The Goldfields

The Ovens Gold Rush at Beechworth started in February 1852. Soon discoveries at Yackandandah, Nine Mile Creek, Stanley and Wooragee followed. There are three identified gold fields areas in the Indigo Shire: Beechworth, Yackandandah and the 'Indigo Goldfield' (at Chiltern-Rutherglen).

Living as a mining family was harsh - even by the standards of the day. Unsanitary conditions combined with cold and wet winters increased risk of illness and disease. Although there were many success stories, surviving as a hopeful digger on the Beechworth Goldfields, seemed to have been harder and less rewarding.

There were 'wet' and 'dry' diggings and much rivalry between the two types of workers much to the frustration of the police. While early mining was similar to that done in other Victorian goldfields like Ballarat and Bendigo, several aspects make the Beechworth fields unique. Beechworth is notable for its use of 'hydraulic sluicing' as a major method of removing washdirt. Large water quantities were required and long water races and deep tailraces constructed through solid rock, were real engineering feats.

By the start of 1880 it is estimated that 900 miles of water races had been cut though soil and rock in the Beechworth district, making it unique in Victorian goldfields. In 1880 The Rocky Mountain Mining Company, operating at Lake Sambell, completed a 800 metre tunnel which ran under the township, to reduce water levels at Spring Creek.

Alluvial gold became harder to find and workers began mining gold bearing rock such as quartz. Stockpiling dangerous blasting powder led to the erection of the now historic Powder Magazine in 1860.

Over four million ounces of gold (115 tonnes or approximately 2 billion Australian dollars, 1997 prices) were found in the first 14 years from discovery in 1852. It is estimated two thirds of gold went through official channels and the remainder was disposed of other ways. By 1866 the main thrust of the rush was over.