Montreal Goldfield

Beach shingle gold

The Story

Location of Object:

Montreal Goldfield Heritage Centre, 769 Wallaga Lake Rd, Bermagui. It is situated on Crown Land, Reserve # 82706; D P 752130. On the Register of the National Estate.

Accessibility of Object:

While Bega Valley Shire Council is Trustee of the area this Cultural Heritage attraction is run by the volunteers of the Montreal Goldfield Management Committee (MGMC).


The Heritage Centre is open to the public when guided tours take place at 1.30 p.m. each day, seven days a week. There is a small cost for the tour which goes towards the maintenance of the goldfield site. The pathways through the goldfield provide 100% restricted mobility access so no one misses out.


Pre-booking is essential for coach groups to be able to delegate enough guides for the tour. E.g. 1 guide to 10 visitors. These groups – usually of Seniors, Probus Clubs, private organisations are welcome at any hour of the day. Further information may be found on www.montrealgoldfield.org.au


History and Provenance of Object:

This object has been procured as a significant example of the original discovery and panning for alluvial gold along Haywards Beach from Bermagui to Camel Rock in September 1880. It is in the Montreal Goldfield Heritage Centre in a display cabinet in the goldfield museum section.

Context:

Gulaga Mountain, named Mt Dromedary by Lieutenant James Cook in 1770, is a main component of this story, considered to be the source of the gold yet playing its part as a birthing mountain for local Aboriginal clans of the Yuin tribes. Contact with local geologists, well known nationally and internationally, and with the local aboriginal community on communal and official levels takes place on a regular basis.

Deposits of gold had been discovered along the eastern foothills of the Great Dividing Range since the 1860s and on Gulaga, Mt Dromedary, since 1877. Miners working the Mt Dromedary Mine felt that alluvial gold would have been washed down the mountain in ancient river beds. In 1880 they commissioned Henry Williams and his party, L. Minniwether and two Hollingdale brothers, to look for alluvial deposits between the mountain and the sea. They found an old river bed that once flowed down the mountain, under what is now Wallaga Lake, and out to sea.

Bermagui at this stage consisted of a government built river wharf and storage shed, a store owned by O’Reilly and a timber mill operated by Thomas Moorhead who was also responsible for the construction and establishment of a school in 1876.

Inception of Montreal Goldfield

When Henry Williams and his party discovered gold on the beach they registered a claim in the settlement of Wagonga, at the headwaters of Wagonga Inlet. This would have been the nearest Registry Office at the time as Narooma, as we know it, did not exist. When the news reached the Sydney papers a gold rush in the truest sense of the word took place. Within three weeks there was nearly 2000 miners taking up claims along the beach from Bermagui to the Bluff (Camel Rock).

How did they get there?

Miners came from the Mt Dromedary Mine, overland from the diggings at Temora and by boat from Sydney. Some of the miners came from New Zealand as Greymouth on the west coast of the South Island is the only other known alluvial goldfield in the Southern Hemisphere that extends into the sea.

The Illawarra Steamship Company was running a cargo service between Sydney and Eden. Up to 100 miners per steamship would brave the trip from Sydney, be unloaded into small boats in Horseshoe Bay at Bermagui and rowed ashore. The expanse of beach waiting for them would have excited them all.

How did they get the gold?

Digging in the sand, of course, only required a shovel and gold pans with which to wash the shingle along the beach. The miners from New Zealand brought the method of using a piece of carpet with them. When the tide was out, the miner would lay the carpet on the sand and shovel the shingle on to it. As the tide came in and out it washed the shingle off the pile leaving the gold behind.

To dig to any depth through the sand involved lining the shaft with slabs. Once the whole beach was taken up with claims with some good, some bad results many miners wanted to return home. The dedicated miners followed the old stream back over the dunes towards the mountain, digging shafts down to the level of the ancient stream bed. As Companies were formed they drove tunnels in from the beach along the old river bed.

As the miners were digging through deposits eroded from the foothills over millions of years there was no heavy machinery involved. But for large amounts of river bed and soil to be separated a puddling machine was used. One such operation was established down by Wallaga Lake, by Peter Engstrom.

Economic and Social effects

Within three weeks of the discovery a settlement at Montreal was established. Called Montreal because the man who discovered the gold, Henry Williams was a Canadian. It is believed that the Montreal Goldfield created a real rush to the site because digging for gold on a beach would have been so different from other mining processes and digging in the sand would have been easy.

Near-by towns suffered as potential gold miners walked off their jobs and headed for Montreal which quickly became a settlement far bigger in size than Bermagui is today.

A government surveyor, Lamont Young, and his assistant Max Scneider were sent from Sydney on the steamer SS Truganini to report on the goldfield and to plan a site for the village. After arriving on Friday the 8th October they camped on the Bermagui River before walking to the goldfield the next morning. After presenting their papers etc to the Mining Warden Keightly and having lunch on the goldfield with members of the constabulary, both Young and Schneider had walked back to Bermagui separately that afternoon. The two men, together with three farmers from Batemans Bay who owned a boat, disappeared on Sunday. Their bodies have never been recovered nor has their fate ever been known. It is still Known as “The Bermagui Mystery”, one of Australia’s greatest unsolved crimes.

To cater for such an increase in population, store-keepers quickly set up tents and huts and a police station and postal service had been provided by the government. Three hotels were on site, a newspaper, “The Bermagui Times”, described as a ‘very creditable production, both humourous and truthful’ was published. It took two years for a school to be established and by then the population had settled down to about 150 adults with 54 children between them.

