In the first ten years of gold rushes, 1851 to 1861, most of the gold recovered in Australia was alluvial. It was often found in shallow ground, and easily won in large quantities by the wildly enthusiastic diggers. Many huge nuggets were found during this period, but most disappeared without trace, sold to the gold buyers and melted down. The gold had to be exchanged for something more easily transported and converted into things required. And while these larger nuggets of gold were a nice bonus, it was the smaller gold that was most plentiful.
During those first momentous ten years, enormous amounts of gold were shipped out of the country. In 1853, there were a mere 2,000 Chinese on the Victorian goldfields. Two years later this figure had risen to17,000. By 1858 there were no less than 33,000. As an estimated 16,500 of these came in via Robe, in the South East of South Australia, there could well have been many thousands more unaccounted for at the time.
The amount of gold recovered and sent home to China by these hard working Chinese miners is thought to be staggering. Estimates at the time put it at half a million pounds sterling in the currency of the day. But even that amount does not come close to unofficial estimates.
As a result of the flood of gold out of the goldfields, part of the old Rum Hospital in Macquarie Street, Sydney, was converted into Australia’s first mint. Estimates put the flow of gold into the mint at one million ounces. Opening on the 14th of May 1855 it produced an enormous number of gold sovereigns, establishing an Australian currency that remains, even today, in the form of many coin collections throughout Australia, and the world.
Upon his arrival in the Colony of New South Wales at the beginning of 1810, Governor Macquarie discovered that the Sydney Cove’s hospital was an affair of tents and temporary buildings. Macquarie set aside land on the western edge of the Government Domain for a new hospital and created a new road – Macquarie Street – to provide access to it. Plans were drawn up but the British Government refused to provide funds to build the hospital.
Consequently, Macquarie entered into a contract with a consortium of businessmen–Garnham Blaxcell, Alexander Riley and, later, D’Arcy Wentworth–to erect the new hospital. They were to receive convict labour and supplies and a monopoly on rum imports from which they expected to recoup the cost of the building and gain considerable profits. The contract allowed them to import 45,000 (later increased to 60,000) gallons of rum to sell to colonists and was signed on 6 November 1810.
Before the minting of gold coins began in Sydney, Australia had no coinage of its own. Instead, coins from all over the world were in use, including the famous Holy Dollar and Dump. Smaller denominations of coins continued in such great shortage for many years that storekeepers issued their own tokens in change from coins of higher value. Many of the tokens are still in existence in coin collections around the country.
The first recorded shipment of gold to England left on the 23rd of July 1852 on the ship, Mary Bannatyne. It weighed 280 pounds and was considered to be of immense value at the time. No accurate records were ever kept of the amount of gold produced in the Colonies. Nor was any kept on the amount shipped out by private companies, Banks, or individuals.
In the 1860’s a London report is reputed to have said: “The quantity of gold that has poured into England, from Australia is immense. And what has become of it all is often a matter of considerable conjecture, although much has been sent to the Mint and even more sent to foreign countries in exchange for their gold coinage”.
In the Great International Exhibition of 1862, a gilded pyramid 3.048 metres square at the base and 13.7 metres high was built to represent the mass of gold exported from Victoria between 1st of October 1851 and 1st of October 1861. Had this pyramid been solid gold it would have weighed 26,162,432 ounces. Or over 740 tonnes.