Celebrating 150 Years Of Rich Gold History
There was much excitement in the mining districts of Bright, Beechworth and Omeo 150 years ago with a gold rush departing for the wild ranges near Mt Hotham in late September 1863.
Rich gold discoveries at Omeo, Beechworth and the Buckland Valley in the early 1850s saw a large and industrious population move to the valleys and foothills of the district for the first time in European history. Prospectors seeking the shortest possible route between the new diggings were among the first to traverse the unexplored wilderness of the Great Dividing Range in vicinity of Mt Hotham. An experienced miner, James Bloomfield, was among the many prospectors to cross the ranges from Omeo to the Buckland River rush in 1853. On his crossing Bloomfield spied several likely-looking creeks, however, more remunerative gold deposits at Woolshed, Beechworth and at Swift’s Creek kept Bloomfield busy for many years.
In early winter 1863, Bloomfield and a small party of men with provisions and packhorses left Bright to prospect the area sighted 10 years earlier. On reaching the head waters of the Dargo River, the prospecting party obtained three ounces of gold per man per day from panning. The party hastily returned to Harrietville to obtain tools, provisions and a carpenter to build a hut and make sluice boxes. However on the returning to the Upper Dargo, heavy snow had fallen and the route to the discovery was obscured.
At the head of the range, Bloomfield, determined to push on, went ahead of the party to find the route. After a brief period the party followed his tracks for six miles until a heavy snow storm during the night covered all signs of Bloomfield’s tracks. The deep snow and poor weather forced the party to return to Harrietville, leaving provisions planted for Bloomfield should he return. Any attempts to find Bloomfield or the new goldfield were forced to be abandoned due to poor weather conditions that winter. Bloomfield was never seen again. In the meantime great preparations were being made around the district for a great rush once the snow had thawed.
Snow was still lying on the ground in places in late September 1863 when the rush began. Stores, slaughter yards and canvas tents sprang up amidst the rugged wilderness. The initial rush however was a bit of a disappointment as mining activity was hampered by the high level of the river due to the snow-melt. By November the river had dropped and a settled population of about 200 was well established and obtaining fair returns. In 1865 the locality was rushed again with a rich crushing of 400 ounces of gold from 116 tons of stone from the Eureka quartz reef. Over the next decade the flats along the river would be occupied by huts, tents, shanties, and stamp batteries. Mining townships of Louisville, Verdon and Brocket also flourished for a brief time, with the river seeing a peak population of nearly 500 people, including the wives and children of miners and a significant number of Chinese miners.
Mining activity had all but ceased by the early 20th Century with two small quartz reef shows being worked up until the outbreak of WW2. Today the Upper Dargo Goldfield has returned to the wilderness and the bones of old “Jemmy Bloomfield” are still yet to be found!
09 October 2013
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