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A brief history of gold in Australia

The discovery of gold by colonial settlers during the 19th century had a huge effect on the development of Australia. Powering an influx of new migrants and helping to shape the national character, it attracted capital and created the wealth necessary for economic progress. Having laid the foundations of the modern nation, gold continues to play a vital role in Australia’s fortunes.

Here’s our concise overview of the history of Australian gold.

1820s - Travelling beyond the confines of Sydney, European pioneers, shepherds, and surveyors start to notice gold-bearing quartz reefs.

1841 - Clergyman and geologist William Branwhite Clarke discovers gold in the Blue Mountains. Like other early finds, it is kept quiet for fear of inciting the convict population.

1851 - Alarmed by the exodus to the Californian gold rush, authorities change their attitude to Australian gold when former ‘49er’ Edward Hargraves claims to find gold near Bathurst, New South Wales. The official announcement sparks a “complete mental madness” as people rush to the diggings.

1851 - With its economy suffering, the neighbouring colony of Victoria offers a £200 prize for the discovery of gold within 200 miles of Melbourne.

1851 - Richly rewarded with major discoveries at Ballarat and Bendigo, Victoria attracts a surge of migrants from around the world in search of gold. 

1854 - Angry at the imposition of a tax in the guise of a miners’ license, gold miners at Ballarat revolt against colonial authorities during the Battle of the Eureka Stockade. Their action is seen as a key event in the development of Australian democracy.

1854 - Australia’s first gold mint, and the first branch of the Royal Mint outside England, opens in Sydney to make sovereign coins from Australian gold.

1856 - Removing fears about Australia’s ability to meet coin production standards, the Trial of the Pyx in London shows Sydney-made sovereigns contain an average 0.02% more gold than London requires.

1862 - Bushranger Frank Gardiner and his gang, including Ben Hall, carry out Australia’s largest ever gold robbery, stealing 2,700 ounces from the Gold Escort near Forbes, New South Wales. Not all the gold is recovered and to this day remains the subject of much speculation and rumour.

1867 - While working at the Sydney Mint, assayer Francis Bowyer patents a new process for refining gold. The Miller Process, which bubbles chlorine gas through raw gold, is still used to refine gold to 99.5% purity.

1869 - The largest alluvial gold nugget ever found is unearthed near the small Victorian town of Moliagul. With a gross weight of 3,523 ounces, the ‘Welcome Stranger’ is too large for the local scales!

1872 - Australia’s second branch of the Royal Mint opens in Melbourne, increasing its capacity to transform gold into sovereign coins.

1892 - Prospectors Arthur Bayley and William Ford announce Western Australia’s first big discovery of gold, 350 miles east of Perth at Coolgardie.

1893 - Their rich discovery is soon eclipsed by Irishman Paddy Hannan’s find 25 miles away. Kalgoorlie becomes home to the ‘Golden Mile’, reputedly the richest square mile on earth.

1897 - Herbert Hoover, destined to become the 31st President of the United States, arrives in Perth to take up a post as a gold mining engineer.

1899 - Western Australia’s first Premier, Sir John Forrest, successfully lobbies for permission to open the third Australian branch of the Royal Mint in Perth for sovereign production.

1903 - There is now more than 3,000 kilometres of underground workings at Kalgoorlie’s Golden Mile.   

1929 - Harold Lasseter claims to have seen a vast gold bearing deposit in central Australia. A renowned Australian legend, Lasseter’s fabled reef is yet to be found!

1931 - Britain, and hence Australia, leave the Gold Standard, a system under which banknotes had been freely convertible into gold coins. The move pre-empts the end of Australian sovereign production after 76 years.

1931 - A sensation surrounds the discovery by 17 year-old Jim Larcombe of the 1,135 ounces ‘Golden Eagle’ nugget in Western Australia.

1934 - Hints to Prospectors , an instructive pamphlet issued by Perth Mint Deputy Master Hugh Corbet, helps diggers recognize geological signs of gold.

1957 - The Perth Mint succeeds in refining gold to almost 999.999 purity, as measured by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. The Royal Mint is so impressed it orders some of the gold as the benchmark for its own standards.

1970 - British jurisdiction over the last gold rush mint still operating in Australia ends on 1 July 1970 when ownership of The Perth Mint transfers to the Government of Western Australia.

1976 - The Australian Commonwealth announces that restrictions dating from World War II on the freedom of residents to own, buy and sell gold are removed.

1985 - The Commonwealth signals its support for a bullion coin program to enable Australia to break into world markets at a time when sanctions restrict sales of South Africa’s Krugerrand.

1987 - The Gold Corporation Act empowers The Perth Mint to manufacture and market gold bullion coins for issue as Australian legal tender.

1987 - Australia’s official gold bullion coin program launches internationally with the unveiling of the first Australian Nugget.

1989 - Underground mining operations at Kalgoorlie’s Golden Mile are consolidated into a single open pit mine – set to become so large it’s visible from space.

1989 - A new design theme featuring the iconic kangaroo is introduced on Australia’s most prestigious gold bullion coin series.

2012 - The Perth Mint casts the world’s largest legal tender coin from 1 tonne of 99.99% pure gold.

2014 - The Perth Mint marks the 25th anniversary of the Australian Kangaroo gold bullion coin series.

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