The Cradle of a Nation

by John Rule

“Blessed are the meek: For they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5


Who was Australia’s first discoverer of gold?
There is no simple answer to such a question. The query is invalid as there are two types of gold that may be discovered. The first is unpayable gold; sufficient to attest its presence but insufficient to merit its extraction. Therefore, unpayable gold or “colours” might tend to indicate that better finds are possible, but in itself, unpayable gold is valueless.
Then there is payable gold; indicating the existence of a goldfield worthy of repaying prospectors for their perseverance. So, to be precise, the original question now becomes:

a.    Who was Australia’s first discoverer of unpayable gold?
b.    Who was Australia’s first discoverer of payable gold?

The name, Edward Hammond Hargraves is automatically associated with the discovery of gold in Australia. When the question is properly put into perspective, Hargraves certainly wasn’t the first person to discover gold of either description. Hargraves was merely a clever publicist and braggart whose indelible mark on history remains one and a quarter time-shrouded centuries later.
History records that Edward Hammond Hargraves discovered gold at Lewis Ponds Creek on February 12th 1851. But history is evasive when determining into which category Hargraves’ “discovery” fell. William Tom Junior and John Lister, in association with James Tom, discovered Australia’s first payable gold on April 7th 1851, yet their names remain insignificant.
From 1849, the newspapers carried regular rumours of gold discoveries; almost to the point of boredom. Just how long could these stories continue without somebody wishing to take advantage of the situation ? What the depressed colony really needed was an experienced man to seek out her golden fortune, preferably a person with a flair for promotion and public relations. Such a person would need untiring self-confidence, forceful effrontery and a diabolical mind capable of lightning decisions under the most arduous pressure.
Australia’s TRUE discoverers of gold certainly didn’t possess these qualifications. The Tom brothers and John Lister left the starring role to the person they trusted and considered to be their prospecting partner. They even gave him their payable gold with which he managed to promote himself into a legend so far unequalled in the pages of Australian history.
The text for this book has been compiled mainly from Parliamentary evidence under Oath, which, in many cases has proven to be conflicting. But then there are two sides to every story! Other sources of reference include newspaper reports, Government documents, personal family papers and a printed work of the period written by one of Hargraves’ closest friends. Its author exposed what he considered to be a gigantic fraud at public expense.
Supporting evidence would tend to indicate that there were many oddities surrounding Hargraves’ “discovery” and his subsequent reward and title as Australia’s first gold discoverer. The events leading up to the great discovery have been carefully reconstructed for this story. There is even an adequate theory advanced as to why history appears to have been carefully manipulated to be purposely incorrect.
Unpayable Gold Discoverers Prior To 1851
Australia’s first gold discovery was recorded in 1823 by a Government Surveyor, James McBrien, who was engaged in surveying an alternate route between Penrith and Bathurst. McBrien found tiny specks of alluvial gold at the junction of Eusdale Creek and the Fish River, west of Tarana. His field book was eventually filed away with other papers and some time passed before it again saw the light of day.

During the same year, a Bathurst convict, working on a chain gang, was flogged for possessing a small golden nugget. He claimed to have picked it up while working. His overseer strongly suspected the unattractive lump to be stolen ornaments that the prisoner had somehow melted down. Neither instance created undue attention at that early juncture. It was to be some time before Australia’s golden wealth was fully “exploited”.
Count Paul Strzelecki arrived in Australia during May 1839. Having just completed an extensive five year American geological survey, he now wished to do the same in Australia. From 1826 to 1834, Strzelecki had mixed with many of Britain’s influential families, becoming a firm favourite with his witty and charming manner. It was only natural that Governor George Gipps wished to meet him and assist with his colonial quest.

By September, Strzelecki had examined the Grose Valley, Blue Mountains and Hartley Vale. At the Vale of Clwydd (Hartley), he located small traces of unpayable gold. After touring the areas surrounding Bathurst, Orange, Boree and Wellington, the geologist told Gipps of his find.
Gipps feared a general panic if settlers and convicts learnt of the indications during the prevailing depression. He considered a bankrupt penal colony no place for such news. Gipps implored Strzelecki to remain silent. The wealth that gold could bring was of no interest to the Polish Geologist. Geology was his main concern and he was more than satisfied with the wealth of information obtained in the cause of his science. The visitor left Australia during 1842, without revealing the fact that he considered the colony to be rich in mineral wealth and _ _ _ _.
During February 1841, a Scottish clergyman and amateur geologist searched for gold along the banks of Cox’s River (west of Hartley) and Winburndale Rivulet (east of Bathurst). The Reverend W B Clarke was not disappointed with what he found. Governor George Gipps failed to share the cleric’s enthusiasm, demanding that Clarke remain silent. The current labour shortage and worsening economy was no place for such an announcement.

Hugh MacGregor hailed from Inverness; arriving in Australia around 1838 to take up the lonely existence of a shepherd. He soon stumbled onto a quartz reef at Mitchell’s Creek, near Wellington. From 1846, MacGregor made regular trips to Sydney, selling his gold to Cohen’s jewellery in George Street. There soon remained few people who had not heard of the mysterious shepherd. Many knew that he tended flocks somewhere near Wellington, but that was all they did know. Most were not concerned as an old English Law ensured that all gold found on Crown Land remained the property of Queen Victoria. MacGregor chose anonymity and prospered.
Another shepherd, “Yorkey”, was employed by a Mr Trappitt whose property was at a spot soon to become known as Ophir. In 1848, Yorkey found a lump of gold near the junction of Lewis Ponds and Summerhill Creeks and gave it to Trappitt. The sample ended up in the possession of William Tipple Smith, a practical mineralogist, who quickly located the place of its origin. Smith approached the Government but refused to reveal the golden site until a reward was paid. Due to a stalemate with the Government, cattle and sheep on Trappitt’s run enjoyed at least another two years of peace and serenity.

From May 1848, the copper industry provided some relief from the doldrums of trade retardation in the Bathurst area. Mines were opened at Rockley on the estates of J F Clement and A G Steel; Robert Smith’s Valley Field Estate at Campbell’s River; Molong; William Charles Wentworth’s property in Frederick’s Valley (Lucknow) and later on land belonging to John Glasson and Richard Lane at the Cornish Settlement (Byng). With so much interest in mining, it seemed that the discovery of payable gold must shortly come.
Near Coombing Park, Carcoar, several merchants banded together to form the Belubula Copper Mining Company. Two sections of Government land were bought for £1,280 and another, belonging to Thomas Icely, sold for £2,000.

Icely was the son of a ship owner and merchant from Plympton, in Devon County. He had learnt his trade well before coming to Australia in 1820. A meteoric career had seen him rise from a successful George Street merchant to Magistrate. He was now a key Member of the Legislative Council and an extremely influential land-owner and pastoralist in the Carcoar district.
During May 1849, the Belubula Copper Mining Company located several veins of copper and a rich lode of ore over four feet thick. By September, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Carcoar miners had also discovered four specimens, each containing native gold that was obvious to the eye. Two months later, the Colonial Secretary, Edward Deas Thomson, stayed at Coombing Park for a fortnight as a guest of Icely. It is hard to imagine that Icely would not have shown the samples to the colohy’s second most important Official. The M.L.C. felt so enthusiastic about them that he eventually sent them to England for appraisal by the noted British Geologist, Sir Roderick Murchison.
Murchison had earlier inspected rock samples shipped back to England by Strzelecki, and, as early as 1846, implored Cornish copper and tin miners migrating to New South Wales to search for gold west of the Great Dividing Range. To date, Sir Roderick’s pleas had fallen on deaf ears.
The Tom Family
Through poor economic conditions, William Tom Senior and his wife left Cornwall for Sydney Town in 1823. His daughter, Mary, was 4 years of age while John and James were 3 and 2. Towards the closing stages of that voyage, a prolonged stillness prevailed as the seas turned greyish-blue, heralding a hurricane. The BELINDA’S canvas was furled as the winds gained strength and water commenced gushing across its deck.
For days the raging seas tried to devour the BELINDA; one giant wave tearing away two life boats, both masts and its rudder. The cook’s deckhouse was washed from its mountings; smashing the bulwarks as it slid across the deck on its way to the bottom. The cook jumped clear at the last moment but two other crew members and a boy were washed overboard and drowned. Now rudderless, the BELINDA helplessly drifted towards the mouth of Hobart’s Derwent River. It was heading for an inevitable collision with the jagged rocks.
The Captain knew William Tom Senior to be a deeply religious man; summoning him to his cabin to confide the hopeless situation. Tom immediately went below to pray that the ship, its crew and passengers might all be spared from a watery grave. Full of confidence, the staunch Wesleyan returned and told Captain Coverdale that God had heard his prayers and would save the BELINDA from disaster. The strong winds miraculously changed direction within a matter of minutes, sweeping the doomed vessel away from the beckoning rocks and safely into the mouth of the Derwent. On November 20th 1823, the Tom family transferred to the JUBILEE, which would take them on their five day voyage to Sydney Town. While passing Cape Disappointment, William and Ann Tom became the proud parents of their fourth child:- William Tom Junior.
In April 1824, the Tom family walked across the Blue Mountains searching for a suitable site for which to lodge a Grant application. Passing through the Sidmouth Valley, they chose 680 acres on the southern bank of the Fish River. (5 kilometres south-west of Tarana) Twelve months prior to their arrival, a Government Surveyor, James McBrien, had located alluvial specks of gold on the western boundary of William Tom Senior’s future Grant.
