payable gold deposit on the West Coast.
The following year, Harry Middleton accompanied by three other men went prospecting up the Pieman River. After prospecting the Whyte River and other tributaries of the Pieman River without much success, they entered the Savage River and went up a small creek coming in from the east which became known as Middleton's Creek, they found gold in payable quantities and a rush set in. This discovery marks the beginning of gold mining on the Tasmanian West Coast.
The rush to Middleton's Creek was on! The prospects were just payable, varying from half a grain to a grain to the dish. A digger could make between £3 to £8 per week which was good money in those days considering the average weekly wage was about £2 per week. The creek had its peak population in July 1879 when about 400 men worked along its course. At the same time, 25 men obtained good gold at the Donaldson River. The best part of the creek-bed, which included Middleton's Reward Claim, was shallow and only about 1 kilometre long.
Soon after the discovery of gold at Middleton's Creek the diggers found out that gold was almost present in large accumulations of gravels, gravel banks and often high up on the hills in the neighbourhood of the creek, though only in very small 'colours'. They eventually found payable gold in nearly every creek running into the Donaldson, Savage and Whyte Rivers.
The Pieman River Goldfield, also called the Corinna Goldfield stretched from the Donaldson River to the Meredith Range, a distance of about 20 kilometres. It ran north of the Pieman River for about 15 kilometres and included the Brown Plains area. Also in the goldfield was the area south-east of Corinna, containing Nancy Creek, Lucy Creek and the Paradise River.
In December 1879 two prospectors, Ted Peevor and George Johnson found gold in a creek on Long Plain not far from the present Savage River mining town. The discovery of gold in this new area, about 30 kilometres north of the Pieman River, resulted in a small rush. But the creek, later named Big Duffer Creek, was not up to expectations and was deserted. Two years later Tom Smith and Harry Howard went down to a creek running in the opposite direction to the Big Duffer Creek. There they found coarse gold in very rich concentrations. They worked this area undisturbed for two months and recovered about 450 ounces of gold. The creek which was known as Smiths Creek which was later re-named Obsidian Creek was one of the richest on the West Coast.
It is interesting to note that the best gold was found in the slate crevices in the creek beds. At the junction of Smiths Creek and Townsend's Creek, Tom Smith and his partner obtained 120 ounces from a piece of ground measuring 6 metres by 3 metres. It was reported that a Mr Crewse and his partner got 60 ounces in four days from a crevice. Mr Luke and his partner got 60 ounces. Conray and his party recovered 200 ounces. The heaviest nugget, 8¾ ounces, was found by Broderick and party in Grays Creek.
It was well known that the average purity of gold found in Tasmania is about 96%, the balance being the metals of the platinoid groups.
In October 1881, Samuel Lefroy received a reward of £3000 for his gold discoveries on Specimen Hill near Nine Mile Springs. The following year, possibly Tasmania's most profitable goldfield called the Lefroy Goldfield, 12 kilometres east of George Town was established.
Early in 1882, numerous diggers worked in the Nancy Creek, Lucy Creek and Paradise River, all tributaries to the Pieman River south-east of Corinna. All the creeks in that area carried heavy gold. Many of the diggers moved north to the new discoveries at Long Plains and the upper reaches of the Savage River.
In May of 1882, four gold prospectors, S. Hall, T. Jones, G. Johnson and T. Farrell, found rich gold in a creek west of the Savage River about 9 kilometres north of Long Plains. One tributary to this creek named Specimen Creek became famous for its coarse gold. It was in this creek that T. Greenway and G. Thunder found the first gold reef on the West Coast. The two men collected about 40 ounces of free gold from its outcrop. About 30 leases were pegged out in the vicinity, some with promising names like the Lucky Hit, the Second to None and the Goldfinger. The reef was named Specimen Reef. Some rich specimens from this reef were exhibited in Launceston in November 1882.
The following year, in 1883, the famous Golden Ridge gold mine about 1 kilometres west of Long Plains was discovered. Many tunnels were driven into the ridge in the hope of discovering rich patches of gold. None of the tunnels was successful in opening up any permanent run of gold-bearing material. A comparatively small proportion of the gold was found in underground workings. The ridge yielded a great deal of nuggets, but most of them were found on or close to the surface. The ridge was famous for its crystallised gold, many individual crystals measuring 6 to 7mm in length. Attempts were also made to treat the auriferous dirt by puddling. Cox' Face an open cut in the schist at the southern end of the ridge, gave about 80 ounces of gold to the diggers. It is interesting to note that more gold came out of the creeks in the immediate vicinity than from the ridge itself. Even though no records were kept, it is stated that between 20,000 to 30,000 ounces were won from this area.
