On 2 August 1851, gold was first discovered near Ballarat, Victoria, leading to the Victorian gold rush. The discovery of gold in the 1850s and 60s was the most significant event in the evolution of the state of Victoria.
Fuelled by extravagant stories of wealth gained at the 1849 Californian gold rush, gold fever hit Victoria following the early gold discoveries in and around Clunes, Warrandyte and Ballarat. But the real rush began with the discovery of the Mount Alexander goldfield 60 kilometres north-east of Ballarat.
Mt Alexander (taking in the goldfields of Castlemaine and Bendigo) was one of the world’s richest shallow alluvial goldfields, yielding around four million ounces of gold, most of which was found in the first two years of the rush and within five metres of the surface.
When eight tonnes of Victorian gold arrived at London’s port in April 1852, the Times of London declared: ‘… this is California all over again, but, it would appear, California on a larger scale…’
Between 1850 and 1900, Bendigo produced the most gold in the world. Today, the amount found would be worth around nine billion dollars.
Nuggets of the stuff
Mt Alexander goldfield’s largest nugget was found in 1855 at Golden Gully by some inexperienced miners who had been sent to a ‘duffer’ or empty claim. On just their second day digging they discovered the 1008 ounce, ‘damper-shaped’ nugget and named it in honour of the area’s popular gold commissioner, Mr Heron.
The small town of Moliagul became famous when a 69-kilogram gold nugget was found in 1869 at Bulldog Gully. Dubbed ‘Welcome Stranger’, the nugget was the largest in the world, though it was soon broken into pieces as the district lacked scales big enough to weigh the 60 by 30 centimetre nugget. Today the nugget would be worth over one million dollars.
By the end of 1852, 90,000 newcomers had flocked to Victoria in search of gold. Provincial cities like Ballarat and Bendigo grew, bringing railways, roads, libraries, theatres, art galleries and stock exchanges.
In the 1850s the heaviest traffic in Australia was on the road from Melbourne to Bendigo, and by the 1880s Melbourne was christened ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ – one of the world’s biggest, booming and cosmopolitan cities of the era.