Reminiscences in the Life of a Colonial Journalist.
No. XVIII. THE MYSTERY INVOLVING THE EARLIEST GOLD DISCOVERIES.
IN a former reminiscence I mentiond that the first discovery of gold in Victoria occurred towards the close of 1851. This was the discovery which produced the first rush to Ballarat,
and very shortly afterwards to other parts of the colony ; but the existence of gold was known in the Western districts at the close of 1849. One Charles Breutani, a naturalised Italian, was the owner of a watchmaker's and jeweller's shop in Collins-street, and not only the name, but the face, antics, and peculiarities of this somewhat remarkable man will be remembered by all colouists liviug in Melbourne between the years 1847 and 1854. Late in the afternoon of a day in January, 1849, as Mr. Brentani was sitting at his work repairing a watch, a small-sized, insigni ficant-looking man, dressed as a shepherd, walked into the shop, and produced a piece of quartz richly studded with gold. The shepherd wanted to sell it, and Brentani scarcely believing it was really gold which had been shown him, declined to purcha.se until the specimen had been sub mitted to the usual chemical test. This was allowed, and the ore was shown to be pure gold. Greatly amazed was Brentaui, and many were the questions he asked as to the locality of the finding. The man replied by saying that he was a shepherd on a sheep run in the Pyrenees country, and that where tliat lump of quartz aud gold came from there was plenty more for the looking up. This rich specimen, be it understood, had been found on the surface Of the ground over which the shepherd's flock of sheep had fed day after day and month after month for nearly two years. Mr. Brentaui procured the aid of two artisan jewellers. These were Duchene and Forester, when the quartz specimen was pounded up, the gold extracted by the aid of quicksilver, aud a proper assay made, when the result was several ounces of gold of great purity and of a standard equal to tweutytwo carats. The shepherd, by name Heniy Cliapman, w;is at once greatly cared for. He was fed aud clothed by Brentani, who, by repeated questioning, got from the man all that was to be learned. Excited by dreams of treasure, Brentani planned an expedition by which, in company with Chapman, the locality of the gold-find should be thoroughly searched and prospected. The expe dition left Melbourne within a fortnight after the gold hud been shown and offered for sale. The party consisted of five men, who had pro vided themselves with a dray and a team of bullocks to carry their provisions, bedding, tent, stores, and digging appliances. Then in a few days, Mr. Duchene, one of the company, returned to Melbourne. He stated that his mates had purposely given him the slip. This was doubted l>y those who were in the secret, as Duchene was known to be a good bushuian and a smart, wide a-wake man. Breutani, who was married, had a shrewd woman for a wife ; although it appears she had not been informed for what purpose the expedition had set out, she made a not very bad gues3. She became alarmed for her husband's safety, and thereupon accused Duchene with having murdered her husband. And it was to save himself from such a charge that full par ticulars connected with the expedition were given through the columns of the newspapers. So far, however, from allaying the fears of Mrs. Brentani, these particulars merely tended to increase them. It was just as a warrant was about being ap plied for for the apprehension of Duchene upon a charge of murder, that Brentaui and his party put in an unexpected appearance. I recollect well at the time the excitement which was created by the event. The arrival of our greatest Australian explorers, after discovering new country under the greatest of privitations and hardships, never caused such an outbreak of feeling as the return of Brentani. The party had not made any very great discoveries, but they had picked up two nuggets which together weighed close upon fifty ounces. Then, when this became known and the specimens shown in confirmation, a furore of feeling was aroused, such as no words can describe. » But now came an extraordinary part <Jf the affair. When Brentani with his party had re turned, Chapman, the shepherd, was not with them ; nor, as fiir as is known, has he been seen from that time to the present. The whole affair was involved in deepest mystery ; but it is be lieved that Chapman, when out in search for gold in the Pyrenees country, had lost his way in the bush, aud had perished miserably. I .shall, however, have more to say connected with the disappearance of Chapman. That gold was found where stated is now known to be certain, and it is to Chapman, most undoubtedly, that Victoria is indebted for being the first to discover its va.^ mineral resources. It is quite true that rich auriferous specimens had occasionally beeu picked up on the surface of the ground, as was the case in the early part of ISSI, when an aboriginal brought a nugget weighing within a few pounds of a " hundred weight," to Dr. Ken*, a resident of Sydney. There can be no reason to doubt but that Chap man had found ou the surface the specimen he produced before Bj-entani, as independent of his want of any experience in gold digging he had no implements, hi the way of pick, or shovel, or cr.nllc with him. Ballni.it was the next locality where gold was found in quartz cropping out of the ground. An unaccountable apathy prevailed for quite a year and a-balf after the Chapumn-Breutaui atlair ; for people, somehow, had come to be im pressed with an idea that the whole thing was either a hoax or a swindle, got up by Breutaui, for some purpose of serving himself. And so it cauie about that the Pyrenees district was no more heard of uutil ISSI, when Dr. Bruhn, a German miuei-alogUt, gave out that he had dis covered gold near the scene of Chapman's? first find. But Bruhu was suspected, being a charlatan, and his alleged discovery drew upon him very little attention. It was about May, 1851, that the country near Bathurst, in New South Wales, was found to be auriferous. This discovery wa.s made by Hargreaves, who, although an old colonist, had left ami gone to California in 1848. Struck by the similarity between the auriferous region of California and certain portions of New South Wales, Hargreaves returned, for the pur pose of exploring the country for gold, and was
