'Gold on the Adelong! An Historical Archaeological Landscape Study of the Adelong Goldfield 1853-1916.'


Dr Jennifer Lambert Tracey BA (ANU), M App.ScUC, Ph.D (UC)


During 2003 Jennifer coordinated and undertook research for the Conservation Management Plan for the Adelong Falls Heritage Site on behalf Tumut Shire Council and the NSW Heritage Office.



Proceedings of the Australian Mining History Association 1996 Conference and this article are copyright. Apart from any fair dealings for the purposes of study, research, criticism or review as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any means without permission. Enquires should be made to the Publisher or Author.


Australian Mining History Association

Mel Davies, Secretary, AMHA

Department of Economics

University of Western Australia

Nedlands 6907

Western Australia.


Bibliographic Reference

Lambert  Tracey,  J.,  1997. 'Gold on the Adelong! An Historical Archaeological Landscape Study of the Adelong Goldfield 1853 - 1916', in Ruth S. Kerr and Michael MacLellan Tracey (eds.),  Proceedings of the Australian Mining History Association 1996 Conference,  Australian Mining History Association Inc, University of Western Australia & Home Planet Design and Publishing, Canberra, pp 64-67. (ISBN 0-646-34346-7).


'Gold on the Adelong! An Historical Archaeological Landscape Study of the Adelong Goldfield 1853-1916.'


Goldfields are areas in which the instigation of a complex system of integrated activities results in the deposition of archaeological remains. The formation of characteristic landscape features occurs during the processes of extraction and accumulation. However, to read the mining landscape from an archaeological perspective requires observation of both the natural and the cultural topography.

Archaeological remains, particularly those relating to industrial processes of the 19th century, are often difficult to identify or attribute. Some mining landscape features of gold rush era remain substantially intact and their identification and recognition of the methods responsible for their formation are becoming more consciously, genuine concerns of study. Although this change has brought with it appreciation of the importance of the archaeological material in the interplay of historical, social and economic data, many sites on some of Australia’s early goldfields remain historically unacknowledged, archaeologically unresearched and at risk of destruction for want of recognition. Remains are often ephemeral and the evidence of the technological processes may be fragmentary and perplexing. The geological formation of auriferous reefs and the subsequent deposition of gold bearing alluvial gravels in ancient rivers or existing rivers or creek beds determined not only the location of mining activity but also the applied method of gold recovery. Each method has its own distinguishing features, and these, coupled with a blend of ingenuity and innovation, have left their mark in the 19th century goldfield landscape (Tracey 1997).


Adelong Goldfield

The Adelong Goldfield in southern New South Wales is set within the foothills of the western Kosciusko plateau and spurs of the Tumbarumba mountains which lie further to the south. It is drained by Adelong Creek which heads in the Tumbarumba range and flows north to the Murrumbidgee River. Throughout the greater part of its course, Adelong Creek flows through boulder strewn hills of granite formation, which rise steeply to heights of between 150 and 300 metres. Upstream, the flats along the creek are quite narrow, although these broaden out to a wider valley floor below Adelong Falls.

Adelong Creek is fed by several smaller creeks on its northern side, including Sawyers (or Sawpit) Gully, Golden Gully and Nuggetty Gully. The extended goldfield area is a composite of localities along Adelong, Gilmore, Reedy Flat and Hindmarsh Creeks. The average annual rainfall for the area is 800 mm. Adelong Creek is fed by a catchment area with an average annual fall of around 1500 mm. and the flow in this creek, except in extreme drought conditions, is continuous. On several occasions, however, mining registrar’s reports indicate that mining on the field was interrupted due to lack of water (New South Wales Annual Report of the Department of Mines 1878; New South Wales Annual Report of the Department of Mines 1895).

From Grazing to Gold

Pastoralists anxious to expand their grazing lands had followed in the wake of the Hume and Hovell’s 1824 expedition, and by 1830 sheep were being run along the extent of the Murrumbidgee (Brodribb 1883). Grazing land on Adelong Creek was first taken up by Thomas Hill Bardwell, and his Adelong Station extended from Adelong Crossing (Tumbalong) to Reedy Creek (Ritchie 1987). In his 1916 report, geological surveyor L. F. Harper stated: ‘The Adelong gold-field has not received much attention in the way of mining or geological reports from either Government officials or private individuals’. Apart from selective conservation undertaken at the Adelong Falls Reserve and a local history based around the family of William Ritchie published in 1987, the situation has not really changed. As such, the Adelong Goldfield presents a challenge both in its archaeological complexity and paucity of historical information.



