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1850s goldrush

The Australian gold rush of the 1850s and 1860s had a dramatic effect on the people, landscape and fiscal market of the colonial nation, especially South Australia. Almost every able bodied man fled South Australia to Victoria and Ballarat to pursue a dream of striking gold, leaving it relatively empty. However some gold was found here in Adelaide in the Mount Lofty area. Artists like S.T. Gill followed the prospectors, perhaps in search of gold themselves, and sketching various scenes including mining itself, gold escorts, miners and the changing landscape. 

Thousands of diggers rushed to each new area as a gold find was announced. At first the diggers came from the colonies, including South Australia, but soon immigrants arrived from Britain, Europe, America and China, intent on making their fortunes. In 1852 an estimated 370,000 migrants arrived in Australia. The economy boomed and the population of Australia radically changed later giving rise to the development of the White Australia policy.

The bullion Act of 1852 prompted police Inspector Alexander Tolmer, to suggest an overland gold escort service from Victoria to South Australia. It was designed to reverse the drain of currency from the colony during the gold rush. He accompanied the first escort 10 February. The service continued through to December 1853. Meanwhile in South Australia, under Captain Hancock the 'Monster Mine' at Moonta went from strength to strength, bringing back workers from the Victorian goldfields,and doubling production. The 'Hancock Jig' was hence invented. Also, the South Australian Company had a silver-lead mine which had been operating at Glen Osmond since 1841, and this was followed by the opening of copper-lead mines at Rapid Bay, Kapunda, Burra (Kooringa) and Kanmantoo.

An article from The Illustrated London News 22 May 1852 (page 401) explains the both emotional and literal rise and fall associated with the phenomenon.

"The daily papers begin to teem with advertisements of gold associations, some in embryo, and some fully formed and developed. The race of stags has plucked up courage, scrip is again in the market, and premiums are delights that are not only promised but paid to fortunate allottees. After a long night of sorrow the morning of a golden day has dawned upon the share-markets; and we shall, no doubt, have to record, after the lapse of a certain time, that the old experiences have been repeated - that countless bubbles have risen, floated and glittered in the sunshine, that they have been born aloft for the credulous to admire, and that they have collapsed with the customary results, bitter regrets expressed too late, the misery if not the ruin of thousands of people." The Illustrated London News, 22 May 1852.

Click on 'view details' below to explore resources, including photographs and daguerreotypes, first-hand accounts in diaries and letters, newspaper reports, artistic impressions of Adelaide and the expanding townships, maps and archival records. Displayed items illustrate the effects of the gold rush, exploration, mining developments... and more.

Alexander Tolmer
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Barossa Goldfields, Diggings
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Dingley Dell
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Engine house, Echunga
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Excelsior Gold Mine
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First escort of gold; Leaving the Ballarat Diggings
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Gold Diggers Arms, Norwood
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Gold miners at Mount Grainger
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Letter to George Wollaston at Poonindie Mission
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List of purchases and gold sales
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Macclesfield: the Chinese
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Nest Egg Gold Mine, Woodside
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