Defining Moments: Gold rush

Defining Moments: Gold rush


[Narrator] Everybody loves gold, right? It’s shiny, it’s pretty and
it’s worth its weight in, well, gold. So you’d think New South
Wales Governor George Gipps would have been thrilled when, in 1844, Reverend William Clarke showed
him some gold he’d found, but … [George] Put it away, Mr Clarke, or we shall all have our throats cut! [Narrator] The government had responded with similar hostility to the gold finds of James McBrien in 1823. ♪ La la la La la ♪ And Polish scientist-explorers
John Lhotsky in 1834 and Pawel Strzelecki in 1839. [Man] Wombats, destroy! [Narrator] The government
feared gold fever would trigger a convict uprising. But it changed its tune
after 6000 Australians left to join the Californian
Gold Rush in 1849. Gold was the new black, and
the government announced a reward for the discovery of
commercial quantities of it. Edward Hargraves had
farmed sheep near Bathurst, harvested sea cucumbers
in the Torres Strait, and worked as a sailor,
publican, shopkeeper and steamship agent, all by the age of 33. It was time for a career change, and gold prospecting sounded fun. Hargraves, who’d rushed to California to stake his claim on the goldfields, rushed back to New South Wales to claim his stake of the reward. Everybody laughed when Hargraves announced he’d strike it rich near Bathurst, as it was just like California. But Hargraves would have the last laugh. He enlisted local boy John Lister, who’d already found gold in the area but naively neglected
to tell anyone about it. On 12 February 1851,
Hargraves followed Lister down Lewis Ponds Creek
and his luck panned out. [Edward] This is a memorable day in the history of New South Wales. I shall be a baronet,
you will be knighted, and my old horse will be stuffed, put in a glass case, and
sent to the British Museum. [Narrator] Hargraves’s tiny
specks were a flash in the pan, but Lister and his
friends, the Tom brothers, made larger finds. Hargraves told them he had
to leave on urgent business, and, oh, could he have all
the gold they’d found? Hargraves’s urgent business
was rushing to Sydney to dud them out of the reward. As the reward’s size was
dependent on gold produced, Hargraves told every man
and his dog about the find, even though Lister begged him not to. Fortune seekers flocked to a tent town Hargraves named Ophir,
after King Solomon’s legendary city of riches. There they hit pay dirt, and so Australia’s first
gold rush was born. [Man] Gold, gold to Australia, gold! [Narrator] A line of
would be gold-diggers stretched the 250 kilometres
from Sydney to Ophir. Towns emptied. Teachers deserted their students. Sailors left their ships stranded. Charlotte Godley complained
the loss of her runaway butler had forced her to open her own front door. Some struck it rich during the gold rush that swept through New
South Wales and Victoria from 1851 to the late 1860s. One miner put a five-pound note between two pieces of bread and ate it. Others showed their appreciation for visiting international artists by showering them with
flowers, and nuggets. [Woman] Ouch, that really hurt! [Narrator] But many
diggers threw away their jobs and families for a pipedream. Those who returned from
the goldfields empty-handed were described as mortified, half-starved, and crestfallen fellows, gaunt, savage, ragged, and reckless. Gold transformed Australia,
with the population quadrupling to 1.7 million by between 1851 and 1871. Agriculture flourished,
with new mouths to feed and ex-miners seeking
a future on the land. And gold allowed helped
democracy take root, as highlighted in our videos
on the Eureka uprising and secret ballot. The riches of the rush were
reinvested in modernising cities and massive railway
and irrigation projects to open new farmlands. Australians soon had the
highest standard of living on Earth. Hargraves, too, got rich, and refused to share
his 10,000 pound reward. In 1890, a New South Wales
Legislative Council inquiry found that Lister and the Toms were undoubtedly the first
discoverers of payable gold in Australia. But Lister didn’t
get to enjoy his victory, having dropped dead on the day
he was due to give evidence. The inquiry’s report was quietly shelved, and everyone still talks about
Hargraves as the gold guy. But who said history is fair?

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