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The Australian National University

The trials and tribulations of digging

Geelong Advertiser 26 August 1851, 2/3-4: [from Geelong Advertiser correspondent A.C. at Buninyong]:

MONDAY 18TH. On Monday night the rain fell in torrents, and continued at intervals during the whole of Monday, until evening came on, when it again came down in right earnest, filling the creek, which sweeps round the base of the diggings with a rapid torrent, and allaying the fears which were entertained that the works would be stopped through a lack of water. Early on Monday morning I went to the diggings, and attached myself to Messrs Bichard and Wilson’s party, thinking that practical information would be found the most valuable. I proffered my services to supply the cradle with earth, which is brought by horse and cart from the summit of the hill, a distance of about a hundred and fifty yards, and that down alongside the cradle, whence it is shovelled into the upper compartment which is barred across with flat iron bands, leaving interstices sufficiently small to prevent the passage of the larger pieces of quartz, whilst it allows sufficient space for the smaller pieces and the earth, which falls on an inclined board, and slides down toward the head of the cradle into the first receptacle of a plane tending toward the short of the cradle, whence by continual working the larger portions are shaken into a second and third compartment, whence they are taken out and subjected to the same system of operation again, and then sifted through a perforated tin dish into a larger one, where the contents are carefully washed by the continual splashing of water thrown by the hand, and carefully drained off until the whole of the earthy matter is got rid of, a most tedious and time wasting operation, and the greatest drawback to making gold washing a profitable occupation. This was my first essay with the cradle. I saw a number of pretty specimens of gold in quartz selected from the pebble specimens, after they had been rocked, and found two myself; of these I shall purchase the best, and forward them per mail. I am unable to judge as yet what may be considered a good yield, but from every "last washing" in the tin dish, I saw what appeared to me a pretty good quantity of pure looking gold; but previous to the mail starting I will glean from the different parties the amount or weight of gold collected, and lay before the public the "exact truth[.]" I will

"Nothing extenuate, nor ought set down in malice—["]

I would here note that but little has been done as yet in the way of work, the fall of rain to day having greatly impeded the operations.


TUESDAY, 19. Still heavy rains during the past night. The creek has swollen, and the heavy showers falling all day have rendered work all but impossible. The scene presents a strange appearance, picturesque enough, but somewhat lugubrious during the heavy rain. Tents are pitched, fires are burning, trees are cut down, the sound of the axe is heard in all directions, cradles are rocking, and men crouching down to the water’s edge are intent on exploring the golden sands, which like true modesty retires before undue advances.

The more I see of gold seeking, the more I am convinced, that it must become simply a branch of industry, and the sooner any party embarking in it, strips himself of illusory imaginations, and sets to work in right good industry as he would in any other occupation, the more likely he will be to succeed, in fact it is the only way to command success. It is a laborious occupation accompanied with great inconvenience, exposure to hardships, and involves a great change of habits to those who have been accustomed to a town life, whilst at the same time a degree of skill is requisite, which skill must be purchased by experience, and present loss.

Every thing at present is crude, there is no uniform plan of operations, but a total want of system prevailing everywhere. The workmen are unused to the work, the machinery employed is rude in the extreme, some of the cradles are more like coal scuttles, than anything else, others are made in the shape of an ugly boot, and all of them I should consider from observation too short in the shoot, and made entirely on the wrong principle, they are jolting machines, not cradles. Again there is no plan for working the hill fairly instead of quarrying from the face of the rock, the workmen, dig, delve, and root about in fifty directions. Gold is found everywhere I believe where a trial has been made, from the summit of the hill to the gully at its base, and to the right and left of the present scene of operations, but there has not been up to the present time, a single practical miner or gold worker on the ground ....


BUNINYONG, WEDNESDAY EVENING . And now one word before closing this despatch, I would advise all parties who have comfortable situations to stay at home, and "let well alone," make no sacrifices of the present for the future, but patiently await the result of the present experiments, which will be found duly and truly chronicled in the columns of the Geelong Advertiser, and Intelligencer. I say wait awhile, rush not rashly to the christening of the gold-birth—there will be plenty without you at its baptism, and your time will be to celebrate its maturity, which may be attained at no distant epoch—my last word is, "pause! before you plunge."