Bathurst was still a military outpost and barracks set on the western bank of the Macquarie. Settlers relying on protection from marauding aborigines built crude homes at Kelso, 1½ kilometres east of the Macquarie. William Tom Senior chose the life of a pioneer, settling in an area that was particularly prone to native attack. For six years, he battled on his unsuitable low-lying land and lost hundreds of sheep through foot-rot.
In 1829, when the Government lifted its ban prohibiting settlers from selecting land west of the Macquarie, Tom and his sons were amongst the first to take advantage of the situation. This time he hoped to locate a far more suitable Grant than the one he had chosen at Tarana. About 6 kilometres north of Guyong, a 640 acre site, at the junction of Sheep Station and Lewis Ponds Creeks, was chosen. The property became known as Springfield. After nearly two years, a five room lath and plaster dwelling was completed, using crude hand-made tools to perform the work. The area then became widely known as “The Cornish Settlement” (Byng), when two fellow countrymen, George Hawke and John Glasson, took up neighbouring land. All were strict Methodists who firmly believed that only Wesleyans would get to Heaven.
William Tom Senior was well-built, broad-shouldered and five feet eleven inches tall. His face was filled with character, conveying a warmth and kindness to all who also considered God to be their best friend. Tom was afraid of nothing and nobody, for he was armed with a sure protection that carried him through the toughest of situations. While others carried guns and weapons, Tom carried nothing but a Bible.
Through dairy produce, vegetable gardening, orcharding, cattle, wool and grain crops, the Cornish settlers somehow managed to survive droughts, bush fires, floods and tempest. All were honest and practical businessmen who usually had plenty of produce to sell - when the time and price was right! But such decisions were never made without first referring to a Higher Authority. There seemed to be no end to the diversification and ingenuity of the Cornish to survive when others failed.
From 1832, William Tom Senior became a lay-preacher, promoting the Wesleyan religion on the Bathurst Circuit, amidst unprecedented crime and violence. Circuit preaching and business trips often took him off the beaten track and into the face of danger.
One night he stayed at a public house on the banks of the Fish River. A lack of beds saw lay-preacher Tom placed on a couch in the hallway. Around midnight, Tom awoke to find several bushrangers taking advantage of the darkness to rob the guests and premises. One hit him over the head with a pistol butt, knocking him into a state of semi-consciousness and onto the floor. All valuables were then taken from the lay-preacher’s clothing.
When one robber struck a match to count the loot, he was horrified to recognize his luckless victim. A dazed Parson Tom overheard the bandits whisper his name. He then felt his money and valuables being returned to his pockets. When the cleric regained consciousness, he found himself neatly replaced and tucked in on the couch. A huge lump on his head was convincing proof that he had not been dreaming. It was also a sign that Parson Tom’s efforts of preaching on the Bathurst Circuit were starting to pay dividends - in a painful kind of way!
Forty of Bathurst’s principal stock-holders attended a meeting in February 1844, to discuss the opening of Mr Suttor’s boiling-down plant. Up to 1,500 sheep or cattle could be treated monthly, reducing the district’s excessive and starving stock into soap or tallow for export to Russia and England. Suttor would pay 5/- per cow and 6d. per head for sheep. This service would prove to be the salvation of the almost bankrupt stockholders of Bathurst.
Parson Tom scoffed at the suggestion. For the past year, he and his sons had bought up stock cheaply; overlanding it to Gippsland and setting up stations along the lonely way. James, Nicholas and John sold their father’s cattle at Port Phillip for 8 guineas per head. The three brothers were amongst the first to try such a daring, yet rewarding task. Perhaps there was more than just a keen business sense that guided the Cornish settlers to always make the correct decision at the right time?
In 1847, Parson Tom decided that a new and larger dwelling was needed to house his wife and thirteen children, although the existing trade recession would mean a long and patient wait for its completion. Fellow-countrymen, newcomers to the Cornish Settlement or Christian travellers passing through the district were undoubtedly impressed by Parson Tom’s humble and self-denying attitude. Guests and visitors alike were greeted by three stones set into the front verandah’s paving. They were inscribed:—”cead mile failte”, Celtic for “One Hundred Thousand Welcomes”. It wasn’t necessary to understand the Celtic language to feel the warmth of Springfield’s welcome during a drawn out icy winter evening.
Trade in the Bathurst district was at the lowest ebb ever recorded in 1849. Few people possessed money to pay their debts and food became an expensive commodity that many did without. Drought conditions blighted and shrivelled all existing wheat crops and brought ploughing and the preparation of next season’s grain crops to a dusty halt. There was a shortage of stock food and all waterholes were parched and cracked. The remaining grass was consumed by raging bush fires, fanned by gusty winds that stirred up billowing clouds of dust. In Bathurst, a new Court House stood awaiting in anticipation of the only business that was showing an upward trend.
Parson Tom’s neighbour, John Glasson, pursued one of the few prospective industries showing any signs of reward. Large copper deposits on Glasson’s land provided an alternative to bankruptcy during the unfavourably dry conditions. The Cornish always tried to remain one step ahead of progress in order to survive.
Although some copper ore was found near Springfield, the Tom family still received a meagre income from their scaled-down cattle overlanding. James was now 27 years of age, six feet tall and of robust build. His pleasant facial features belied the rough outdoor existence he endured as a stockman. James had an inbuilt sense of direction that would shame any compass or homing pigeon; a considerable asset in his line of work.
By comparison, William Tom Junior had developed into a quiet young man who was clever with his hands and adept at mechanics and carpentry. He spoke with a nervous stammer, reputed to have been a legacy of the hurricane that almost claimed the BELINDA a few days prior to his birth. His mother’s nervous condition throughout the ordeal supposedly became a hereditary affliction passed on to her unborn baby. William Tom Junior usually remained at Springfield, assisting with the construction of interior fittings while his other brothers took cattle interstate.
The Lister Family
Captain John Hardman Lister was a proficient Master Mariner from the Scarborough district of Yorkshire. In 1825, Lister married Susan Pymble of Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. Their first child was born on May 12th 1828. He was christened John Hardman Australia Lister Junior. The name “Australia” is reputed to have been added as a mark of Captain Lister’s respect for the earlier maritime achievements of Matthew Flinders, while exploring the new colony.
During February 1830, Lister took command of the 340 ton barque WAVE. It was a singledecked vessel of black birch and pine. When the WAVE left London for Hobart and Sydney, Lister’s wife and infant son travelled on board as cabin passengers. Susan Lister was expecting her second child within five months and this arrangement allowed the devoted couple to be constantly together. While she rested to await the happy occasion, a 14 year old cabin boy, named Hargraves, supervised the ship-board activities of young John Lister Junior. From 1834, the Captain commenced a regular run between England and the colony as Master of the 312 ton barque FORTUNE.
The Lister family settled in Sydney during September 1838 and the Captain became a shipping agent. As a supplementary income to that provided by his small agency, Lister and his son repaired and refitted ships returning from extended whaling expeditions in the southern seas.
Although business was plentiful with either occupation, prompt cash payments for accounts rendered became an increasingly rare thing. Most of the colony was living on extended credit and promissory notes. To see his family survive, Captain Lister soon found himself unwillingly forced into a similar situation.
During November 1839, Lister formed a partnership with Samuel Peek and Francis Mitchell. Peek was a Castlereagh Street merchant while Mitchell ran a ship’s chandlery in George Street. They jointly offered £5,200 Sterling for Joseph Fotheringham’s wharf and ship repairing yard. Within days, the owner took back the deeds to his Sussex Street property because full payment could not be met.
Now the business world started to sink into a severe financial depression from which many would take years to recover. Lister and Peek dissolved their partnership in 1841. It was evident that speculators and merchants, with large amounts tied up in goods, would be amongst the first to be pressed by desperate creditors. Such property was soon converted back into greatly devalued working capital, either by onesided negotiation or the commencement of insolvency proceedings.
Lister was declared insolvent in January 1843. His clothing, family possessions, 3½ acres of land at Newtown, several lots at Reiby Place and his whaling establishment at Darling Harbour were all surrendered to the Court. Within five months, the Supreme Court granted Captain Lister a certificate of release from his debts. He was now determined to return to a life at sea; the career that had previously proven a prosperous one.
On February 8th 1844, Lister captained the coastal schooner PERSEVERANCE to Moreton Bay (Brisbane), carrying a valuable cargo of wheat. John Lister Junior accompanied him as a crew member while two adults and their children travelled as steerage passengers. It as Tuesday 13th February when Lister tried to negotiate the passage to Moreton Bay, between Moreton and North Stradbroke Islands. A strong south-east wind caused a heavy sea upon the bar, making it impossible for the Amnity Point pilot boat to get outside to render assistance. Puzzled by the lack of response, the mariner stood his vessel out to sea. For a week the tempestuous seas had battered the coastline, tearing ships from their moorings in Moreton Bay.
At 8 a.m. the following morning, Lister and his son headed back towards the channel, not knowing that it had filled with sand. The pilot station then raised its flag to a half-mast position, hoping that it would be taken as a warning to head back to deeper water. Although that signal was unofficially used in Newcastle and Port Macquarie Harbours, the Government had failed to issue a standard regulation for communicating during such emergencies.
On Thursday morning, a worried Captain Lister again headed dangerously close to shoal waters. The pilot attempted to reach the floundering schooner but he was compelled to return to the beach after nearly being swamped by the tremendous sea upon the bar. Bailing out his boat and putting off again, the pilot saw the vessel break its main anchor cable and strike ground, tearing away its rudder. In an instant the PERSEVERANCE was on its broadside, disintegrating around its passengers and crew. All were luckily rescued by the pilot and his two aboriginal assistants.
