State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 67 Autumn 2001

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A German Impression of the Australian Goldfields

The Welcome Nugget was discovered at Ballarat at precisely 8.20 pm on 9 June 1858. The event caused great excitement. Next morning a headline (unusual in a paper of that time) appeared in the Star: ‘ANOTHER MONSTER NUGGET’. A reporter was quickly on the scene, and the sight of the nugget was such that it almost surpassed his powers of description. He made a valiant attempt, however:
A huge mis-shapen irregular lump of apparently molten gold, waterworn, and rounded upon each of the numberless edges presented by a surface completely and more or less deeply honeycombed.1
His rival at the Ballarat Times was more imaginative in his efforts:
In shape, it has a grotesque resemblance to a skeleton horse's head and shoulders — the narrow part we have mentioned representing the neck. Or it looks like a continent with a peninsula attached to it by a narrow isthmus.2
It was Richard Jeffery who struck the nugget in the shaft. He belonged to a group of 22 Cornishmen working in the underground shaft of the Red Hill Mining Company's claim at Bakery Hill. The men worked the claim on tribute, a Cornish mining system, whereby they leased and worked the claim in partnership with the owners, the Wittkowski Brothers. Described as working partners, the Cornishmen were amongst the first to introduce steam-powered machinery to the Ballarat gold fields. It took them half an hour to free the nugget.
Richard Geilhofer, who worked as a gold buyer for the Wittkowski Brothers, recalled the nugget, resting on a snow-white table cloth, being wheeled along the main road on a hand barrow the morning after.3 The brothers, Julius, Isidor and Joseph Wittkowski, were gold buyers who had a tobacconist's shop in Main Road, Ballarat. The shop is illustrated in one of the rare set of lithographs of the Main Road streetscape by the artist and lithographer, FranÇois Cogné.
The find was celebrated in two early lithographs. The first, by the lithographer Herman Deutsch, was commissioned by the owners in 1858 (H31739). The second, recently acquired by the Picture Collection, is a coloured lithograph by an unknown artist, Goldgewinnung auf einem australischen Goldfeld (Gold mining at an Australian goldfield, H 99.73). It is based on Deutsch's earlier lithograph, with added images taken from illustrated newspapers of the time and published in Germany in about 1859.
According to R. B. Smyth, the Wittkowski brothers bought the Welcome Nugget for £10,500. After acquiring full ownership of the nugget from the Cornishmen, they commissioned their compatriot, Herman Deutsch, to produce a lithograph. It is unusual
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Detail showing the Wittkowski Brothers’ Tobacconist's shop with a sign in the window: GOLD BOUGHT/BANK PRICE GIVEN. FranÇois Cogné 1829-1883 lithographer, 1859. Chalk lithograph with tint. H1850, La Trobe Picture Collection.

for two reasons. First, it is a promotional leaflet, doubtless intended to stimulate interest in the sale of the nugget. Second and most importantly, it illustrates in cross-section the underground workings of the mine in great detail, showing tiny figures of miners pushing barrows and wielding picks and shovels in the underground shafts and leads, as well as depicting the above-ground mining buildings. At the extreme left of the underground tunnel the figure of Jeffery, with his raised pick, is in the act of levering out the gold nugget.
This may have been the first of its kind produced by Herman Deutsch, who had set up his lithographic printing office next to the Ballarat Star in May 1858. He was highly skilled and used his own patent method for drawing directly onto the lithographic stone.4 During the 1860s, he produced a series of large full-colour lithographs as prospectuses for gold mining companies in the Ballarat region.
The German lithograph consists of six vignette images depicting life on the gold-fields, and an additional two illustrations of gold, to which gold paint has been added. The upper central image is a representation of the Welcome Nugget itself. Printed beneath the image are the words: ‘Wilcommen Klumpen, Klumpen Konig ‘(Welcome Nugget, King Nugget). The lower central image is an unusual one of gold crystals. The right hand upper and lower vignettes are taken directly from the Herman Deutsch prospectus. There are differences, in that the crucial section in the Deutsch lithograph showing the miner at the face of the lead, dislodging the nugget with his raised pick, has been cut off in the German lithograph. The surrounding views of the goldfields are after wood engravings published in overseas illustrated newspapers.
The title, Goldgewinnung auf einem australischen Goldfeld (Gold mining on an Australian goldfield) gives the impression that the composite scenes depicted are from the same gold mining region, whereas they are from several regions and based on works by different artists or engravers.
The central image of a large alluvial gold diggings, and the upper left-hand image of diggers eating in front of a tent, are both taken from wood engravings published in the Illustrated London News of 3 July 1852, p. 8 (see p. 38 below). The general view is entitled: ‘THE FOREST CREEK DIGGINGS, MOUNT ALEXANDER,
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Printed below images: “THE WELCOME NUGGET was taken from the above Claim on the 9th June 1858 at twenty Minutes past Eight PM Its weight is 2217 Oz 16 Dwts / being 500 Oz heavier than the BLANCHE BARKLY It has been Assayed by Wm BIRKMYRE Esqr of the PORT PHILIP [sic] GOLD Co. / & contains 99.20 per Cent of pure Gold — 23 Carots [sic] 3 1/8 Grains being the purest Mass of Native Gold on record”. Original Prospectus. Purchased 1969, H31739, La Trobe Picture Collection.

