The Golden Years
After the discovery of gold in Victoria, many South Australians left the colony in search of the elusive “lucky strike”. In an effort to stem this mass exodus, the South Australian Government offered a £1,000 reward for the discovery of a payable goldfield. The first claim for this reward was made by Messrs. Chapman, Hampton and Hardimann in August 1852, three months after William Chapman had discovered gold at Echunga.
By the turn of the century, with an area extending from Chapman’s Gully to Jupiter Creek, the Echunga Goldfields had become South Australia’s most productive though few made a fortune.
Chapel Hill (Old Echunga Diggings)
perpetuates the existence of a Wesleyan Chapel in the area
At the Old Diggings early 1930s
Chapman’s Gully was the first area to be worked at the Old Echunga Diggings and proved to be the richest. Within 6 months 684 licences had been issued and the “gold rush” which ensued was at its peak for nine months. Around 156kg of gold was extracted during this period.
Despite this, this goldfield could not compete with the richer fields in Victoria and by 1853 the goldfields were described as being ‘pretty deserted’. However, further discoveries of gold were made west of Chapman’s Gully – at Bells Hill Rush in 1853 and Christmas Rush in 1854.
A township sprang up in the area and, as the population grew, drunkenness became a problem resulting in several requests for a police constable being made. Echunga’s first Police Constable was appointed that year.
Further discoveries were made at Poor Man’s Rush in1855 and at New Rush in 1858. During the 1860s three water treatment dams were built – the National, the Price Alfred and the German. Hydraulic sluicing began in 1909.
Small amounts of gold continued to be found over the years and there was a renewed interest in the old diggings when there was a change in the gold standard and prices rose during the depression years of the 1930s.
The total production of the Old Echunga Diggings is estimated to have been around 3,100kg.
The second major diggings in the Echunga area opened up after payable alluvial gold was discovered at Jupiter Creek by Henry Sanders and Thomas Plane in 1868. By September 1868 there were about 1,200 people living at the new diggings and tents and huts were scattered throughout the scrub. A township was established with general stores, butchers and refreshment booths.
By the end of 1868 though, the alluvial deposits were almost exhausted and the population dwindled to several hundred. During 1869 reef mining was introduced and some small mining companies were established but all had gone into liquidation by 1871.
As with the Old Diggings, small amounts of gold continued to be found over the years with three distinct periods – from 1884-1890s, 1904-107 and during the 1930s.
A school was opened in February 1915 but was twice destroyed by fire – the latter being the 1939 bushfire. It was rebuilt but closed in 1943.
The Diggings Today
Since being ravaged by bushfires, the diggings are gradually being reclaimed by natural bush and these once bustling areas are now deeply silent. Nevertheless some relics of the “Golden Years” still exist. Visit the old diggings at Chapel Hill and follow the sign-posted path to find some of these relics then on to Jupiter Creek to follow the Heritage Trail which interprets successive phases of mining at that site. It includes the 1869 chimney associated with the Beatrice Gold Mining Company, sluicing dam (1906) and the New Phoenix Tunnel (1930).
Fossicking is permitted at both sites but mechanical implements are not allowed and holes must be backfilled. For further information contact Primary Industry and Resources SA (PIRSA).
Both sites are registered as State Heritage Items.
Click on a listing name to view further information.