Captain Lister and his young son were heartbroken through the accident. The residents of Brisbane took up a collection but it was a small compensation for the loss of Lister’s schooner and uninsured cargo. The Captain and his crew travelled back to Sydney on another vessel, carrying the yards, masts and rigging from the PERSEVERANCE — all that was salvaged from the wreckage. Lister promptly refused a Government offer tending a lighthouse; feeling that such a position was below his dignity.
In January 1845, the Lister family travelled over the Blue Mountains to settle near Tarana, about 16 kilometres east of Bathurst. A welcoming committee of bushrangers held them at gunpoint, taking everything that they possessed. Even the bed sheets were stolen to bundle together a large supply of provisions just purchased. Ignoring threats by the armed men, Captain Lister paced the floor with a large carving knife they had overlooked. He promised to kill the first man who attempted to harm his wife or six children. Unable to pacify their fiery host, the bandits left with their ill-gotten gain. They left nothing behind other than the carving knife and eight broken-hearted settlers.
Then the luckless Listers became friendly with James Arthur, owner of the Carrier’s Arms Hotel in William Street, Bathurst. Arthur had held his publican’s licence for six years and was constantly expanding his business interests. In 1842, Arthur had purchased the Robin Hood and Little John Inn that stood at the summit of the notorious Rocks Hill, 20 kilometres west of Bathurst. In March 1846, the Lister family replaced Arthur’s previous lessee, who was reputed to have often consumed more than his fair share of the profits.
Travellers from Bathurst to Wellington crossed Evans’ Plains Creek to be confronted with a tortuous 11 kilometre ascent to the inn. Along that perilous track were hundreds of huge boulders covered with green crusty scale. Each boulder was a potential vantage point where murderous bushrangers could sit, awaiting their exhausted prey. For this reason, the Robin Hood and Little John Inn had become a popular resting place for those who needed a glass of courage to complete their journey. After leaving the inn, there still remained a 12 kilometre descent towards the trackless and unsignposted forests leading to the safety of the Wellington Inn at Guyong. This area had also proven a haven for thieves and bandits and it could hold just as many nasty surprises for the unwary.
On August 12th 1850, Captain Lister set out for Bathurst on a business trip. His family was disturbed when he failed to return that evening. Lister’s body was found on Rocks Hill the following morning, beside his overturned gig. The horse had bolted, causing the gig’s wheel to hit a protruding stump. The driver had been thrown to the roadway and perished from pneumonia during the cold winter evening. Perhaps the incident was caused by bushrangers attempting to stop and rob another victim? The true story of how Captain Lister met his premature death will never be known.
After burying Lister in the Church of England cemetery at Bathurst, his family moved to the Wellington Inn at Guyong. Behind the main building was a stable and well, where the horses for the Bathurst-Wellington mail coach were changed. In front of the premises was a small tributary of Lewis Ponds Creek. Before long, Lewis Ponds Creek would play a major part in the life of John Lister Junior. It was to be a part that would see bad luck and disappointment handed down from father to son. In fact, bad luck and disappointment would continue to plague John Lister Junior until the day he died!
Edward Hammond Hargraves
Edward Hammond Hargraves was born on October 7th 1816 at Gosport, Hampshire. At the time, his father was marching against the French as a lieutenant with the Sussex Militia. While Edward’s two older brothers received appointments to the East Indian Company’s Naval Service, he endured a dull life of education at Brighton Grammar School and another at Lewes. In later years, Edward Hammond Hargraves’ command of the English language and letterwriting would prove that it was not an education wasted.
At the age of 14, Hargraves became a cabin boy on a merchant ship. The WAVE was bound for Sydney, via Hobart, under the command of Captain John Hardman Lister. Cabin boy Hargraves often took care of John Junior, Lister’s two year old son. The Captain’s wife, shortly expecting her second child, no doubt appreciated resting without the constant worry of an unattended youngster investigating a ship in transit.
During 1832, Hargraves gained employment on a cattle run. Captain Thomas Hector was a retired mariner who held 2,000 acres situated 8 kilometres north-west of Bathurst. After 14 boring months, Hargraves returned to sea on Captain Oakburn’s CLEMENTINE. The ship headed for Torres Strait, collecting a valuable variety of sea slug. When this cargo was dried and smoked, it was sold to the Chinese for flavouring soups. By Batavia, twenty of the twenty-seven crew members perished from typhus fever. Hargraves quickly sought a return passage to Australia. Wages on the land were far from attractive, but the reduced health risks offered some incentive.
The disenchanted sailor returned to Bathurst to become Hector’s Superintendent of sheep and convicts. Hargraves found it necessary to travel to the Lewis Ponds Creek area; retrieving bullock drays lost by inexperienced men under his charge. It was to be another fifteen years before he returned there to superintend other inexperienced men — searching for something far more precious.
Late in 1836, Hargraves married Eliza Mackie; daughter of a George Street merchant. The newly-weds took up 100 acres for grazing cattle at Dapto Creek in the Wollongong area. After three years of robberies, drought and financial strain, Hargraves sold the property at a loss.
Moving to the timber town of East Gosford on Brisbane Water, Hargraves became landlord of two cottages given to his wife as a dowry. During 1840, the General Steamship Company appointed him its agent for the entire Brisbane Water area. Next he commenced building an inn, store and dwelling on waterfront land purchased from the Sydney merchant, Samuel Peek. By June 1841, the nearly completed twelve room hotel fell under the auctioneer’s hammer to satisfy eager creditors.
While Hargraves took up a cattle run on the Manning River (Taree), his wife depended on the rental of her cottages and proceeds from the East Gosford store. Her cottage tenants continually complained of the 2/6d. weekly rental and moved out. In her husband’s absence, Eliza relied on the store to keep and educate her four children.
News of California’s gold strike reached a disbelieving Sydney in early 1849. There remained few sceptics when the first American ship docked in Sydney Harbour, carrying 1,200 ounces of gold. Australia’s population suddenly decreased as people rushed to San Francisco to try their luck in the golden sweepstakes. Transportation of convicts was gradually being phased out in favour of Government assisted emigrants. When these sponsored people arrived, they stayed just long enough to book a passage (at their own expense) to the North American goldfields.
Hargraves rapidly disposed of his failing cattle run, selling 70 bullocks at Maitland for £1 per head. This money was used to purchase a ticket to San Francisco on the 338 ton barque ELIZABETH ARCHER. He shared his cabin with Simpson Davison, a person with considerable knowledge of geology.
Davison was a Yorkshire man who had only been three years in the colony. He had purchased a Queanbeyan squatter’s insolvent estate and another at Nimitybelle (Nimmitabel). Much of Davison’s time had been devoted to searching the quartz for signs of gold. The Nimitybelle shepherds often mentioned MacGregor, the Wellington keeper of flocks, who procured gold from the quartz and sold it in Sydney. Davison now intended to visit the American goldfields to learn a little more of the subject that had fascinated him for so long.
Atrocious weather confined the ship to Port Jackson for three days. Davison and Hargraves remained in their cabin, reading the Sydney Morning Herald’s rumours of a young shepherd’s gold discovery in the Port Phillip district of Melbourne. The ship finally set sail on July 6th 1849, taking 150 anxious passengers on a 78 day voyage across the Pacific.
Through a lack of man-power, San Francisco Harbour had over 500 stranded ships. Their crews had deserted in the direction of the goldfields. By the next morning, the ELIZABETH ARCHER was in a similar situation. It was left with only one officer and four apprentices to unload the cargo. Davison, Hargraves and a few other passengers remained for three weeks to assist.
With the cargo unloaded, Davison, Hargraves and seven other passengers pooled their resources to form a prospecting partnership. The six foot five, 18 stone Hargraves became their elected President. He busily sewed some canvas into a nine-man tent as they sailed up the San Jaoquin River. At Stockton, they bought a wagon and eight bullocks for £100. These would be used for carrying supplies the remaining 130 kilometres to the Empire Hill diggings, near Jamestown.
On the diggings, boards from old packing cases (suitable for making a gold cradle), sold at the inflated price of 4/- per pound. After a few months of panning, the party pooled £12 of their profit to buy a pre-made cradle. Water for use with the cradle could only be obtained by clearing away the snow and breaking the ice beneath. According to Davison, Hargraves spent most of his time with the main party. He had a particular distaste for prospecting and the locating of new sites.
Nights were spent tipping snow from the tent roof; fearing that it might collapse and crush the occupants. It was a particularly bitter winter. One third of the prospectors on the goldfields failed to see it through. The party disbanded after several months of limited success and sheer misery. Hargraves and Davison returned to San Francisco to await the warmer summer months. They then intended to travel north to the Marysville diggings.
San Francisco was a bawdy city and one giant fire hazard. It featured wooden buildings, wooden sidewalks and even wooden gutters. The gold rush had seen the make-shift city rise overnight. Timber had been the most convenient material available for its construction. Half of the population was coloured and spoke Spanish. The remainder represented a collection of every imaginable nationality. Hargraves and Davison met up with Enoch Rudder and his two sons, Augustus and Julius. They were anxiously awaiting the arrival of machinery being shipped from Australia.