Alluvial gold was discovered on Hindmarsh Creek in the Adelong valley in late December 1852 by a party on their way to Tumbarumba. It was reported in January 1853 and a diggers camp was soon established at what became known as Upper Adelong near Batlow. This was followed by discoveries on Adelong Creek at its junction with Hindmarsh Creek and at Ardrossan, on the western branch of Adelong Creek. Ethnic identity became a feature of the landscape with the unofficial segregation of these camps. They were ‘known as Yankeeland, Chinkey Town, Irish Point and Germantown’ (Gedye 1975:8). As the diggers worked their way downstream, the richness of the alluvial deposits increased substantially in the vicinity of the Adelong Creek Falls. It was with the finding of payable alluvial gold in the bed of Golden Gully in 1855, that the rush began to the Adelong main field. Miners staked their claims and pitched their tents along the banks of the creek, in the vicinity of what is now Camp Street, and  stores were soon established to cater to the needs of over two thousand diggers.

The finds along Golden Gully realised the Adelong’s potential as a payable field and it was proclaimed a goldfield on 15 February 1855. A slab hut and calico settlement arose along the banks of Golden Gully and the Commissioners Camp was established nearby. The Goulburn Herald 10 March 1855 announced that Adelong Creek was being worked for ‘thirty miles along its course with very shallow sinkings and surfacing on the hill slopes’.

Miners on the Move

Miners had rushed to the goldfield at Sofala around June 1851, then to Tambaroora and Bald Hill, later known as Hill End (Higgins 1990). The discoveries at Adelong were competing with those at Araluen, a rush that had begun in 1852, although did not reach its peak until several years later. Coaching had become established in New South Wales with Cobb & Co. around 1854, however this company was soon to become just part of a major coaching network operating throughout the country. Diggers wishing to travel to the Adelong Goldfield needed to negotiate a rugged mountain track, the original coaching route from Cooma to Tumut via Kiandra and Adaminaby, now the Snowy Mountains Highway (Austin 1977:162). Many also came from the southern goldfields near Omeo in Victoria (Goulburn Herald 10 March 1855).

By the end of 1854, the influx of Chinese immigrants reached around 2,500 in New South Wales, many of whom had come from Canton via the Californian goldfields. Their sober strong, patient and industrious nature as described by photographer, Antoine Fauchery (1965:100) did nothing to endear them to the diggers. Although it  was not unusual for the Chinese to follow alluvial miners, reworking their shafts and dumps, many held leases in their own right. In the NSW Annual Report of the Department of Mines 1879, for the Adelong goldfield, it is noted that: ‘... the Chinese still send away, and sell locally, some 1,000 oz. per year’.

However, it was not until the winter of 1857, when William Williams, a blacksmith and wheelwright from Montgomery, Wales, discovered a rich lode of ore, that an air of mining permanency began to descend upon the valley. Golden Gully which forms a junction with Adelong Creek drains a watershed on the south eastern side of Victoria Hill, subsequently known as the ‘Old Hill’ line, where Williams made his discovery. Running approximately north south, the reefs were found in channels in the granite formation ranging from 2 - 10 feet wide, varying in width from 6 inches to several feet. They consisted of quartz largely impregnated with pyrites and encased in a mixture of black slate and quartz. Occasionally several gold-bearing veins were located within one channel making it necessary to open out to the full channel width.

The richest veins were on the western and eastern slopes of Victoria Hill rising from the north bank of Adelong creek. Those on the western side are in the ‘Victoria line’, while those on the east, in the ‘Old Hill line, and Middle Reef’ as its name implies, falls between the two. The area was subject to extensive clearing during the mining activities. Most of the existing vegetation and except for mature growth eucalypts and Currajong (Brachychiton), is regeneration since the termination of mining operations. Blackberry (Rubus fruticosis) and Saffron thistle (Carduus ianatus) is widespread. Xanthorrhoea sp. and Ailanthus altissima are scattered on the western slope of Victoria Hill.

Adelong Township

Typical of many Australian goldfields, the Adelong Goldfield enjoyed an initial burst of prosperity as the reef mining developed and became profitable. Tents and slab huts at Golden Gully were eventually replaced by more substantial buildings of timber, brick and stone erected on the south-western bank of Adelong Creek. A map, Plan of the Town of Adelong and Environs issued by the Surveyor-General’s Department in March 1874 marks the site of the government camp and ‘Commissioner’s Quarters’ located near Golden Gully. However, no other reference to this camp has been located. Government or gold commissioner’s camps provided facilities for the issuing of licences and the storage of gold awaiting collection by the gold escorts. From Adelong, gold was sent to Gundagai and from there to the Royal Mint in Sydney (Gundagai Times 18 Jan 1873).

