Victoria: with a description of its principal cities, Melbourne and Geelong/Chapter 4
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"What is here?
* * *
Go on—there's gold—go on;
BEFORE we enter into a statistical and geographical account of the Gold Fields, it may not be amiss to give a short description of a digger's life, according to the experience of Mr. Earp, from whom we quote:—
"On our arrival in the afternoon, we found the men congregated in crowds, which at first induced us to believe that a quarrel was taking place, but which turned out to be the gathering round some lucky find, each digger trusting to hit upon the rich veins in the vicinity. There were not a few, also, who, like ourselves, were surveying the wondrous scene before us, with blank looks of astonishment and dismay, for the first natural feeling was, that in such a crowd all the land must have been searched, and all the gold found. Selecting a spot close to where one of the most considerable groups were hard at work, we paid our license fee, pegged out the space allotted, and as there was still some tune of the day left, resolved to clear off the superincumbent soil, which, though in many instances yielding gold, is rarely worth much trouble, the lower strata being far richer, and the gold more easily obtainable.
"A couple of hours' hard work carried us down nearly three feet through the soil, and by this time we felt the want of food and rest, and resolved not to make any attempt upon the gravel, which now showed itself. We accordingly shouldered our tools and mended our way back, praying devoutly that supper would be ready. As for my back, I verily believed I should never stand upright again during life, I felt so stiff from continuous stooping, shovelling out the earth, and the others were all much of a muchness. All around the diggers were returning to their tents, some singly, some in companies, but all on the alert, and armed to the teeth; it was plain, confidence and security had fled from Golden Point, and that each for himself was both the spirit and the letter of the law. The next morning four of us were speedily at work throwing the gravel out of our claim, working steadily and together; after about three hours' work, we returned to breakfast, then worked till a short time after noon, when we had our dinners; then again until dark, when we had tea or supper, as in bush phrase we termed it. This only lasted a short time, as we afterwards worked through the day, making our only meal, after breakfast, late in the evening. When we returned in the evening, the gravel was out, or almost so; and the next day we commenced on a hard, compact bed of a red concrete marl, intermingled with boulders of granite and quartz, and also with gray marl. In the meantime I was at home preparing breakfast of beef, tea, and damper; when the others returned, they told me it was very hard work, the picks making but little impression. At it they went again, and the three succeeding days saw us still driving furiously at the compact mass. At the end of that time, however, M——, in throwing out some of the rubbish, discovered a lump of quartz intermingled with small gold grains, like peas; a short time sufficed to clear out the grains, and a closer search was rewarded by the discovery of nearly four ounces in the interstices of the cluster of boulders we were digging out. Though but a trifling quantity, this unlooked-for success inspirited us, and, indeed, we stood in need of it.
"The constant work with the pick blistered our hands to such a degree that it was no uncommon thing for us to have the handles clammy with blood, whilst the pain was excruciating, and, in addition, the labour of throwing out the refuse stuff, joined to our working in so confined a space, made our arms, backs, and loins ache most fearfully. However, we kept each other up, and played our parts manfully, few words of complaint being heard, and those invariably with a laugh. Eight or nine days saw the bottom of this confounded stuff, and we anticipated plenty of success now that we had come to the clay —the gold formation par excellence. Digging out the clay, we set to work searching and washing, and though not in any great quantities, realized every day gold enough to keep us going on in good temper.
"Frankly and fairly speaking, the Colonial Government seem to be doing everything they can to compel the diggers to break into open revolt; and if they succeed, the worst will be for the authors of the movement. Eighty or one hundred thousand men are not easily set moving, but, once in motion, no barrier is strong enough to oppose the impetus of such a body.
"We continued washing and fossicking until we cleared our claim down to the slate stone beneath, carefully examining the surface of that formation for pockets. Having fairly cleared all out, we found we had made in twenty-three days about £360, giving each of us £72 for less than a month's work. We set to work sinking another hole; our hands being better used to the toil, we could get on faster. The strata were much the same all round, varying only in thickness; we sunk here, in all, seven holes, from which, on squaring accounts and paying expenses, we found we had netted a sum of £3400."
In another part of his work Mr. Earp gives an account of his visit to a different locality:—"Little time was lost in pitching our tent and commencing operations; we soon found that considerable quantities of small gold were to be obtained from the soil, and whilst turn by turn we rocked the cradle, the others supplied earth, we found some rich pockets amongst a quantity of rubble stuff; one nugget weighed 3 lbs. 7oz. For eleven days we were undisturbed, working without cessation, and reaping a golden crop. We remained here a fortnight longer, after the locality became known, and then, as our stock of dust and nuggets was very considerable, we resolved to start for Melbourne."