Rudder was a proficient smelter and metallurgist. Much of his earlier life had been spent in the English city of Birmingham. He was also an expert in the fields of chemistry, geology and mineralogy. During 1830, Rudder’s company had been contracted to manufacture machinery suitable for separating gold from quartz. Each machine had been made in small sections weighing less than 60 pounds. This allowed the portions to be carried high into the Peruvian mountains by mule train. Fully assembled, the machine weighed one ton. Around 1834, when the South American rush had ended, Rudder travelled to Australia to become a grazier.
California now gave new promise to Rudder’s invention. Before leaving Sydney he had built a prototype and arranged for its exportation to California; hoping to obtain a multitude of orders. Rudder was therefore anxious to travel to the goldfields and assess his machine’s potential.
While in San Francisco, conversations often took place between Rudder and Davison. They discussed the possibility of Australia being a gold-bearing country. Davison recalled his searches at Nimitybelle and Rudder remarked on California’s terrain bearing a striking resemblance to places in New South Wales. Although Hargraves knew little of geology, he intently listened and learnt. Then Rudder wrote a patriotic letter to a Sydney friend who was a Member of the Legislative Council. Rudder begged that this letter be personally given to Governor FitzRoy, making him aware of the colony’s suspected wealth. He might as well have saved the postage.
Hargraves wrote to his merchant friend, Samuel Peek, on March 5th 1850, mentioning that he felt sure that there was a gold-bearing region within 300 miles of Sydney. This wasn’t a startling revelation. Most colonists had already heard of MacGregor, the gold-finding shepherd.
On May 5th, Rudder wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald. He hoped to inspire Australian prospectors into searching for gold before they headed for California. His letter was published on July 22nd 1850, creating little or no attention:
“The gold is to be found in rich red soil, not very tenacious, and sometimes in tenacious clay, (upon its surface) where it has been deposited. It is distributed throughout the red soil—sometimes it is found in ravines, between the crevices of rocks, in the beds of rivers, and in the banks, which at some antecedent period formed the bed of the stream. Any Australian settler who has ever crossed the bed of a river, at what is termed ’the falls’ where the water is shallow, and the adjacent land for 200 or 300 yards is composed of an immense bed of gravel stones of all sizes, firmly cemented together, will at once understand the nature of gold digging.”
In June 1850, the five prospectors left San Francisco, taking two weeks to travel up the Sacremento and Yuba Rivers to Marysville. At the nearby Foster Bay diggings, claims were scarce. Ones thought to be unworkable fetched $500 to $1,000. Fewer claims had been staked in the Slate Ranges, 16 kilometres away. At that spot the party gained an average of 2½ ounces of gold daily.
On July 10th, Rudder and his sons temporarily parted company with Hargraves and Davison, to inspect other goldfields. Rudder then decided that his machine would be entirely unsuitable to the Californian operations. On September 30th, Rudder sent his sons 50 kilometres to ask whether Hargraves wished to travel back to Sydney with them. Hargraves told them that pressing family problems had already forced him to make such arrangements. He would sail for Sydney within two weeks.
Davison gave his departing friend a letter to the overseer of his Nimitybelle property. It authorized the bearer to carry out searches for gold in the quartz. Hargraves was also instructed to take the first evidence of gold to the Government and claim a reward. Davison impressed on his friend that working for gold would pay few dividends when compared with a Government reward shared between the two as co-discoverers. Davison then left for the Mokelumne diggings with intentions of returning to England, unless Hargraves’ Australian mission proved fruitful.
On October 23rd, Enoch, Julius and Augustus Rudder farewelled Hargraves and watched the 295 ton barque EMMA leave the harbour. In a matter of weeks they would also be returning home, much the poorer for their experience. A smug look came over Hargraves’ face, no doubt, as he watched the Rudder family, the wharf and finally the wooden city of San Francisco disappear over the Pacific’s horizon.
1851 — Official Year Of Gold Discovery
The EMMA docked in Port Jackson on January 7th 1851, bringing many disillusioned prospectors back from California. On board was its owner, Joseph Walford, who had often debated with passengers as to whether Australia might be a gold-bearing land. Walford was one that scorned such a ridiculous suggestion. At least two other passengers held entirely different views on the subject.
One was “Lucky” Jim Esmond, who later used his Californian experience to become one of Victoria’s first discoverers of gold, at Clunes. The other gentleman was Edward Hammond Hargraves.
Sydney’s newspapers were filled with advertisements for dealers offering to buy gold dust, dollars and dubloons from returned prospectors. Hargraves sold what little gold he had to a jeweller who commented that it was a great pity that Australia did not share California’s golden wealth. The inspired gold-seeker modestly retorted that within three weeks he would find gold in Australia to exceed all expectations and rival California.
Almost destitute, Hargraves tried to convince Samuel Peek of the benefits of financing his proposed expedition. When he had been in partnership with Captain Lister, some ten years earlier, Peek had been the subject of insolvency proceedings. He was once again a successful merchant after fighting his way back to the top by sound and profitable business investments. There was no way Peek was prepared to support such a madcap scheme. The proposed benefactor told Hargraves:
“If you are such a fool as to use your time running around the country where the geologists of France, Russia and Britain have been over to look for gold, depend on it and you will certainly fail and be laughed at into the bargain.”
Next the gold-seeker visited his trusted friend and solicitor, James Norton Senior. The solicitor remarked that Hargraves might have been wiser to have remained overseas, considering the present Australian economy. When told of Hargraves’ plans, Norton said:
“Sir, you are a fool. I have always thought it and now I know it. I will give you a letter to my friend Icely, who does occasionally find a speck of gold in the quartz near Bathurst.”
Hargraves used Norton’s letter of introduction to meet Thomas Icely at the Australian Club during mid-January. An earlier letter from Norton had suggested the Government financially assist Hargraves and his project. This was flatly rejected. Still, Icely had an interest in the matter and he would be a useful friend and pipeline to the Government, should the search prove successful.
Hargraves borrowed £105 from a businessman, named Northwood. He used it to buy a horse and provisions. His benefactor was promised an equal share in any profit stemming from the mission. Time was to prove that Hargraves possessed a very short memory. The prospector wasted no time in following up Icely’s invitation to use Coombing Park as a base. From there he intended to go directly to Wellington in search of a shepherd known widely as “MacGregor, the gold-finder.”
The evening of February 7th was spent at the Blue Mountains Inn at Penrith. Hargraves stopped the following night at the Vale of Clwydd Inn, near Hartley. There his host spoke of MacGregor, who had once stopped overnight, on his way to Sydney with some white rocks bearing golden specks. Hargraves’ heart started beating faster with anticipation. He seemed disinterested as the inn-keeper went on to complain about the poverty stricken squatters and travellers who camped out in the bush, rather than spending some money and the night under his roof.
February 10th saw Hargraves set out from Bathurst on the last stage of his journey to Coombing Park. At King’s Plains (Blayney), he met Icely hurrying back to Sydney to launch libel proceedings against Doctor John Dunmore Lang. A newspaper article under Lang’s venomous editorship had alleged the M.L.C. once swindled a fellow merchant of his ship and cargo.
Icely suggested that his friend ride a short distance north, visiting Guyong’s Wellington Inn. There, the widowed manageress, named Lister, would have information that might prove useful. After ascertaining that the widow Lister was none other than the wife of his former sea Captain, Hargraves felt duty bound to call and offer his condolences. Perhaps she might even know something that could save him a long and strenuous ride to Wellington.
As darkness fell, the stranger took a short cut through the bushes and became lost. After 15 kilometres he realized that he was heading west, rather than north to Guyong. Camping overnight in Frederick’s Valley (Lucknow), Hargraves awaited the warm morning sun that would enable him to retrace his steps back through the trackless and unsignposted forests to the inn.
For several years, the Listers had managed the Rocks Inn, belonging to James Arthur. They had just moved from that location to take over the running of the Wellington Inn. John Lister’s fiancee, Ann, the daughter of James Arthur, was a temporary guest of the establishment. She was first to notice the rotund gentleman and his rather wilted horse approach from the west. It was not the first time a visitor from Sydney had become lost and arrived from the wrong direction.
Soon the traveller was invited into the small hotel’s sitting room, where he recalled his seafaring days under Captain Lister and held the family spellbound with tales from the Californian goldfields. The major topic of conversation shortly centred around a bottle sitting on the mantel-piece, containing mica slate and quartz samples. The tourist’s ambitions of locating the elusive Wellington shepherd now became of secondary importance.
Mrs Susan Lister was asked to recommend an aboriginal guide to escort her visitor to Lewis Ponds Creek. He now wished to return to the old stations of Tom Jamieson and Green, who had once been in charge of Perrier’s sheep run. It was then agreed that her son would be a suitable guide for the secretive gold-finding mission. John Lister had previously spent some time with two geologists, named Batty and Neal. He knew where the bottled samples had been found.
February 12th saw the two prospectors sneaking through the bush to avoid attention. With them went a tin dish, a pick and a trowel—all borrowed from the Wellington Inn. Lewis Ponds Creek was particularly dry, so Lister suggested travelling 22 kilometres north to its junction with Summerhill Creek. This junction formed the boundary of William Trappitt’s property, “Yullundary”. Locally it was known as “Yorkey’s Corner”. Yorkey was a shepherd employed by Trappitt and his crude, but transportable, hut usually sat near the creek junction. Fearing the shepherd’s detection and embarrassing questions, Hargraves insisted on staying at Radigan’s Gully, 4 kilometres below the junction. While Lister hobbled the horses, his instructor boiled the billy and enjoyed beef and damper - again supplied by the Wellington Inn.
