Name/TitleOphir; the discovery of first payable gold
About this objectIn 1851 Edward H Hargraves arrived in Australia from the Californian Goldfields. At Lister’s Wellington Inn at Guyong, between Bathurst and Orange, John Lister Jr. showed Hargraves some interesting rocks and said he could show him where to find gold. On the 12th February 1851, they found a few specks of gold at the junction Lewis Ponds Creek and Radian’s Gully. Hargraves exclaimed “This is a memorable day in the history of New South Wales, I shall be a baronet, you will be knighted and my old horse will be stuffed and sent to the British Museum”.
Lister enlisted the help of his friend James Tom, who had local knowledge of the area. They formed a partnership with Hargraves. Their first expedition was unsuccessful so before leaving for Sydney Hargraves instructed Tom and Lister in the construction of a gold-washing cradle, which was made by William Tom, James’ brother.
They had a verbal agreement with Hargraves that there would be no public announcement until at least one pound a day in wages was found. However Hargraves made a public announcement on the basis of 5 speck of gold and officially claimed the reward on the 5th April as the discoverer of payable gold.
Edward Deas Thomson, the Colonial Secretary was hesitant to acknowledge the discovery.
Using the cradle made by William Tom they found 4oz of gold in three days. They immediately informed Hargraves who was still in Sydney. Hargraves claimed it as ‘his’ find when he informed the Colonial Secretary on 30th April. He collected the gold on 5th May, telling them that he would seek the reward, divide it between the four and that they would be equally represented.
The Sydney Morning Herald announced the discovery of an extensive goldfield on 15th May 1851, triggering a rush to Yorkey’s Corner.
The first Australian gold rush began when the Government Geologist Samual Stutchbury confirmed the claim on the 19th May 1851, starting a mass exodus to the diggings. At the time there were already 400 diggers, with hundreds more hopefuls arriving soon after. By 24th May it was reported that there were 1000 prospectors at Ophir.
Over the next four decades, William Tom and John Lister fought for recognition as being the real discovers of payable gold in Australia. Hargraves took the public credit for the discovery and the official reward. He considered the Tom brothers and Lister his employees, not colleagues and equal partners who had the local knowledge and did all the work. He showed them how to build the cradle and on the 19th May denied any further connection.
Hargraves went from place to place where he knew gold had been found and even though he walked over some of the richest goldfields in NSW, he personally did not find any payable gold. Hargraves was given £10 000 from the NSW Government, £2381 of the £5000 awarded before the petition by Lister and the Tom Bros. by the Victorian Government and was appointment as Commissioner of Crown Lands with 2 horses and 2 policemen. He was later paid a £250 annuity from 1877 for life and was also showered with testimonials and gifts.
Limited acknowledgement was given grudgingly to Hargraves’ partners in 1854. They received £1000 reward between them. In 1890, forty years later, the NSW government agreed to review the claim and Tom & Lister were finally acknowledged. Lister unfortunately died the day he was to give evidence and they failed to gain the vote of the House.