2nd Edition of "The Hamiltons 1762-1862" NOW AVAILABLE

The content of these web pages is based on the 1st edition of my book "The Hamiltons 1762-1862" originally published in 1997

The 2nd Edition was published in 2009 . A 2012 Revised 2nd Edition is now available to coincide with the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the Hamiltons in South Australia in 1837.

Preview and order the book by opening the viewer at the right.

3rd Edition

A 3rd completely revised edition is in preparation and contains corrections and additions to the section on William Holmes Hamilton and the Duke of York, as well as further discussion about the speculated origins of the Hamilton family. Details on the Historia Incognita web page.

7. Lure of the Goldfields

Despite its optimistic beginnings only a decade earlier, by 1850 South Australia was in a state of depression. Drought had caused stock and crop losses. Speculation on copper mines to the north had resulted in failed investments. By then end of 1850 there were 7,000 unemployed in Adelaide alone[719]. Many were ready to take any opportunity to escape the misery into which they had fallen.

That opportunity arrived in 1851 when news of the Victorian gold discoveries reached Adelaide. An exodus of gold seekers took place. It was the last thing that Adelaide needed, for not only did the unemployed leave, but so did the employed - shopkeepers, labourers, small farmers, government officials, and others. They took with them the workforce and source of income of the colony.

South Australia was in a state of crisis. As the South Australian Register observed on 19 January 1852

in losing the whole of our able-bodied population, we lose the very bone and sinew of the colony; and the emigration hence to the gold fields of Victoria is also gradually draining away from the community its present supply of coin. In a few weeks more, according to all natural expectation, the whole male population, with the exception of the officials of Government and of the public institutions, will have deserted to the goldfields. It is computed that upwards of 8,000 persons have already left the colony for the gold-diggings, and of those that remain there are but few who do not intend to go. We may expect to see the grass growing in our streets, and to adopt the Prophet's lamentation that "a man is more precious than fine gold".

Nothing, we fear, will now stop this emigration but the discovery of prolific gold fields within our own territory.

The South Australian gold fields were yet to be discovered, and in the meantime The South Australian Register, and other newspapers, carried dozens of advertisements aimed at encouraging people to go to Victoria. Finest Ship for Melbourne; For the Victorian Gold Diggings; For Melbourne Direct - were some of the headers to the shipping advertisements in every edition. But many could not afford the £2/10/- steerage fare to Melbourne, or had too much to take with them. They had to find another way of getting to the diggings and that was overland.

There were two main overland routes. One was to follow the Murray River inland to Swan Hill then head south to the gold fields[720]. The other was to go as far as the Murray at Wellington, then southwards around the coast to Portland before coming inland again[721]. These routes were chosen because they provided plenty of food and water for horses and travellers. But both routes were long - up to 600 miles to reach Mount Alexander, near present day Castlemaine, and up to five weeks if the traveller was walking.

There were some who tried travelling overland by a more direct route, but lack of water and sandhills were a distinct hazard[722].

On Saturday, 15 January 1852 the South Australian Register announced that there was a more direct route which could supply sufficient water for travellers and was only about 360 miles in length. The main problem with this route was a stretch of about eighty miles where there was no water at all, apart from what might be obtained from wells dug in the sand. If gold seekers were to use this shorter route not only would they get to the diggings more quickly, they would also be able to return home more easily. The Register urged the government to survey the track and facilitate the sinking of wells[723].

A week later Kenneth Campbell reported that such a route was indeed possible and that wells between 12 and 20 feet deep and located every 12 miles could be sunk[724]. In the meantime there were persistent reports of gold discoveries in South Australia itself - but nothing large enough to stop the rush to Victoria.

The government decided to do something. The overland route was to be surveyed, a Gold Escort was to be established, and Victorian gold was to be brought back to Adelaide[725].

On Saturday, 31 January 1852 the South Australian Register published a detailed description of four possible overland routes, giving distances and suggestions for stopping places for horsemen and those with drays. Two variations to the main route were not suited to those "unaccustomed to the bush" and the third, through the Hundred Mile Scrub was not recommended during the summer months due to the lack of water.