After lunch, Hargraves washed six dishes of earth. He obtained a tiny golden speck or two from all but one dish. Placing the “colours” inside a slip of newspaper, he noted it with the place and date of discovery. Lister was then told that he might shortly have the title of “Baron” added to his name for services rendered to the Crown. After a discovery of such magnitude, Hargraves modestly envisaged a knighthood for himself while his horse would be stuffed and sent in a glass case to the British Museum. As the visitor revelled in delusions of grandeur, the bedazzled Lister suddenly remembered that Hargraves’ horse was another borrowed item - on loan by courtesy of the Wellington Inn!
When the “gold” was displayed that evening at Guyong, the other members of the Lister family tried to appear interested. Finally a glass tumbler was enlisted to magnify the few tiny specks that were almost invisible to the naked eye. Hargraves obviously felt that gold of more quantity was needed if a Government reward was to be paid for his valuable time and effort. Now he wanted to visit the old Government stockyards in Frederick’s Valley and then go to Burrandong, following the Macquarie back to Summerhill Creek.
Lister suggested that his friend James Tom lead the expedition. James knew the Macquarie better than most. His father had cattle stations strategically placed along its banks. Lister did not like the suggestion that his friend would merely act as a guide, light fires, cook meals and hobble the horses. Again, the Wellington Inn supplied chaff and oats and a pack-horse to carry the provisions necessary for the journey.
At dusk on February 14th, the two rode to the Cornish Settlement where New Springfield was nearing completion. There were many changes since Hargraves’ first visit. Hawthorn bushes lined the laneways, the land was cultivated, one or two respectable homes had been built and there were a hundred or so Cornishmen mining for copper—each with a varying knowledge of geology.
Parson Tom met the two visitors at Springfield’s front gate. Casting his mind back some sixteen years, Tom recalled his first encounter with Edward Hammond Hargraves. During 1835, Hargraves had been Superintendent of Captain Hector’s station near Bathurst. Three bullock drays of wheat had been despatched under the charge of inexperienced men. The drays were to be taken to Barton’s out-station, southwest of Boree. On the third day, Hargraves’ men returned to inform him that their teams had strayed from camp and were missing. With assistance from native trackers, the drays were found near Guyong, only a few kilometres from where the men had set up camp.
Before leaving Guyong, Hargraves had met Tom Jamieson who agreed to sell him four bullocks for meat at Hector’s station. The two had travelled up Lewis Ponds Creek, collecting the beasts from Green’s neighbouring run. By nightfall of the following evening, the two had returned to Guyong. Jamieson had suggested calling on Parson Tom with a request to yard the bullocks overnight at Springfield. Sitting around the fire after supper, Parson Tom read his guests and children passages from the Bible. When one of his daughters brandished the church missionary box, Jamieson had donated £3, while Hargraves, later evidence suggested, had subscribed £2 in the form of an I-O-U.
John Lister paid little attention during Parson Tom’s recollections. He was annoyed and restless at the thought of his best friend being given the duties normally expected of an aboriginal guide. Excusing himself, Lister slowly rode back towards the inn with his pack horse trailing behind. Hargraves chased after his young apprentice and the two compromised that if James Tom agreed to accompany them, he would become an equal partner in any discovery.
Parson Tom had since told his son of Lister’s visit. James rode up to where the two men were arguing. When told of the plan he agreed to pay his own expenses, if admitted to the partnership. The trio rode back to Springfield for supper before departing that evening. Overnight they camped at Caleula, on Kerr’s Creek. This was 16 kilometres north of presentday Orange, alongside Henry Kater’s cloth and flour mill. Within two days they had reached Burrandong, some 120 kilometres distant from the Cornish Settlement.
Zig-zagging backwards along the path of the Macquarie for 160 kilometres was no easy matter. The harsh season had left many dried up patches in the river bed and fodder for the horses became a continual problem. Then there were the inaccessible portions with perilous ascents and descents; dropping many hundreds of feet to the river below. Dozens of pans of earth were washed by Tom and Lister while Hargraves reportedly preferred to keep his hands clean; possibly due to a general absence of water in which to wash them. None yielded more than the occasional golden speck.
Reaching the junction of the Macquarie and Lewis Ponds Creek, the trio travelled down the latter until they arrived at Summerhill Creek. At this spot (Ophir), Hargraves personally washed for gold without success. The whole eight day excursion was one exhausting failure. While riding back to the Cornish Settlement, Hargraves no doubt had constant thoughts of the Wellington shepherd flashing through his mind once again.
Before Hargraves left Guyong, the trio entered into a verbal agreement. The matter would not be made public unless a gold-field yielding more than £1 per day in wages was discovered. To do so would only further upset the failing economy when people left their jobs to prospect for gold that was insufficient to merit such attention.
Hargraves called on Alexander and Mary Cruickshank at Deluntus, near Wellington. Mary was his cousin and she had married Alexander only three months prior. The newly-weds were given gold panning lessons in a creek running through their property. After four days, “Cousin” Hargraves realized that he should have been looking in far hillier terrain. When MacGregor’s name was mentioned, Cruickshank lent Hargraves an aboriginal guide. They went to an old station on Mitchell’s Creek, about 28 kilometres north of Wellington. Although a quartz dyke was located, Hargraves’ four day search failed to reveal any gold. It would seem that the semi-ignorant shepherd’s knowledge of geology had triumphed over the expertise of Edward Hammond Hargraves.
Hargraves returned to Guyong during mid-March. He learnt of his partners’ eight day trip along the Macquarie and Turon Rivers. Although John and James still only obtained “colours”, their minute specks equalled those panned by Hargraves on February 12th at Lewis Ponds Creek. Through desperation, Hargraves suggested obtaining an old packing crate to build a Californian gold cradle, to his specifications. James Tom suggested his younger brother, William, for the chore.
William Tom Junior was an excellent carpenter and mechanic. The trio agreed that he would become a partner if he assisted by making the cradle. Some cedar offcuts were borrowed from Thomas Brown, a carpenter employed to construct the interior fittings of New Springfield.
Brown had worked for Parson Tom since 1846; receiving a weekly wage of £1 plus free meals and lodging. Often while working late into the evenings, Brown had noticed the mysterious visits of Hargraves. William Tom Junior then started borrowing the carpenter’s tools and work bench. He would disappear into Springfield’s cellar with them. Sawing and hammering sounds would emanate from the cellar until the early hours of the morning. The puzzled Brown would find his tools and bench neatly replaced each following morning.
Within a few days, the carpenter noticed a strange wooden object partially hidden under Springfield’s back verandah. Unable to contain his curiosity any longer, Brown asked one of William Tom Junior’s younger brothers what it was. Henry Tom told him that the wooden box was a snare to trap birds up on Mount Canobolas, adding:
“That every one caught would be worth a pound!”
Annie Tom, the Parson’s 11 year old daughter, shared the secret of the strange wooden box. She would regularly stand watching the carpenter work while he spun her a yarn or two to keep her amused. When their conversation finally got around to the mysterious cedar box, Annie made Brown promise he would not tell anybody of its true purpose. Brown then told her of his own journey, the previous year, to seek out MacGregor’s golden reef. He had gone to Wellington as a seasonal shearer, trying to locate the shepherd in his leisure moments. If the Tom brothers were seeking gold he certainly wished them more luck than he had experienced.
When the cradle was completed it measured 37½ inches in length, 18 inches in width and it stood just over 15 inches high. The tray on top to hold the earth was 18 inches square and 6 inches deep. Hargraves demonstrated it near the junction of Sheep Station and Lewis Ponds Creeks without success. So far it had not warranted the time and effort taken to build it.
Over the past month, Parson Tom had silently observed the way in which his sons had neglected their normal duties. He was angry because they had been thoughtlessly led into Hargraves’ world of fantasy. It was time that they once again developed a sense of responsibility. Due to the prevailing drought, he felt their time might be better spent tending his starving stock. Parson Tom called on Hargraves at the Wellington Inn, making it clear that he deplored his sons being drawn into such futile and time-wasting exploits.
Hargraves suddenly announced to his partners that he was leaving Guyong to further his search in the Moreton Bay district. William Tom Junior promised to mail regular reports of their prospecting activities. It was reaffirmed that no disclosure would be made public unless gold was found that would pay more than £1 in daily wages. Then came the agreement concerning gold of that value being located by any of the foursome. No matter where such gold was found, the partnership would share equally in the profits. Hargraves’ final request was that the cradle be kept under lock and key in Springfield’s cellar for two weeks after his departure.
Lister and the Tom brothers did not suspect that their spokesman was off to see the Colonial Secretary, hoping that a reward might be paid for the few specks he and Lister had initially obtained from Lewis Ponds Creek. Keeping the cradle under lock and key for fourteen days would no doubt give him time to approach the Government. The Cornish Settlement was filled with copper miners, many of who knew a little of geology—enough to fit the pieces together.
Hargraves left Guyong for Sydney on March 16th, accompanied by John Lister. The two planned to finally prospect along the banks of the Fish River, at a property belonging to the Lister family. Passing through Bathurst, they stopped at James Arthur’s hotel for Lister to see his fiancee. Arthur and his wife were shown the tiny specks wrapped in a slip of newspaper. Once again a tumbler was used to magnify the grains which were just barely visible.
Leaving the next morning, Hargraves and Lister followed the indirect road to Sydney, prospecting along the way without result. If Moreton Bay proved to be another farce, Hargraves intended to return to California and he invited John Lister to accompany him.