The town of Adelong was proclaimed in 1858. On 5 March 1870 the Australian Town and Country Journal reported that the town of Adelong comprised ‘two chapels, two public and two private schools, five hotels and five stores’. The courthouse had also been constructed. The Mining Warden’s court became a feature of the new goldfield. The Gold Fields Act of 1857, (10 Vic. no. 29), had adopted the format of Victoria's Gold Fields Act of 1855 (18 Vic. no. 37). The name of the licence in New South Wales was also changed to Miner's Right, and the licence fee was fixed at 10 shillings per month. As in Victoria, it provided the Governor-in-Council with the authority to establish Local Courts upon the petition of one hundred miner's from the district. However, in New South Wales only two Local Courts with regulatory and judicial functions were established. These were at Adelong and Araluen (Appendix D to The Royal Commission Report of 1871. P. P. NSW 1871-2, vol 2.).

Although development was slow, the Census of New South Wales for 1871 recording a population of only 864, Adelong continued to expand in its role as a social and administrative centre. The townscape today includes many public buildings, hotels, stores, churches, schools, hospital and cemetery, and reflects many aspects of 19th and early 20th century goldfield administrative and social life. Its modern role, as a focus for surrounding grazing and agricultural communities and as a heritage tourism centre, has been encouraged by the Tumut Shire Council and Heritage Council of New South Wales (Ballard 1985).

Gold yields began to fall towards the end of 1859, the number of claims were relatively small and expenses associated with crushing became prohibitive for the individual miner. General opinion was that the reefs were worked out and the number of miners dwindled. The Kiandra rush of 1860, followed by the discoveries at Lambing Flat in 1861, reduced the population on the Adelong field to around 400. However the winter conditions at Kiandra proved devastating and many of those who survived that winter of 1860 returned to the Adelong to re-open claims. Although the Adelong valley is in close proximity to the Australian Alps, extremely cold climatic conditions are rare.


Wilson and Ritchie’s Reefer Battery

The first quartz crushing battery erected on the Adelong was the ‘Pioneer’ built by Scottish engineer and architect David Wilson. Wilson then built the Reefer Battery in 1858 in association with Carmichael, Mandelson, Lemons and Wills. William Ritchie, also a Scot, arrived at Adelong in 1859 to manage the Pioneer Battery for Wilson. He had been an engineer at George Russel & Co.’s foundry in Sydney and after sometime on the Kiandra field, he bought into the Reefer Quartz Crushing Company. By 1869, those involved in the company were Wilson, Ritchie and Wills. Stone for crushing was being brought to the battery from mines near Coolac and Kimo as well as from mines operating locally (Gundagai Times June 19, 1869). A decision was made to move the crushing operation downstream to the Adelong Falls and rebuild a more efficient plant. The Gundagai Times June 19, 1869 reported that contracts let by ‘Wilson and Co.’ for the construction of the head race, the road and the rock excavation to accommodate the 26 feet waterwheel were nearing completion.

Granite was hewn on site, the main quarry terrace becoming the weighbridge platform, and the apron in front of the ore bins. In most of the buildings the stonework has a utilitarian ashlar effect, to enable the fitting of timber doors and windows, a feature also employed in the water wheel housings to eliminate water drag. Machinery was supplied by George Russell & Co. of Sydney and the Reefer battery began operation early in 1871. Initially it had two five-head stampers, driven by a waterwheel located at the rear of the battery, the water from above the falls being conveyed to the wheel by a short race. The race for the original Reefer battery was extended to the new site. In 1874 weirs were built at the head of the falls and a connecting race constructed inside the flood wall beside the creek. Upstream from the battery approximately 0.5 kilometre, an earth dam faced with granite, was held in situ by iron stakes driven into the rock of the creek bed. Remains of the dam wall on the east bank, along with the race, are evident. The race is unlined and approximately 1.5 metres in depth, and follows the bank of Adelong creek northwards to the falls. There is a breach in the race, which appears to be intentional as it nears the first of the cascades. There is a possibility that this may have been an additional aqueduct over Adelong Creek.

