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The independent gold hunter on his way to California

Date: c 1848 - 1857
Overall: 660 x 552 mm, 2.9 kg
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Lithograph
Object No: 00017847
Place Manufactured:New York

User Terms

    This lithograph of the 'The Independent Gold Hunter on His Way to California: I neither borrow or lend', was published by N Currier, New York, circa 1849-57. The 'gold hunter' is a well dressed man, laden with gold mining tools, scales, link sausages, fish and a pot for a hat. In the background a road sign reads: 'To St Louis 350 miles. To California 1700 miles'. The 'gold hunter' is wearing the trade marks of the California digger - the thigh length boots, the colt navy pistol and bowie knife.
    SignificanceThis is an extremely rare lithograph which caricatures the many gold seekers who hastily set off for the California diggings ill prepared for the harsh conditions on the gold fields.
    HistoryThe discovery of gold on January 24, 1848 by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill, in Coloma, California started the beginning of the Californian Gold Rush. The discovery of gold in California, closely followed by the discovery in Australia, attracted thousands of miners and their families resulting in an influx of people and wealth to both countries and dramatically changing their societies and environments. The coverage of the Gold rush was a popular story in America, Australia and England as many people were keen to discover their fortune on the gold fields too. People wanted to hear about the opportunities, adventure and conditions on the gold fields. Tens of thousands of miners criss-crossed the Pacific Ocean between Australia and America. A $20 one-way ticket bought the traveller a bunk and space for one trunk, the trip between Sydney and San Francisco taking about six weeks.

    Living and working on the gold diggings was a harsh and dirty existence. The landscape was often stripped of trees that were used for firewood, huts and building mine shafts. The extremes in weather conditions and sanitation were a major issue for the large number of people living and working together. Washing for gold added to the pollution of streams and rivers. Holes in the ground held both sewage and refuse. Infections and diseases spread readily under these conditions with influenza and pneumonia being a common cause of death for miners of all ages and genders. Many children suffered from scarlet fever and diphtheria. If they did not die from the disease, they were often killed by the 'cures' - many of which were poisons.

    Only a small number of miners made a real fortune in the Gold Rush. It was easier and more common to gain wealth by establishing businesses and trade related to the diggings. Many unsuccessful miners turned to razing cattle, fruit plots or running stores selling over-priced goods, supplies and services. Some of the miner's camps developed into permanent settlements with the demand for food, housing and supplies fueling the Australian economy.
    Additional Titles


    Web title: The independent gold hunter on his way to California

    Related People
    Lithographer: Nathaniel Currier

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