History of West Australia/John George Dunn

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THE pages of Western Australian biography should contain the stories of the brave, hardy men who enshrouded themselves amid the weird solemn deserts and discovered that which nature had so long securely hidden. They are not tales which should be lightly told, for prospectors endured many hardships, and passed for months and years the lives of exiles. In times further back than we can conceive nature silently deposited gold in the interior of Western Australia. The process by which she did this man knows not—he merely guesses. By nature's chemistry, by irresistible force, by the toppling down of mountains and the drift of atoms, by laws which acted together in happy relationship, glistening quartz appeared in which were resplendent lines of yellow gold. This may have taken days or years or æons—the prospector cares not. Then dim centuries of time passed, and man came upon earth. The Biblical Adam and Eve wooed in their earthly paradise and sinned. Out of that sin, probably, the desire for acquiring wealth arose. In course of time commerce assumed importance among the children of Adam. A symbol of wealth and exchange was required. Gold for many reasons was chosen.

John George Dunn HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Barnard & Co.

But not yet was Australia decreed to be the habitation of those who esteemed this coloured metal a thing of value. The continent loomed darkly out of the oceans of the south. It waited. Then pioneers came and moved eagerly to and fro over this new country in search of its riches. Generations passed, and still the golden secrets of the Great Western interior were mutely kept by nature.

Rumours for years circulated among men that Mother Earth had dowered the Great West with mines of gold. It was then that these splendid prospectors began their work. They went over the ranges and into the valleys and peered anxiously here and there for the talisman. Not successful in those places, they forced their way boldly into the more inhospitable deserts. Explorers had said that here were formations suggestive of gold. Laboriously and determinedly they went beyond the ken of men until they saw the quartz formed so many ages before. Although they observed a little gold, it did not realise the bright anticipations of persistent rumour. Not daunted, they penetrated the sandy desert wastes, through stunted thickets, and by old-time salt lakes, and reached other white outcrops. From quartz reef to quartz reef, granite hill to granite hill, they pushed their curious exploitations, and then returning, the earth rang with their gladsome news. The gold deposits were discovered. Enduring vicissitudes and performing toil almost worthy of a Hercules, they had at last learnt the secrets of nature's storehouse.

To the prospectors is due the most glowing praise. Attracted by the wealth which they believed existed, they laboured hard and long, and while some received their reward, others lost all the riches they had. It was not for the latter to draw the lucky ticket in the lottery of wealth. Western Australia, and may be the world, enjoys the fruits of prospectors' efforts, and should present indications be fulfilled, the almost universal symbol of wealth will be materially augmented by the goldfields in this colony.

We now intend to describe the career of Mr. John G. Dunn, F.R.G.S., one of the most hardy, determined, and fortunate prospectors Western Australia has seen. John George Dunn comes of a family of prospectors. He was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne on 16th February, 1860, but when he was two years old his father, Mr. George Dunn, left England, and brought his family with him to Victoria.

Mr. G. Dunn, who is still alive, and possesses a large station in New South Wales, prospected on the Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, and Fryer's Creek Goldfields for many years, and did not relinquish this pursuit until some ten years ago. Thus the boyhood of John G. Dunn was spent on the famous goldfields of Victoria, and it can well be conceived that the excitement of prospecting permeated his whole being. As a child he was rocked to sleep to the sound of many batteries, and as a youth he was wont to daily see his father go from place to place in search of gold, which at any time he might find in large proportions. Indeed, Mr. George Dunn was a successful gold-digger. Under such conditions it would be a surprise if his son had not followed in his footsteps. When fifteen years of age Mr. John G. Dunn began prospecting on his own account at Castlemaine. He met with sufficient success to encourage him to continue, and from Castlemaine he prospected at Fryer's Creek and Muckleford. In these places the work was principally in the alluvial. After he had attained manhood he went to New South Wales, and being considered an experienced man was placed in charge of Government prospecting parties. He was engaged under the Government for five years, and then passed five subsequent years in private prospecting in the mother colony,