Processing of Gold-bearing Ore

Ore was brought to the battery by horse and dray and was dumped into the ore bins from where it gravitated through the mill process. Ore was crushed by the stampers, passed over the tables through the mercury troughs and then to the Chilian mills to be ground finely. Gold was reclaimed by mercury amalgamation - mercury being placed in all machines: the stamper batteries, Chilian mills, berdans, amalgamation barrels, mercury troughs and on the mercury tables. The concentrates, which were retained on the blanket tables while the tailings were washed off, were given a final grounding in the berdans. All tailings were then treated in the amalgamation barrels then dumped into the tailings pits.

From the Annual Report of the Department of Mines NSW for 1876, Mr. W. H. Slee reported that the Reefer Battery ‘… operated on a self-feeding principle utilising the slope of the bank, the mill worked by waterpower equal to 35 horsepower nominal, and up to 50 horsepower. The main iron shaft connected to the waterwheel was 60 feet in length. By this shaft the batteries, Chilian mills, berdans and buddle were worked, each section being able to be disconnected as required’.

Water-Wheels at the Reefer Battery

At the Reefer Quartz Crushing Company’s battery two waterwheels were used as motive power. The size of the waterwheels and their respective positions at the Reefer Battery have been erroneously described in several publications and reports. A 26-feet (8 metres) diameter pitch-back waterwheel was erected circa 1869, at the lower level of the battery site at the Adelong Falls. It was in use when the battery first commenced operations in 1870. The second waterwheel, an 18 feet (5.5 metres) diameter overshot design, was erected in 1882. This wheel was located adjacent to the upper terrace as seen in Figure 1. Bird (1976:18) refers to the ‘main iron shaft connected to a 60 ft waterwheel’. In this statement, the length of the shaft, described in Slee’s report (AR NSW 1876) as being ‘60 feet in length’ has been incorrectly interpreted as the diameter of the water-wheel. However, there is no explanation for Jack’s (1981:13) comment ‘there was also an 80 foot wheel’.

Figure 1: The Reefer Quartz Crushing Company’s stamper battery circa 1882. The flume conveying water to the 18-feet diameter waterwheel is seen over the roof of the works building. The road from the Currajong mines is seen centre right in the photograph (after Harper 1916).

A comparative-sized wheel would have been the 72-feet diameter Garfield Wheel at the Forest Creek (Victoria) Gold Crushing Works which is often shown in historical photographs towering over adjacent buildings. Ritchie (1987:35) refers to an early illustration of the Reefer Battery and states that ‘at first the battery was operated by the water wheel (18 feet in diameter) at the rear’. The ‘rear’ of the battery is understood to be the area of the final stages of processing and opposite to the battery’s entrance on the upper levels. The only waterwheel depicted is the 26-feet diameter wheel, at the rear or lower end of the battery. Each author is in fact, referring to the 26-feet diameter waterwheel erected in 1870.

Ritchie (1987:35) also refers to a photograph of the Reefer Battery published in Harper (1916:15) and states that ‘the large water wheel (26 feet in diameter) was served by a … metal-lined wooden trough supported by high trestles’. The author is indicating the upper waterwheel, which was 18 feet in diameter (Figure 1). In the Plan of Management Adelong Falls Reserve confusion continues with Ballard et al (1985:58 s.15.9) stating that ‘even the water wheels were the overshoot type’. The lower water-wheel operated on the pitch-back or backshot principle. It was not an overshot design. Further, the statement in Ballard et al (1985:58 s.15.5) that ‘majority of the processing machinery seems to have been powered by the large upper wheel (c 8 metre diameter, 16 buckets)’ again is incorrect. The upper wheel was 18 feet or 5.5 metres. This inaccuracy has been transferred to an interpretative sign erected on the Reefer Battery site above the remains of lower waterwheel (26 feet-diameter), which describes it as having been ‘18 feet diameter’.

The depth of the extant waterwheel housing at the rear or lower end of the battery, from the level of the waterwheel’s axel to the base, is approximately 4.5 metres (14 feet 6 inches). This depth would indicate that the housing was constructed to accommodate a waterwheel more than 18 feet in diameter. Reports during the construction of the water-wheel housing, as stated, indicate that rock had to be excavated to accommodate the 26-feet diameter waterwheel at the lower end of the battery (Gundagai Times 19 June 1869). If a small waterwheel was used inside a large wheel housing, the retention of an excess amount of water within the housing would lead to water-drag. The archaeological remains are consistent with historical mining and correspondent’s reports, and strongly indicate that lower water-wheel was 26 feet in diameter (Gundagai Times 19 June 1869; Australian Town and Country Journal 16 March 1872; AR NSW 1876; AR NSW 1882; Harper 1916).


