The search for payable gold in northeast Tasmania
The end of convict transportation to Tasmania in 1853 meant a loss of imperial funding and free labour. This, together with other factors, mainly the loss of free labour to those colonies experiencing gold rushes, particularly Victoria, plunged Tasmania into an economic depression from about 1856 to about 1870. The efforts to restore economic prosperity included the search for payable gold.
However, the search for payable gold pre-dated the depression. In December 1851 Joseph Milligan visited northeast Tasmania and found the area between Ben Lomond and Fingal to consist of "ridges of hard clay-slate... interlaminated also with quartz, and doubtless highly metalliferous, as it is probable much of the north-east portion of Van Diemen's Land will ultimately prove to be..."
- As did so many people in the Australian colonies and beyond, the islanders had witnessed the transforming impact of mineral discoveries, initially the prosperity bestowed on struggling South Australia by the copper boom of the 1840s, followed by the spectacular goldrushes in California, and then much closer to home in New South Wales and Victoria in the early 1850s. Thousands of Tasmanians crossed Bass Strait to find their fortune or just to experience the sheer, unprecedented excitement of goldrush Victoria. Some of those returning arrived with stuffed purses but everyone, enriched or not, had colourful stories to tell their friends and relatives who had stayed at home. The same question arose simultaneously in the minds of the sedentary and the itinerant: If such riches could be unearthed in Victoria, why not in Tasmania? That tantalising prospect lured hundreds of men into almost every corner of the island over the next 50 years, remote places that no one had ever visited since the Aborigines were driven from the land. There were enough indications everywhere to maintain the hope of a bonanza. Traces of gold were found all over the island along with encouraging intimations of silver, copper, tin and iron. The newspapers of the 1850s and 1860s were crowded with stories of promising finds until repeated disappointment dulled the appetite for over-optimistic forecasts. The Mercury reported in June 1859: 'That we possess rich and inexhaustible Gold Fields there can be no doubt.' The evidence was 'too reliable and too exciting'. There are many sites of abandoned mining camps, even of semi-permanent villages, all over Tasmania that are reminders of this age of incessant prospecting but there were many other sites now completely forgotten where hopeful miners pitched their tents for a month or two before they moved on to try elsewhere. The surprising thing is not that significant mines were eventually discovered but that it took so long to find them.
- ↑ Reynolds, Henry 2012, A history of Tasmania, Cambridge Melbourne Cambridge University Press
- ↑ Royal Society of Tasmania, (1852) Proceedings of the monthly meetings of The Royal Society for January to December 1851. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 2 (1). pp. 138-172. ISSN 0080-4703 
- ↑ Reynolds, Henry (2012). A history of Tasmania. Cambridge Melbourne Cambridge University Press