The Gold Rush

Submitted by admin on 27 Nov 2012

The great Gold Rush of the 1850's was revolutionary in changing Victoria's social and political landscape and many of the most historically important mining towns such as BeechworthBright and Omeo can be visited whilst on our walking tours in the north-east part of the region.   The history is fascinating and has helped to shape the area as we know it today.

Gold was first officially found in Victoria in 1851 with significant discoveries in Buninyong, Ballarat and Bendigo and, at its height, production exceeded 82 tons in a single year. Gold fever engulfed the entire region and the population of Melbourne and the mining towns exploded during this period. Thousands of immigrants arrived into Victoria, in particular from Britain, Ireland and China in search of the precious metal and a comprehensive rail network was developed to connect the mining towns to the docks in Port Philip Bay. 

Two of the largest gold nuggets ever found were mined from Ballarat in 1858 and Moliagul near Bendigo in 1869, and became known as the Welcome Nugget and the Welcome Stranger respectively.   The picture shows a replica of the Welcome Nugget.  The first was sold for £10,500 and eventually went to London where the Royal Mint made it into gold sovereigns.   The Welcome Stranger fetched an estimated £9,381 and was melted into ingots which were also transported by ship to the Bank of England.   The hundreds of millions of pounds worth of gold  exported to Britain in the 1850s paid off all foreign debts and laid the foundations for the country's huge commercial expansion in the second half of the century.

Gold was discovered at Beechworth in 1852.  The mining in this area was alluvial and Beechworth was notable for the extensive use of hydraulic sluicing for removing wash dirt.  Today Beechworth is considered one of Victoria’s best-preserved gold mining towns, with 32 of its buildings listed by the National Trust. The town's well-known Burke Museum tells its gold mining story as well as housing interesting natural history and indigenous artefact collections. The courthouse in Beechworth is also the site where Ned Kelly was famously tried in 1880.                                 

After the gold rushes in the Beechworth area had subsided, a new rich gold field was discovered in the Bright area around 1853.  Alluvial gold was washed out of the river gravel and taken from the Buckland Valley along the Ovens River to Harrietville.  Today the Bright Historical Museum, housed in the heritage listed railway station, displays many gold mining artefacts as well as the family histories of the Chinese immigrants who worked the mines.   If you can travel further afield to Ballarat, then a visit to its replica mining town known as Sovereign Hill is a great experience.  Its a living museum with costumed characters, working exhibits and underground mines to explore.                                

The Oriental Claims area near Omeo in the High Country showed such promise of fortune that pioneers were prepared to forge an existence in the wild and remote mountain ranges.  At its peak, the Oriental Claims was one of the largest gold sluicing operations in the world and still today you can see 100 ft cliffs and a maze of underground tunnels.  On our Hiking the Victorian Alps tour we make a stop in Omeo to uncover more of its intriguing history.  

Many of our walks in north-east Victoria are day walks but if you stay for a long weekend in Bright or Beechworth then an exploration of the region's golden history is a must.  See the links to our walks: Italian Food & Wine Weekend, the King Valley Prosecco Road Walk and Hiking the Victorian Alps.

Whilst we were recently travelling through Ballarat we had fun calculating the value of our own weight in gold!   If you can't get to Sovereign Hill there is aneasy website which will make the calculation for you!   Are you worth your weight in gold?