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Edward Hammond Hargraves (1816–1891)

by Bruce Mitchell

This article was published:

Edward Hammond Hargraves (1816-1891), by T. T. Balcombe

Edward Hammond Hargraves (1816-1891), by T. T. Balcombe

State Library of New South Wales, Original : ML 532

Edward Hammond Hargraves (1816-1891), gold rush publicist, was born on 7 October 1816 at Gosport, Hampshire, England, son of Lieutenant John Edward Hargraves and his wife Elizabeth, née Whitcombe. Educated at Brighton Grammar School and Lewes, he went to sea at 14 and arrived at Sydney in 1832. He worked on a property at Bathurst, gathered bêche-de-mer and tortoise shell in Torres Strait and in 1834 took up 100 acres (40 ha) near Wollongong. In 1836 at Sydney he married Elizabeth, née Mackay. In 1839 they moved to East Gosford where he became an agent for the General Steam Navigation Co. and with her dowry bought land and built the Fox under the Hill Hotel. In 1843 he forfeited his property, left his wife to look after a store and took up land on the Manning River.

Hargraves sold out and sailed for California on 17 July 1849. He returned to Sydney in January 1851, planning to win a fortune not so much by finding gold but by claiming the government reward for discovery of a payable goldfield. On his way to the Wellington district he saw promising specimens at Guyong and on 12 February, with John Lister, found five specks of gold in Lewis Ponds Creek. In the next weeks he traversed much of the area with slight success, but his campaign depended on finding rich deposits so he enlisted Lister and William, James and Henry, sons of William Tom, to continue the search. Hargraves had taught them Californian panning techniques and how to make and use a wooden cradle.

Hargraves returned to Sydney in March and interviewed the colonial secretary (Sir) Edward Deas Thomson. Encouraged by news from the Tom brothers, Hargraves wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald describing in general terms the rich fields. When sure of the government reward some weeks later he announced in the press the specific areas where gold existed and left for Bathurst early in May. He ignored pleas by the Toms and Lister for secrecy, named the area Ophir and whipped up enthusiasm in the Bathurst district. By 15 May over 300 diggers were at Ophir and the first gold rush had begun.

Although Hargraves exaggerated and falsified his finds he never denied his main purpose. The government gave him £10,000 and from 1877 an annual pension of £250. He was also showered with testimonials, valuable cups and other trophies. In 1851 be became a commissioner of crown lands for the gold districts and a justice of the peace. In 1853-54 Hargraves visited England, lived in style, met the Queen and in 1855 published Australia and its Gold Fields, which was probably ghosted. Some £3000 poorer he returned with a builder to erect, entirely of cedar, a fine house at Norah Head. He entertained lavishly and by the early 1860s was virtually penniless. Invited by governments he prospected in Western Australia in 1862 and South Australia in 1863. In 1861 he had begun to appeal to the Victorian government for the balance of its £5000 reward, of which he had received only £2381 6s. 1d. in 1854. When petitions failed, he sought help in 1867 from James Butters who persuaded a member of the Legislative Assembly to move for payment. The motion was lost and Hargraves went to Melbourne and in the Age charged politicians with corruption. Inquiry by a select committee found none of his charges proven. Deserted by the manipulators he had tried to use, he claimed to be specially shocked by Butters who had paid his hotel bills as a fellow Freemason but cast doubts on his honesty.

In New South Wales Lister and the Tom brothers realized too late that they too had been used by Hargraves. In 1853 a Legislative Council select committee heard long arguments about the 1851 events and, while upholding Hargraves's key role, recommended that £1000 be granted to the men taught by Hargraves and a similar amount to Rev. William Branwhite Clarke. Hargraves's polemical account of the matter in his book did not silence the increasingly bitter Toms and Lister. From 1870 they bombarded parliament with petitions and campaigned in pamphlets and press. Their persistence was rewarded in 1890 when a Legislative Assembly select committee found that although Hargraves had taught the others how to use the dish and cradle, 'Messrs Tom and Lister were undoubtedly the first discoverers of gold obtained in Australia in payable quantity', but the legend of Hargraves, 'the discoverer of gold' persists. He died in Sydney on 29 October 1891 and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by two sons and three daughters and left an estate worth less than £375.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Swancott, The Brisbane Water Story, vol 4 (Woy Woy, 1955)
  • G. Blainey, The Rush that Never Ended (Melb, 1969)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1853, 2, 747
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1864-65, 2 (E6), 1867, 2 (D23)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1890, 4, 1053, 1087
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria) 1867
  • G. Blainey, ‘The Gold Rushes: The Year of Decision’, Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, vol 10, no 38, May 1962, pp 129-40
  • Town and Country Journal, 12 Feb 1876
  • J. Clifford, Edward Hammond Hargraves, the Gold Discovery and Crisis of 1851 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of New England, 1963).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'Hargraves, Edward Hammond (1816–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Edward Hammond Hargraves (1816-1891), by T. T. Balcombe

Edward Hammond Hargraves (1816-1891), by T. T. Balcombe

State Library of New South Wales, Original : ML 532

Life Summary [details]


7 October, 1816
Gosport, Hampshire, England


29 October, 1891 (aged 75)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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