Thursday, May 1, 2014

Gold, gold, gold! Fossicking at Lefroy

Lefroy: The six pub town

I have always found it rather interesting that the population and wealth of Australian historic mining areas seem to be always measured by the number of pubs (hotels) it had.

Lefroy sits around 15 km south-east of the cottage and 58 km north-east of Launceston. Originally known as Nine Mile Springs it was changed to Lefroy in 1881 after the visit by the Acting Governor, Sir Henry Lefroy.

It was a bustling town, which is said to have contained 5,000 people in its peak boom period of 1890-95. It was the fourth largest town in Tasmania,.

Gold was known to exist in the hills around Lefroy in the 1840s, but exploration was discouraged because of a fear that the convicts would find out and rebel.

Though now only a sleepy rural town with no retail activity at all, Lefroy had a race track, rifle club, cricket club and brass band. There were six hotels, three churches, a state and private grammar school, a masonic lodge and mechanics institute. The town had several shops, two butchers and a cordial factory. In 1907 the headquarters of the George Town Municipality was located there, remaining there until the 1930s.

Gold Mining At Lefroy

Mining endeavours at Lefroy were a series of booms and busts. The alluvial gold lay in the creek gullies and under the basalt rock on the eastern side of the field. But most of the gold lay in scattered reefs in the quartz rock which formed the base of the area.

 In the upper levels the gold was quite rich, but it was quickly exhausted and as shafts were dug deeper, the amount of gold diminished. Extraction was expensive because of water seepage, which required pumps, and the quartz rock had to be crushed in batteries of stamping machines, and then washed in sluices to extract the gold from the crushed rock.

In all, the Lefroy mines yielded £750,000 in gold, making the gold field the second richest in Tasmania, after Beaconsfield.

 Gold Fossicking at Lefroy

A tailings dump we have been picking through
Once commercial mining ceased, Lefroy slowly declined, its school and last church closing in 1954. Many of the houses were removed to George Town and Beaconsfield. Even so, prospectors continue to mine and fossick for gold in and around the old mine shafts, often finding enough to make it a profitable hobby.

My sons grew up in the Lefroy area and spent many hours picking through the tailings dumps and mine sites with limited, though exciting results including a number of smallish nuggets.

So What Did We Find?

With many hectares of scrub surrounding the mine and tens of thousands of tonnes of well worked tailings, finding gold is about as easy as striking a lottery win - a few small payouts but an extremely elusive jackpot.

From a material point of view, the total find during our four hour search consisted of an extremely small sliver of gold in a fissure in a chunk of bassalt. Cash value - zero.

The real payout, however, comes with the health giving beauty of the silent embrace of the surrounding forest. Real Value -  priceless.

Be assured that the gold is there and taking the time to have a look is well worth many hours of your time.

 The Rehabilitation of Abandoned Mining Lands
The capping on one of over fifty shafts in the region
The Rehabilitation of Abandoned Mining Lands Trust Fund commenced a
remediation program in the 2005/2006 budget period to address public safety risks posed by abandoned mine workings on Crown Land at Lefroy, northeast Tasmania.

Over fifty open shafts and two adits were either capped or fenced during
this time for an approximate cost of $140,000.

 The Chinese In Lefroy

Chinese miners first arrived at Lefroy in 1870, originally brought in to work the mines at Back Creek. 

At Lefroy they panned for alluvial gold, and later picked over the tailings from the crushing batteries. They also made money from the other diggers through their market gardens and gambling dens, where fan tan was the main game. 

They were slower but steadier workers and were tolerated by the other diggers. In 1877 they opened a Joss House in Little China Town, which was in Powell Street. It remained there until 1904, when it was dismantled and removed to an unknown location.

You may also be interested in two items I have published in my site, Dear Grandpa Pencil, including:

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