On 10 February 1852 Alexander Tolmer left Adelaide with the intention of reaching Mount Alexander by the shortest possibly route and escorting a shipment of gold back to Adelaide. On the way he and his party passed dozens of people with vehicles of all descriptions clearly headed for the gold fields. When he reached Wellington the next day he found that already in February 1,234 passengers and 1,266 horses and bullocks, and 164 carriages had been ferried across the Murray at Wellington[726]. Most, if not all, of these would have been on their way to the gold fields.

Merchants at Strathalbyn and Mount Barker did a roaring trade and promoted their wares for the benefit of those going overland to the diggings[727]. As the Register had observed, nothing could be done to stop the exodus, so the best that could be done was to take advantage of it.

Among those who decided to make the journey were John, Richard, Robert and Alfred Hamilton. It is possible that Sarah’s husband, Thomas Henderson, accompanied them.

Why did they decide to go? Why did most gold seekers decide to go? There was the chance of becoming relatively rich, relatively easily. At least that is what the myth and romance of gold rushes is all about. Why should the Hamiltons believe it would be any different? It had been in the papers for months. Everybody was talking about it. Some came home disillusioned, but many were sending fantastic amounts of gold home.

Why not join in? After all, leaving home at Sturt River or in the Barossa Valley and travelling a mere four hundred miles to Victoria, to a real chance of wealth, was hardly any worse than leaving home in Dover, England and travelling half way around the world to a land and prospects which were completely unknown.

And this might raise the question of what was happening at home. Was there some disaffection taking place within the Hamilton family? Henry was doing all right with the farm and the grapes, and he had only just married Mary Bell a few months earlier. William and his wife, Charlotte, had decided to take up farming, and would do well enough with that as time went on. Elizabeth was happy with her family and second husband Alexander Barreau. Anne Jane had married William May only two years earlier and was apparently quite settled.

But the others? Richard, John, Sarah, Robert, and Alfred. Maybe they were unsettled. Maybe, just like thousands of others, they simply wanted to see what it was all about - and maybe get lucky!

So, they decided to go. But when did they go, and what was it like? Sydney Holmes Hamilton suggested that the journey took them three months. It may have, but that is probably unlikely as most travellers would have taken between three and four weeks, and Alexander Tolmer, on his way to Mount Alexander for the first Gold Escort, took just eight days, arriving there on Thursday 19 February[728]. Of course, he was not burdened by bullocks and drays.

One group that left Adelaide in mid January, before the details of the central overland route were published, consisted of Oliver Ragless and six other men. Oliver Ragless was from the Pineforest property, just north of Adelaide, and during his journey to Mount Alexander, and home again a few months later, he kept a diary[729].

The Ragless party left Pineforest on 23 January 1852. They each had horses and one dray. They reached Wellington on 26 January from where they veered south towards the coast before coming back inland to cross the border near the site of present day Naracoorte on 6 February. Five days later they reached the village of Horsham, passing several overlanding parties on the way and meeting a number who were returning from the diggings. By 17 February they had arrived at Mount Alexander - only two days before Alexander Tolmer - a journey of twenty-four days compared to Tolmer's eight.

Tolmer left Mount Alexander for his return journey with a load of gold on 5 March 1852. Two days later the Escort reached a creek where they planned to camp for the night. The place was near the eastern boundary of Charles Hall's Glenmona property. There they met two families from South Australia who were on their way to the diggings. Tolmer spent some time with them and told them what he had observed at the gold fields. It was Tolmer's opinion that they might as well search for gold where they were camped, as he believed the ground looked as auriferous if not better than that at Mount Alexander. The next day the Escort departed for Adelaide[730]. It arrived back in Adelaide, to much rejoicing and celebration, on Friday 19 March 1852[731]

Alexander Tolmer and his second Gold Escort team left Adelaide on 30 March and after crossing the Hundred Mile Scrub and checking the state of the wells, which had very little water in them, they reached the Wimmera River, catching up with the survey team which helped them get the cart across the river[732].

A day or two later they reached the creek where four weeks earlier they had met the two South Australian families camped. Tolmer recalls

I was astonished to find every spare foot of ground taken up, and hundreds of diggers at work, apparently gathering a rich harvest. The spot was then called Daisy Hill. The news of the wonderful success these two pioneer families met with quickly spread; hence the rush which followed. One of the two was named Cowley, and when on a visit in 1876 to the place, which is now a township called Amherst, I found one of the junior Cowleys keeping a public-house there[733].