As the life of the Montreal Goldfield and settlement ended in 1883 many of the miners remained in the area. Bermagui developed rapidly with the NSW Government constructing a wharf for the Steamers in Horseshoe Bay and a bridge across the Bermagui River to access it. Bermagui became an important sea-side town that served a productive hinterland, growing as two villages, north and south of the river, although not all amenities were replicated in each place.

The Montreal Goldfield today

The Montreal Goldfield today has a high focus on education. The schools in the area take part in activities at the goldfield that relate to the gold rush era; these activities coincide with the school curriculum for year 4 and 5. Professionally presented information has been placed on the Montreal Goldfield website for interaction with the school curriculum. Open air performances based on the gold mining theme take place each year. E.g. the annual Heritage Day open all day to the public.

The tours around the goldfield site are educational, as the story of Montreal Goldfield includes geology, history, mining practices, a Mystery and the environment where the natural regeneration that has taken place over the last 135 years is virtually the same coastal community that grew in the area before the gold rush, a heritage concept in its own right.

There have been other working goldfields in the Shire which have gone back into a wilderness state over time, and are not accessible. However, the MGMC plans to research the stories of these gold deposits from Batemans Bay through to the Victorian border as Montreal Goldfield is in the centre of the region both in distance and in the times of gold discoveries.

The particular significance of this object.

This gold pan containing beach shingle and gold represents the fact that the Montreal Goldfield is the only known goldfield in Australia that extends into the sea. It is indicative of the mining practices that were used for mining alluvial gold and for mining on the beach.

Shingle is the tiny waterworn pebbles and rocks washed down from the mountain along the old river bed or worn away by the waves when it reached the sea. Shotty gold was found in amongst it.

It also represents a major part of Bermagui’s local history as the strong development of Bermagui came as the goldfield closed down; there were more children for the Bermagui School, one of the hotels moved into the town, active land sales took place and stores and amenities were set up on both sides of the river as better government services came into play. As in areas along the NSW east coast the discovery of gold brought with it a demographic of nationalities and a population increase and development in each area.

Related Places, Items and Collections.

While there are no other known goldfields preserved in the Bega Shire a ‘Gold Mining Town’ at Mogo in the Eurobodalla Shire depicts a good example of the type of buildings and life experienced in a gold mining town of that era. It also includes a tunnel, mining tools and other equipment.

Works depicting/highlighting this object.

Montreal Goldfield 1880-1883. Judi Hearn. RAHS 2000

Five Men Vanished. The Bermagui Mystery. Cyril Pearl. Hutchinson Group. 1978.

The first is of a gold pan used for washing material using the ‘gravity’ method where the sheer density of gold ensures small (and large) particles remain in the dish when most of the other material is washed out. A keen eye is sometimes necessary to see small gold towards the end of a wash of a pan. Alluvial gold at Montreal was small and water-worn .

In the photo, a reasonable amount of ‘shingle’ is left to ‘show off’ the gold which, nonetheless, is not so easy to see in the photo.

The second photo shows a ‘close-up’ of some shingle in the pan with a clear view of gold.

In using these photos, but particularly the ‘close-up’ shot, the larger the image the better to show the gold but also the varied nature of the mix of other material which is the shingle – allowing small crystals of quartz to be displayed in the shingle – wash material far from the norm in the average Goldfield but an interesting example, unique in Australia and one of only two in the Southern Hemisphere, of gold bearing beach shingle sufficient to cause a Gold-rush.


Gold in Shingle on the Beach!

How good is that!

This story begins with a river, an ancient stream that flowed down Gulaga and out towards the eastern coastline about 90 million years ago. It was carrying gold eroded away from rich deposits on the mountain. This is called alluvial gold, carried by water.

A 130 years ago some of this gold was found in shingle along a local beach, on the bed of the old stream going out to sea. These pieces of gold were small and water-worn lying in amongst the shingle. Shingle is the name given to really small water-washed pebbles. The gold amongst the shingle is found by working the wash, the shingle material with a pan. The action of the miner with the pan ensures any gold is left in the dish with most of the other material washed out.

The Montreal Goldfield is the only known goldfield in Australia that extends into the sea. The only other in the Southern Hemisphere is in Greymouth, New Zealand.

In 1880 gold was discovered on Haywards Beach, just east of Wallaga Lake. It triggered a gold rush and in a three-week period nearly 2,000 miners had taken up claims along the beach between Bermagui and The Bluff (Camel Rock).

The gold was ‘shingle gold’ – gold mixed into beach shingle, the tiny waterworn pebbles and rocks washed down from Gulaga along an old river bed or worn away by the waves when it reached the sea.

The Montreal Goldfield, behind Haywards Beach, is the only known goldfield in Australia that extends into the sea. So the mining practices adopted there are a combination of those typically used for mining alluvial gold and for mining on a beach, utilising no heavy machinery: surface panning, by laying carpet on the beach to trap particles from beach sands using incoming tidal action, shafts being sunk to reach the ancient river bed, vertical shafts being drilled from the beach to follow these ancient river beds.

The Montreal Goldfield had a short life (essentially until 1883), its demise providing significant impetus to the development of Bermagui.


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This Bega Shire Hidden Heritage project has been made possible by the NSW Government through its Heritage Near Me program.


Any further information about this object or any associated history will be GREATLY welcomed and will be added to the above library of information. Please email your contribution to southcoasthistory@yahoo.com

Location

769 Wallaga Lake Road, Bermagui NSW 2546