A Trip to the Gold Diggings #2: The Fields From Timbarra to Tooloom

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 also taken by J. Robinson, 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 are reproduced in this 'A Trip to the Gold Diggings' series:

Moreton Bay Courier, 12 November 1859:
I have just completed a ten weeks’ trip to the different new rushes on and around the Fairfield diggings.

Timbarra, or the Table Land, is now in possession of the Chinese, some 500 in number; the ground having been vacated by Europeans to go to new rushes, they immediately occupied it, and manage to make on an average from £2 to £3 per week per man. Some 6 or 8 claims, the rich ones that were being worked, they have managed to purchase, paying from £40 to £125 for each, so that they have the place almost entirely to themselves - not more than one or two parties of Europeans are left of the hundreds that a short time since filled every creek and gully. 
McCloud’s Creek is also fast following the fate of Timbarra; the water wheels and pumps of its former occupants are now mostly left to the tender mercies of the Celestials. Some of the best claims that were not finished working they bought, and now the whole length and breadth of it is being turned over to great advantage. In some of the large flats that would not pay Europeans THEY manage to get first rate wages. 
Tooloom is being tried as well as it can. The shortness of water prevents some first rate ground from being worked to advantage, but it will turn out a much larger quantity of gold soon, as the first rainy season sets in. Even the children of some are earning men’s wages, cleaning out crevices &c. As to size, of gold Tooloom is far ahead of all the Fairfield rushes. Some 15 or 20 nuggets have been turned up, varying from 3 to 16 ozs. each, and one or two much larger. 
Nelson’s Creek is now being worked with much greater success than when the first rush took place. Several parties are making £1 a day, and claims that yielded only half that amount are the most successful now.

Scrub Rush was on the decline, but the first parties that left are hurrying back again, and it is now more brisk than ever. It is the most gloomy and wild looking place of all; the cedar scrubs of Moreton Bay are the only places to compare with it for vegetation. 
Tabulam, one of the latest rushes, does not seem to prosper as was expected. Gold is to be found everywhere, but not in sufficient quantities to pay for working, with the exception of a few claims being worked by the first parties who found it out. 
Rocky River is a place that will be steadily opened and finally worked to great advantage. There are great difficulties to contend with that will not suit miners of small means. A great quantity of gold is raised by a very few parties, and kept very silent too. 
Maryland Rush is now commencing, but not one party in six is able to make out the whereabouts, and are roaming the country in vain, seeking the mysterious and hidden parties, There are two or three other creeks nearly finished their first working, and wait quiet until the Chinese commence, when they will again teem with life, and pay them well for years to come. 
Stores are coming up from all quarters, and soon it will be as cheap to live well here as in any inland town, Diggers grumble more than ever, still the yield of gold increases every month. 
I have now given you a short, but correct account of the present condition of the Fairfield Diggings, and I hope it will not be the means of leading any one astray. Any single man can do well, because he can afford to tramp from one point to another, and if he perseveres is sure before many weeks to meet with a claim to suit him.

J. ROBINSON, Nov. 4th. 1859'
Tenterfield main street, with Queensland ranges in the
background, c.1887 (State Library of Queensland).

Moreton Bay Courier, 26 November 1859
“Off to the diggings” has had many a charm for “new chums”, and those who take all they hear for granted, and do not look under the surface, may not be pleased with my first day’s impressions of Tooloom. As I shall gather facts on my way, and desire only to tell the truth as presented to me, my readers must pardon any little things that appear to savour of egotism. 
Previous to reaching Woogaroo, while spelling at a water hole and amusing myself with the gambols of a lizard, I was joined by a traveller whose blanket bespoke hard wear, and whose tin pot had often squatted on the embers. The usual salutation passed, I asked my bush friend where he hailed from? “From Tooloom,” said he. “What news, friend,” said I. “B___ bad,” said he, “I toiled a long long time, and though I found the color, I could find no more”.

Passing on to Woogaroo, I found that friend Holmes had been to the diggings. He had taken his son and heir, and I think he said he and his son walked up in four days. After remaining on the diggings some four weeks, Holmes and his boy and their mates returned, unsuccessful. I asked Holmes his opinion unreservedly, and he told me that if a man had fifty or sixty pounds, and could hang on, he might get on. He also said that all the good claims were taken up, and he did not see any prospect for any new comers, unless new claims were found. “They were dreadfully knocked up,” when they returned, and the description, while taking a snack, which friend Holmes gave of the diggings, was certainly not very tempting. 
Leaving Woogaroo and coming to a camp of road makers, I saw a frontispiece I recognized in a moment. Our friendship had begun under the peculiar endorsement of rheumatic twinges, and I had been, at one time, on good terms with John Bell, and at the time I made his second acquaintance I should have liked him better if he had been the juice of John Barleycorn, so that I could have slaked an intolerable thirst I had taken from eating too largely of potted herring. 
I asked John, whom by the bye you must remember, as he used to drive that fancy little horsepony of Mr. Raff’s, how came he to be in so lonesome a position? I thought, remarked I, that you and that little pony were on such good terms that you would never part. 
“Ah” said John “and I wish I never had, I was fool enough to leave my billet to go to the diggings”. “And how did you get on there,” asked I? “I’ve only got the color” said John. “A black fellow pretended to show us the way, he led us ten miles off the track, and wanted to leave us. I have had my share of experience since I left Brisbane and its my opinion the diggings are no good.”
“How long were you there John?”
“A fortnight Sir.”
“Could you not have done better by waiting?”
“I don’t know. I had enough of it; from the accommodation house at the foot of the range to Tooloom will give you a teasing.”
“All right John – you had better make haste back to Brisbane;” – and I rode on. 

I passed a tired and way-worn looking bush traveller about three miles from Ipswich; and as I hold a bush yarn to be real gospel, I asked him where he was journeying? He told me he was “looking for a job.” I said “why look for a job, when there are diggings so near?” “Oh,” said he, I have been there - and they are no good.” 
Therefore, with a single purpose, and with a desire faithfully to record, have I written of Tooloom. I trust Tooloom will not turn out “a shicer.” If it does, allow me to congratulate the inhabitants of Brisbane and Ipswich on the splendid road which is opening up between the towns.'