Heavy rain till midnight, and heavy showers all day.

Argus 2 October 1852, 4/1:


Forest Creek, 27th. September, 1852.

New arrivals are pouring in fast, and may be estimated at one thousand per day on Forest Creek alone. I am informed that the roads are alive with travellers coming and going, and may be compared to Collins-street, Melbourne. A great many of the Bendigo diggers are inclined to try their luck at Pennyweight Flat, Moonlight Flat, and the other new diggings, which certainly are extraordinary for extent and richness. The different gullies and hills running in the same line with these and alonf Barker’s Creek, also present a fair prospect of being dug up this summer. Although a great many are lucky enough to fall across heavy finds, it must be remembered that the greatest majority are not so fortunate, many finding it a hard matter to make good wages, if wages at all. Numbers come here under the mistaken idea that they cannot miss making a fortune in a short time; but this is not the case. It has been often said that gold-digging is all a lottery, and they will find it so, perhaps, when too late. I was quite amused a few days ago by a new arrival asking an old resident here, how he was getting on, and when told indifferently, barely making wages, he expressed his astonishment, having understood that every one on the diggings was making his two ounces a day. How absurd this must appear to any one thoroughly conversant with gold digging, and how unjust on the part of him who circulates such a report. Hundreds who come here, find things quite the reverse to what they were led to expect, get disgusted and pennyless, and obliged to repair the roads to obtain the wherewithal to keep themselves from starving, or many of the badly inclined turn their attention to robbing those who are more fortunate. I do not wish to trespass upon your space, but as many of the new arrivals reach here under a mistaken impression, I make these few remarks to put those on their guard who are at present in comfortable circumstances, and ought to keep their situations, rather than risk their all in gold-digging, for in the end they will find themselves the better men.

Geelong Advertiser 8 October 1852, Supplement, 1/1:

(Per favour of the Geelong Advertiser.)

SIR , Within the last fortnight great numbers have flocked to these diggings from all quarters, especially from Geelong and Bendigo, which no doubt will result in some new diggings being discovered, as at present a few are doing remarkably well, whilst the majority are blanks. At one time forty feet was considered too deep by parties sinking—but now seventy feet is not too deep.

The weather for the last few days has been fine—a very favourable change for the diggers, as the continued rains had moistened the ground to such an extent as rendered it rather unsafe to sink deep holes. Two cases came under my immediate observation last week; one in which about 2 cwt. of earth fell from the side of a hole whilst a man was working in the hole; he was fortunately not seriously hurt—he received a blow over the temple, which cut open his head. The other was a case in which the sides fell completely in; fortunately the men were at dinner, otherwise there is little doubt but that it would have proved fatal. The richest spot at present being worked on these diggings is Little Bendigo Gulley, which to all who happen to sink in the bed of the creek turns out exceedingly rich. Our present population here is about 3000. Price of gold on the ground, £3 3s. 6d. to £3 4s. Trusting I have not intruded too much on your columns.

I remain, Sir,
Your obedient servant,

Geelong Advertiser 18 October 1852, 2/2.

NARROW ESCAPE AT BALLARAT.— During the late rush of water, which has filled many of the best holes about the Canadian Gulley, a digger, who had just bottomed, sent up a bucketful of stuff for trial, which turned out upwards of FORTY POUNDS weight of gold. The water came in upon him, from three sources, so rapidly that he cried out to his mates, and before assistance was rendered him, the flood inpouring rose thirty feet in the hole, carrying the digger with it, who managed to keep himself afloat by paddling, and holding himself to the sides, until he was extricated.


Geelong Advertiser 13 November 1852, 2/2:

SUBTERRANEAN LOGIC. — "I say, Redcap! If you don’t prop that tunnel, you’ll most likely be buried without benefit of clergy. What an everlasting fool you must be to work a hole like that! You’ll be squatted into a Feejee johnny-cake if you cut any further. That roof ought to be tried under the Vagrant Act. It ain’t got any visible means of support."

