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Published June 8th 2021
Victoria's Gold Rush Heritage
The Victorian gold rush generated enormous wealth and shaped the future of the state. Here are 10 goldfield heritage sites that played a significant role in that boom-time period.
Maldon is a 19th Century colonial time capsule. It was declared Australia's first 'Notable Town' by the National Trust in 1966 and awarded the title of "most intact historic streetscape in Victoria" in 2006.
The lime kilns at the North British Mine site are just a small part of Maldon's goldfields heritage. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The first Europeans to visit the district were members of Major Thomas Mitchell's expedition in1836. Mitchell was followed by squatters, who arrived in the area in 1840 and subsequently established two sheep runs.
In 1853, as gold fever swept the colony, a German prospector named John Mechosk, found gold on one of those properties, Cairn Curran, located at the foot of Mount Tarrengower. The resultant goldfield was named 'Tarrengower Fields' and within a month 3000 diggers had arrived. A Post Office opened in March 1854 and by 1856, with a population estimated to be between eighteen and twenty thousand, the settlement was surveyed and named Maldon after the village of the same name in Essex, England.
In the decade 1861 to 1871, Maldon was Victoria's eighth largest town with a population in excess of 3000 and supporting twice that number of miners in the surrounding district.
As with most of the Victorian goldfields, Maldon's alluvial deposits diminished not long after the initial rush and miners were forced to dig deep shafts in search of the rich quartz reefs. Maldon proved to be one of the richest quartz regions in the whole of Victoria with more than seventy reefs giving up good deposits.
With the move to deep lead mining, many diggers moved on and by 1891 Maldon's population had dropped to 1600. Mining continued in various forms throughout the district for many years with the last mine of real significance, the North British, closed in 1926.
Today the township boasts a permanent population of about 1000 and relies heavily on the tourist trade for its continued existence. The majority of businesses go to great lengths to retain their colonial appearance and lend a genuine air of antiquity to the town, ensuring that Maldon continues to be recognised as Victoria's best-preserved gold rush town.
Getting There ..
Maldon is 145-kilometres northwest of Melbourne, just over a 90-minute drive via the Calder Freeway/M79 to Fogartys Gap Road, Ravenswood South then direct to Maldon.
In late 1852, a group of diggers en-route to the Korong diggings made camp on Sandy Creek very near to the present day Tarnagulla golf course. For some unknown reason, one or more of them chose to sink a hole in the creek bed and found very rich deposits of gold. Within weeks, an estimated five thousand diggers were competing for space along a 3-kilometre stretch of the waterway and the Sandy Creek 'rush' was on in earnest.
The former Tarnagulla goldfields are a maze of exposed tunnels and mine shafts. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Successful diggers kept details of their strikes to themselves, so there is no real appreciation of the total value of gold taken from these fields but there are stories of individuals who experienced amazing good fortune.
In 1853 at Nuggetty Gully, just south of Tarnagulla, two miners recovered 39-kilograms of gold in fourteen days, including a 5.5-kilogram nugget discovered on the surface lying in a wagon wheel rut. The find was wasted on one of the diggers, an American Negro named Ruby, who was hanged for murder a short time later. The gully in which Ruby and his partner found their nugget later returned others weighing 14.5, 6.8, 3.6 and 3.1 kilograms respectively as well as countless smaller finds.
As with all the Victorian goldfields, the alluvial, or surface gold petered out quite quickly and miners turned their attention to the underground quartz reefs with few richer than Tarnagulla's Poverty Reef.
In 1853, Poverty Reef was named by one of its shareholders, David Hatt, after Poverty Bay on New Zealand's north island. Hatt was the Captain of a ship entering Poverty Bay when it was dashed upon rocks and sank. He and some of his crew were rescued by a party of Maori, including a young woman whom Hatt eventually married and brought to the Victorian goldfields.
Poverty Reef was reputed to be the richest lode of reef gold ever found, returning 13.5 tonnes over thirteen months from an area measuring just three metres wide by 120 metres deep.
Getting There ..
Tarnagulla is 182-kilometres northwest of Melbourne, about a 2-hour drive via the Calder Freeway and the Bendigo Maryborough Road.
Not far from Castlemaine, on the Guildford-Chewton road is Fryerstown and its satellite settlement of Irish Town.
Today Fryerstown consists of just a few private homes, some of which are restored former shops and churches from its heyday. Then thirty-seven mines operated here supporting a population of thousands with three schools, five breweries and more than twenty hotels.
