The power of collective enterprise 

Beechworth and Surrounds

In the early 1850s, “going off to the diggings” involved finding a patch of alluvial ground to call one’s own and digging down to bedrock in search of a rich gold bearing lead of sediments.

The resultant material would then be brought to the surface, where small groups puddled it in a tub if necessary, to break up the clay before using a pan or cradle to wash the gold.

This small scale enterprise meant only the very rich, easily obtained sediments could be worked profitably. Once the easy pickings were had, the diggers would upstakes and set off in search of new ground to work.

The work ethic was different in the local Chinese Camp, however, where the power of bringing organised labour and investment to gold mining was evident everywhere. By harnessing water and directing it down sluices, they ingeniously let gravity do the hard work of washing out the gold.

Noticing this, the Rocky Mountain Fluming and Basting Company looked at the all-but-deserted Spring Creek Goldfield in 1855 through an investment lens. Gathering together an array of small claims, they spent £3,500 cutting a tailrace (i.e. water drain) 2-8 feet deep through solid rock down to the Spring Creek Falls. A dam across the creek was also constructed, to provide the water needed to power the new sluice channel.

The claim paid well for the next five years and then gradually slowed down as the tail-race was not deep enough to drain any deeper ground. Works stopped for a while in 1863, but the idea of further investment to unlock the wealth of the Spring Creek Goldfield lived on.

New claims were acquired and in 1867 the Rocky Mountain Gold Sluicing Company was floated. Over the next two years the tail-race was deepened by 8 feet and work resumed with earnest.