Gold Is Discovered in New South Wales

The Australian gold rush brought thousands of newcomers from all parts of the world to Australian shores. The discovery of gold was not just about new wealth. The subsequent Eureka Stockade Rebellion, an uprising of miners opposing certain reform initiatives, led to the growth of an assertive and confident Australian nationalism.

Summary of Event

From the time that Australia was first colonized by the British in the late eighteenth century, the continent was believed to contain ample amounts of gold. The colonial governments of the various Australian regions, however, were unenthusiastic about gold mining because of the perceived unruliness of gold miners, who were thought to pose a potential threat to order and authority. Gold rushes;Australia
Australia;gold rush
New South Wales;gold discovery
British Empire;and Australia[Australia]
[kw]Gold Is Discovered in New South Wales (1851)
[kw]Discovered in New South Wales, Gold Is (1851)
[kw]New South Wales, Gold Is Discovered in (1851)
Gold rushes;Australia
Australia;gold rush
New South Wales;gold discovery
British Empire;and Australia[Australia]
[g]Australia;1851: Gold Is Discovered in New South Wales[2780]
[g]British Empire;1851: Gold Is Discovered in New South Wales[2780]
[c]Earth science;1851: Gold Is Discovered in New South Wales[2780]
[c]Economics;1851: Gold Is Discovered in New South Wales[2780]
[c]Business and labor;1851: Gold Is Discovered in New South Wales[2780]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1851: Gold Is Discovered in New South Wales[2780]
Lalor, Peter
Carboni, Raffaello
Hotham, Sir Charles
Hargraves, Edward Hammond Hammond

The California gold rush California;gold rush
Gold rushes;California of 1848 and after changed the governors’ minds because so many Australians left the country for California. Colonial authorities feared a major and permanent population decline. Thus, gold mining was soon encouraged by the governors. The discovery of gold at Bathurst, New South Wales, by Edward Hargraves Hargraves, Edward Hammond in 1851, although on its own a fortuitous event, was framed by political currents and social developments in the world at large.

Hargraves had been a forty-niner in the California gold mines, and, assisted by a substantial government stipend, he trumpeted his discovery of gold at Bathurst to many fellow miners. Calling the mine Ophir, after the storied place of gold in the Bible, Hargraves was the first of thousands of miners. So many miners descended on the area that the government had to grant licences to authorize the mining of gold.

Although New South Wales was first in terms of gold mining, its southern neighbor on the Australian continent, the newly autonomous colony of Victoria, quickly and overwhelmingly took the lead. In late 1851, gold was discovered at Ballarat and Bendigo Creek, in the western part of the state. The amount of gold was far larger than at Bathurst, which drew many miners from California and elsewhere to the Victorian goldfields. World populations were on the move in this era because of the previous gold discoveries as well as the suppression of the revolutions of 1848, and Victoria soon found itself overwhelmed. Many of the miners were of non-English-speaking background, including about fifty thousand Chinese, the first substantial migration of Asians to Australia. There were also many Catholic Irishmen and other Roman Catholics, which caused anxiety in Anglican-dominated Victoria.

As the authorities had originally feared, the miners soon became difficult to control. Comprising a revenue-earning working class, their very presence challenged an administrative structure based on the mutual convenience of colonial gentlemen. The government, in need of revenue to provide for the mass of gold-seeking arrivals it had to accommodate, became more rigorous in checking miners to make sure they had paid for their licenses. The license-checking program, strongly endorsed by Lieutenant-Governor Sir Charles Hotham, Hotham, Sir Charles quickly caused resentment among the miners.

Resentment, however, also was accompanied by demands for substantive political change in the colony. In November of 1854 the Ballarat Reform League was founded. The demands of the Reform League, analogous to those of the (failed) Chartist movement in England, were not revolutionary, but were calls for parliamentary reform, a greater sense of participatory democracy, universal manhood suffrage, and the abolition of licenses. This last provision became the immediate economic bone of contention. Hotham also was unprepared to accept the more theoretical provisions, other than the allowance of a token representative of the miners to sit on the legislative council.

The miners, or diggers, Eureka Stockade Rebellion (1854) as they called themselves, found this provision laughably unacceptable. They began their revolt upon seeing military reinforcements coming toward them. They attacked the soldiers in defense. Setting up a stockade on Eureka Flat, the diggers raised their own flag, which retained the Southern Cross of the colonial Australian flag but lacked any vestige of the Union Jack. Led by Irishman Peter Lalor Lalor, Peter , the miners barricaded themselves in the stockade for four days. The barricade was vividly chronicled by Raffaello Carboni Carboni, Raffaello , a former Italian revolutionary who took part in the rebellion and wrote a book that preserved it for history. On December 3, 1854, government military and police forces attacked the stockade and dispersed the diggers. The incident came to be known as the Eureka Stockade Rebellion.

