Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hannan, Patrick (1840–1925)

by Geoffrey Blainey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Patrick Hannan (1840-1925), prospector, was baptized on 26 April 1840 at Quin, Clare, Ireland, son of John Hanneen and his wife Bridget, née Lynch. He arrived in Victoria in December 1862 and worked underground at Ballarat. In the period 1868 to 1880 he spent six years on New Zealand goldfields, but where he spent the other six years is unknown. Probably he was on Australian goldfields: the search for gold infatuated him.

As the spearhead of prospecting moved from the well-watered slopes of the Great Dividing Range to the dry plains, a new breed of prospector was needed. Paddy Hannan exemplified that breed. He learned how to find water before looking for gold, to travel lightly, and to operate far from the nearest supply base. He was one of the first men at various gold rushes in dry terrain: Temora in New South Wales in 1880, Teetulpa in South Australia in 1886, and the gold camps around Southern Cross, Western Australia, in 1889. He joined the rush to remote Coolgardie where, in 1893, he won enough alluvial gold to finance further prospecting trips.

In June 1893 Hannan and Thomas Flanagan and Dan O'Shea (their names have various spellings) followed a new rush to the east of Coolgardie. Along the track on 10 June, they found gold near the surface of the dry red soil. Working in secret, each man won the equivalent of several years wages in the space of a week. On 17 June Hannan rode his horse to Coolgardie with about 100 ounces (3.1 kg) of gold and broke the news. The next morning the rush to Kalgoorlie began.

Hannan's fame as the discoverer of the richest goldfield in Australia came rather easily. His find was not as difficult or as courageous as the earlier Coolgardie find. An unassuming man, he did not claim that he was the sole discoverer. Moreover he did not initially recognize the value of the geological formation—the Golden Mile Dolerite—which has yielded most of Kalgoorlie's gold. Even the popular picture of him as a lonely walker carrying swag and water-bag is romantic: he travelled in company, and with horses. But he deserved his success. He had boldly prospected in new territories for a quarter of a century. Above all, his discovery came in the depth of a national depression: never was a goldfield so timely.

In 1894 Hannan saw the sea for the first time in five years, and then returned to seek new goldfields. Mostly camping on his own, sometimes earning money by prospecting for syndicates, he did not entirely give up the search until his visit to the Bullfinch rush in 1910. By then he was living comfortably on a compassionate allowance of £150 a year from the Western Australian government.

Hannan was short and slight and his face was weather beaten. A photograph in old age shows a bald head, wispy beard, strong nose and sad, searching eyes. He was not gregarious or talkative: loneliness and secrecy were the hallmarks of many fine prospectors. His last years were spent with two female relatives in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick where he died on 4 November 1925. He left an estate valued for probate at £1402. His grave in the Catholic section of the Melbourne general cemetery attracts many pilgrims from the West. His Kalgoorlie statue, complete with water-bag, is one of the nation's most appealing monuments and the town's main street is named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Raeside, Golden Days (Perth, 1929)
  • J. Kirwan, My Life's Adventure (Lond, 1936)
  • M. Uren, Glint of Gold (Melb, 1948)
  • C. Turnbull, Frontier: The Story of Paddy Hannan (Melb, 1949)
  • G. Blainey, ‘Patrick Hannan’, in L. Hunt (ed), Westralian Portraits (Perth, 1979)
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 16 Sept 1893.

Citation details

Geoffrey Blainey, 'Hannan, Patrick (1840–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hannan-patrick-6554/text11265, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 2 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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