Towards the end of December 1882, three prospectors arrived at the Rocky River, which to their knowledge, had never been prospected before. The three men, J. McGinty, D. Neil, and T. Richards, worked their way slowly up the narrow river, finding good gold in the crevices and holes of its rocky bed. On the 23rd January, 1883 they worked on a bank of gravels about 1 kilometre up the river and unearthed the biggest gold nugget ever found in Tasmania. The famous 243 ounce nugget was found 5 or 6 feet below the surface. A week later another nugget weighing 39 ounces was also found. About a month later another prospector, Jim Griffin found Tasmania's second largest nugget weighing 140 ounces.
The Rocky River attracted many diggers from other Tasmanian fields and was worked up to around 1900. A lot of gold was found at this field with nuggets weighing up 3 ounces turning up occasionally. There were many success stories of men each leaving the area with over 100 ounces of gold.
In 1882 many of the diggers from the Corinna Goldfield left for the newly discovered gold country in the Queen River Valley. The first discovery of gold in that area was made by three Irish prospectors namely, Con Lynch, T. Curry and S.J. Lenahan. About 6 kilometres up the Queen River, Con Lynch found coarse, heavy gold in a creek which later became known as Lynchs Creek. It was also found that other creeks running into the Queen River were found to carry payable gold.
The following year a sensational gold discovery was made on Lynch's Reward Claim when a young man employed by Lynch to dig prospecting trenches struck his pick into a pocket of quartz so richly splashed with gold. A 50 kg sample was sent to Melbourne and was found to yield gold to the value of £830. It was estimated that the gold would run to 4,000 ounces to the ton. This mine was named King River Mine located about 6 kilometres north of King River. A company was formed namely the 'King River Gold Mining Company'. They succeeded in erecting a stamper battery which was driven by a waterwheel. This battery was the first battery on the West Coast to crush gold-bearing quartz.
In September 1885 several prospecting parties went up the creeks south of the King River Gorge to prospect for gold. The first payable alluvial gold in that area was found by P. Flanigan and party in a creek flowing from Mt. Strahan to the Garfield River. They obtained a reward claim of 5 acres and worked on it for about 2 years. This creek is still known as Flanigan's Creek. Many other rich claims were worked in the same neighbourhood.
One party, working an old Pliocene channel 200 metres above Flanigan's Creek, obtained 53 ounces of gold in nine days. The auriferous area, which was first known as the 'New Rush', stretched from Mt. Jukes to Mt. Strahan, and was worked to about 1905. Rich patches of alluvial gold were worked on the slopes of Mt. Darwin. In 1902 the Hudson brothers discovered a coarse gold specimen right on the top of the mountain. A 6½ ounce nugget, the biggest found in the area, also came from Mt. Darwin.
In June 1891, four men namely C. Brooker, J.O. Rooke, G. Kirkland and J. Mills arrived in Zeehan and deposited 117 ounces of gold at the branch of The Bank of Van Dieman's Land. The gold was found in a creek running into the Ring River near Mt. Hamilton – the result of 11 days prospecting. This led to one of the last gold rushes on the West Coast. Within a week of this news being known, over 200 men were washing for gold in the Ring River and its tributaries. The gold was mostly coarse and heavy, but it was alloyed with a good deal of silver and therefore brought in a lower price per ounce. A 10½ ounce nugget was found by a lucky digger in August of that year. Other creeks in that area being: Bookers Creek and Bakers Creek also produced much payable gold and in one instance 26 ounces of gold from a few shovelfuls of gold-bearing wash. Even in 1892, it was reported in the Zeehan & Dundas Herald that parcels up to 60 ounces were being brought in daily.
In the mid 1890's much hydraulic sluicing took place at the Corinna goldfields. In order for these to be successful, several mining companies employed several hundred men to build water races, one of which was 22 kilometres long which went from the Meredith Range to Lucy Creek. However, many of these failed due to insufficient gold which was mainly on the bottom of the gravels which were up to 15 metres deep except for a few rich patches.
The years 1895 – 1896 saw good returns of gold obtained from Paradise Creek which is a tributary of the Paradise River, and was famous for its numerous gold nuggets some of which ranged from 1 to 7½ ounces.
The peak of Tasmanian gold production was reached in 1899 when the total output of alluvial and reef gold was 2,381 Kilograms. Only a small part of this came from the West Coast. The most productive alluvial field in Tasmania was the Lisle Goldfield, north of Mt. Arthur, which is reputed to have produced about 250,000 ounces of gold.