Although the government had won on the ground, it was soon realized that any maintenance of previous conditions would lead to former unrest. A series of reforms was enacted, including the drastic cutting of license fees. Lalor Lalor, Peter soon was elected to the legislative council of Ballarat and, in an ironic twist, the paragon of the diggers later became a mine owner himself.

The end of the Eureka Stockade Rebellion also marked the end of the high gold-rush years, but the mining of gold continued in western Victoria for some years, soon spreading to Queensland and western Australia. It was Western Australia that saw the last major period of gold mining on the continent at the beginning of the twentieth century. Precious metals remained an important part of the resource-based Australian economy for more than one century.


The Eureka Stockade Rebellion is considered the Australian equivalent of colonial America’s Boston Tea Party, an act of defiance that showed the determination of colonials to stand one day as an independent nation. Eureka has always had a firm place in the Australian historical self-image, as evidenced by the sesquicentennial celebrations in 2004, which saw the issuance of a special Eureka stamp series. Although Australia did not achieve federation until 1901, the Eureka Stockade Rebellion heralded Australian nationhood.

Yet, even as the colonial authorities slowly and reluctantly acquiesced to this rising nationalism, the reforms enacted after Eureka also had their detractors. One of the most famous of these was Karl Marx, who thought the willingness of the Australian workers to settle for piecemeal reforms represented a fatal readiness to compromise. This was perhaps the origin for the lack of interest in Australia and New Zealand manifested by international Marxism, which continued to color the image of this region among intellectuals in Europe and the United States for many decades.

The gold rush had reverberations beyond the rebellion Eureka Stockade Rebellion (1854) at Eureka. The huge intake of people meant that Australia became more cosmopolitan, more working class, more masculine, and more Catholic—all factors that became tremendously influential to the making of an Australian identity. Although Australia soon took measures to control Chinese immigration, the Chinese presence at Eureka was a distant prophecy of the twenty-first century cross-fertilization between Asia and Australia. The digger quickly became the epitome of the ordinary Australian. Australian soldiers who fought, and died, in large numbers in World War I had named themselves diggers.

Further Reading

  • Carboni, Raffaello. The Eureka Stockade. Blackburn, Australia: Currey O’Neil, 2004. This reprint of the key primary account (1855) of the rebellion, written by an Italian migrant and former revolutionary who was emblematic of the diversity and variety of the miners whose courage he portrayed. Carboni’s style is at times difficult, but it also gives a sense of the way the miners spoke and thought and of the motives that prompted people from all over the world to pan for gold in Australia.
  • Clark, Charles Manning. Earth Abideth Forever, 1851-1888. Vol. 4 in A History of Australia. 1962. Reprint. Carleton, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 1999. This portion of the foremost narrative history of Australia argues that the gold rush years mark the beginning of Australian nationalist self-assertion. Although strongly partisan on the side of working-class and republican forces, Clark’s eloquence and poetic verve give the reader great insight into the significance of the discovery of gold in the formation of an Australian identity.
  • Coupe, Robert. Australia’s Gold Rushes. Frenchs Forest, New South Wales: New Holland Books, 2004. This brief, occasionally superficial survey gives equal space to the Bathurst and Ballarat discoveries, and provides a good overview of how the gold rush transformed Australian life.
  • Healy, Chris. In the Ruins of Colonialism: History as Social Memory. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Examines how Eureka became transformed into a memory site for Australian cultural history.
  • O’Grady, Desmond. Stages of the Revolution. South Yarra, Australia: Hardie Grant, 2004. A well-known Australian poet and essayist tells the story of the gold rush and the Eureka Stockade, focusing on Raffaello Carboni. This book finally elevated Carboni to his rightful level of fame within Australia and restated the case for the central significance of the Eureka Stockade in Australian history and in the growth of Australian democratic values.
  • Wilton, Janis. Golden Threads: The Chinese in Regional New South Wales, 1850-1950. Armidale, New South Wales: New England Regional Art Museum, 2000. Emphasizes the often effaced but crucial role of Chinese migrants in the gold rush era. As with so many other immigrants, the Chinese first came in large numbers to Australia after 1851, and Murray describes the early years of the Chinese-Australian communities in New South Wales as well as the racist resistance they faced from the Anglo-Celtic majority.

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