xxxxxAs we have seen, the Gold Rushes of “modern times” began with the discovery of gold in central California in 1848 (Va). And this sparked off a spate of finds in southern Australia, South Africa, British Columbia, and in the South Island of New Zealand. A new rush for fortune and fame broke out in 1886 following the discovery of another wealthy field in southern Africa, this time situated in the Witwatersrand area, a low range of hills in the Transvaal. Discovered by a prospector named George Harrison, it brought a great influx of gold hunters into the region and led to the establishment of Johannesburg. Within ten years this boomtown was larger than Cape Town, and the centre of a mining industry that stretched to Welkom, some 140 miles to the south-west. (As we shall see, this influx of foreigners into the Transvaal was to lead to the ill-fated Jameson Raid of 1895 and the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War in 1899.) Finds then followed in Queensland, Australia, culminating in the opening of the vast goldfield at Mount Morgan in 1882, and then ten years later Western Australia witnessed the biggest gold rush in Australian history. Gold was found at Coolgardie by an Australian prospector Arthur Bayley, and at Kalgoorlie by an Irishman named Patrick Hannan. The gold hunters of these times led a hard life, and only a few struck it rich, but their hardship was little compared with the suffering of those who took part in the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon, Canada, in 1897. The bitter weather conditions and the hostile terrain took their toll. Of the 100,000 who made for the Klondike River, where gold had been discovered by George Carmack in 1896, little more than a third reached their destination. Then in 1898 a new discovery at Anvil Creek in western Alaska brought about the state’s greatest gold stampede. Over 12,000 joined the hunt. But for these amateur miners, as in the other fields across the world, the readily accessible gold deposits were exhausted in a matter of years, and then only the big companies had the know-how and the technical equipment to reap the reward.



Gold Rush: date and artist unknown. Map (South Africa): from Map (insert South Africa): licensed under Creative Commons -

h_African_Republic. Kruger: 1879, artist unknown. Mount Morgan: by the Danish photographer Jens Hansen Kundager (1853-1930), c1895 – State Library of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. Map (Queensland, Australia): from Coolgardie: by the illustrator R. Moline, published in the weekly newspaper The Australasian in 1894 – National Trust of Australia (Western Australia). Map (Western Australia): from Map (Yukon): from Stairs: date and photographer unknown – Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Alaska. Panning: date and artist unknown.

xxxxxAs we have seen, the Gold Rushes of “modern times” began with the discovery of gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in central California in 1848 (Va). Within a matter of months thousands of fortune hunters had arrived in the area, living rough in tents and primitive shacks. Over the next twelve years or so this discovery sparked off a spate of finds across the globe. Gold was struck around the towns of Ballarat and Bendigo in southern Australia; just north of the present day city of Johannesburg in South Africa; along the lower Fraser River and at Cariboo in British Columbia; and in parts of the South Island of New Zealand.

xxxxxBy the early 1860s, the most accessible gold deposits in these regions - dust, flakes and nuggets from the beds of streams and rivers - were exhausted and in some areas the mining camps became abandoned “ghost towns”. In 1886, however, a new rush for fortune and fame began with the discovery of another and more wealthy field in southern Africa. Itxwas in February or March of that year that - according to most accounts - a diamond digger named George Harrison, working on Langlaagte Farm in the Witwatersrand - a range of low-lying hills in the Transvaal - stumbled upon an outcrop of a vast gold-bearing reef. He laid claim to the immediate area via the Transvaal government - the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek (ZAR) - and the “rand” was declared a public goldfield.

xxxxxWithin a matter of months, as one would expect, a fresh swarm of fortune seekers had arrived in the region from all parts of the world, including Cornish and Welsh miners from Britain, and prospectors from across Australia and California. A shanty town of some 3,000 people was soon up and running on the bare Veld, clustered around Ferreira’s Camp. It was first named Randjeslaagte, but within a few years this sprawling settlement came to be known as Johannesburg, one of the last great boomtowns of the 19th century. In the space of ten years it was bigger than Cape Town, and within a hundred years it was one of the largest cities in the world. Unlike most of the finds in North America and Australia, the goldfields of the Witwatersrand remained productive, stretching in a “golden arc” from Johannesburg to Welkom, some 140 miles to the south-west. After a short while, however, the fortune seekers were replaced by big mining corporations which alone had the necessary know-how and the technical equipment required to mine and process the gold-bearing reefs.