A geological description of Ballaarat as a gold field will serve for the whole, there being more of volcanic action apparent at these diggings than any yet discovered. The locality lies about six miles in a direct line from the remarkable volcanic hill of Buningyong, and to the west of Warrensteep, another eminence of similar origin rising on the same ridge or water-shed. The geological formation of the country would appear to be the ordinary quartz ore, iron, sandstone, and clay slate, which is so general throughout this colony. Golden Point, where the principal workings at Ballaarat have been opened, presents, superficially, no feature to distinguish it from any other of the numerous forested spurs which descend from the broken ranges at the foot of the higher ridges; yet although it is now seen that the gold is to be found throughout the whole of the surrounding country, both on the ranges, in the flats, and in the water-courses, various causes would seem to have given this particular point a superficial structure, distinct from others in the neighbourhood, as far as they have been examined, and have made it the depository of a far greater quantity of the precious metal within a limited area than has hitherto been discovered. This particular structure, so far as it is now disclosed, would appear to be confined to the lower portions of the extreme slopes at the boundaries of the spur. Roughly slated, as a section of the working shows, there is under the superficial soil—first, red ferruginous earth and gravel; secondly, yellowish-red clay; thirdly, gravel quartz; fourthly, quartz pebbles and boulders, with masses of ironstone set in clay; fifthly, blue and white clay; lastly, pipeclay, below which none of the workings have as yet been carried.
Yet although such may be the general order of the strata, nothing is more striking than the irregularity of the proportions in which they are found to be distributed, the variety of inclination observable within a limited space, or the unequal depth at which any given stratum may be found to lie below the surface. In some workings the pipeclay may be reached at the depth of 10 or 12 feet, in others not at 30 or upwards; in fact, there are hardly two workings, however close, which furnish similar sections. Gold has been detected in all the superior formations, even in the superficial soil. But by far the richest deposit is found in the small veins of blue clay, which lie almost above the so-called pipeclay, and in which no trace of the ore has been discovered. The ore is quite pure; it is found occasionally enrolled or water-worn; irregular lumps of various sizes, from a quarter of an ounce to two ounces in weight, sometimes incorporated with round pebbles or quartz, at other tunes without any admixture whatever, in irregular rounded or smooth pieces, and again in fused or regular masses. It is also found combined with quartz pebbles, evidently united to them whilst in a fused state, and on the surface of detached masses of iron sandstone, but in the greatest abundance in the clays, from which it is washed in the form of round or flattened grains, like sifted gravel or sand of various sizes. The seams of auriferous blue clay, the general position of which I have described, are found to be the most irregular in their deposits, and seldom more than four or five inches in thickness. They appear and disappear continually. The closest proximity to a rich vein in an adjacent working can afford no certain assurance that the labour of the next adventurer will be similarly rewarded. We have seen the washing of two tin dishes of this clay, of about twenty inches in diameter, the yield of which was not less than eight pounds weight of pure gold.
From the latest Government returns, and other authority, we find that up to the 5th of January, 1855, there were twelve working Gold Fields, viz., Mount William on the Grampians, Avoca in the Pyrenees, Maryborough amongst Simpson's Ranges, Creswick's Creek, Tarrengower, Mount Alexander, Bendigo, Ballaarat, McIvor, Goulburn, the Ovens, and Omeo; besides which gold has been found in greater or less quantities at Ballan, Anderson's Creek, Plenty Ranges, and Howkwa. It is also reported to be found at Monkey Creek, Brenthen, and Nicholson in Gipp's Land. These Gold Fields extend from longitude 142° 35' to 147° 30', and from 36° 20' to 37° 40' latitude, over districts comprising an area of 36,000 square miles, or more than half the area of the colony.
The periods of discovery were as follow:—In the year 1851 Anderson's Creek, Ballaarat, Mount Alexander, and Bendigo; the Ovens in 1852; the McIvor and Goulburn in 1853; and the remainder in 1854. The following statistical Tables, which the Chief Commissioner of Gold Fields has kindly placed at our disposal, as referring to the year 1854, we subjoin:—
Receipts of Gold by Escort from the Victoria Gold Fields in first three Quarters of 1854, and Shipments in same period.
Return of the Number of Licences issued on the various Gold Fields of Victoria during the year 1854.
|Month.||Licenses Issued.||Total Value.|
Return of the estimated Population on the various Gold Fields of Victoria during the year 1854.
Return of the Current Prices of Provisions and Rates of Labour on the various Gold Fields of Victoria during the period from June to December, 1854.