Figure 2. Adelong United Gold Mining Company's workings Grahamstown in 1873 (Australian Town and Country Journal 7 June 1873:720)

Lewis & Munday’s patent buddle was erected in 1876 to extract pyritic material from the tailings. After the blanketings and tailings had passed through the process of grinding, they ran into the 24 feet buddle. The tailings shute was positioned between the buddle and the lower water wheel. The buddle had eight arms, eight feeders and twenty four scrapers, and worked at eight revolutions per minute. It was an obtusely-conical umbrella like frame, supported on a vertical shaft, resting in a step bearing in the buddle base. The upper end of the shaft carried a worm gear on which the whole apparatus revolved (Taggart 1927:661). The buddle base, the only extant remains of the buddle apparatus, is a circular stone construction, surfaced internally with a smooth concrete. It features three principal ledges on which the mundic was arrested. Wear from the revolving action of the scrapers is evident on the surface. The light tailings were allowed to pass into the creek, while the pyrites or mundic was saved in the buddle.

Historical interpretation is sometimes very selective or may conflict with the archaeological evidence. There is a need for academic tolerance between these two disciplines in the aim of achieving accurate interpretations of our cultural heritage. Birmingham (1988:11) has emphasised at length the importance of integrating historical context with archaeological data. However, when describing the remains of this buddle, both the historical and the archaeological evidence has been ignored. Birmingham’s caption accompanying a published photograph of the buddle remains establishes that neither the archaeological evidence nor the historical records were appropriately examined. It reads: ‘Puddler at Adelong (NSW), a large one, probably horse-operated. Where the gold was embedded or lying on clay, preliminary puddling was often necessary to break up the clay and release the gold’ (Birmingham et al 1979:52). While the statement is in itself correct, in that horse-operated puddlers were used to break up clay and release the gold, such a description cannot be applied to the archaeological remains on the Reefer battery site. Such misinterpretations may occur because of a lack of understanding of 19th century gold mining and ore treatment processes.

In association with the building of the buddle in 1876, Wilson and Ritchie erected a reverberatory furnace for the treatment of pyrites and mundic, on the same principle as that of the New North Clunes Company’s plant in Victoria. It was a small building, positioned 12 metres north from the buddle, on the same level. The site at this point has been considerably disturbed, however the east wall, encompassing the flue is extant, providing an indication that the building’s width was approximately 4 metres. The west wall would have terminated at the stone terrace, giving an estimated length of this building at 6 metres. The flue extends underground uphill for 25 metres to meet the stack, the only structure on the Reefer battery site to be constructed of sandstock brick.

In 1900, a cyanide plant was built and the buddle was then used to grade the tailings before treatment. An auriferous solution of potassium cyanide was passed over zinc shavings, through a number of tanks and the gold was precipitated. The amalgam and sludges from the chlorine and cyanide plants were heated in retorts to collect the gold, at a small furnace near the office building. Harper (1916:15) noted that in quantities assayed in 1915, this ran at about 9 to 14 ounces per ton.

The Heritage Council of New South Wales has acknowledged the importance of the site of the Reefer Quartz Crushing Company’s battery and a Permanent Conservation Order No. 72 has been notified as per the New South Wales Government Gazette 15th March, 1985. The Adelong Falls Reserve, which encompasses the site of the Reefer Battery, has a Plan of Management drawn up in 1985 by the Crown Lands Office, Department of Lands (Wagga Wagga Lands Office), prescribing management objectives and strategies.

Implementation of the plan was to provide for the increasing demand on the area as a site of passive recreation, while jointly aiming to preserve, protect and interpret the Reefer Battery site. However, the Adelong Goldfield is far more than one isolated site of romantic ruins. It is a goldfield that has undergone an extensive impact, some of the most devastating being the removal or destruction of archaeological evidence, scavenged by collectors or merely removed in the process of making the area ‘aesthetically tidy’.

Reef Mining at Adelong

From 1860 a major percentage of the active mining operations were carried out on the Victoria and the Old Hill reefs, with up to eighteen claims being worked along these lines, large gold yields being obtained from the upper levels (Slee 1876). Mining legislation had provided significant benefits to the miners. However confrontation between pastoralists and the miners, arose. The power given by the second clause of the Crown Lands Alienation Act of 1875, intended to benefit miners by allowing them to settle with their families on two-acre blocks of land within the goldfield was being considerably abused on the Adelong field. Miners and prospectors were denied access to large areas of auriferous country unlawfully fenced by speculators and pastoralists, to the point where in 1877, the mining registrar took it upon himself to give the miners access to these lands (NSW Department of Mines Annual Report 1877:157).

