The island state of Tasmania does not get as much attention as any of the gold rich areas of Australia. Nonetheless, reef or lode mining, which began more than a century ago at Lefroy and Beaconsfield, have produces significant amounts of gold.
The state’s gold productions also included alluvial gold that has been mainly located on the northeastern areas of the island, specifically at Alberton, Mangana, Mathinna, and Warentinna.
Interestingly, there were also small alluvial nuggets that have been recovered in both Savage River and around Lisle district. The primary yield is chiefly recovered from quartz reefing, although there is some alluvial mining carried out throughout Tasmania.
During the 1850s, Tasmania missed out on the rich gold discoveries that fueled the economies and brought legions of immigrants to the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria. As a result, the Tasmanian government followed the lead of the other state’s economic sanctions of encouraging gold exploration throughout the 1850s, 60s and 70s, by offering a £5,000 reward to anybody who could be able and lucky to hit pay dirt.
Tasmania eventually produced the following major locations where gold has principally occurred: Beaconsfield, Corinna, Cygnet, Fingal, Gladstone, Lefroy, Lisle, Mathinna, Queenstown, Savage River, Urquhart River, and the West Coast.
Early Discoveries and Locations of Alluvial and Reef Gold in Tasmania
Gold was believed to have been initially discovered in 1840 by a convict on the Apple Isle at Nine Mile Springs, which was then known as “The Den”, and later named to Lefroy, in northeastern Tasmania. Records further stated that John Gardner found gold-bearing quartz on Blythe Creek, near Beaconsfield, in 1847.
The first substantiated discovery of gold in Tasmania was made by a Mr. Riva of Launceston, upon finding traces of the precious metal in slate rocks in the vicinity of Nine Mile Springs in 1849. Officially, the first payable alluvial deposits were found by James Grant in 1852 at Tullochgorum or the Nook, which later called Mangana.
Further small finds were reported within the same year from Tower Hill Creek and in the vicinity of Nine Mile Springs or Lefroy. In 1854, another minor discovery occurred at Mount Mary in southeastern Tasmania. By 1856, the state’s first reef gold mine was opened.
It is also noteworthy that the first payable reef gold was discovered at Mangana and Mathinna in 1858. In the following year, gold was found by James Smith at the River Forth while another find was made by Mr. Peter Leete at the Calder, a tributary of the Inglis River.
In 1862, small quantities of gold were located by geologist Charles Gould in the King and Franklin Rivers near Macquarie Harbor, and on the Acheron River, a tributary of the Jane River. Gould also obtained gold from Lyndhurst, now Waterhouse, in 1864 and 1869.
The Gold Rushes and Goldfields of Tasmania
At Specimen Hill in Lefroy, alluvial gold was discovered by Samuel Richards in I869. This major discovery had triggered the first gold rush in Tasmania. A township was quickly born beside the present main road from Bell Bay to Bridport as hordes of miners immediately staked out claims in the area and at nearby Back Creek.
However, since most of the gold at Lefroy was associated and bonded to quartz beneath the surface, gold mining did not come easy. Consequently, large mining companies moved in for the crushing of ores. The developments made Lefroy as the first truly profitable goldfield.
Further discoveries of gold in the northern region followed. At the Sheffield Quadrangle south of the Minnow River, gold was detected by Gustav Thureau in 1881. In 1882, gold finds occurred at Specimen Creek, which was later renamed to Specimen Reef, in the various diggings called Lucky Hit, Second-to-None and Goldfinger. They placed Narrawa Creek in Moina on the gold map in 1893 after underground and surface mining around the area were found to be gold bearing.
It was in 1877 that the most important gold discovery occurred in Tasmania, when William and David Dally found an auriferous reef of gold in the north at Cabbage Tree Hill, later renamed Brandy Creek and became Beaconsfield. Organized production began, and shortly thereafter, 53 major mining companies moved to operate in the area. The aggressive operations made Beaconsfield the third largest town in Tasmania.
The Beaconsfield Goldfield in the Tamar Valley was also re-opened at this time long after small quantities of gold were found earlier in 1857. Notably, the Grubb Shaft Mine sunk in 1879, catapulted Beaconsfield as the largest single source of gold in the state by far from 1877 to 1914, obtaining peak productions in 1900.
One report showed the goldfield yielding 855,000 ounces of gold from 1,023,000 tons of ore.
Charles Bessel and party made a major reef gold strike in 1877 at Tobacco Creek near Golconda Creek within the Mount Arthur Goldfield, which was later named to Lisle Goldfield. Initial yields produced more than 250,000 ounces of gold and stimulated another gold rush in the north. But the most productive mine in Tasmania was at Lisle Creek.
Further towards the northeast, gold was obtained by Mr. R. J. Wilson in a creek named after him at Mount Victoria, Alberton, in I883. The gold site was situated on the western flanks of Mount Victoria, about halfway down from the summit of towards the banks of the Dorset River, where four promising gold-bearing quartz veins were discovered. Nearby Mount Victoria, the town of Branxholm also produced gold in 1883.
Alluvial gold deposits in the Denison River in central Tasmania and Golconda Creek in the northwest were found in 1872, but their corresponding reefs were not mined until 1876 and 1877, respectively. It was only in 1877 that the western region was opened up after gold was discovered by Jack Brown at a locality named in his honor, Brown’s Plains.
