Albany’s Gold

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King George Sound and Albany circa 1870s. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

On 5 February 1867, an Albany correspondent for The Inquirer and Commercial News wrote a letter with information many people in Western Australia had been waiting to hear for some time.

Gold has been found by a man named Butcher, a short distance from the town. It is in dust, and the Resident Magistrate has prevented any digging near the spot.

With so much at stake it was important that the find was confirmed. Specimens were sent to South Australia for testing however the writer believed the gold was pure and stated that some of it had been smelted by a blacksmith from the P & O Company.

Exciting News

Another Albany writer noted excitedly, “The gold panic is raging.” Many however erred on the side of caution and refused to get their hopes up lest it all ended in nothing.

Likening the discovery of gold in Western Australia to the story of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’, The Herald declared that “We Western Australians have been told so often that neither gold fields, nor any other good thing, can possibly fall to our share, that we have almost accustomed ourselves to believe it, and have sunk into a state of somnolency from which it is difficult to arouse us.

They were also concerned about what a gold rush would do to Western Australia. “…what shall we do?” they questioned. “Are we all to run off, like a parcel of madmen, to the “diggings”?” While they admitted that prosperity would inevitably follow the discovery of gold, they were however filled with fear that people would abandon their jobs and Fremantle would become a desert.

An update in early March 1867 offered very little information. The gold had been discovered near the lighthouse on Crown Land and the Resident Magistrate, Sir Alexander Cockburn-Campbell, continued to prevent any further digging. No one had heard anything about the results of the tests.

Prohibition

By the end of the month there were rumours that the gold was a hoax and on 20 April 1867, it was finally confirmed; the excitement and expectation gave way to disappointment. The Albany gold was fool’s gold.

The gold had been analysed in Victoria and the assayer, H S Severn, of the Union Bank in Melbourne, wrote the letter which dashed everyone’s hopes.

Letter

For the original Albany correspondent who first broke the news, hope had not yet been exterminated. People in the town continued to smelt the “yellow metal” but they did so “…on the quiet.” The writer even confirmed that he had seen a nugget which was larger than a sovereign. As far as he was concerned, he was thoroughly convinced of the find.

I have now more confidence that the discovery is bona fide than I had before.

On the other hand, The Herald, perhaps feeling a little smug at having predicted the outcome of Albany’s gold rush, announced the news in a small paragraph and ended with the wise old saying, “…all is not gold that glitters.

Sources:

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