The derelict engine house at the former Duke of Cornwall mine site is a prominent Fryerstown landmark. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Fryerstown was the site of the first significant foreign investment in the Victorian gold rush. The Australian United Gold Mining Company was formed using British capital and set about establishing the Duke of Cornwall mine.
A Cornish engine house was constructed using local stone, Granite and brick. An 80 HP stamping battery with a massive 18.5 metre fly-wheel was installed and generated an amazing 7200 blows per minute. Together with mills, furnaces and various buildings, the Duke of Cornwall represented a massive investment.
But the gold yield was extremely poor and the company found itself in dire financial straits within six months of commencing operation.
The mine was sold in 1875 and eventually ceased operations in 1889.
Getting There .
Fryerstown is 126-kilometres northwest of Melbourne, about a 90-minute drive via the Calder Freeway/M79 to Elphinstone then the Pyrenees Highway/B180.
The tiny settlement of Vaughan, once known as The Junction, was the centre of a number of diggings with names like 'Grogshop Gully', 'Chokem Flat' and 'Murdering Flat' , perhaps reflecting the often violent nature of life on the goldfields.
Chinese cemeteries like the one at Vaughan can be found at most of Victoria's former goldfields. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Vaughan was a particularly profitable field for Chinese diggers who developed extremely efficient dredging and sluicing capabilities, extracting every last speck of gold from the wash.
The renowned Australian author Ion Idriess wrote several books on prospecting and observed that 'no man ever yet found gold after Chinamen have worked a creek'.
There are mineral springs at the Vaughan Springs Reserve and a Chinese Cemetery nearby.
Getting There ..
Vaughan is 120-kilometres northwest of Melbourne, about a 90-minute drive via the Calder Freeway/M79 to Kyneton, Malmsbury and Vaughan.
Gold was discovered at Creswick in 1852 and by 1855 the population peaked at a staggering 30,000.
At the onset of the Victorian gold rush, the diggers fairly quickly accounted for all the alluvial gold on one of the richest alluvial goldfields found anywhere in the world. So much so that by the early 1870s attention had turned to the deep leads and the intense and very expensive deep lead mining processes necessary to extract the gold. It was in this high-tech method of gold extraction that Creswick excelled.
Creswick Post Office circa 1862 is a symbol of the towns prosperity generated by the gold rush. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Creswick's deep lead mining industry was at its peak around 1880 and it's been estimated that 37 major mines in the district recovered 1,697,500 ounces of gold, the equivalent of about 550 metric tonnes.
But along with the success and great wealth, Creswick also experienced great tragedy. At 5.30 AM on Tuesday, December 12th 1882, disaster struck the town. With hundreds of miners at work deep underground, millions of litres of water burst through the face of a drive emanating from the New Australian Mines number 2 shaft.
Some of the diggers displayed great courage racing back into danger to warn their mates, 29 of whom were in grave danger and struggling in the rapidly rising water. Two managed to swim to safety but 27 others were forced to take refuge in the highest chamber in the mine, where they were forced to cling to timbers on the ceiling, barely managing to keep their heads above water.
On the surface, all available pumps were employed, extracting thousands of litres of water from the mine every minute but it still took two days for rescuers to reach the trapped men. By then, 22 of them were dead.
The next day 15,000 mourners attended their mass funeral. The people of Creswick erected a memorial to the dead in 1909. You'll find it in the Creswick cemetery, where all but 3 of the 22 are buried.
Getting There ..
Creswick is 120-kilometres west of Melbourne, about a 90-minute drive via the Western Freeway and the Bungaree Wallace Road.
The vast wealth uncovered on the goldfields around Bendigo is clearly evidenced today in what is arguably the most outstanding, best maintained 19th Century city in the nation.
The former Police Barracks circa 1859 are one small part of Bendigo's vast gold rush heritage. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Bendigo's affluence was born of the biggest and best of all Victorian gold strikes covering an area over 300 square kilometres, delivering more than thirty incredibly rich quartz reefs and returning twenty million ounces of gold.
It is a city of great architectural contrast ranging from lovingly restored miner's cottages to affluent mansions, grand public buildings and cathedrals you might expect to find in Europe's great cities.
As with many Victorian strikes the relatively easy to find alluvial gold petered out quite quickly and attention turned to the deep quartz reefs.