The Great Victorian Gold-mining Company (Limited) was the first mine in New South Wales to reach a depth of 1,000 feet from the surface, for which the company claimed a £1,000 government reward, offered to encourage deep sinking (Australian Town and Country Journal 28 November 1885). It covered two 5-acre leases on the slope of Victoria Hill. Up to 1876, although most of the mines on the Victoria line were over 500 feet deep, these were worked by horse-whims. The main reason given for such operation was that cost involved in making tanks or drawing water to supply an engine, would have exceeded the cost of horsepower. Cornish whims were used extensively to raise the ore.

In W. H. J. Slee, Chief Inspector of Mines’ Annual Report of the Department of Mines 1881 (in Harper 1916:44-5), details of reef mining by the Perseverance Gold-mining Co. on the Old Hill line provides an insight into the scope of this company’s operations under the management of John McLennan for Molyneaux of Sydney.

‘... The Prowse and Woodward’s, or No. 1 shaft, is now at a depth of 874 feet; the shaft is well timbered, and is skidded from top to bottom; drives have been put in north south at the following depths from the surface: 275 feet, 375 feet, 535 feet, and 640 feet, and only to the south at 740 feet. Numerous winzes and passes have been made between the drives, and iron tramways laid up to the faces for conveying the quartz and refuse away in the trucks, which are sent direct to the surface...This was one of the first gold mines in New South Wales in which rock-boring machinery was used. There are five Burleigh rock-drills with a powerful air compressor and 14 horsepower boiler and engine to work same. Besides working the drills, the compressor supplies fresh air to the mines...’

Near the ‘Little Victoria’ main shaft and on the bank of Adelong creek stood the Perseverance company’s battery noted in Slee’s 1881 report as having been recently erected. The machinery of Messrs. Towns & Company located at New Chum Hill on the Kiandra Goldfield and used at the ‘Great Emperor’ mine was purchased Molyneaux for operation on this site and shifted by bullock teams over the mountains.

Adelong United Gold Mining Company

In 1872, a small party of individual miners encouraged by their prospecting results, sank a test shaft on the bank of Adelong Creek, at Grahamstown. From the bottom of the shaft they obtained a return of over 6 ounces of alluvial gold. Experienced miners on the field had been convinced of the richness of the alluvial flats. However, the depth of the deposits and the quantity of ground water prevented them from being worked without the use of expensive and powerful pumping and winding machinery. This is an example of the problems that were debated following the introduction of the Goldfields Regulations of 1870.

Development of this mine necessitated the formation of a small joint stock company of 5,400 £1 shares. These were divided between the mining party and provided for any one of them, not in a viable financial situation, to sell off their holdings providing necessary capital for the purchase and erection of the machinery. A. D. Sheppard became the principal and the Adelong United Gold Mining Company appointed a board of local directors with William Ryan as mining manager. Ryan drew the plan for the operations and oversaw its construction. Sheppard’s lease was first worked by stripping and gound-sluicing on the shallower ground. When the depth of the wash was found at 45 feet below the ground surface, driving was commenced.

The alluvial plant was erected on an embankment 14 feet above flood-level on the left bank of Adelong Creek about 300 yards from the upper boundary of the lease. The machinery consisted of a 24 h.p. Cornish boiler driving two steam engines of 16 and 18 h.p. respectively. The 16 h.p. unit was used for working two pumps of 12 and 9 inch diameter, for raising the water from the pump-hole at the bottom of the main shaft at 50 feet below the surface. The water was stored in a large iron tank fixed as a reservoir on the top of the brace from which it flowed into two lines of sluice boxes over 100 feet in length.  


Figure 3: Downstream along Adelong Creek from Gibraltar Hill (Harper 1916). Dredging has removed the natural creek bends replacing them with lineal features.

These were set on a permanent platform about 20 feet in height (Figure 2). An 18 h.p. engine was used for raising and lowering the trucks for the wash-dirt to and from the bottom of the shaft to the brace, 30 feet above the surface, where a platform was erected within the frame of the 44-feet poppet head. When each truck was removed from the cage it was run on iron rails to tip its 7-cwt. load of washdirt into the sluice boxes. An average of 1000 trucks of washdirt was moved in 24 hours. At the head of the sluice boxes several men were employed in forking out and washing the large stones. This portion of the works was enclosed to provide workers with protection from the weather. One hundred miners were employed on 8-hour shifts.

