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Edward Hammond Hargraves

1816-1891

Edward Hammond Hargraves was born in Hampshire, England and went on to become a key figure in the Australian gold rush. He arrived in Sydney, Australia in 1832, having left England when he was 14. Hargraves initially worked on a property near Bathurst and in 1834 acquired land near Wollongong. In 1839 he moved to East Gosford with his new wife and undertook work for the General Steam Navigation Co. Ten years later he left for California to seek his fortune on the gold fields.

Returning to Australia in 1851 he was eager to receive the government's monetary award for discoing large deposits of gold, rather than being a digger himself. Hargraves had practical experience from the time he spent in California and he undertook a campaign to search for gold with a group of men, including John Lister, William Tom, James Tom and Henry Tom. On finding gold, Hargraves ignored the requests of his co-workers and held a meeting with the colonial secretary, Edward Deas Thomson and the Sydney Morning Herald to publicise his findings. This publication instigated the movement of over 300 diggers to the town of Ophir by May 1851 and initiated the Australian gold rush.

For this discovery, Hargraves received £10,000 from the government and an annual pension of £250 from 1877. It is now suspected that he exaggerated and falsified the extent of his gold discoveries and underplayed the role of his companions. Lister and Williams later sent multiple petitions to the NSW parliament seeking compensation for their unrecognised contribution in the discovery of gold. It is probable that they were the first true successful diggers in 1851 instead of Hargraves.

Hargraves's self-promotion and publicity rewarded him many benefits, including trophies and postings as Commissioner of Crown lands and Justice of Peace. He lived exuberantly on his earnings until the 1860s when he was virtually penniless. In 1862 and 1863, Hargraves sought and received commissions from the governments of Western Australia and South Australia to prospect for gold. He did not receive the full advertised payment for his work and attempted a petition that was rejected.

Hargraves wrote many articles that were printed in the colonial newspapers including the Sydney Morning Herald. He also published the book, 'Australia and its Gold Fields'. He was written down in history as the first man to discover gold in Australia, a claim that has since proved to be questionable. He died in Sydney in 1891 and left a minimal estate valued at £375.