Argus 7 February 1853, 5/1-2:


Forest Creek, 3rd Feb. 1853.

On the whole, Forest Creek diggings are progressing favorably, although the digger’s great enemy, water, still continues to bid defiance to the art of man. A strange contrast will appear from the fact, that in February, 1852, water was so scarce, that the diggers had to cart their washing-stuff some few miles to enable them to wash it, and water for use was out of the question. In February, 1853, we are so much troubled with water, that mining is almost at a standstill; and, instead of too much washing-stuff, we have the greater supply of water.

Argus 11 May 1853, 3/4:


Forest Creek, May 9th, 1853.

There has been a rumor afloat here that a murder was committed at Sandy Creek, the early part of last week. The murderer was said to have been a mate of and residing with his victim. A quarrel took place over some gold-weighing, and the deceased was murdered and robbed of six ounces of gold; after burying him in a hole about three feet deep, in which operation a man was seen by a black-fellow who was concealed, and having made his way to Forest Creek he was followed by the black-fellow and given into custody. Thus the report ran, and considering the straightforward way in which it was told me, I was inclined to believe it; but upon making every inquiry at Castlemaine and elsewhere, I find no truth whatever in it. A young man named Goldsmith, residing near this office, and working with a mate of his in Golden Gully, a very short distance from his dwelling, who went to look at his hole before retiring to bed, as he intended, on Sunday night, the 2nd instant, has not since been seen or heard of. It being just a week up to last night, fears are entertained as to his safety. It appears that his hole on examination on the Monday morning, had fallen in in very large masses, but had been safe up to a former visit made by him. Probably Goldsmith had either gone down into the hole, or stood on the verge of it at the time the earth gave way and was buried in the fall. The unsafe nature of the ground, and the immense quantity of water retained in the adjoining holes, precludes the possibility of digging to solve the mystery. The short distance which he had to go, and having no valuables about his person, does not favor the opinion of his having met with foul play. No wish was expressed by him to leave his mate,—in fact, far otherwise; and having at the time a good claim, the supposition will not be in favor of a clandestine departure. However, he is gone, and what has become of him nobody knows.

Argus 26 May 1853, 5/1-2:


Forest Creek, 21st May, 1853.

An inquest was held on Thursday, before Dr. McCrae, the coroner, on the body of a young man, named Goldsmith, which was taken out of a water-hole in Golden Gully that morning. The jury returned a verdict of "accidental death." This is the same young man whose disappearance has remained a mystery since the first of May last. On that day, which was very wet, he had gone down to his hole in Golden Gully to have a look at it, previous to retiring for the night, but did not return; and although every search was made and enquiries instituted, no clue could be obtained by his mate to ascertain what had become of him. On Thursday morning last, a man was crossing Golden Gully, and in a hole situated about thirty yards from the claim which the deceased went to look at, he caught sight of what appeared to be the shoulder of a man; and having brought it up, being in an advanced state of decomposition, it was identified by the dress as the body of Goldsmith. The contents of the pockets clearly convinced the jury that there was no foul play, although, strange to say, the depth of the water in the hole was not more than two feet. However satisfied we may be in this case, that the deceased had accidentally fallen into the hole, one question was overlooked, and a most material one in the coroner’s inquiry, should be, "in what position the body was found."

