The gold rush of 1851 in New South Wales sparked a wave of excitement and speculation. However, it also ignited a controversy that still smolders to this day. The crux of the dispute lies in the claim made by Edward Hargraves, asserting himself as the first discoverer of ‘payable gold’ in New South Wales1. This claim, which earned him a substantial reward, has been contested in countless letters to the editors of numerous publications during the initial days of the rush.
Those contesting Hargraves claims
- James McBrien (discovered gold in 1823)
- Paweł Strzelecki (discovered gold in 1839)
- Reverend William Branwhite Clarke (discovered gold in 1841)
- William Tipple Smith (discovered gold in 1848)
- Enoch Rudder ("deeply hurt" associate of Edward Hargraves)
- John Lister and the Tom brothers (discovered gold in 1851)
CONJECTURE OVER WHO WAS FIRSTCountless letters to the editors of numerous publications during the initial days of the rush of 1851 dispute Hargreaves as the initial discoverer, questioning his claim to the reward offered for the first discovery of ‘payable gold’ in New South Wales.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
ORIGINAL CORRESPONDENCE – THE GOLD DISCOVERY Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Monday 5 May 1851, page 2 ORIGINAL CORRESPONDENCE. THE GOLD DISCOVERY. To the Editors of the Sydney Morning Herald. GENTLEMEN,—In this morning's Herald I find the following statement : - "It is no longer any secret that gold has been found in the earth in several places in the western country. The fact was first established on the 12th February, 1851, by Mr. E. H. Hargraves, a resident of Brisbane Water, who returned from California a few months since. While in California, Mr. Hargraves felt persuaded that, from the similarity of the geological formation, there must be gold in several districts of this colony, and when he returned his expectations were realized." Here are two asseverations—one as to the date of the first discovery of gold in this colony; the other as to the method by which Mr. Har-grave is asserted to have made that discovery. The object of this letter is to deny to Mr. Hargrave the merit of the first discovery, or that he is the first person who was led to the conclusion that the similarity of formation in California and New South Wales indicated the presence of gold. I almost wonder how you could have forgotten the many articles connected with this very subject which you have published long ago, even, I believe, before Mr. Hargraves went to California, in which a comparison is instituted between that country and this respecting this very matter of gold-finding. The Maitland Mercury bears testimony of a distinct date to the same fact. Now, as to the assertion that it was on the 12th February, 1851, that the said fact was established, if you will turn to your own files you will find that on 28th September, 1847 the geological formation of this colony is investigated, and mention distinctly made of the existence of gold; and the article I allude to states, that from "facts communicated" (long before) to the Geological Society, Sir R. J. Murchison had already in a letter that had then been published in the Philosophical Magazine, addressed to Sir C. Lemon, his advice that "a person well acquainted with the washing of mineral sands, be sent to Australia, speculating on the probability of auriferous alluvia being abundant," and suggesting " that such will be found at the base of the western flanks of the Dividing Ranges." The " facts communicated" were that gold had so been found; and some of that gold is still in my possession. Mr. Hargraves has therefore, merely acted upon suggestions thrown out years ago, and he has, there-fore, no claim as a " discoverer," The discoverer is he who first proclaims a fact. The fact in question was not first proclaimed by him. If any merit exists deserving reward, why should the cultivators of the science that leads others to riches be set aside? There are numerous localities in which gold has been found in this colony; but is the Government to pay every individual who picks up a handful of it? However, to confine myself to my immediate object, I deny again that either gold was first found in alluvia in this colony in 1851, or that Mr. Hargraves is the first person who indicated its existence from geological principles. May 3. ORIGINAL CORRESPONDENCE. (1851, May 5). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved July 20, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12926829
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