At the bottom of the main shaft the chamber was slabbed with ‘massive beams of white box timber’ (Gundagai Times 18 January 1873). Underground workings were lit with candles and consisted of several main and cross drives several hundred feet in length. Iron tramways were laid for bringing the trucks of washdirt from the faces to the main shaft chamber from where they were hauled up and run to the sluice boxes. The ground ahead of the drives was tested by boring from the surface giving the information about the type of ground and its payable potential before the drives were continued. Many shares in this company were held by local residents, their confidence boosted by the results of the test borings (Australian Town and Country Journal 7 June 1873:720).

The subsequent effect of this mine’s prosperity on the small mining community of Grahamstown is indicated by a report in the Australian Town and Country Journal in 1885. Business premises and a hotel then supported the small mining population and a public school had been erected on the hill behind the township. A. D. Shepard maintained his financial interests in the company and William Ryan continued as mining manager. Sheppard travelled to California and northern Mexico and returned with details of the latest improvements introduced into the large alluvial mines in these areas.

Serious difficulties had previously been experienced by floodwater entering the company’s workings and an extensive dam was constructed to alleviate this problem. Two working shafts with accompanying air and pump shafts were used at this time. Winding and pumping was water powered. A race was cut to bring water from the upper portion of the creek to turn the large water-wheels and a second race was later constructed at a higher level. A constant supply of timber was essential as underground, the mine was being driven into wet and sandy ground. Timbering of the drives were described:

‘... every inch of the workings which now extend a distance of about 5000 ft. has to be timbered which necessitates teams being employed in bringing in the large quantities of material required ... at considerable distances. A saw-bench is also worked by a smaller waterwheel’ (Australian Town and Country Journal 28 November 1885).

Gibraltar Hill

Shortly after the discovery of gold at Adelong mining commenced on Gibraltar Hill. A number of small claims were worked for about five years, after which most were abandoned. The deepest of these workings was approx. 50 feet. It was to be another ten years before the Gibraltar Syndicate started their workings, and another four years before that operation succeeded in finding rich ore. Harper (1916:6) described an ‘old-fashioned public battery’ which was in operation at that time. ‘...with ten head of wooden stamps shod with iron, each weighing 160 pounds. The crushed material was passed over plates and fed into a Chilian mill, without mercury, only the free gold being recovered.’

The first official mention of Gibraltar Hill appears in the A. R. 1885 however it was not until 1891 that the reports specifically refer to the Gibraltar Hill Gold-mining Company. Yields were around 10 oz. to the ton. In 1895 the property was disposed of to an English company with £300,000 of investment capital.

New plant was erected and included a 30-head stamper; chlorination and cyanide works; air compressors to operate 20 rock drills; steam driven hoisting machinery for four shafts; and two 140 horsepower Lefell turbines for water to operate the air compressor and the battery. The shafts were connected to the battery by self-acting incline tramways, and a water race was constructed from upstream, just below the falls. Between 1897 and 1899 the gold returns exceeded 43,000 oz.

The company was restructured in 1900 and a further £150,000 was invested. Several leases on Victoria Hill were purchased and considerable prospecting and development work was carried out in the following years. Leases were let on tribute and although work continued yields began to decline to an average of 1 oz to the ton. It was estimated that the total production the Gibraltar company to the end of 1914 was 120,000 oz. valued at £450,000, however only one dividend was ever paid to investors. High costs associated in opening up the ore bodies and an enormous amount of underground prospecting due to the geological form of the faults and dykes were cited as the reason.

The Gold Dredging Boom

Following the introduction in New South Wales of the Mineral and Gold Dredging Act of 1899, large leases were applied for along the broader creek flats in the localities of Grahamstown and Shepardstown. However, reports of protests to the government against the operation of the dredging companies became frequent. Landholders feared their land would be degraded and agitation increased as the potential impact of the Act was realised. Opinions were formed that dredged land would be ‘utterly destroyed and rendered useless for all time’ (Adelong Argus 22 August 1899). Objections from farmers in Victoria to the dredging of agricultural land in that Colony soon filtered over the border to the Adelong Goldfield. Compensation was offered to landholders for the use of their land and an argument put forward was that the land could again be made productive after dredging. In countering arguments against the pollution of the creeks, the dredging companies explained that the dredges would be working within their own dams on the creek flats and that the flow of sludge to the creek would be blocked by tailings (Adelong Argus 22 August 1899).