During Lister’s absence, James, William and Henry Tom loaded three days’ provisions onto a pack-horse. Leaving Springfield at dusk, they arrived two kilometres below Radigan’s Gully near midnight. Their enthusiasm for prospecting saw the cradle taken from the cellar earlier than promised. The three carefully hid the rocker overnight, fearing that Yorkey might detect their presence and purpose.
For the next two days Henry dug, James loaded the buckets of earth into the cradle and William rocked the cedar contrivance. They arrived back at the Cornish Settlement with 16 grains of gold at 9 p.m. the next evening. Sixteen grains of gold had an approximate value of 2/- per day between the three. A full ounce of gold was valued around £3-7-0.
James Tom now left the Cornish Settlement to pick up 300 cows to be overlanded for sale in Adelaide. For the time being his prospecting days were laid aside for the family business. James headed for the Bogan River to take delivery. He found the country dry and without adequate fodder. It would be a foolhardy decision to try and reach Adelaide under such unsuitable conditions. James decided to herd them to Parson Tom’s leased land at the junction of the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee.
On April 7th, William Tom Junior and John Lister travelled back to Yorkey’s Corner. William suggested the spot for he had heard that Trappitt’s shepherd had once found a golden nugget at the creek junction. Trappitt had bought the nugget from Yorkey, selling it in the Orange area for several Pounds.
Suddenly William noticed something glistening from the indentation of a rock ledge. It was a nice half ounce nugget that was heart shaped. Perhaps it was an omen? The rest of the afternoon was spent clearing larger rocks from the creek bed in preparation for the next day’s work. The cradle was again hidden overnight in case Yorkey was attracted by the glow of their campfire.
Over the next three days, the duo managed to cradle more than a ounce of fine gold, after digging well down below the surface, rather than washing the top gravel as Hargraves had done. Then John Lister was attracted to another glistening object. He was unable to pick it up, due to a tree root growing through its centre. Lister used his pocket knife to sever the tree root. He guessed that the nugget weighed about two ounces. While Lister hobbled the horses, William filled the billy to make tea. Suddenly there was a violent splashing sound in the water nearby. William picked up what he thought was a fish with two tails. Closer examination showed it to be a three pound cod trying to swallow a bream of similar size. The preacher’s son felt that this might also be an omen—but its meaning was quite indistinct at that time. Many years later, William Tom Junior commented:
“I have many times thought since, that as far as the swallowing was concerned, it was typical of the unceremonious way in which Mr. Hargraves swallowed his partners.”
Parson Tom stood waiting at Springfield’s front gate. When William returned he raised a strong protest about his son searching for something that could not be found. A change of mind was shortly imminent. In the parlour, William unstrapped a leather pouch from around his waist and emptied its contents onto a piece of white paper. Filled with astonishment, Parson Tom quoted from the Holy Book by saying:
“And they came to Ophir and fetched from thence gold”!
Ophir was the Biblical city from which King Solomon obtained his golden wealth. (Kings 1, Chapter 9 — verse 28.)
Lay-preacher Tom now implored William Junior to remain silent on the discovery. Publicity, he warned, would cause people to rush from their jobs to Ophir. Cattle and crops would be left to run wild and Australia’s already failing economy would be ruined. Parson Tom was not wrong with his first two predictions.
After six weeks of back-breaking work, William Tom Junior and John Lister had their own ideas concerning the payable goldfield. Rushing to the Wellington Inn, they borrowed the late Captain Lister’s medicine scales and sixteen sovereigns from Susan Lister. Sixteen sovereigns weighed exactly four ounces. The two nuggets and gold dust saw the scales balance perfectly.
Guyong’s mail was collected twice weekly from Lister’s Inn, by the Wellington-Bathurst coach. John Lister waited anxiously for the coach to arrive for its change of horses, needed to negotiate the steep ascent of Rocks Hill. Although William had written nearly three weeks ago to Hargraves, telling of the 16 grains collected, Lister could now reveal that PAYABLE gold and a PAYABLE goldfield had been found. Young Charles Tom was sent to retrieve James from his overland trip to Adelaide. The two rapidly headed back towards the Cornish Settlement, filled with the excitement of having Australia’s first PAYABLE goldfield discovered almost on their doorstep.

Pilgrims To Ophir
Hargraves arrived back in Sydney on March 22nd to spend a nervous week awaiting the Government’s pleasure. Due to an extended sitting of the Legislative Council, Edward Deas Thomson, the Colonial Secretary, was unavailable for personal interviews. The “goldfinder’s” long awaited appointment was eventually granted on April or All Fools’ Day.
That morning, Sydney had been drenched by a torrential downpour and Edward Hammond Hargraves waited three hours in a wet overcoat. When finally admitted, he brandished evidence of his claims in a folded slip of newspaper. Painting glowing pictures of his goldfield, Hargraves hung onto the opportunity with the tenacity of an encyclopaedia salesman with one foot in the door. The Colonial Secretary used a magnifying glass for assistance when he attempted to examine the inconspicuous specks. The soggy prospector was indeed lucky that his wet overcoat had not given him a chill. One gigantic sneeze might have been enough to see his precious evidence disappear for all time.
Deas Thomson was filled with indecision, knowing well that Hargraves had returned from the Californian fields only eleven weeks prior. He was haunted with the knowledge that other individuals had produced Californian gold to the Government for appraisal, claiming to have found it locally. There was also the recent newspaper report of a returned Californian prospector finding gold in the western district. Surely the Government Geologist surveying that area would have located any auriferous deposits before a member of the public? Deas Thomson tactfully requested that a written claim be served on the Government, sceptically adding:
“If this is gold country, Mr Hargraves, it will stop the Home Government from sending us any more convicts and prevent emigration to California. But it comes upon us like a clap of thunder and we are scarcely prepared to believe it.”
Undaunted by the apparent lack of interest, Hargraves returned to his wife and five children at Brisbane Water. On April 3rd he addressed the following masterpiece of literary skill to the Colonial Secretary:
“With reference to my interview with you respecting the discoveries recently made by me of the existence of gold on Crown Lands in the interior of this country, and your suggestion that I should communicate to you my views on the matter, I beg leave to state that I embarked on the discovery at my own expense, as a means of bettering my fortunes in the event of my search proving successful.
I have exceeded beyond these expectations, and, so far, the hardships, expenses, and the excercise of my skills have been rewarded; and; further, that within the period of my explorations, (the last two months), I have made very satisfactory discoveries of the precious metal in several localities on the Crown Lands above referred to, and that my first discovery was made on 12th February last.
I now have the honour to submit, for the early consideration of the Government, the following propositions, viz., that if it should please the Government to award me, in the first instance, the sum of £500 as a compensation, I would point out the locality to any officers they may appoint, and would leave it to the generosity of the Government, after the importance of my discoveries have been ascertained, to make an additional reward commensurate with the benefit likely to accrue to the Government and the country.”
Four days later, Hargraves received William Tom’s letter, dated March 24th, telling of the sixteen grains of gold discovered. Mrs Susan Lister became the next recipient of Hargraves’ hypnotic and meritorious correspondence:
“Yesterday’s mail brought a letter from Mr William Tom, and from the result, they have not worked the cradle right. Tell John to write if he should make any further discovery and say to Mr William Tom that I am obliged to him for his favour of March 24th and not to mention the locality we have been over. As for gold being found, it is of no consequence, but the localities should not be mentioned. If I should come up to Guyong with any strangers, do not say anything about gold, I have particular reasons for it.
I hope to be able to carry out my intentions of prospecting the whole country under the auspices of the Government; if so, I shall visit your neighbourhood shortly. I have made them a proposition for their consideration. To accomplish such a search would cost at least £300 which is more than individual enterprise could spare. You will hear from me as soon as I get a definite answer.”
While awaiting the Government’s reply, Hargraves travelled north in hope of locating something more promising to validate his claim. The country between East Gosford and Maitland consisted only of sandstone ridges. The only, positive discovery after this journey was that Hargraves’ long-suffering horse was overdue for retirement.
Edward Deas Thomson, after receiving Hargraves’ letter, also spent a worrying week investigating the possibility of the claims. The American Consul advised him that the claimant was trying to perpetrate a gigantic hoax at the Government’s expense. To pay £500 for some minute specks of Californian gold would be sheer madness. Deas Thomson was still uncertain but he sent a reply to Hargraves on April 15th:
“In reply to your letter of the 3rd instant, I am directed by the Governor to inform you that His Excellency cannot say more at present than that the remuneration of the discovery of gold on the Crown Lands, referred to by you, must entirely depend on its nature and the value when made known, and must be left for the liberal consideration which the Government would be disposed to give it.”
Hargraves’ follow-up was non-committal. It requested £30 to buy a new horse. When the Grant was approved he would be available to meet the Government Geologist and point out the auriferous locations. With the letter posted he anxiously awaited the Government’s next move.
But the next move did not come from the Government. On April 24th, John Lister had written with news of the four ounces of gold collected. Now the “gold-seeker’s” embarrassing problem of a PAYABLE goldfield was solved. Hargraves rushed the letter to Deas Thomson, generously mentioning “that the men working for him” had probably lost a considerable amount more of the gold by working with imperfect equipment. Naming Lewis Ponds Creek and the Turon River as gold producing areas was enough to secure the prospector a new horse at the Government’s expense.
On May 1st, Hargraves left to meet the Government Geologist at Icely’s Coombing Park Estate. He probably left the following article with the Sydney Morning Herald for publication the next day:
“It is no longer any secret that gold has been found in the earth at several places in the western country. The fact was established on February 12th by Mr E H Hargraves, a resident of Brisbane Waters, who returned from California a few months since.