The most successful gold mine was the Tasmania Mine at Beaconsfield which yielded 854,600 ounces before it closed in 1914. The Golden Gate Mine at Mathinna produced 253,865 ounces from 1880 to 1932. This mine was worked to a depth of 580 metres. The output from the Lefroy field, both reef and alluvial, probably exceeded the total yield from the Lisle Goldfield. Gold mining has since recommenced at Beaconsfield.
Dredging for gold was the last practice to the gold mining industry which started around 1900 to 1901 was unsuccessfully tried on the West Coast. However, several dredging claims were surveyed early in 1900 in the Linda and Queen River Valleys. Only one company, the Queen River Dredging Company commenced operations in the Queen River, near Lynchford, in June 1900. It was well known that a great deal of gold was won from the shallow parts of the Queen River accessible to alluvial miners. A dredge was installed but the quantity of gold won was disappointing so after only a few months of operation dredging ceased.
Twenty-two gold dredging claims were taken up in the Hellyer and Arthur Rivers in 1900, but no work was ever started. The only other gold dredge on the West Coast was operated by the Whyte River Gold Dredging Company N.L. in the Whyte River, a few miles from Corinna on the Pieman, in the summer of 1900 – 1901. This dredge was slightly larger than the one used in the Queen River. Unfortunately, the results were not up to expectations and the dredge was eventually dismantled and sold to a north-east tin mining company.
After 1900, the output of alluvial gold on the West Coast declined sharply. In 1906 only 64 ounces was produced, and in 1908 the output was only 24½ ounces. In 1910, 126 ounces were produced of which 100 ounces came from a small piece of ground at the end of the Linda Valley which had been overlooked by the diggers 25 years earlier.
Prospecting was eventually replaced by fossicking. This was especially so in the valley of the Queen River where the old workings were within any easy walk from Queenstown. Fossickers worked in the creeks, picking out crevices and pockets, getting a few grains of gold here and there, and with a bit of luck a small nugget.
Shore's Success Mine near Smiths Creek, was worked from 1924 to 1926 without much success. A party of miners treated some auriferous patches of dirt on the western slope of the Golden Ridge by puddling with moderate results.
In the 1930's, gold mining was again carried out in the Corinna area. Two water races, built about 40 years previously, were cleaned out and repaired to bring water to a hydraulic plant near Middleton's Creek. In 1935, 5,500 cubic yards of gravels were treated for the return of 73 ounces of gold. In 1936, 68 ounces were recovered.
All through the 1930's prospectors were active in between the Pieman River and the North-West Coast. A major discovery which started a small rush was made in February 1932 by Messrs. R Wilson and L. Arnold in the Inglis River, near Takone. Several men worked occasionally in the vicinity of Doctors Rock, near Somerset. The gold is probably an alluvial lead out in the sea which is breaking up and is washed in during storms. Coarse alluvial gold has been (and can be) found when the tide is low.
The Jane River Goldfield (west of the Algonkian Mountain) - 22 kilometres south of the Lyell Highway was discovered by Mr. R. Warne in August 1935. This alluvial field was worked for about 10 years, but no records as to its output were kept. The Tasmanian Government built two pack tracks from the Lyell Highway to the field, one of which is used today by bushwalkers to approach Frenchmans Cap.
The West Coast was for a long time the largest producer in the world of the rare mineral 'osmiridium'. In the early days of alluvial gold mining, it was considered a nuisance by many diggers for it had a greater specific gravity than gold and was difficult to separate from it. The metal is of a steel-grey colour, and it was recovered in the same way as alluvial gold. Osmiridium consists of the two metals 'osmium' and 'iridium' in varying proportions, and minute traces of palladium, platinum and rhodium.
The most abundant locality for osmiridium was the Bald Hill area, about halfway between Waratah and the Pieman River. The Nineteen Mile Creek which drains the western part of Bald Hill was the richest, but equally famous were the Linger and Die Creek, McGintys Creek and Jones Creek. The Bald Hill produced the biggest osmiridium nugget found in the world. It was found in 1920 by Mr. Tom Prouse and weighed 4 ounces 8 pennyweights and 17 grains. In 1925, a nugget weighing over 2 ounces was found in the same area by Tom Prouse's son Joe. Attempts were also made by William Caudry to extract osmiridium by crushing serpentine rock at the head of McGintys Creek.
There were many other smaller gold 'shows' in Tasmania that operated for a limited time with limited results and other mines that produced some gold but was mixed with sulphide ores – therefore, these are not reported here, as I feel it unnecessary.
Acknowledgement is made to Hans Julen, author of 'Goldmining on the Tasmanian West Coast' from which certain parts of his book have been included in the above article for review purposes only...................................................................................................................................................................................................................