On an auspicious day he decided to come to Western Australia to exploit this colony, and he arrived in Fremantle in February, 1890. At this time promising gold had been found at Southern Cross, while miners were also busy on the Murchison and at Kimberley. Prospectors were going into the interior, and Mr. Dunn was not to be behindhand. He brought with him such credentials that some of the most prominent men in the colony, whose biographies are published in this work, formed a syndicate and placed him in charge of an expedition. With good equipment and well provisioned—Mr. Dunn always considers these as absolute necessities to successful prospecting—he went to the Murchison, and from there up to Townsend, principally in search of alluvial deposits. For about four months he prospected over considerable country with varying luck, and then going further north he explored the Gascoyne district. He at last determined to make his way south, and constantly replenishing his provisions, he prospected around Coolgardie, Lake Barlee, and Mount Magnet. When he came upon likely places he worked there, and sent his Afghans with their camels to the nearest water and by this means he was able to have regular supplies. While they were away he worked with his brother William among the quartz outcrops sinking shafts, and around them be searched for alluvial. It was no easy life, nor at the time had it much charm, but the successful prospector, looking back after he has given up the work, is apt to dwell with pleasure on his many experiences. Occasionally he was troubled by the blacks, and while at Lake Carey, near Mount Weld, he had an encounter with a dusky tribe. Numbers of them approached him with warlike demonstrations, and he and his two Afghan servants were compelled to fire upon them. This had the desired effect of frightening them away. At most of the above-named places he obtained a little gold, but not sufficient for him to peg out leases. From Lake Barlee he took a southerly direction towards Coolgardie, which Bayley and Ford had just about found. While prospecting one day he came upon a good reef, which he named the Brilliant. This is situated about twenty-eight miles north of Coolgardie, and a little south of Cashman's Find. He pegged out a lease, and worked it for some time, until the property was floated into a company, and he and his brother obtained an encouraging share in the profits of the sale. Mr. William Dunn, who had accompanied him in all his trips, was now quite satisfied wih his good fortune, and relinquished prospecting. He asked his brother if he intended to go further, and the reply came that he was not yet satisfied. The work of Mr. John G. Dunn was not finished.

He prospected in the surrounding deserts and on one occasion went as far as the South Australian border. He thereby explored much new country, and was enabled to enlighten colonists on the nature of the country passed through. His brother gone, his only companions were now two Afghans with their camels. Sometimes he went for months without seeing white men, and encompassed by the enduring silence and solemnity of the unending, ugly, barren deserts, he was compelled to live within himself. Than January, 1893, arrived, when he happened on the True Blue, Sunbeam, and Lone Hand mines. He was alone when he discovered these, and hence the name "Lone Hand." These properties are near together, and were purchased by the Lone Hand Mining Company. The prospecting syndicate obtained £75,000 on the sale, of which Mr. Dunn gleaned a third according to agreement. The mines are promising, and should prove valuable in the near future. He managed and developed these properties from January until June, 1893, when the syndicate despatched another manager to take his place, and he was again able to prospect.