Mining the reefs, deep lead mining as it was known, required a lot of money, much-specialised equipment and knowledge and a bit of business acumen on the side.
Bendigo's boom time created legends like the 'Quartz King' George Lansell who owned seven very profitable mines, making him one of the richest of all the miners on the Victorian goldfields. Not bad for a pommie immigrant who came to Bendigo to open a butchers shop!
In 1872, it was estimated that Bendigo's gold output had exceeded 400,000 ounces (11,340-Kilograms) but the real figure was much higher and will probably never be known. An unknown fortune was taken back to China, diggers paid using nuggets of gold dust, nuggets were thrown at the feet of Lola Montez when she performed at the Shamrock Hotel and staff there made a small fortune cleaning up small nuggets and gold dust deposited from diggers boots as they breasted the bar.
Bendigo is one of Victoria's truly great tourist precincts, its history and heritage riding squarely on the shoulders of the greatest gold rush the world has ever seen.
Getting There ..
Bendigo is 153-kilometres northwest of Melbourne, just under a 2-hour drive via the Calder Freeway/M79.
Located 115 kilometres north-west of Melbourne on the Midland Highway Daylesford is rich in goldfields history.
Pastoralists were known to have been active at Jim Crow or Wombat Flat as it became known as early as 1838 but the area was re-discovered in 1851 when deposits of alluvial gold were found on the site of present-day Lake Daylesford. In 1854, a town was surveyed and named Wombat but in 1855, Victorian Governor Charles Hotham renamed it Daylesford after a town of the same name in Worcester, England.
Daylesford's magnificent man-made lake was built on the site of the towns initial gold strike. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Diggers from around the world flocked to Daylesford, including a significant number of Italian speaking Swiss and, of course, the inevitable Chinese.
Although the early 'rush' to Daylesford returned relatively poor yields shallow alluvial mining continued into the late 1850s and supported several thousand miners in the surrounding district.
The township developed accordingly with a Post Office established in 1858 and the Telegraph Office opened in 1859. Rail services from Melbourne commenced on March 17th 1880 with a branch line opened from Carlsruhe on the Melbourne-Bendigo line.
Unlike many small goldfields settlements, Daylesford didn't die when the easily sourced alluvial gold petered out. Instead, many miners transitioned to underground mining and chased the quartz reefs that bore large amounts of gold, others were employed in local industries, particularly sawmilling, that sprang up to support the mines.
Daylesford was at its peak in the 1860s, a boom-time reflected in the many fine buildings erected in that period including the Post Office, several hotels, some notable churches, the Gold Commissioners residence, Police Barracks, Court House and Lockup.
The entire district fell on hard times through the 1870s & '80s but further mining development in the early 1900s led to another boom period that lasted until the outbreak of World War One.
Quartz reef mining continued sporadically in Daylesford until the early 1930s.
One of Daylesford's major attractions these days is the magnificent Lake Daylesford.
The idea of creating a lake in Daylesford was considered several times from the late 1890s, the original intention being to provide the town with hydroelectric power, but 30-years passed before construction actually commenced. It's located right on the edge of town, on the site of the original 1851 gold diggings. When the diggers moved on the Chinese moved in creating extensive market gardens and building a Joss House only to have them removed when excavation of the lake commenced in 1929.
Today Daylesford is at the centre of a tourism region renowned for its natural mineral springs and also has a well-deserved reputation as a centre for alternative living, something reflected in the number of tarot readers, psychics, massage therapists and exponents of all manner of rejuvenating processes to be found in the town.
Getting There ..
Daylesford is 113-kilometres northwest of Melbourne, about a 90-minute drive via the National Highway M8 and the C141.
Alternatively, take the scenic route via the Calder Freeway/M79 to Woodend then the C317 to Tylden, Trentham and Daylesford the same distance and driving time as option 1 above.
Born on the back of the Victorian gold rush Ballarat has been a boomtown, a hotbed of insurrection with the Eureka Rebellion of 1854, touted as the birthplace of Australian democracy and become a major regional centre and the state's third-largest city.
The discovery of gold at nearby Buninyong in August 1851 saw thousands of diggers flock to the region. Ballarat became known as 'The Golden City' and by 1858 its population peaked at just under 60,000.
Nothing says 'Gold Rush' quite like Ballarat's Sovereign Hill theme park. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
In 1854, unrest on the diggings led to the Eureka Rebellion, an armed uprising in Ballarat that saw 22 diggers killed.
