THE FIRST PAYABLE GOLDFIELD FOUND IN AUSTRALIA (OPHIR)


The first reported gold discovery in NSW was made by James McBrien, a lands Department Surveyor.
McBrien was engaged in the survey of a road along the Fish River, between Rydal and Bathurst and at one point in the survey recorded the following note in his field book: "At E. (End of the survey line) 1 chain 50 links to river and marked a gum tree. At this place I found numerous particles of gold convenient to river."

Following this report numerous gold discoveries were made in New South Wales but these were hushed up by a Government fearful of the consequences it would have on business enterprises and on the pastoral industry if workers left for the goldfields.

The first prospecting trip to discover gold in NSW was organised by Edward Hammond Hargraves who persuaded John Hardman Lister to guide him to Lewis Ponds Creek with the promise he would show Lister where to find gold. They arrived at the corner of Radigan's Gully, about 3km above the junction of Lewis Ponds and Summer Hill Creek, on the 12th February, 1851.

There Hargraves washed out six pans of gravel obtaining a grain of gold in five out of the six pans. Later Hargraves and Lister, joined by James Tom, prospected the Macquarie River where they won a little more colour.

In March 1851, Hargraves explained to Lister, James Tom and his younger brother ,William Tom how to make a cradle similar to those he had seen on the Californian goldfields. On its completion Hargraves demonstrated its use in the Lewis Ponds Creek. Hargraves then left for Sydney where he tried unsuccessfully to reveal to the Colonial Secretary where he had discovered a payable goldfield for an award of 500.

During the remainder of the month Lister and Toms won 16 grains of gold from Lewis Ponds Creek using the cradle they had built.
In early April, Lister and William Tom moved with their cradle to the junction of Lewis Ponds Creek and Summer Hills Creek, later to become the site of the Township of Ophir. There between the 7th and 12th of April 1851 they recovered about 120g (4 oz) of payable gold; the first to be won in NSW and in Australia.

In accordance with their agreement with Hargraves, Lister and Tom sent news of their recovery to him. Against the wishes of both, Hargraves announced the discovery at a meeting he called at Bathurst.

By May 1851, between 400 and 500 claims were being worked on Lewis Ponds and Summer Hills Creek. News of the discovery of payable gold quickly spread and thousands of eager gold seekers from Sydney and Melbourne deserted their employment to join in the rush to the new (Ophir) goldfield.

Prospecting parties began settling out in all States to search for new goldfields. As a result, a number of newer and richer goldfields were discovered in the same year, not only in NSW but also in Victoria.
Hargraves was eventually awarded a sum of 10,000 by the Government of NSW for his discovery and was appointed Crown Land Commisioner. Later he was also awarded 5,000 by the Government of Victoria.

Hargraves only drew one payment of 2,381 before the remainder was frozen after a protest made by James Tom. Hargraves held his job as a Commisioner until 1854, when he visited England and was presented to Queen Victoria.

In 1877 he was granted a pension of 250 per year by the Government of NSW and drew this pension until he died in Sydney on 29th October, 1899. Two official enquiries were held into Hargraves' claim to be the discoverer of the first payable goldfield in NSW. The first in 1853 upheld his claim.
The second held just before his death dismissed his claim and upheld the claim of John H. Lister and William Tom that they had discovered the first payable goldfield. They were awarded 1000 each.


Reprinted from an Article by Joe Evans, Gold Gem and Treasure, January 1988
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