Going to the nearest centre Mr. Dunn obtained provisions and allowances sufficient to last ten months. He was determined to investigate some mysteries of the unknown wastes, and early in July bid adieu to white men and sallied forth. During previous tours he had observed some very promising country about twenty-eight miles north-west of Coolgardie, and he made his way there. The formation was diorite, and the contour of the locality suggested that gold existed in lucrative quantities. Thus experience and knowledge of geology, acquired over wide areas of Australia, led him to one of the most notable discoveries to be chronicled in the sensational history of gold mining on this continent. He carefully and exhaustively prospected for some days, and his eyes were held as by a magnet to the outcrops. In a little gully near his camp he was one day delighted to discover a charmed patch of 400 ozs. of alluvial gold. He took it to his camp, and searched high and low in every nook and corner for more of the yellow metal. Then he shifted his camp near to where he had been on a previous trip. Not letting one object in his surroundings escape him, he went to several outcropping reefs and broke and tested them. The 10th August came. It was a lucky day for him, for during his walks he saw what he named the famous "Wealth of Nations." It was quite close to his camp. There on an outcrop some feet high he was astonished and bewildered to see what has since been termed "a mountain of gold." He broke the cap of the reef, which was five feet high and nine feet thick, and obtained the "Honest John" specimen, which weighed 189 lbs., and contained 800 ozs. of gold, valued at £3,000. This is, perhaps, the most brilliant specimen found in quartz in all Australia. Gold glistened in the sunlight over the whole lode formation, and it took him but a short time to obtain the worth in gold of £22,000. The treasure disclosed to view was enough to hold him spellbound, and he well named it the "Wealth of Nations."

It was not an easy matter to get such riches in safe hands. When a man walks abroad without money he pursues his way quite unconsciously, but let him have some thousands of pounds worth of gold about him he imagines almost that trees have eyes, and that the birds of the air will disclose his secret to every passer-by. He is weighted with a grave responsibility. Mr. Dunn was naturally anxious to get so much gold into the bank at Coolgardie. He did not take it all at once, but hiding some, took little more than half, valued at £11,200, to that centre. Secretly stowing it in all sorts of places in the accoutrements of the camels, and even cutting water-bags and casting away precious fluid, he filled some of them. Then he approached Coolgardie. He did not choose to enter in the glaring light of day, but travelled quietly at night. The electrical mining camp was in its slumbers when he arrived in Bayley Street, and we can suppose that he rested not until the gold was placed in the hands of the Union Bank manager. A characteristic colloquy took place between the two gentlemen. Meanwhile, one Afghan was left in charge of the sensational find, and quickly taking out a lease, Mr. Dunn hurried back to the Wealth of Nations. He then removed the remaining gold, and was accompanied by his friend Mr. David Lindsay, the well-known explorer. A tremendous rush took place to the locality, and in three days 700 men were pegging out leases around the find. The silence of centuries was now broken by their clamour. Up till the end of September Mr. Dunn had charge of the mine. He proved the lode for sixteen chains by sinking several shafts. In each of these he obtained good gold. He had pegged out a twenty-four acre lease on the Wealth of Nations, and also two twelve-acre blocks adjoining. At the end of September it was put to him that he would either have to sell his whole interest in the claim or not sell at all. He took the former course, and obtained as his share £20,000. This with his third of the £22,000 worth of gold lodged in the bank made a handsome return for a few weeks' work. The Wealth of Nations was six months after purchased for £147,000, and afterwards floated. Mr. Dunn is firm in his belief of a prosperous future for the company.

Since then he has relinquished prospecting pursuits, and has taken up his abode in Victoria. At Elsternwick, near Melbourne he resides in a handsome mansion, which he has named "Lone Hand." He passes his time reporting on mines, which duties he has performed in New South Wales, Victoria, and over the Coolgardie fields. In the first-named he has purchased two promising mines at Wellington and Grafton.

For his services to exploration Mr. Dunn, some time after the discovery of the Wealth of Nations mine, was distinguished by being made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He considers Western Australia will eventually contain some of the leading gold fields in Australia, and believes that the water difficulty will be surmounted. Here, too, he says, he has observed wonderfully rich soils, and is sure that the potentialities of the colony are not nearly known. In conclusion, it is but just to add that Mr. Dunn has conferred lasting benefits on Western Australia. None will grudge him the wealth he has made in the colony. A man of energy and resource, and a splendid bushman, no difficulties thwarted him. In face of trials enough, and withdrawing himself completely from his friends, he elected to live long as a hermit. He was conscientious in his work, and has thus won the regard and respect of all sorts and conditions of people.