not long in discovering it. The New South Wales Government despatched Mr. Stutchbury, its geologist, to the spot, who confirmed Mr. Hargreaves statement as to the presence of gold in the soil. The sensation which this created through all of the colonies was profound. The police force in one body, at that juncture so much needed, deserted their posts, and made for the new El Dorado. Thousands followed, and a new era was inaugurated. New South Wales was jubliant; aud Victoria, whose population was threatened, became correspondingly depressed. It was thought that Melbourne and Geelong would become depopulated. Then it was that a public meeting was convened in June, 1851, when it was determined to offer a reward to any person who should disclose to the conimitte ap- pointed, a gold mine capable of being profitably worked, provided it was within two hundred miles of the city of Melbourne. A few days after this Mr. Frencham, a reporter to the Port Phillip Gazette, in company with some three or four others, Aide in the direction of the Plenty Ranges, amongst whiph gold was said to exist, and where at the time two hundred persons were scattered about searching for the precious metal. This locality had probably been selected in con sequence of two persons, named Sharp and Armstrong, having, as was reported, discovered some fine gold in the locality. They had sent it, when taken, to Van Dieman's Land, but receiv- ing no return they had abandoned the pursuit, after enduring the greatest hardships and priva tious. It was a short period subsequent to this that the editor of the Port Phillip Gazette an nounced that his reporter, "who had been scouring the Plenty Range* with the twofold purpose of supplying the public with the latest intelligence, and of enabling them to decide whether gold did really exist," had actually come on what he was in search of. A letter shortly after was received from Frenchaui, which stilted that he had dis covered gold in a foundation of sandstone and slate, with perpendicular veins of quartz. Speci mens forwarded were subjected to the usual teste, but the results were not satisfactory. The first assayer, one Beurteaux, who tested it, dis covered gold, which was exhibited to the com mittee, but on the other hand a portion of the same specimen had been handed to Mr. Hood, a practical chemist, who was unable to find any gold in it. The committee in consequence de clined to pay Frencham the reward, but on pro ceeding again to the locality he actually dis covered gold. By this time others had published to the world that they had found auriferous deposits in various localities. To Frencham, however, is due the credit of having found out a rich digging. He named it in honor of hi 3 em ployer, and l^ecause the first diggers were Scotch men, the Caledonian, which name it may probably bear to the present day, although the ground has been worked out many years. There appears to be no doubt that the next individual after the mysterious Chapman, who found auriferous deposits was Mr. William Campbell, who, if my memory serves me, was the first of the five elected members of the first Legislative Couucil of Victoria. It was in March, 1851, he observed minute pieces of gold in quartz on the station of Mr. Donald Cameron, at a place known by the name of " Chines." The discovery was, how ever, concealed from some apprehension that the squatters' stations, would be ruined if it should be made public ; but some three mouths afterwards Mr. Campbell communicated the discovery to the world. It was soon after this that Messrs. Michell, Habberlin, Greening, Haton, Melville, and Furuival disepvered gold on Major Newman's station, at Anderson's Creek, on the Yarra, and it was some time about the middle of June the party brought a considerable sample of gold dust to Melbourne, which was exhibited to the Gold Discovery Committee. Now, it was a party consisting of Edmonds* Kelly, Bums, and Pugh who discovered ge«H quartz reefs on the Pyreuees, near a station, known as Donald Cameron's. The next iv order of time who announced that he had been suc cessful was Dr. Bruhn, who found gold near the Jim Crow ranges, which he forwarded to the Melbourne Committee. The most important discovery, however, was made by Thomas Hiscock, on August Bth, and made public by the writer of these " Reminis cences," through the columns oFthe Gedowj Ad rertiser, on the 10th of that month. Hiscock had come ujwn a deposit of auriferous earth in a gully near Buninyoug. The whole of this district was; soon swarming with parties search ing for gold, aud as BaUarat was on the same range, in a short time two parties almost simul taneously came on to the adjoining jange to Golden Point. This, which sulseqi^pfly proved to be the richest spot of ground known to the world, was worked for some time without any marked success, but the Cavauaghs, a hard work ing, shrewd family, lately arrived from Ireland, having entered a half worked claim and carried it below a layer of blue, greasy pipeclay amidst decayed slate, struck the rich pockets which were almost universally fouud there. Thi3 discovery placed Victoria at once at the very head of the gold producing countries of the world. Not only Balkrat, but Forest Creek, where inexhaustible mines had almost simultaneously been discovered by some shepherds in the em ployment of Dr. Barker, began to produce many" thousands of ounces weekly, and before the close of the year the colony had undergone a total revolution in all its relations.