As with most of Victoria's goldfields miners moved on as the alluvial deposits started to dry up, many moving on to the Mount Alexander diggings or west to Ararat.
By 1859, many successful diggers were investing in deep lead mining, chasing the rich quartz seams underground. The high yield of gold from thee ventures saw Ballarat continue to boom through to the late 19th century.
Today Ballarat is high on the list of Victoria's premier tourism destinations thanks largely to its goldfields heritage and the very successful Sovereign Hill theme park.
In the centre of town, the area around Lydiard Street is home to some outstanding Victorian-era buildings, many on the State's Heritage Register or classified by the National Trust.
The city has the greatest number of public statues of any Australian city, its parks and gardens featuring examples dating from the 1860s to the present day.
On the banks of Lake Wendouree the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, circa 1858 are recognised as the finest example of a regional Botanical Gardens anywhere in Australia.
Getting There ..
Ballarat is 114-kilometres west of Melbourne, just under a 90-minute drive via the Western Freeway.
Castlemaine was once the site of the richest alluvial goldfield in the world, home to 25,000 diggers in 1851 and sending an average of 7,000 ounces (just under 200-Kilograms) of gold to Melbourne each week on the heavily guarded gold escort.
Castlemaine has built a tourist industry based on its gold rush heritage. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
All this was the result of a shepherd finding gold at Barkers Creek in July 1851. Christopher Peters workmates ridiculed him for picking up fools gold and he threw it away. But in August Peters and the other workers on the Mount Alexander run walked off the job and began panning for gold at a spot they called Specimen Gully. One of the party leaked news of their find and within a month 8,000 prospectors were on-site and by year's end, the number had reached an estimated 25,000 on what became known as the Mount Alexander and Forest Creek diggings.
When the gold ran out in the late 19th Century Castlemaine turned to other industries including breweries, iron foundries and a woollen mill.
From the 1970s heritage, arts and nature tourism industries were heavily promoted and today Castlemaine is a key player in central Victorian tourism.
The administrative centre of the Shire of Mount Alexander Castlemaine boasts many heritage-listed buildings, in fact, the entire eastern side of Barker Street, between Templeton and Lyttleton Streets has been classified by the National Trust.
The art deco Castlemaine Art Museum circa 1931 houses a collection of Australian artworks as well as historical items from the districts past.
Castlemaine is also home to Theatre Royal, the oldest continuously operating theatre in mainland Australia.
Getting There ..
Castlemaine is 120-kilometres northwest of Melbourne, just under a 90-minute drive via the Calder Freeway/M79 to Elphinstone then the B180.
Guildford is on the Midland Highway, 126-kilometres northwest of Melbourne between Daylesford and Castlemaine.
Major Thomas Mitchell was the first European to pass this way in 1836 and by the 1840s pastoralists had moved into the area.
Guildford once had the highest concentration of Chinese miners on the Victorian goldfields. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The settlement at Guildford was established after the 1852 run on alluvial gold along the Loddon River. Again, when the alluvial deposits ran out limited deep-lead mining was carried out with reasonable results but by the mid-1870's it too was no longer viable.
Guildford is perhaps best known as the site of the largest concentration of Chinese miners on the Victorian goldfields, estimated at about 6,000 in the 1860s.
The main encampment was a tent city at the junction of the Loddon River and Campbells Creek. Here the Chinese established Joss Houses, tea houses, tailor shops, theatres, gambling houses and opium dens.
Today Guildford features an attractive avenue of Plane trees planted in 1919 to honour locals who fought in World War 1. It's also home to 'The Big Tree', a Eucalyptus camaldulensis, found at the intersection of Fryers and Ballarat Streets. This magnificent, very healthy river red gum is thought to be the largest of the species in Victoria standing 25.9-metres high and with a girth at the base of 12.8-metres. There's a plaque that suggests Burke and Wills camped under the tree on their ill-fated expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Getting There ..
Guildford is 126-kilometres northwest of Melbourne, just over a 90-minute drive via the Calder Freeway/M79 to Kyneton and Malmsbury then the C316.
Gold rush memorabilia can be found throughout the Victorian goldfields region, abandoned mine shafts & tunnels, buildings, puddling troughs, quarts kilns and mullock heaps dot the countryside. If we take only photos and leave only footprints we can preserve our precious goldfields heritage for generations to come.