In the following year, Frank Timbs found gold at a site located between Heemskirk and Waratah in the northwest. During the same period, alluvial and reef gold were found by government surveyor, Charles Sprent, along several creeks running into the Whyte, Heazlewood, Donaldson, and Pieman Rivers near Waratah.
Further gold finds nearby were located at Long Plains, a short distance east of Golden Ridge; in the Savage River area, north of Pieman River; and, at Big Duffer Creek on the southern edge of Golden Ridge that was opened by George Johnson and Ted Peevor. More gold was obtained from the surrounding area than the noted Golden Ridge itself.
In 1879, extensive alluvial gold deposits were found by Harry Middleton and party at Middleton Creek near Brown’s Plains. A rush followed thereafter when diggings also produced gold in the Pieman River Goldfield, also known as the Corinna Goldfield, stretching from the Meredith Range towards the Donaldson River.
The general area of the goldfield comprised the rich-gold-bearing sites of Brown’s Plains, Nancy Creek, Lucy Creek and Paradise River, all tributaries to the Pieman River southeast of Corinna. Exploration of other sites continued within the region. And, in 1881, another extremely rich gold find, which produced 450 ounces of gold, was dug by Tom Smith and Harry Howard in what would become Smith’s Creek.
In the year next year, rich gold deposits were found in a creek west of the Savage River, north of Long Plains. In 1883, gold was found by Weetman and Crockford nearby at Grays Creek on the flank of Golden Ridge.
Creeks on the Garfield River at Mount Strahan were also scoured, where a creek produced gold for P. Flanigan in 1885 and was named after him. This notable location between Mt. Jukes and Mt. Strahan was to become an economic gold-producing region after the turn of the century.
On the western side of Mount Read, Alfred Conliffe struck a gold-bearing gossan in 1890. In a creek near Zeehan on the Ring River at Mt. Hamilton, gold was found by C. Brooker, J.O. Rooke, G. Kirkland and J. Mills in 1891. This occurrence ultimately became the last gold rush in Tasmania.
Furthermore, in Rosebery, the town’s economy has flourished to this day. It was largely attributed from a huge gold mine opened by Tom McDonald at Mount Black in 1893 that has produced 138,000 ounces of gold.
The Mangana Goldfield in the northeast was reactivated in 1870 after its earlier gold discoveries in the 1850s. At the eastern front, heightened gold mining operations had simultaneously occurred at Tower Hill near St. Mary’s, and Mathinna, when crushing of quartz ore began in 1877.
Alluvial gold deposits were reported at Lynch’s Creek on Queen River in Queens River Valley in 1882. Prospectors and miners from the Pieman River in the west relocated in the area. By 1888, the Golden Gate at Mathinna was established as the state’s second largest gold mine.
Linda Goldfield/Mount Lyell/Queenstown Goldfield
In 1883, fine gold was shed from a thickly ironstone mass called Iron Blow at Gormanston Hill, in the region that was later known to be Queenstown. It was detected by Bill and Mick McDonough and Steve Karlson in the Linda Valley near Mount Lyell in central Tasmania. They staked a claim and traced the auriferous material to the eastern flank of a ridge connecting Mount Lyell to Mount Owen.
The site was proclaimed in 1886 at Mount Lyell soon after the Mount Lyell Gold Mining Company was established and produced 512,000 ounces of gold. The Linda Goldfield near Queenstown was worked from 1883 until about 1890, and Queenstown emerged as a boomtown in the 1890s with further gold discoveries at Mt. Lyell.
Noted Gold Nuggets found in Tasmania
The largest gold nugget ever found in Tasmania weighing over 243 ounces or 7.5 kg was found by J. McGinty, D. Neil, and T. Richards in 1883 in the northwest region at Rocky River, a small tributary of the Whyte River. Gold nuggets weighing as much as 7.5 ounces were also obtained at Paradise Creek near Paradise River in 1895. In 1881, Broderick and a party of prospectors picked up a gold nugget weighing 8.75 ounces at Grays Creek, while Bucker and May also recovered a 9-ounce nugget on the same site.
Other large gold nuggets were likely found. With very limited interest as collectable specimens, most large nuggets were simply added to the rest of the gold to be refined. Still, there have been far fewer large nuggets found in Tasmania than some of the more well-known areas like Western Australia and to the north in Victoria.
Tasmania’s Top Gold Producers
The peak of Tasmanian gold production was reached in 1899 when the total output of alluvial and reef gold reached 250,000 ounces from the Lisle Goldfield, near Mt. Arthur. Only a small part came from the West Coast and the western goldfields. Over a 50 year period from 1880, a recorded 253,865 ounces came from the Golden Gate Mine at Mathinna.
Overall, more gold was retrieved from the Lefroy Goldfield, which yielded both alluvial and reef gold, but the last mining boom at Lefroy was over by the late 1890s.
The best mine proved to be Beaconsfield, which was recorded to produce 854,600 ounces of gold, approximately 30 percent of the state’s gold production from the treatment of 1,067,556 tons of ore for an average recovery of 16 dwt/ton.
Without a doubt, there is still some gold waiting to be discovered in Tasmania.