xxxxxAs we shall see, the Witwatersrand Gold Rush played a major part in the ill-fated Jameson Raid of 1895, and the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War in 1899. The Boers, alarmed at the large number of foreigners (Uitlanders) settling in the Witwatersrand, imposed heavy taxes upon them and refused to grant them voting rights. This put pressure on Britain to overthrow the Boer government and - conveniently - profit from this vast area of mineral wealth!

xxxxxIncidentally, George Harrison (an Australian or perhaps an Englishman who had panned for gold in Australia) never realised the importance of his find. He sold his claim for under £10 and left the area. He was never seen or heard of again. However, a monument was placed where it is thought he made his find, and a park in Johannesburg is named after him. ……

xxxxx…… How the city of Johannesburg came by its name remains unclear. The general view is that it was named after the two-man commission sent by Paul Kruger (illustrated), the leader of the Transvaal, to estimate the size of the field and to find a suitable place for the establishment of a town. Both were named Johann. Christiaan Johannes Joubert was the vice-president of the ZAR, and Johann Friedrich Rissik was a government surveyor. (Though originally both came up with the name Randjeslaagte!). Others argue, however, that the city was named after Johannes Meyer, the official who spent a great deal of time surveying and mapping the area. On the other hand it could have been named after Paul Kruger himself (Johannes was one of his Christian names), and there is even a suggestion that it was so called as a mark of friendship towards the government of Portugal after Kruger had been invested by the King of Portugal with the King Johannes Knightly Order of the Immaculate Conception in 1884! We shall never know.

Click Map to EnlargexxxxxIn the meantime gold fever returned to Australia. Following the finds in Victoria in the 1850s, gold was discovered in Queensland, starting with the Canoona Gold Rush of 1858, spreading to areas around Peak Downs, Gympie, Charters Towers and Palmer River, and culminating in the opening of the vast goldfield at Mount Morgan (illustrated) in 1882. By the time that mine was closed in 1981 most of the mountain had been removed, and some 260 tonnes of gold had been produced - together with 37 tonnes of silver and vast quantities of copper.

xxxxxAround this time, traces of gold were also found in the Northern Territory in the Pine Creek area south of Darwin. Small workings developed in a number of locations, including Tumbling Waters, Yam Creek and Gandy’s Gully, and two mines on the Eleanor Reef proved particularly valuable in the 1890s, but by the end of the century there was a general, irreversible decline in production, and the mining of tin and wolfram became more profitable.

xxxxxIn the 1890s it was the turn of Western Australia to become the new centre of gold fever, brought about by the discovery of substantial fields around Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. In 1892 two prospectors named Arthur Bayley and William Ford discovered over 500 ounces of gold near Fly Flat, some 120 miles east of Southern Cross. Once they had staked their claim the biggest gold rush in Australian history was under waClick Map to Enlargey. Coolgardie was declared a town site in 1893, and by 1898 it was the third largest town in Western Australia with a population of over 16,000. However, by the end of the century the gold had begun to run out, and within ten years the town was in serious decline. By that time many diggers had moved to the much larger and more prosperous field at Kalgoorlie, 25 miles further east. Gold in that area had been discovered in a gully near Mount Charotte by an Irishman named Patrick Hannan in June 1893. Accompanied by two fellow Irishmen, he had stumbled, in fact, upon the largest open-pit gold mine in Australia, two and a half miles long and almost a mile wide - the so-called “Golden Mile”. By 1903 Kalgoorlie had a population of 30,000 and was the centre of a flourishing mining industry which had made Australia the world’s third largest gold producer.

xxxxxAs a result of these substantial finds, the economy of Western Australia received an enormous boost, but for many of the miners there was only hardship, sickness and death. While a few struck it rich, the vast majority found nothing of value and lived in abject poverty. The price of food - mostly brought in by camel traders - was highly expensive, and there was a serious lack of shelter. And many miners died of typhoid because of the scarcity of fresh water. In Coolgardie, the worst hit of the two centres, a popular ditty went:

Damn Coolgardie! Damn the track,

Damn it there and damn it back!

