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The Welcome Stranger gold nugget

Posted 03/04/2018 in Gold


Image source: Replica - Rodney Start (photographer) - Museums Victoria

The largest alluvial gold nugget ever found was the world famous "Welcome Stranger", which was unearthed in 1869. John Deason and Richard Oates discovered the massive gold nugget mere inches below the surface in the Victorian Goldfields town, Moliagul. The total weight of the nugget, including what was obtained from the crushed quartz and pieces given away to friends, was estimated at 72.5 kg (2,332 oz). 

The Welcome Stranger gold nugget was so big that it had to be broken up on an anvil before it could be weighed at the bank in nearby Dunolly. Unfortunately in all the excitement, nobody thought to take a picture of the nugget before it was broken up, and the only sketches made were drawn from memory. There is a photograph of John Deason and Richard Oates posing in a group at the discovery site with a large piece of quartz representing the Welcome Stranger gold nugget.

The spot where the Welcome Stranger was discovered is now a quiet bushland area with a monument commemorating the nugget's discovery, a picnic area, and a fascinating 'Discovery Walk'. The walking track travels in an easy circuit through the surrounding bushland and takes you past many interesting examples of former alluvial and reef mining efforts. You will walk by the house sites of John Deason and Richard Oates (the two miners who discovered the Welcome Stranger nugget), puddlers, a Chinese grave and the site of a Chinese camp.



The Welcome Stranger Monument Picnic Area, Moliagul Victoria.

The following text is displayed on an information sign at the Welcome Stranger Monument Picnic Area:

GOLD AT MOLIAGUL

The first recorded discovery of gold in this district was made about a kilometre from here in September 1852. This discovery created a rush in the area, and a Police Camp was established to keep law and order among the 4,000 miners.

Gold gradually became more difficult to find, and many miners left for more popular goldfields, though some with more substantial claims remained. Among these were two Cornish miners, John Deason and Richard Oates.

Both Deason and Oates were born on the island of Tresco, 50km south-west of Lands End, England. The two grew up together, and after learning of the discovery of gold in Australia, arrived in Bendigo in February 1854. They spent eight years there with only moderate success, and then moved to Moliagul.

Deason and Oates pegged a puddling claim on the side of this hill; they were aware of large nuggets having been found in the gully below (known as Black Gully).

They also selected farming land near this site which they continued to farm while stripping the surface layer of the puddling claim and washing it in a puddling machine.

In 1866 the pair found a 1.1 kg (36 oz) nugget, which encouraged them to continue with their efforts. As history shows, their persistence paid off with the discovery of the "Welcome Stranger", still the largest nugget ever found in the world.

Monument commemorating the 1869 discovery of the Welcome Stranger gold nugget.

THE DISCOVERY OF THE WELCOME STRANGER

On the morning of Friday 5 February 1869, Deason was breaking up soil on the claim when he hit what seemed to be stone. After hitting it a second and third time and clearing away the soil with a pick, he saw gold. The nugget was only 2.5cm (1 inch) below the surface; after clearing away more dirt Deason broke his pick handle in an attempt to lever it from the ground. He finally resorted to a crowbar.

Oates, busy ploughing in his nearby paddock, was called up by Deason's son. Not wanting to create suspicion among people living and working nearby, the two miners covered the nugget again and continued as if nothing had happened.



Later that afternoon the nugget was placed in their dray and taken down the hill to the Deason house. The gold was stained black by ironstone deposits and was mixed with a large quantity of quartz. After placing the nugget in the fire, the gold expanded and the quartz became brittle and loose. When the nugget cooled 26 kg of quartz was prised off and later crushed at a local battery, belonging to a Mr Edward Endey.

An excellent information display at the Welcome Stranger Monument and Picnic Area, Moliagul Victoria

REVEALING THE FIND

After keeping the discovery to themselves all weekend, Deason and Oates decided to hold a party for their friends on the following Monday. They hid the nugget under a cloth at the end of the table, and at an appropriate moment during the evening revealed their magnificent prize. "Don't go home boys" said Deason, "That's solid gold and I want you to stay the night and escort it to the bank at Dunolly tomorrow".

Next morning, the nugget was loaded onto Edward Endey's spring cart and the convoy left for Dunolly. Walter Brown, a neighbour, was selected to go into the London Chartered Bank and ask the teller "What are you paying for gold by the hundred-weight?", after which the nugget was brought in and presented to the manager.

WEIGHING & RECORDING THE NUGGET

As the nugget was too large to be weighed on the bank scales, Archie Walls, the blacksmith was called in to cut it into smaller pieces. The total weight of the nugget, including what was obtained from the crushed quartz and other pieces broken off and given away to friends, was estimated at 72.5 kg (2,332 oz). It was considered a shame that in all the excitement no-one thought to photograph the nugget, and the only sketches made were drawn from memory. The photograph shown here was taken at the site later, the finders using a large piece of quartz to represent the nugget.


Unearthing the Welcome Stranger Nugget [picture]. Parker, W. fl. 1867-1869, photographer.



LIFE AFTER THE FIND

Soon after the find, Richard Oates returned to Cornwall, where he married Jane Penrose. He wasted little time in bringing her back to Moliagul and continued working the claim with Deason. By 1875 it had been worked out and Oates moved with his family to Dunolly. He continued farming, shifting a second time to land in Bealiba then later to Woodstock near bendigo. Richard Oates died in 1906 aged 79, and is buried in the Marong Cemetery.

John Deason continued with mining, having various puddling machines and later a quartz crushing battery. During the depression of the 1890's, part of his livelihood came from operating the battery in Moliagul, thus providing great stimulus and encouragement for other miners to sample reefs in the area instead of merely seeking alluvial gold. He invested money in further property, known as The Springs, at Moliagul, and he and his family moved there. His descendants still farm land in Moliagul today. John Deason died in 1915 aged 85 and is buried in the Moliagul Cemetery.
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Other nearby places related to the Welcome Stranger gold nugget:
  • Welcome Stranger Anvil Monument in Dunolly. When the Welcome Stranger nugget was discovered in 1869, it was too large to fit on the bank scales to be weighed so was broken in half on an anvil. This anvil is now mounted on an attractive monument outside the Dunolly Museum.
  • Moliagul Cemetery. The final resting place of John Deason, co-finder of the Welcome Stranger gold nugget.
Things to do in the Victorian Goldfields
Accommodation near the Welcome Stranger discovery site


 

 

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