Early Discoveries of Gold
The discovery of gold in Australia was first recognised by the
government in 1851, but there were discoveries before that time.
The first discovery of gold was reported by a convict, who
later confessed that it had been made by filing down a brass
buckle and a golden guinea. The next convict to report gold
stuck by his story and was given 300 lashes. Count Strzlecki,
the explorer, reported finding gold near Hartley, but was told
to keep it quiet. When the geologist, Reverend Clarke, showed
Governor Gipps gold, he was told to "Put it away, Mr. Clarke, or
we shall all have our throats cut."
So why the big secrecy? Why was the government so reluctant to
acknowledge that Australia had that very precious commodity --
Firstly, we must take into account the fact that none of these
findings were very large. Mere specks of gold were reported, not
payable gold fields. The government had no way of knowing just
how much, or how little, gold was there. It would have been
unwise to turn the Colony on its head for what could only amount
to a very meagre amount of gold.
And turned on its head, it would be.
Australia, at that stage, was a penal colony. As it was, some
convicts were willing to risk a flogging in order to try to
escape. If they knew there was not only a chance of freedom, but
of getting rich by gold, there would have been no hope of
holding them back. The colony would have faced the likelihood,
if not the certainty, of large and frequent convict uprisings.
Transportation would also lose much of its value as a
punishment. It was meant to deter people from crime but how much
of a deterrent could it be if it was known that Australia
contained gold. People could start committing crimes just for a
free passage out.
So, for the moment at least, it was easier, and safer, for the
government to keep it quiet.
As well as this, there were the findings that would never have
been reported and, given the situation, these were probably
All gold legally belonged to the Crown, so any gold reported
would be taken off the person who found it. This would be reason
enough to stay quiet, but when we add the fact that convicts
would fear being flogged for stealing or lying, and settlers
would fear their employees or convicts uprising and their land
being over-run by those looking for gold, it is easy to see that
most people, if they found gold, would not have said a word.
Along with the discoveries that we know about, we must then add
discoveries that we will never know about. Therefore, there
would have been quite a fair bit of gold found before gold was
officially found for the first time.