Mainly thanks to the cinema we identify the Gold Rush with the one that broke out in 1848 in California and that would last almost a century, bringing together thousands of miners and fortune seekers in a migratory and colonizing phenomenon that, however, was not unique. Around the same time, other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and South Africa experienced the same phenomenon and, in fact, similar processes can be traced back to ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire.
Gold rushes generally began with the discovery of alluvial gold in riverbed sediments, and its extraction required minimal investment (a pan and time) and virtually no formation. Of course, this near-surface gold was rapidly depleted within a few years, requiring more and more investment and technical capacity to access the deeper veins.
In this case, in Australia, the main gold rush occurred in the states of New South Wales and Victoria from 1851 onwards. The Australian government encouraged mass migration to these places, investing heavily in infrastructure to accommodate and facilitate the settlement of miners and prospectors. Some, the fewest, became rich while most ended up in agriculture, staying permanently thanks to the facilities to obtain large extensions of land in property.
The common iconic element to all gold rushes are the famous nuggets, natural pieces of native gold (a native metal is one found in its metallic form, pure or as an alloy) generally found in streams and rivers. They are never pure in their composition (which would correspond to 24 carats), but vary from one place in the world to another, generally between 20.5 and 22 carats (which is equivalent to a purity of 83 to 92 percent). In Australia they are usually 23 carats and even more, while Alaska would be at the lowest level of purity.
It was in the Australian state of Victoria that the largest known gold nugget was found. The lucky prospectors who discovered it were called John Deason and Richard Oates, who found it just three centimeters deep at the foot of a tree near the town of Moliagul. It was so big that at the time of the find there were no scales capable of measuring its weight, so they took it to a blacksmith who broke it into three pieces. Its total weight was about 110 kilograms and it was named Welcome Stranger.
They quickly took it to a bank in Dunolly, which advanced them the not inconsiderable amount of £9,000 (the final price obtained would be £9,381, which would be equivalent to the current £2.3 million, about 2 million dollars). From it, they managed to extract almost 72 kilograms of molten gold that was converted into ingots, which were transferred to the Bank of England on February 21st 1869.
A commemorative obelisk was erected on the site where it was found in 1897, while a replica of the nugget can be seen in Melbourne’s municipal museum. Deason and Oates ended their lives as farmers, the first in 1915 at age 85, and the second in 1906 at age 79.
Obviously the Welcome Stranger no longer exists. The largest gold nugget we can see today is the so-called Canaa Nugget, which was found on September 13th 1983 in the Serra Pelada mine in the state of Pará in Brazil. It weighs 60.8 kilograms gross and is estimated to contain 52.33 kilograms of gold. It can be seen at the Museum of the Central Bank of Brazil.