Edward Hammond Hargraves

Edward Hammond Hargraves (1816-1891) was an Australian goldfields publicist whose astute assessment of reports of gold discoveries in New South Wales played a part in the first Australian gold rush, in 1851.

Until recently Edward Hargraves had an undeserved reputation as the first discoverer of gold in Australia and consequently held an unduly high place in popular histories of the country, for the extensive gold rushes of the 1850s in both New South Wales and Victoria had important effects on economic and social changes in 19th-century Australia and some effect on international trade and monetary development.

Hargraves was born on Oct. 7, 1816, at Gosport, Hampshire, England, the son of an army officer. He joined the merchant marine and arrived in Sydney, New South Wales, in 1832. After working the land near Bathurst, in 1833 he sought bêche-de-mer in Torres Strait and returned to England.

The following year Hargraves returned to Bathurst as property overseer and familiarized himself with the country on which gold was later found. In 1836 in Sydney he married Eliza Mackie and settled in the Illawarra District. For the next 12 years he tried without success to make a living in the hotel trade and in cattle raising on the central coast of New South Wales.

Hearing of the California gold rush, Hargraves sailed for America in 1849. He found no gold and failed as a goldfields trader but did discuss with men who knew the western districts of New South Wales the strong likelihood of gold being discovered there because of similarities with the California fields. He returned to Sydney in January 1851 determined to test his opinions, chiefly in order to establish a claim for a government reward for the discovery of payable gold.

Appointed a commissioner of crown lands, Hargraves went to the Bathurst area in February 1851 during an unusually dry summer and found only minute quantities of gold in Lewis Ponds Creek, but he taught other prospectors to construct and use the wooden cradle and dish and encouraged them to persevere, especially John Lister and James and William Tom. Back in Sydney in March, Hargraves continued his pressure for a reward after he had heard of the discovery of 4 ounces of gold. By May he had returned to the Bathurst fields, which were now attracting numerous diggers. He named the richest area Ophir, where rain had revealed the presence of considerable alluvial gold, and presided over Australia's first gold rush.

Hargraves later received £10, 000 for his trouble and in 1877 was granted a pension of £250. He also received £2, 381 from the government of Victoria. In 1890 a New South Wales parliamentary committee decided that "Messrs. Tom and Lister were undoubtedly the first discovered of gold in Australia in payable quantities." Hargraves died in Sydney on Oct. 29, 1891.

Further Reading on Edward Hammond Hargraves

There is no biography of Hargraves. His account of the Australian discoveries, Australia and Its Gold Fields (1855), was probably ghosted, possibly by Simpson Davison, whose own The Discovery and Geognosy of Gold Deposits in Australia (1860; 2d ed., entitled The Gold Deposits in Australia, 1861) gives valuable information on Hargraves. E. W. Rudder, Incidents Connected with the Discovery of Gold in New South Wales (1861), is also useful. The best modern account is in Geoffrey Blainey, The Rush That Never Ended: A History of Australian Mining (1963).

Additional Biography Sources

King, John Anthony, Edward Hammond Hargraves Esq.: an exuberant biography of the "discoverer" of payable gold in Australia, Sydney; New York: Summit Books, 1977.

Silver, Lynette Ramsay, A fool's gold?: William Tipple Smith's challenge to the Hargraves myth, Milton, Qld.: Jacaranda Press, 1986.

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