If these South Australians that Tolmer met in early March included the Cowley family it was probably Robert Cowley and his family. They may have been on their way to meet two sons who had preceded them, as both Albion and Joseph Cowley, Robert's sons, had deposited gold with Tolmer and the first Escort at Mount Alexander in early March[734].

Robert Cowley had been born in Uley, Gloucestershire, on 4 January 1787. He married Sarah Morgan and they had at least seven children - Albion, born on 12 June 1820; Robert, born in 1822 and died in 1847; Joseph Fisher Cowley, born on 18 June 1824; Thomas, in 1826; Caroline in 1829; James in 1831; and Daniel in 1834. After the family came to South Australia, Robert took up land near Glenelg, not far from the Hamiltons. Young Joseph Fisher Cowley, at the age of 20, obtained a position with Captain Charles Sturt's expedition to the inland between 1844 and 1846. He received favourable commendation for his efforts from Sturt in his Journal.

The Cowleys who owned the public houses during the 1870s were Albion and Joseph. Their father, Robert Cowley, died at Amherst in 1868 and his wife, Sarah, in 1872.

Early settlers at Amherst later recalled that

Early in 1852 a party from South Australia going to Bendigo, camped at Daisy Hill Creek, near the present Amherst Hotel. They prospected and found gold. A large rush took place...[735]

Another early settler had a slightly different story.

Section removed... full details in the book...

At this point, with Alexander Tolmer and his men drying themselves off after crossing the Wimmera River, we must pause.

It was normal for travellers to take between three and four weeks to reach Mount Alexander, depending upon the route they took and the conditions they encountered. Oliver Ragless had taken about thirteen days to travel from the Wimmera River back to Adelaide - in fact he left the Firebrace's Station on the Wimmera on 7 May and arrived back around 20 May. This meant that he and his party would have met Tolmer and the Escort somewhere in the Hundred Mile Scrub, possibly somewhere between Scott's Head Station, near which Bordertown later developed, and Reedy Wells, near the later site of Tintinara. It would have been near the same places that they would have met the Hamiltons - Oliver Ragless does mention meeting travellers in his diary, but names none of them.

The Gold Escort, we recall, left Adelaide at mid day on Thursday 13 May. Most travellers would have taken perhaps between ten and fourteen days to reach the Wimmera River, depending upon their speed and the conditions. On 25 May 1852, twelve days after the Escort left Adelaide, a letter was written and signed by a group of people who had reached the Wimmera River a day or so earlier - a few days after Alexander Tolmer was being treated so kindly by Thomas Baillie and his wife at Polkemmet station. One of the signatories to that letter from the Wimmera was J.Hamilton and Party.

The letter was published in the South Australian Register on Tuesday 8 June 1852.


[The following letter, dated from the River Wimmera, Victoria, May 25th, 1852, reached us at a late hour hast night.-Ed.S.A.R.]


Sir - As it might be of great service to parties coming overland from Adelaide during the winter months, we feel it our duty to inform them that they will find that the road quite impassable, and have very great difficulty in crossing the rivers on this side of the border; for instance, on our arrival at the Wimmera river, we had to swim our bullocks and horses with the loaded drays about fifty yards, to a small island on the banks of the river; we were entirely depending on Major Firebrace for the use of his boat and the assistance rendered by his overseer, otherwise it would have been quite impossible to have crossed, for which the sum of 10s. each dray was charged. We then had to swim the cattle and float the drays with casks with a very strong current running. Those who were not able to cross during the day had to remain on the island all night, during which the flood rose to that degree that there was scarcely standing room for about 30 men, women, and children, with three drags and luggage, without any possibility of escape. We would also recommend all who do come to have plenty of funds to meet expenses, as they are very heavy on the road.

The letter was signed by J.Hamilton and Party, as well as six other parties headed by G.Rhodes, William Mitchell, William Griffin, Henry Warland, Evan Rees and William Dohlu[742].

This is about half of this chapter. The rest can be found in the book and tells the story of the Hamilton's journey to the goldfields and the death of Richard Hamilton.

1 comment:

Victorian Gold Mines said...

In fact a great post.............