21 May, 2014

Branching out - GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!

There's gold in them thar hills! Well, in the Moorabool Valley to be precise - at Morrison's and Steiglitz on land which originally formed part of the squatting runs of Moranghurk, Durdidwarrah and Borhoneyghurk.
Gold was first discovered in the area in small quantities in 1851 but was not considered workable. In 1853, the squatter Andrew Love and George Morton found alluvial gold which resulted in a small flurry of activity, but it was not until late 1855 when William Hooley and Joseph Davis discovered the first of several gold reefs at Steiglitz on the banks of Sutherland's Creek near the bottom of the main street that the rush really started.
Timber bridge over Sutherland's Creek, Steiglitz
The table below gives a timeline of the development of gold mining along the Moorabool and it's tributaries - most notably Sutherland's Creek, Tea Tree Creek (which runs into the west bank of the Moorabool West Branch between Elaine and Morrison's) and Dolly's Creek (which also joins the west branch of the Moorabool from the same direction but further to the north).
Date
Place
Type of mining
1851
Morrison’s Station
-
1851
Dolly’s Creek
-
1855
Hooley & Davis discover reef at Sutherland’s Creek, Stieglitz
Quartz
1855
Sutherland’s Creek
Alluvial
1855
Yankee Gully
Alluvial
Late 1850s
Morrison’s Diggings
Alluvial
1857
Dolly’s Creek
Alluvial
1857
Tea Tree Creek
Alluvial
1862
Stony Rises
Alluvial
1863
Stony Rises
Quartz
1890s
More gold at Stieglitz
Quartz

This first rush in the area at Steiglitz involved alluvial mining, however reefs - the richest in the country - were also discovered and through the 1860s and 1870s deep lead mining of quartz veins became the norm. It was one of the first areas in the country where reef mining took place and in the very early days, the lack of quartz crushing facilities posed a problem so it was suggested that quartz be carted off site either to Geelong or back to England for crushing! This situation was soon rectified in 1856 when the first public crushing plant opened in Steiglitz and by 1862, fifteen quartz batteries were operating there.
Remains of a mullock heap at Steiglitz
As they were discovered and worked, the reefs were given names to differentiate them. The best known was perhaps New Chum, but others included Gibraltar, Tam-O-Shanter, Ironbark, New Years, Cooper's, Dreadnought, Yankee Smith,  Hanover, Boxing, Mayday, Sailors, Victoria, Clifton, Portuguese, Commissioners, Scotchman's, Birmingham, New Lode, Satchwell's, Garlick's, Durham and Italian.
The long term nature of reef mining and the requirement for heavy equipment meant that the settlement at Steiglitz was more permanent than many goldfields and by the late 1850s the town boasted four churches, five schools, four hotels and a police magistrate to maintain good order.
By 1859 Steiglitz boasted two bridges "paved with gold", specks of which could be seen in the quartz tailings from the worked out Italian Reef which were used as road base.
As the mining operations at Steiglitz began to shift from alluvial to reef mining, smaller claims were amalgamated and larger companies moved in, meaning miners were paid a wage rather than working their own claim. Some older reefs were also reworked as cheaper, more efficient methods of quartz crushing became available. By 1862, forty leads were being worked and 15 quartz crushers were operating. The majority  however were still involved in alluvial mining up and down Sutherland's Creek.
Sutherland's Creek just west of Steiglitz township
This was also the year in which the Geelong-Ballarat railway line opened, providing reliable transport to the goldfields which was connected from the station at Meredith by coach.  By the 1870s, there was also a public library, racecourse and the new brick courthouse which was built in 1875.
The courthouse at Steiglitz
By 1879 however, as the gold supply began to dwindle, the number of miners fell to about 100. The last crushing plant had closed a couple of years prior. People moved on and the population likewise dwindled.
As I discussed in one of my previous Woodbourne Creek posts, the 1860s saw changes in the law which opened up land for selection and closer settlement by small farmers. In the case of the Steiglitz area, many of these selectors had first tried their hand at mining but instead turned to the land to support their families. It was this pressure which saw the land east of the Moorabool River which had been part of the Moranghurk Estate, carved up into smaller properties when the squatting licence for the run was revoked in 1870.
Then, in the early 1890s, new gold deposits were discovered at Steiglitz and the miners began to return once again. The population sprang up to 2,000, trades and services returned, clubs and societies flourished to entertain the population. The boom was back.

Steiglitz township during the gold rush
However it was relatively short-lived and as yields dropped in the late 1890s, the population once again began to decline. People moved away, taking their business - and in many cases even their houses - with them.
Mining licences continued to be issued in small numbers over the years until 1941 when the last mine closed. From this time, public buildings were moved away and services relocated to other towns. Those who remained, looked to other industries to earn a living.
In 1951, the centenary celebrations marking the discovery of gold in the district saw the erection of a commemorative cairn. The central stone at the bottom was taken from the home of William Sharpe and those to the right and left from the original von Stieglitz home. They are topped by pieces of quartz from the abandoned mines.
Commemorative cairn at Steiglitz

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