Friday, 28 October 2011

Maryborough and the Gympie Gold-rush

The discovery of gold at Gympie by James Nash in October 1867 was a huge boost to the budding township of Maryborough.  At the time of the Gympie gold-rush, the whole of Queensland was in a severely depressed economic state - high levels of unemployment and a plummeting price of wool.  After the 1866 bank crash most British funds dried up overnight, and rural expansion almost entirely ended.  There were riots in the streets of Brisbane and the Queensland government was on the verge of bankruptcy.

But the golden age for Maryborough was about to dawn.  The discovery of gold at Gympie entirely changed Maryborough’s economic path and spelled such prosperity that, as a result, Maryborough grew very rapidly.  The man responsible for changing the economic face of Queensland in 1867 was an English prospector named James Nash.

Details of the exact events concerning the discovery are difficult to accurately research.

On 7th October, 1867, James Nash returned to Maryborough bringing with him about half a pound of gold.  He reported his find firstly to Sargeant Richard Rogers Ware at the Maryborough police station, and then to the police magistrate, Richard Bingham Sheridan. 

Ware then accompanied by Nash and several other Maryborough residents including C.E.S. Booker, Maurice Walsh and Alderman C. Faulkner, left town immediately to proceed to the diggings.  Ware later claimed that during this first visit to the goldfield he discovered a nugget weighing fifty-seven ounces.

19th October, 1867, the party – minus Faulkner who had remained behind to “shepherd claims” – returned to Maryborough with one hundred and forty ounces of gold.  At 4.30 in the afternoon, opposite the Commercial Bank, an announcement was made to the people of Maryborough that a goldfield existed within easy distance.  Eighty-three ounces of gold were lodged at the bank, along with a nugget weighing forty-one ounces and several coarse pieces of the precious metal.  The stores of the town were almost immediately cleared of all kinds of tools, canvas, utensils and food. 

By the middle of that week four hundred people were on the road to the diggings, many on foot, others on horseback or in drays.  Proprietors of some of the larger businesses such as the Yengarie boiling down works and the Central Sugar Mills had to close their doors.  An acting gold commissioner, William Davidson, was appointed, one storekeeper was said to have simply left his store in the hands of an assistant and left for the goldfield, and at least six members of the town council were either on the diggings or on their way there. 

28th October, 1867, a public meeting was held in the Maryborough court-house.  The object of this meeting was to arrange for a private gold escort, as the official police escort had not then been fully sanctioned.  The first escort was formed by Maryborough residents T.N. Milner, W. Southerden, P. Graham and N. Tooth.  On Wednesday 31 October, James Nash brought one hundred and twenty ounces of gold to Maryborough with the escort, this gold included a nugget weighing fifty ounces. 

In December 1867, two months after the rush had started, more than four thousand ounces of gold had been taken to Brisbane or Maryborough, and the Queensland government was making preparations to allocate £1500 to pay for a gold escort.  The escort would travel between both Maryborough and Brisbane, as there were many men in Gympie who lived in Brisbane and would want to remit their earnings directly there rather than sending it to Maryborough.

The police gold escort was established between Gympie and Maryborough on 28 January, 1868.  This escort was run regularly every two weeks until 1869, after which it was run monthly.  During that year 47,578 ounces of gold were escorted for a total fee of £1098.

An indication of the enormous wealth being generated from the Gympie goldfields may be seen from the records of the gold escorts from January 1868 to September 1872.  During this period a total of 277,515 ounces was transported.  The price of gold at this time was £3/10/ - an ounce, so the total value of the gold escorts for those five years was slightly more than £971,300.  This amount only shows the gold which came to Maryborough under escort, there is no way of knowing how much gold was brought privately on the regular passenger coaches.

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