Damn the country, damn the weather,

Damn the goldfields altogether!  


xxxxxIncidentally, in the late 1890s the value of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie was such that they were used as a bargaining counter to force Western Australia to join the Australian federation. To make sure that the government in Perth held a referendum on federation, it was proposed that a new state called “Auralia” be set up around these two goldfields. As a result, Western Australia promptly agreed to the referendum and joined the federation in 1901! ……

xxxxx…… The main street of Coolgardie is named after Arthur Bayley, and the main street and a suburb of Kalgoorlie are named after Paddy Hannan. And a statue of the Irishman was erected in the town in 1929 (illustrated) ……

xxxxx…… And it was in Western Australia in 1894 that gold was discovered near the town of Dundas. A prospector named Laurie Sinclair was camping in the area when his horse Norseman, pawing the ground, uncovered a gold nugget. When miners began to flock to the site, the government authorised the establishment of a town and, not surprisingly, it was named Norseman.

xxxxxBut the hardship suffered by the gold seekers in South Africa and Australia was nothing compared with the suffering endured by those who took part in the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon area of Canada towards the end of 1897. Rich deposits of gold had been discovered in the area a year earlier when a Californian prospector named George Washington Carmack and members of his family were fishing for salmon in Rabbit Creek (later renamed Bonanza Creek), a tributary of the Klondike River. Local miners quickly made themselves a fortune and, on returning to San Francisco and Seattle, their recently acquired wealth caused a frenzied “stampede”. With little if any knowledge of the journey they were about to undertake, it is estimated that 100,000 would-be miners from all walks of life and from countries across the globe, set out for Dawson City, the new boomtown alongside Klondike River in the middle of the Yukon wilderness. Faced with the bitter climate and the daunting terrain, little more than a third reached the goldfield, and those that did found that all the profitable claims had already been taken. Ironically, the fortune went to the merchants on the west coast of America who provided the “stampeders”, as they came to be called, with the provisions, the clothing and the equipment they needed for their journey!

xxxxxSome of the gold seekers, laden down with equipment and food supplies, took the long gruelling overland route by way of British Columbia or Edmonton - many being forced to give up and return home as a result - but the majority chose to go by sea to the Alaskan towns of Skagway and Dyea, both located at the head of Lynn Fjord. From there they took the Chilkoot trail (32 miles) or the White Pass trail (35 miles) to Whitehorse at the headwaters of the Yukon River. Both journeys had their dangers, particularly in the long winter months. The Chilkoot trail had a windswept summit reached only by 1,500 steps carved out of ice - the “Golden Stairs” - and it is estimated that some 3,000 pack horses perished on the perilous White Water trail. Then, having reached Whitehorse, rafts or boats had to be hastily constructed and the rapids had to be risked in order to make the 500 mile journey down the Yukon to Dawson City.

xxxxxBut the Klondike boon only lasted a few years. The readily accessible mines were soon exhausted, and large companies then moved in, using hydraulic and dredging methods to extract not only gold but also silver, lead, zinc and copper. By 1900 many of the miners had given up and returned home, while some - still living in hope - had trekked westward to Anvil Creek near Nome City in Alaska. There another stampede was taking place, the biggest in the State’s history. Well over 12,000 gold seekers arrived, lured with the prospects offered by a goldfield covering some 7,000 acres. Once again, however, the window of opportunity for them was both small and short-lived. The mining camp of Anvil City had a population of some 20,000 in 1900, but was in serious decline by 1903, and numbered just 852 by 1920.

xxxxxBy the turn of the century this latest spate of gold rushes was virtually over. Of the thousands that went in search of a fortune very few struck it rich, and in many cases the hardship they suffered was immense. However, these stampedes had a major effect upon the economy of the areas in which they took place. Johannesburg owed its existence to the Witwatersrand gold rush in the Transvaal, both Queensland and Western Australia gained by the interest their finds attracted, and the remote areas in particular, Alaska and the north-west of Canada, gained from an influx of merchants and entrepreneurs, many of whom stayed on and proved of local benefit.

xxxxxIncidentally, amongxthose who joined in the Klondike Gold Rush was William Howard Taft - who went on to become the U.S. President in 1909 - and the American author and adventurer Jack London (1876-1916). He crossed over the Chilkoot Pass, and returned after sixteen punishing months with nothing but scurvy (which cost him his four front teeth) and four dollars in his pocket! However, the experience gave him plenty of material for his memorable novels, especially Call of the Wild (1903), White Fang (1906) and Burning Daylight, published in 1910.




Western Australia,

Klondike, Yukon,

and Anvil Creek, Alaska