A Trip to the Gold Diggings #1: Gold Fever at Brisbane

A Trip to the Gold Diggings
In 1859 a wave of gold fever hit the newly independent colony of Queensland, and hundreds of men headed southwest to Tooloom, approximately 150 kilometres over the border into New South Wales. This journey of around four or five days on horseback was taken by a correspondent of the Moreton Bay Courier in November 1859, and he wrote a detailed account of his travels both there and back. The result is a fascinating insight into life on the road during the earliest days of colonial Queensland, as well as the rough-and-ready atmosphere of the goldfields. The writings will be reproduced in this 'A Trip to the Gold Diggings' series.

Gold was first discovered at Tooloom around 1857, and within a few years there were up to 10,000 miners chasing the coarse grained free gold, including many nuggets, that could be found in the alluvial deposits of Tooloom Creek and its tributaries. With nearest major towns to the goldfields being Ipswich and Brisbane, much of the traffic was to and from the north. Tooloom was never a major goldfield, however, and the gold rush was over by 1868 when news of the discovery of gold at the Queensland town of Gympie arrived.

The story begins in June 1859, when reports of new gold discoveries reach Brisbane:

The route described by the author of the ‘A Trip to the Diggings’ reports,
Moreton Bay Courier, 1859. (C. Dawson)