While in California, Mr Hargraves felt persuaded that from a similarity of the geological formation, there must be several districts in this colony, and when he returned here his expectations were realized. What value the discovery may be is impossible to say. Three men worked for three days with imperfect machinery and realized £2-4-8 each per diem; whether they will continue to do so remains to be seen.”
Within days, a biting retort appeared in the same newspaper. It hotly disputed that Hargraves was the first person to discover gold in the colony, implying that his method of comparing New South Wales with California was just as false. The writer pointed out that articles printed in the Herald on September 28th 1847 had delivered the same comparison for all readers—long before Hargraves had travelled to America:
“The article I allude to, states that ’from facts communicated (long before) to the Geographical Society, Sir R J Murchison had already, in a letter addressed to Sir Cedric Lemon, offered his advice that a person well acquainted with the washing of mineral sands be sent to Australia, speculating on the probability of auriferous alluvia being abundant and suggesting that such will be found at the base and the western flanks of the dividing ranges’.”
The letter had been penned by the Reverend W B Clarke, a scholar and geologist who had obtained golden specimens around Bathurst some ten years prior. Clarke had failed to arouse the interest of Governor Gipps at the time. Hargraves and Clarke were to have many angry clashes over the gold discovery through the columns of the newspapers.
While a bedazzled Sydney read of these matters, Hargraves detoured back to the Guyong Inn. Assuring John Lister that each partner had been represented equally to the Government, he learnt that William Tom Junior held the two golden nuggets. The gold was equally divided at Springfield and Hargraves purchased the other three shares on the pretext of forwarding them to the Government to consolidate the partnership’s claim.
After reading rumours of the discovery in Sydney’s newspapers, Enoch Rudder rushed to the Wellington Inn to rejoin his Californian prospecting partner. Hargraves asked him to deliver one of the nuggets to Coombing Park. Icely would send it to Sydney in his coach for Governor FitzRoy’s perusal. Rudder implored his friend to remain silent until the Governor inspected the sample. This would give FitzRoy time to consider a licensing system for prospectors.
The idea met with little enthusiasm from Hargraves. He was anxious to see thousands of people thronging to Lewis Ponds Creek to strengthen his chances of a hastily paid reward. The only remaining problem was to locate the golden site; enabling him to show it to the Government Geologist.
John Lister took Hargraves to Ophir that morning. On the way they argued over William Tom Junior being given a quarter share of the gold. It was Hargraves’ contention that William was not one of the original partnership, making him ineligible to receive anything. Lister was furious and soon told William Tom of the incident. Hargraves quickly changed his mind, denying that he had been serious. Both partners also needed pacifying over the Government being told of the area of discovery. It was their opinion that they might have worked at Ophir for some time before the public became aware of the situation. Numerous other prospectors were now encroaching on their claim. In a twinkling, Hargraves nonchalantly scribbled something onto a piece of paper and handed it to them:
This is to certify, that the Australian Gold Company are hereby authorized and empowered to occupy the following Bars, for the purpose of experimenting in Gold Mining, and to prevent all parties from intruding thereon, viz., FitzRoy’s Bar, Hargraves’ Bar, Lister’s Bar and Tom’s Bar.
6th May 1851
E. H. Hargraves.
For the next two days, Hargraves locked himself in his room at the Wellington Inn, pretending to be ill at the thought of having argued with the son of his old sea captain. Perhaps he was busily preparing notes for his lecture to the influential business people of Bathurst?
The publicity meeting was held May 8th at James Arthur’s Inn. The local Commissioner of Crown Lands, Charles Green, and the Bathurst correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald were in the audience. Green was not impressed with what he heard. On the other hand, the Herald soon reported that the townsfolk of Bathurst were intrigued by the lecturer’s readiness and intelligence to answer questions about gold-mining and all of its branches. He was quiet, unobtrusive, educated and did not seek to force his opinion onto uninterested parties. Other than Commissioner Green, not too many people would have objected to having the news of a local goldfield being thrust upon them.
Listeners were told of the men who worked for Hargraves at Ophir. Each had earned £2-4-8 per day, but half of the gold had been lost when the labour was performed in his absence. The eager audience was spellbound when a two ounce nugget made its debut. It had been found, attached to a tree root, by Mr John Lister, a member of Hargraves’ party. All present were too excited to suspect that they were merely pawns in the game being played between the lecturer and the Government.
Commissioner Green left for Ophir the following morning. He intended to remove all unauthorized parties using Crown Land for monetary gain. Amongst the crowd he found Tom and Lister, busily working with a strange wooden contrivance. Ordering them off the land, Green was amazed when they handed him Hargraves’ letter of authorization. The Commissioner was heckled by the throng as he stood scratching his head for inspiration. To try and enforce his ban single-handed would be a very unwise move. Although duty came first, Green felt pleased that many destitute residents of the area would be relieved to learn that the failing economy was about to be thoroughly overhauled.
Police soon arrested one enterprising gentleman at Broken Shaft Creek. He had cunningly concealed 20 gallons of rum, 5 gallons of wine and a case of brandy aboard his dray. It was to be the city of Ophir’s first commercial undertaking. At that time of the year, the huge rock formations at Ophir allowed only five hours of sunshine daily. What better way to warm one’s spirit?
While this was happening, Hargraves was occupied at Coombing Park. He was making arrangements to meet the Government Geologist, Samuel Stutchbury, for an inspection of Ophir in three days time. The Sydney Morning Herald’s correspondent filed the following report to keep Sydney people informed:
“Bathurst is in quite a ferment respecting the late golden discoveries to the westward. Hardly anything else is talked of; or at any rate it is the principal topic of conversation. Nine persons started out from Bathurst for Summerhill Creek on Friday night, six on Saturday and many more propose going immediately. I firmly believe that if a few pounds of gold dust made its appearance here, full one third of our town would be deserted in a very short space of time. It is reported also that small parties are making up towards the locality from other parts, consequently we may expect there will shortly be a considerable number of gold-hunters at work.”
By May 13th, the Carangarra Copper Mine at the Cornish Settlement had closed, due to all miners heading to Ophir without permission. Six drays loaded with John Glasson’s copper ore stood awaiting their return—whenever that might be. Parson Tom’s eldest son, John, became Ophir’s first butcher; selling beef for 3d. and mutton for 3½d. per pound to the hungry diggers.
On May 14th, Hargraves and Stutchbury fought their way through hundreds of prospectors to assess the goldfield. Over three hours, Hargraves washed 21 grains of fine gold, satisfying the geologist and many curious on-lookers. Stutchbury immediately wrote a report in pencil, apologizing to his senior officers for the lack of ink available at the new city of Ophir.
A jubilant Hargraves rushed the statement back to the Wellington Inn and saw it safely aboard the afternoon mail coach. Now there could be no doubt of the Government paying him its reward. Returning to Ophir, he found Rudder and Stutchbury were the first to have erected their tents at the locality. Tom and Lister were camped under a tarpaulin, normally used by James Tom on his droving excursions. The “gold-finder” freely offered his expert opinion to Stutchbury, insisting on staying to answer any questions. Although told that his services were not now really essential—Hargraves stopped anyway. Perhaps he feared that Tom and Lister might be the ones actually asking questions—from the Government Geologist!
Enoch Rudder travelled to Bathurst on May 15th; building a prototype cradle for John Walker the blacksmith. This enabled Walker to set up a crude assembly line for the production on an item that would shortly become familiar to thousands of prospectors. Rudder then called at Springfield to see Thomas Icely and William Tom Junior. The M.L.C. requested Rudder to draw up a set of temporary regulations for transmission to the Governor. Rudder based his suggestions on the Californian regulations, convincing Icely of their merit. When William Tom Junior delivered the letter to Guyong for posting, Hargraves insisted that he would give it to the coach driver and make clear its special importance. Rudder later recalled that FitzRoy never received the letter for some strange reason!
Sydney residents were anxious for news. Newspaper circulations were boosted as extra copies were printed to serve the demand. On May 16th, the Sydney Morning Herald commented:
“From intelligence received today, it seems that this colony is to be cursed with a gold-seeking mania. Mr Austin of Bathurst arrived in Sydney yesterday with a lump of gold with small pieces of quartz attached, weighing 9 ounces, of which 8 ounces were gold.
Three persons started from Bathurst last Saturday (10th), one experienced in California. On Monday, two returned with one piece which balanced 35 sovereigns and another with 1½ ounces. Mr Austin bought one large piece for £30. On Tuesday (12th), 2½ pounds in lumps were brought in. There are 200 at the diggings.”
The Bathurst Free Press was printed each Saturday and distributed to a news-hungry Sydney on the following Tuesday. On May 17th it commented:
“…and many a hand that had been trained to wield nothing heavier than the grey goose quill, became nervous to clutch the pick and crow-bar or rock the cradle at our infant mines. In Bathurst, the blacksmiths could not turn out picks quick enough and the second briskest trade was the making of cradles. It was noted in the Orange area, flour sold for £60 per ton and hoarders would not sell for less than £100. During all this, the Executive Council met in Sydney and the Governor advised that he would issue a Proclamation setting forth by the Law of England, all gold in natural deposits belongs to the Queen and any person removing it from Crown Lands will be prosecuted. Regulations regarding licences will be issued shortly.”
