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Arthur Bayley Commemorative Sign

  • 20211116 dsc 6608
Burke Street, Newbridge VIC 3551

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Did you know that one of Australia's most famous prospectors was born in Newbridge in 1865? Arthur Bayley was one of the founders of Western Australia's great mineral boom with his discovery of gold at Coolgardie in 1892. His mine, Bailey's Reward, yielded over 50,000 ounces of gold in the first six months, and was credited with saving the colony from bankruptcy. The mine continued to operate until 1963 and yielded over 500,000 ounces of gold!

Arthur Bayley, Source: State Library Victoria
 
GOLD IN WEST AUSTRALIA
PERTH, Sunday

On Saturday afternoon the Commissioner of Police received news from Southern Cross, stating that a magnificent discovery of gold had been made about 110 miles off in an easterly direction from that goldfield. The news caused considerable excitement in Perth, and yesterday several miners left the city for the new field. The Daily News correspondent of the Southern Cross wired yesterday that immense excitement had been caused there by the arrival from the new field of Arthur Bailey, a prospector, with 554 oz. of gold, which was weighed at the bank on Saturday morning. Later information states that 2000 oz. more alluvial gold are now on the way to Southern Cross from the same locality. 


A commemorative sign stands alongside Burke Street (just past the Evie Charging Station), overlooking the site of the Bayley family's butcher shop. The sign shares the remarkable story of Bayley's life and accomplishments, displaying the following text:

ARTHUR BAYLEY

Arthur Bayley, one of Australia's greatest gold prospectors, was born here at Newbridge on March 28, 1865. 

His parents, Rosanna and John Bayley, owned a butcher shop for several years.

It was said Bayley had a nose for gold, something he might have been born with, given Newbridge's long association with the yellow metal. 

Arthur Bayley was one of the founders of Western Australia's mineral boom after making the first big gold strike in the late 19th century. 

His discovery of gold at Coolgardie is so famous in the west there's a statue of him and fellow discoverer William Ford outside the Perth mint. 

The Victorian gold rushes were starting to peter out and Bayley's find triggered a dash to the west, which drove Coolgardie to become the state's third-largest town, behind Perth and Freemantle. 

Without Coolgardie, there probably would not have been Kalgoorlie and WA's rise as a mining giant. 

Coolgardie's main street was named after Bayley, ballads and books have been written in his honour, but Bayley remains little recognised in his home state.

Bayley had a short yet remarkable life. 

His father John had mined for gold at Tarnagulla before settling down as a butcher in Newbridge. 

Both his parents died when Bayley was eight years old and he was taken into the care of his grandmother, Mary Williams, at Rupanyup, where she ran a hotel. 

He left for Queensland when his schooling was over, aged 15. 

He tried a number of jobs before turning his hand to mining in the Queensland gold rush towns of Normanton, Palmer, River and Croydon, here he first met Ford, his eventual business partner. 

For a time, Bayley worked with his brother Tom, before he returned to Victoria and then headed out again, this time to WA. 

He arrived in Perth in 1887 with 30 shillings in his pocket and walked almost 400 km to a small gold rush at Southern Cross. 

He followed several rushes with minor success at the Ashburton and Murchison goldfields.

He met up with Ford in Perth in 1892 and they set out together to the barren and dry east again. 

The pair eventually camped by a native soak called Coolgardie, 560 km east of Perth, and began prospecting or "specking" in the morning. 

Bayley found a small nugget of gold lying on the ground at nearby Fly Flat and the pair soon found many more. 

"We were a bit excited and threw our hats in the air, not even caring to see where they fell," Ford was quoted as saying.

In September, Bayley returned to Perth to lodge 554 ounces (15.7kg) of raw gold with authorities to register the claim for the mine "Bayley's Reward". 

The two men extracted more than 50,000 ounces (1417kg) of gold from Bayley's Reward in their first six months, which remains the largest find in WA, and was credited with saving the colony from bankruptcy. 

Bayley's Reward was continually worked until 1963 and gave up more than 500,000 ounces (14,175kg) of gold. 

At its peak, 700 mining companies based in Coolgardie were registered with the London Stock Exchange. Only a year after striking it rich, Bayley and Ford sold their claims for £6000 and a sixth interest in the mine.

Bayley returned to Victoria in 1894. 

He bought a 1200ha farm near Avenel next to the Hume Freeway in Victoria's North East, managed by his brother Tom, and invested in other businesses in Avenel and Seymour. 

He died on October 29, 1896, aged just 31, from dropsy, a combination of hepatitis and hematemesis, said to have been caused either by his heavy drinking or his exposure to mining dust. 

There is a mighty tombstone to Bayley at Avenel comprising 15 blocks of granite. 

In a mark of enduring respect, WA's Coolgardie council paid for the memorial's restoration in 1992. 

The script on his Avenel memorial reads: "Erected to the memory of Arthur Wellesley Bayley, native of Newbridge, Victoria, who died at Avenel, October 29, 1896, discoverer of Coolgardie goldfield, and pioneer of Murchison and other West Australian fields. His life was short in years, but long in deeds."

Where your standing reading this information, look down to the large gum tree, just in front from the tree once stood the Bayley "Butcher Shop". 

Story supplied by Chris McLennan. 

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