Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frencham, Henry (1816–1897)

by Donald S. Garden

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Henry Frencham (1816-1897), goldfields pioneer, was born in Wexford, Ireland. He arrived at Melbourne in 1840 and was first employed in an auctioneering business. Later, as a reporter for the Port Phillip Gazette, he set out in June 1851 to search for gold in the Plenty Ranges in an attempt to stop the evacuation of Port Phillip to New South Wales goldfields. On 14 June the Melbourne papers carried the story of Frencham's claim to have discovered gold and his bid for the offered reward. However, assay of his specimens revealed no gold, though on the site where they were found, near Queenstown and not far from Warrandyte, the Caledonian field and mine were later worked.

In November Frencham resigned from the Gazette to go prospecting. After working at Ballarat and Forest Creek (Castlemaine) he went with companions to Bendigo which an acquaintance had described as a likely site. In late November the party was successful and Frencham returned to Forest Creek to report the discovery and to apply for protection. Troops arrived on 8 December. On 13 December a letter by Frencham, under the nom de plume 'Bendigo', appeared in the Argus announcing the discovery; he also claimed to have taken a major role in a demonstration at Bendigo against the new £3 gold licence. Frencham continued digging at Bendigo till 1854. He then bought an estate at Windsor for subdivision and later a cattle station at Warrandyte where for some time he was manager of the Magnet Gold Mining Co.

In May 1867 Frencham lodged a claim with the minister of mines for a reward for the discovery of the Bendigo field but it was not recognized. He continued to defend these claims in later years, especially as his financial position worsened. In 1890 a select committee was appointed to inquire into his claims. In the course of its proceedings the committee was presented with twelve other claims for the original discovery. The report found 'that Henry Frencham's claim to be the discoverer of gold at Bendigo has not been sustained, but that he was the first to report the discovery of payable gold at Bendigo to the Commissioner at Forest Creek'. No reward was forthcoming.

Frencham returned to Bendigo in March 1895 where he was welcomed by the local council. He died aged 81 in a wooden cottage in Richmond on 3 July 1897, leaving an estate worth £460. He was predeceased by his wife Alicia, née Gainford, whom he had married before 1851, and by whom he had three sons and five daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, The Rush that Never Ended (Melb, 1963)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 13 Dec 1851, 15 June 1888
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 6 July 1897.

Citation details

Donald S. Garden, 'Frencham, Henry (1816–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/frencham-henry-3577/text5537, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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