A feature of a dredged river or creek is the unnatural uniformity and straight line of its banks. This alteration of the landscape was used as a positive argument by the dredging companies

‘… streams will be deepened, snags will be removed and the banks straightened’ (Adelong Argus 22 August 1899). Harper (1916:50) reports that Davies and Kershaw secured dredging rights and began operations 1901. They installed two suction dredges to rework most of the ground mined by the sluicing companies. By 1908, areas downstream had been secured by other companies, and in 1911 two large bucket dredges were being operated. In 1913, Davies and Kershaw’s lease had been almost worked out after yielding almost 3 tons of gold. Five dredges were operating in 1915 and details of the dredging landscape in the vicinity of Gibraltar Hill may be clearly seen in a photograph accompanying Harper’s (1916) report (Figure 4). The dredging ponds with their characteristic rectangular shape are repeated downstream along the creek flats.


From the official records a total of almost 145,000 ounces of gold were extracted between 1876 and 1914. There is a noticeable reduction in the gold yield in 1878 and the years 1895 to 1897 due to drought (Harper 1916:49). When gold dredging commenced on the field in 1901, the alluvial gold yield increased steadily, reaching an annual peak of 13,000 ounces in 1908. No official returns for the quantity of reef gold extracted are extant prior to 1884. From 1884 to 1914 the returns indicate that 182,261 ounces of gold were obtained from reefing claims. However Harper (1916:36) estimates that the figure would be more likely around 250,000 ounces of gold, valued in 1914 at around £1,000,000. This gold was extracted from an area of about 3 square miles (Harper 1916:49).  



Annual Reports of the New South Wales Department of Mines 1875 - 1916.

Appendix D to The Royal Commission Report of 1871. P. P. NSW 1871-2, vol 2.).

Department of Mines, New South Wales, ‘Report of the inspector of Mines (W. H. Slee) upon the mines at Adelong’ in NSW Annual Report of the Department of Mines, 1876.

Austin, K. A., 1977, Cobb & Co. The coaching age in Australia 1854-1924, Rigby, Sydney, New South Wales. 

Ballard, L., 1985, Plan of management: Adelong Falls Reserve, New South Wales. Crown

Lands Office, Wagga Wagga. New South Wales.

Bird, R. J., 1976, Adelong glimpses of the past, Stewart Press, Adelong, New South Wales.

Birmingham, J. M., 1988, ‘Colonial perceptions and archaeological contexts’, J. Birmingham,

D. Bairstow and A. Wilson (eds), Archaeology and Colonisation: Australia in the world context, ASHA, Sydney.

Birmingham, J. M., Jack, R. I., and Jeans, D. N., 1979, Australian pioneer technology: Sites and relics, Heinemann Educational, Richmond, Victoria.

Blainey, G., 1964, The rush that never ended, A history of Australian mining, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.

Brodribb, W. A., 1883, Recollections of an Australian squatter, Sydney, New South Wales.

Fauchery, A., 1965, Letters from a miner in Australia, Georgian House, Melbourne.

Gedye, L., 1975, Batlow The growing years from gold to apples, Horwitz, Sydney, New South Wales.

Harper, L. F., 1916, The Adelong Goldfield, Mineral resources (Geological Survey of New South Wales) No. 21 Government Printer, Sydney, New South Wales.

Higgins, M., 1990, Gold and water: A history of Sofala  and the Turon Goldfield, Robstar Pty. Ltd., Bathurst, New South Wales.

Jack, R. S. 1981, ‘Report on Adelong Gold-field’, Australian Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter, March, pp 8-15.

Lambert Tracey, J., 1997, Imprints in the Dust: Historical and archaeological evidence of mining methods used on goldfields in south-eastern New South Wales and north-eastern Victoria during the 19th and early 20th century, (unpub.) Master of Applied Science dissertation submitted to the University of Canberra.'

Lock, C. G., 1890, Mining and ore-dressing machinery: A comprehensive treatise dealing with the modern practice of winning both metalliferous and non-metalliferous minerals, E. & F. N. Spon, London.

Ritchie, W. R. 1987, Early Adelong, and its gold: a tribute to the work of gold pioneers William Williams and William Ritchie in the discovery and development of Adelong's goldfield, W. R. Ritchie, Adelong, New South Wales.

Taggart, A. F., 1927, Handbook of ore dressing, John Wiley & Sons. Inc. New York. 




The Gundagai Times and Tumut, Adelong, and Murrumbidgee district advertiser.

Tumut and Adelong times and Gundagai advertiser

The Adelong and Tumut Express

The Goulburn Herald

Australian Town and Country Journal  



Plan of the Town of Adelong and Environs issued by the Surveyor-Generals Department March 1874.


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