Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The goldfields of Australia in the 19th century

It remains one of those rare privileges when a friend shares some of their family stories with me and then agrees to them being posted on the blog.

And this is all the more exciting when the family experiences come from the other side of the world and explore the Australian gold rush.

Now I didn’t know that much about the discovery of gold in New South Wales in the 19th century but like the opening up of the Californian gold fields its discovery led to a similar gold fever.

There had been stories of chance gold finds as far back as 1815, but the first official confirmation came in 1823.  This however was suppressed for fear that it might attract large number of prospectors including runaway convicts and free settlers who would abandon their farms in search of a golden fortune.

But ironically it was the Californian Gold Rush in 1849 which convinced the authorities that in the face of people leaving for the USA the home gold fields should be made known and so pre-empt a local drive for gold.

And so from 1851 into the 1880s parts of Western Australia became the haunt of the hard working, the hopeful, the lucky the unsuccessful.

All of which make June’s ancestors all the more canny because at least one chose to grow the food the gold hunters needed and in turn became more successful than many of those who chased the metal.

"My mother's grandfather, John Templeton, was also a sailor but nowhere near as elevated as Captain Dan.

I think he probably started out on a collier carrying coal out of Whitehaven where he lived as a young man. Possibly he sailed to Liverpool and back although I will never know this for sure.

Somehow he took a position on a ship which sailed to Victoria not long after Victoria separated from New South Wales and then he worked on a coastal ship. He was a sailor working out of Melbourne when he met my great grandmother.

When they married he gave up the sea and started working as carrier, a job which was very necessary in and around Melbourne in those days. Eventually he purchased his own horse and cart and when a family crisis occurred, he packed up the family and headed to Bendigo with the horse and cart.

I believe that he kept the horse and cart whilst he prospected for gold on the Bendigo Creek at what was then known as Kangaroo Gully, now known as Kangaroo Flat.

When it became harder to find gold some of the first miners who had families started reworking the piles of dirt which had been left by other prospectors due to lack of water and also lower yields of gold. These types of miners were known as puddlers.

To extract gold in this way you needed a horse which travelled around and around, processing large amounts of soil. John and his brother-in-law, George Teasdale, who came from Manchester, did pretty well with this.

They were also quite ingenious in that they used the mud which would have clogged up the creek to make mud bricks with which to build their more permanent houses. The government still had not surveyed the land in the area so no land was available then on which to build homes. The miners and their families had to make-do with tents.

However, the large number of puddlers who were working in the gully eventually clogged up the creek and was very unpopular with other settlers and miners. So the government clamped down on the puddlers by charging them a higher licence fee to work their claims making it an unprofitable way of extracting the gold. George then took to being a carter and John moved his family to the site of a new gold rush at Inglewood.  

He later returned to Kangaroo Flat where, with his brothers-in-law John MacPherson and George Teasdale they worked on a deep mine at Diamond Hill using their skills in following likely veins of quartz to open up new leads.

When he died John was a cab proprietor, so he returned to driving horses and a type of cab which carried about 8-10 people. One of the Templeton’s must have taken over the cab business as, when I was about 11 years old, my grandfather took my sister and me out to Kangaroo Flat in a cab. We never knew the significance of this until years later when I took up researching our ancestors! Why did he not tell us, I wonder?"

Pictures; from the collection of June Pound

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