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PORT PHILLIP’; and the meal scene: ‘MOUNT ALEXANDER GOLD-DIGGERS AT EVENING MESS’. In the accompanying text, reference is made to the ‘obliging correspondents at Melbourne and Sydney’ who have made possible the presentation of the views.
The central left-hand image of a man working an upright pump and another using a Californian cradle is, in fact, a view in the Turon diggings in New South Wales (see p. 24 below). It was published first in the Illustrated London News of 21 August 1852, where two pages (124-25) of engraved views appear courtesy of a correspondent on the Turon. Interestingly, this view and others were published the following year in Boston in Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion of 1853, p. 228. A single issue of this illustrated paper is held in the Picture Collection. The practice of re-using wood blocks was common between the colonies and also abroad. Information about the Australian goldfields was received with great interest throughout the world.
The lower left-hand image is of the first gold escort leaving Buninyong accompanied by troopers. There are low barrack-like buildings in the background. This illustration is from the Illustrated London News 22 May 1852, p. 401. The sketches, plus the accompanying letter dated 6 January 1852, were sent to the paper by E. C. Dunn of Chepstow, Mount Emu, Port Phillip. In his letter he refers to the hated licence fee:
A late attempt of the Government to raise the licence fee to £3 and a further obnoxious attempt to have every person digging without a licence punished as a rogue and a vagabond, has drawn down upon the local Government the indignation of the miners, which was strongly expressed at a meeting held at Mount Alexander, attended by 14,000 of them.
The discovery of the Welcome Nugget was later portrayed by the artist Dora Meeson in a painting entitled At Last. It was exhibited at the student's exhibition at the National Gallery, Melbourne in February 1897.5 The Welcome Nugget remained the largest nugget until the discovery of the Welcome Stranger, once again by Cornishmen, John Deason and Richard Oates, at Moliagul, on 5 February 1869. The two nuggets are often confused. The Welcome Stranger weighed 2520 oz [71.3 kg], whereas the Welcome Nugget weighed 2217 oz [62.7 kg]. After being exhibited in Melbourne, the latter was sold for £9,325 and finally melted down in London in November 1859.6
Mary Lewis
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Goldgewinnung auf einem australischen Goldfeld [Gold mining on an Australian goldfield] [1858/9]. Chalk lithograph with four colours and added gilt paint image 26.2 ×36.2 cm. on sheet 31.6 × 41.2 cm. Plate number printed u.r.: XXIV. Probably published in Germany. Purchased 1999. H99.73, La Trobe Picture Collection.

1

Star (Ballarat), 10 June 1858, p. 2.

2

Ballarat Times, 10 June 1858 p. 3.

3

Australasian, 31 July 1897, p. 240, reminiscences by Richard Geilhofer and illustration of the Deutsch prospectus.

4

Star (Ballarat), 24 May 1858, p. 3.

5

Weekly Times, 27 February 1897, p. 10 illustration, p. 13 text.

6

R. B. Smyth, The Gold Fields and Mineral Districts of Victoria, Melbourne: Victorian Government Printer, 1869, p. 361.