By May 19th, eighteen Sydney policemen, under the command of John R Hardy, were stationed along the road from Parramatta to the diggings. Hardy had been a Parramatta Magistrate and he became Chief Gold Commissioner for the Western Districts; responsible for policing and the collection of licence fees for diggers. The authorities weren’t too sure just what to expect, but they certainly didn’t want another California on their hands.
At Ophir, John Lister was approached with a letter that Hargraves had written. He was requested to copy the letter, in his own handwriting, and then send it to the Sydney Morning Herald for publication:
“A report having been spread abroad by some malicious person, who is evidently jealous of Mr Hargraves’ great discovery, to the effect that I was the party who made it and communicated it to him, I beg leave most unreservedly to contradict this false report, although having been upwards of two years searching for it, at one time with two geologists and mineralogists, who told me that there were indications, but could not find the gold. Mr Hargraves, during his explorations, called on me, as an old friend of my late respected father, and in the course of conversation he told me that this was gold country, and if I would keep the secret, he would combine with me. This I agreed to do.
He was as good as his word, and scarcely ever made a failure. Where he said gold was to be found, he found it. I neither understand geology or mineralogy; but I am convinced my friend, Mr Hargraves, knows where and how to find gold; and all honour and reward in the late discovery belong to him alone. Indeed, few men would have done what he has intersecting the country with blacks; sometimes alone, sometimes with my friend Mr James Tom; and during his explorations, had rain set in, from the imperfect manner in which we were equipped, starvation and death must have been the result. Trusting you will give this publicity in the columns of your valuable journal.
P.S. I have also heard it reported that Mr Hargraves had not acted fairly towards me. I beg most distinctly to state, that in all transactions with that gentleman, he has acted strictly honourable with me and friends in the secret of the great discovery. Mr Hargraves is now no longer connected with me or my party at Ophir, and wherever he may be he has my best wishes and, I believe, of all who know him in the district of Bathurst.”
Lister refused to send the letter or to be associated with it; demanding to know why Hargraves would request such a favour. Circulating rumours, he was told, suggested that Hargraves had not been present at the gold discovery and that Lister had been claiming too big a share of the glory. Lister denied any knowledge of the stories or of having started them. Hargraves assured Lister that HE personally believed him, but copying the letter and sending it for publication would dispel the doubts of critics. Strangely enough, the letter, purporting to have been signed by Lister, found its way into the pages of the Bathurst Free Press at a later date!
Now the newspapers warned intending diggers of the cold weather at Ophir. Bathurst had not anticipated a gold rush when the prior season’s crops had been planted and the drought had not helped. Flour was scarce and selling at greatly inflated prices. People were warned to sow wheat before leaving for the diggings. It would grow in their absence, ensuring adequate produce for the following season.
Not all diggers knew the correct prospecting procedure and many left Ophir disgusted. But not all felt that way. The Bathurst store-keeper, Mr Austin, bought 300 pounds of gold from some of the luckier ones. Hawkins’ and Lane’s party of eight received £36 each while Tom’s party received £2 per day for their efforts. Austin also bought a 9 ounce nugget from young Neal, the brewer’s son. Only two years prior, he and John Lister had stocked the bottle sitting on the mantel-piece of the Wellington Inn the bottle that had started the whole affair!
Commissioner Green was at Ophir with reinforcements and serving notices on trespassers. The Manager of the Bathurst Union Bank, Mr Kennedy, was delighted with the upsurge in business. Flour sold in Bathurst for £40 per ton and sugar for 6d. per pound. Horses were being shod for a record price of 8/-; picks sold for 10/- and the price of cradles had risen six times to bring £3 each. There were even rumours that more gold had been found on William Charles Wentworth’s property (Lucknow) in Frederick’s Valley. This was the crazy scene at Bathurst during the gold rush.
On May 20th, the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that the Government was satisfied with Hargraves’ claim. The newspaper advocated that an Inspector or Superintendent for the goldfields would be needed. Edward Hammond Hargraves received their nomination for the position. Governor FitzRoy issued his Proclamation on the following day. It required all prospectors to pay a monthly licence fee of 30/- to dig for gold. Although severe, the steep fee had been determined to try and prevent the majority from leaving their regular employment and throwing the country into chaos.
On May 22nd, Hargraves wrote the following letter to the Sydney Morning Herald:
“Having passed on the road to Bathurst from 800 to 1,000 people who are off to the diggings, to say nothing on the inability of a great proportion of these people to endure the necessary labour to obtain gold, not 10% have any tools to work with, or a single pound to support themselves with, during their journey to the mines. Gold digging is very hard work, and the season of the year is against carrying on such operations in mining, a few hours rain would put an entire stop to the digging, as the creek rises many feet in a single hour.
I may take this opportunity of saying, with reference to remarks said to have emanated from the Reverend W B Clarke, as to the prior claims of the discovery of gold that I never have had the slightest idea of any such discovery, if it ever took place, and that I know nothing of the articles on the subject. On this point I may on future occasion solicit some space in your columns.”
Within two days, Clarke retorted, pointing out that he still believed Hargraves had been directed to his discovery by the article that had appeared in the Herald some four years earlier. In part, he maintained:
“If the example of California had not been before us, I am morally persuaded that Mr Hargraves himself, who lived on a gold region without knowing it to be such, long ago, would not have thought of it, though gold has been discovered in the very creeks themselves by others.
I claim nothing for myself: — I seek no reward, nor have I deprived any other of his. I only claim for the science to which I am attached, the credit which ought belong to it.”
Hargraves’ pen worked overtime. Soon the Sydney Morning Herald contained this reply:
“In yesterday’s Herald appears the statement signed by W B Clarke, to the effect that Mr Clarke had long ago declared that there was gold in this country, but nobody believed him, and that I was guided to the localities in which I discovered the gold by his published statement. Of the first part I know nothing; but I most emphatically declare the last statement to be untrue. It may possibly betray my ignorance to say so, but to the best of my belief, I never heard of the Reverend W B Clarke, of St. Leonards Parsonage until the last few weeks; and I solemnly assert that if he did publish anything; I never read it or even heard it alluded to by anyone.
I have no desire to acquire notoriety, neither do I take to myself much credit for the discovery; it was only the result of observation and reflection, and with a little perseverance, unattended I admit, with considerable privation. The simple truth is, that about 16 years since I travelled over the gold country in Australia, without the remotest idea that I should ever see it again; the features, and to a limited extent the geology of the country, made an impression in my mind, which eventually led me to the present discovery. During my recent travels in California, I had ample opportunities of observing the features of that country, the singularity between the country I visited sixteen years ago, and in the country where tens of thousands were then busily employed extracting the precious metal. It struck me very forcibly, so much so that it took possession of my mind day and night, and I resolved, with the blessing of Providence, to visit the locality immediately on my return to New South Wales.
I mentioned my belief of the existence of gold in this colony to several of my most esteemed and sincere friends upon my return, and my best resolve to make a personal search under any privation. From the best and kindest motives they endeavoured to dissuade me from the enterprise, and even held out pecuniary motives that under ordinary circumstances, would have been too powerful to withstand; but feeling that I could not rest until I had satisfied my mind by a personal search, I went through hundreds of miles of wilderness and having made the discovery, disclosed it to the Colonial Government, who may or may not reward me for the unbounded wealth which I have, through an over-ruling Providence, been the humble instrument of conferring on my fellow colonists.”
30th May 1851
The “humble” Hargraves suddenly found his well-publicized name becoming a household word amongst his “fellow colonists”, who, adoringly read his “humble” letters defending his reputation, in danger of being attacked by the sinister Reverend W B Clarke of St Leonards Parsonage. If the public sympathized with his letter, dated May 30th 1851, then it must have brought a tear to the eyes of Government Officials. Within two days, Hargraves was paid £500 reward, and that was just the start. In fact, the Colonial Secretary had promised:
“that the remuneration of the discovery of gold must depend entirely upon its nature and value when made known.”
Meanwhile, James Tom took Stutchbury to the Turon, showing him the locations where he and John Lister had panned for gold a few months earlier. It was in their interest to assist Hargraves in every way possible. Showing the Government Geologist the Turon would help consolidate the partnership’s claim. After reporting to his District Superior, Stutchbury pinned the following notice outside Meyer’s store at Ophir, for the general information of diggers:
I have the honour to inform you of points which I feel would repay parties working for gold. They are as follows:
1.    The great bar in the Macquarie River, at Walgumbulla about 3 miles below the junction of the Turon.
2.    The bar of the junction of the Turon, on the Macquarie River.
3.    Several bars on the Turon, for 8 miles up, especially the first three from the junction.
4.    The Macquarie at Nelly’s (Neeli) Corner and the bars above and below - 3 or 4 miles either way.
At each of the above named places, I found gold by prospecting with a small pan and without going to any depth.
Soon the diggings stretched 25 kilometres from Ophir, along Lewis Ponds Creek, to its junction with the Macquarie. Eleven hundred people were now crossing the Emu Ferry (Penrith) each day, on their way to the diggings. Surely, with so many people working in Hargraves’ favour, the additional reward would have to be a substantial one?
While diggers at Ophir paid 3/- per pound of tea and £3 for each hundred pounds of flour, many still found the experience to be a rewarding one. James Tom, John Lister and William Tom Junior were three who did not. By early June, they had read of Hargraves being paid his £500 reward; but there was no mention of their names. Doubt filled the trio’s minds. When Lister related the incident of Hargraves’ letter, presented for Lister’s signature, the Tom brothers grew angry. On June 6th, William Tom Junior wrote to the Colonial Secretary to enquire in what way they had been represented.

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