Moreton Bay Courier,
 11 June 1859:
'We published on Wednesday last, in our Grafton correspondence, an account of the discovery of new diggings, mid-way between Grafton and Ipswich. The distance from the latter place is given as one hundred miles, being thirty miles nearer to Ipswich than the nearest portion of auriferous ground where the now old diggings are established. The calculation of distances is made, we expect, as the crow flies; but our Grafton correspondent, whose information can be relied upon, gives the distance from Ipswich to Tooloom, the name of the new diggings, at about one hundred miles. Experience has demonstrated in the colonies that diggings are not often discovered nearer to a metropolis than the distance from here to Tooloom. We hear that a great many persons are on the way to Fairfield - and that the more these diggings are known the more popular they become. We have also heard bad reports from certain diggers - but their habits of life - their dissolute manners, and laziness, so long as there was plenty of drink to be obtained, has taken seventy-five per cent, from their statements. Without entering into further particulars the goodness of the fields being known, and with the encouraging intelligence of gold at Tooloom, we go hopefully on; in the belief that Fortune will yet favor us as she has done other parts of the colonies. Let us not be remiss in taking the advantages offered; and if we were apathetic relative to Fairfield, our position will enable us to secure Tooloom.'
Moreton Bay Courier, 16 July 1859:
JUNE 29.- THE NEW GOLD-FIELD.- Electioneering and the unsettled state of the weather have prevented me from paying much attention to other matters lately. The new gold-field at Tooloom is now causing considerable excitement, and demands some notice at my hands. This place is nearly equi-distant from Grafton and Ipswich, being about ninety-five miles by the nearest route from each, is easily accessible, there being no rivers to cross either way, and the country is tolerably sound and open; it is near the head of the northern or main branch of the Clarence, about fifty miles west of Casino, on the Richmond. I presume the Moreton Bay storekeepers will participate in the trade. If there is the least spark of energy and enterprize left among them, they will not suffer many weeks to pass before raising £400 or £500 among themselves, and a road direct to the scene of operations as the Grafton people have done. 
I understand there are about 500 diggers at work, and several prizes have been already obtained. Most of the gold hitherto got at the Northern fields has been fine, there being very little in the shape of nuggets. The Tooloom gold is coarse, like maize or peas. I have heard of nuggets weighing 10 ozs., 4 ozs., 10 dwts., 3½ ozs., &c.; and it is said that a party of nine have sold 50 ozs., which was procured in a fortnight. Another party has sent down 2 lbs., which was got in a few days. The gold is supposed to be of rather low quality, not worth more than 67s. The Mint report is anxiously expected, as until that is received its value cannot be determined with any degree of certainty. Of course, little is yet known about the extent of this gold-field; at present, only two or three small creeks are being worked, and the pan only is used; no cradles or sluice-boxes are yet in operation. The accounts from Timbarra are still favourable; but there has been a great rush to Tooloom. Many of these will no doubt return to their old claims, the distance being only a day’s journey-30 to 40 miles.
Moreton Bay Courier, 3 August 1859:
TOOLOOM DIGGINGS.- The whole town seems to be like a bottle of ginger-beer with the cork just drawn, in consequence of a man having arrived here late last night from the diggings; he brings rather good news, and seems very confident of its turning out a payable gold-field, there are about 300 working at the diggings, and there are already erected six public-houses and four stores.
Ipswich Herald.
Moreton Bay Courier, 6 August 1859:
To the Editor of the Moreton Bay Courier. 
SIR,- Through your columns pray wake drowsy, lethargic Moreton Bay from its torpor, and by making it only a little alive to its own interests, you will, perhaps, at least, cause to be developed its immense (but at present unknown to themselves) resources. This part of the new colony is literally teeming with gold, and within the last few days both silver and copper have been found here, whether the two latter are payable or not, remains yet to be proved, so if you have any energetic men in your neighborhood, let them shew their, till now, latent powers. With respect to the gold, it has been discovered only within the last two months, and already remunerative patches have been found over twenty miles of country, and shame shame to Moreton Bay, and its munificent professions, the men (I mean, Perkins and party) who have travelled through the bush here for months past, and suffered hardships out of number, remain yet unrewarded. 
There are about 500 diggers here. Rations, tools, and stores of all description are plentiful, and three public houses. The price of is £3 8s ounce.
X. Y. Z. 
P.S.- Find some means for opening a road here from Ipswich, and the cost will never be regretted; also establish an escort. The bearer of this takes with him 1 lb. weight of the gold produced here, as a specimen, which (as he has a stake in Moreton Bay) I have no doubt he will not object to show. Nuggets of fine gold are being found here, some weighing eight and ten ounces.
Tabra Diggings, July 30th, 1859.
Moreton Bay Courier, 6 August 1859:
WE earnestly commend the perusal of the letter signed X. Y. Z. to the attention of the residents in the Northern Districts. So often as we have endeavored to rouse the energies of the people, we need not now do more than enforce our oft-repeated calls for action. The Tooloom diggings, distant only about one hundred miles from Ipswich, appear, by the information contained in the letter, to be a fact. Thirty-four ounces of pure gold, obtained from Tooloom and Fairfield, have been shown to us by the person accredited as the bearer of the letter; and the expressed wish of those who are on the scene of action, whose sympathies are with Brisbane, should not be neglected. The opening up of a direct road, so that we may have easy communication, is the question pressing itself upon our notice. United notion and energy would soon accomplish what the letter pleads for, and there surely is enough spirit and appreciation of the advantages to be obtained to spur on the merchants, tradesmen, mechanics, and laborers, to the task of union of purpose. A payable gold-field at Tooloom! The distance as easy as from Melbourne to those diggings which first gave impetus to the latent energies of Victoria; numbers of men already profitably engaged in operations, who have lived in and love Brisbane as their adopted city, and they have to rouse the feeling of the people here by a letter like that we publish! Startling as the news may be, the charge is, nevertheless, partially true. The time has come, we fancy, when the appeal and the taunt will take effect, and we shall have shortly, we hope, to record progress in road-making and raining matters. 
The past has been so pregnant with warning not to indulge in wild dreams, or to forget due propriety on the receipt of doubtful intelligence as to the existence of payable gold-fields, that there need be no other reasons assigned for that dullness which is charged to the people of the metropolis of the Northern Districts. Boonoo Boonoo and Fitz Roy are names and failures not easily erased from remembrance. The thoughtful will, however, perceive, that the reported failures were only the types that the auriferous metal was in the neighborhoods; and later experience, both at Boonoo and Rockhampton, have demonstrated that gold is to be had for the digging; though not in those large quantities to justify the rush which took place. The goodness of Fairfield diggings may be inferred from the benefits Grafton has already received; the inhabitants of which place saw the importance of availing themselves of the fortune offered by opening up a good road to the diggings. We leave the matter for the consideration of the public, fully satisfied that the spirit that offered a large reward for the discovery of a payable gold field, only nine months since, will not now be laggard in adopting measures for the opening up of a road to Tooloom. We should recommend that a public meeting be held to discuss the matter. There are plenty of old residents in the place who understand the districts, and sufficiently of the people, to enable them to judge of the value of the testimony offered.

We anxiously await the solution. A payable gold-field so closely to us, with a road opened up, would entirely alter the character of the place. Amongst other advantages such a boon would confer, would be a good leaven of independent thought and feeling, tending to purify the atmosphere from fogyism and class prejudices; while the introduction of fresh blood amongst us would accelerate our movements, and rapidly develop the resources of Queensland.
The complete 'Trip to the Gold Diggings' series: 
  1. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #1: Gold Fever at Brisbane
  2. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #2: The Fields From Timbarra to Tooloom
  3. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #3: Ipswich to Fassifern
  4. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #4: Fassifern to Koorelah Range
  5. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #5: Tooloom 
  6. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #6: Scenes From Tooloom
  7. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #7: Tooloom to Flagstone Creek
  8. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #8: Flagstone Creek to the Condamine
  9. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #9: Warwick
  10. A Trip to the Gold Diggings #10: Warwick to Drayton