Geelong Advertiser 8 December 1853, 6/2:

HINTS TO DIGGERS.—Before deep sinking was the order of the day, diggers managed to live by shallow working. The great yields at Golden Point were from slight depths; the old Diggers worked from the surface downwards, from the very roots of the grass. Poverty Point was worked this way, and yielded at least half an ounce per day, per man; there was fair washing stuff along the whole side of the hill, in the black soil, in the quartzy earth, in the red gravelly bed, and in the clay beneath; all the earth was tried, as the diggers came to the different beds[;] sometimes it turned out well, at other times indifferently, but upon the whole it paid wages. Now, in these times, when the cry is raised that digging is not so productive as formerly it was, would it not be wise to revert to the earlier system of working{.} What paid then, would pay now, there is plenty of ground open for selection, and few people so absurd as to imagine, that accidental discovery has hit upon the only rich spots in Victoria. Those diggers who are well to do, and can afford to risk largely, pursue a blameless system of operation in deep sinking, but to diggers of small means, and to New Chums, we would recommend what the old diggers practised, and which if practised faithfully and uniformly, would in the end, be found remunerative, and place many, now complaining of ill-success, in possession of comfortable wages. Any of the hills up the Buninyong Gully contain surfacing, not discoverable perhaps, in an hour or two working, but by patient investigation—for gold lies in the surface beds, as at the greater depths—in patches. We have repeatedly referred to this subject, and in submitting it to the Diggers once more, hope they will give it a little consideration. The writer of this saw £1200 worth of gold taken from an eight foot claim; worked into the side of the hill called Poverty Point, which hole was never bottomed. The lowest bed worked was clay, out of which twelve pounds weight of nuggets were taken, one of which was sold for £34. Again, at the foot of Poverty Point, some twelve months ago, holes were opened, and at four and six feet, on a yellowish pipe-clay, gold was found which repaid labour, some of the holes yielding from forty to fifty ounces. Surely, if gold were found there in paying quantities, in strata within a few feet of the surface, it could be found now, and we cannot help thinking, that in deep sinking, although rewarded with great gains, there is an immense deal of auriferous earth thrown away, which would well repay the trouble of washing. We would advise resource to surfacing, and washing the superstrata.

Geelong Advertiser 1 June 1854, 5/6:


If you’ve not been to Ballarat,
Then stay away from there;
I would not have my worst foe’s cat
To have such sorry fare.

For sorry fare is what you’ll get,
From butcher, baker, store,
And all your just complaints are met
With threats to have no more.

The cattle starv’d, the roads so bad
They scarce can draw an ounce;
No fresh supplies can sure be had,
So useless is your bounce.

As thus rebuk’d, I sadly turn’d
My steps towards the past;
How heaves my breast, with thoughts it burn’d,
And mem’ries craved on past.

Now doubly dear, I’ll soothe, my care
With vows of love from one,
To whom I vow’d my gold I’d share,
Both sooner said than done.

The gold I promised still is hid;
The past is all a sham,
For when through wet and mud I’d slid,
I only got a jamb.

’Mid crowds from many climes, all there
Impatient of the stay,
Till hope, displac’d by dark dispair [sic],
Each, grumbling, went his way.

The floods were out, the mail-man drunk,
What matter the delay?
That though the hearts of many sunk—
They’re diggers! Who are they?

They’re men—whose hearts, as true and bold
As ever man could boast;
The ties of kindred sacred hold,
Far from their native coast.

They’re men—high tax’d, ill lodg’d, worse fed
Of strong and stalwart frame,
Better was ne’er by hero led,
Or earn’d a hero’s name.

Let the madd Russ his horde’s [sic] send here,
A schiscer [?] hole for each
Would both the land of foeman clear,
The Czar a lesson teach.

Though clouds now low’r, the bow shall fling
It’s [sic] arch their gloom athwart;
Emblem of hope the poets sing,
And I’ve the fancy caught.

For much I hope a change is near;
New brooms, they say, sweep clean;
We soon shall have Sir Hotham here,
He’ll make a change, I ween.

Till then we’ll bear as best we can,
A digger’s present lot;
So now, good luck to every man,
And wit, to some, when got.

Let each one join in joyous song,
The song of liberty;
God bless our Queen, may she live long
To see its victory.

God bless all those who nobly toil,
Or mid the fierce war strives,
May each their foeman’s prowess fail;
God bless their babes and wives.

ELLEN F. YOUNG , Golden Point.

Updated: 18 October 2010/ Responsible Officer:  Centre Director / Page Contact:  Web Publisher