What is it about gold that has fascinated man throughout time?
Mark Twain once said, “Genius, like gold and precious stones, is chiefly prized because of its rarity.” He might well have been right.
But the lure of gold is as contagious as any other fever, even though only a few have ever struck it rich. Most have only experienced hardship and heartbreak.
Around the world, the largest gold strikes have been in Australia, Canada, China, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, Russia, and the United States. The one in Australia in New South Wales began in 1851 and continued for the next 50 years.
Hard to believe but gold rushes were happening as far back as the days of the Roman Empire and Ancient Egypt. By the 18th and 19th century, they helped spur immigration, leading to permanent settlement of new regions.
On the North American continent, gold fever ran rampant after James W. Marshall, a carpenter and sawmill operator, found gold on Sutter’s Creek on January 24, 1848. This discovery set off the California Gold Rush. But invariably any gold rush has a relatively short life span, and when it begins to draw to a close, prospectors seek more adventure and gold prospects elsewhere.
Once the California Gold Rush petered out and an economic depression set in, many people began to head north, having heard of gold strikes in what was then New Caledonia (now British Canada) in Canada. In 1858, steamers full of miners eager to “strike it rich” headed north to Victoria, a small English village of less than 500 people. Overnight, the “village” transformed into a tent city of over 30,000 people, among them 4,000 Chinese.
The miners headed to the Fraser River where the first major gold find was at Hill’s Bar, south of Fort Yale. Some made small fortunes while others merely suffered from mosquito bites! The Fraser Valley was notorious for them.
The next major gold rush in British Columbia was in the Cariboo in 1861, which lasted until 1867. Between 1859 and 1869 there were also many minor gold rushes in places such as Similkameen, Peace River, Shuswap and Omineca, but the next major gold rush happened between 1896 and 1899 in the Klondike, labelled one of the last “great gold rushes” in Canada.
Here are some fun facts about gold mining and the eternal lure of the yellow metal:
Perhaps Mark Twain was right when he also said, “If everyone else is looking for gold, it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.”
The hero in my forthcoming historical saga Providence soon finds this to be true. The ones who made a fortune in gold rushes were usually the ones, like him, who let others chase the golden rainbow while they were simply content to sell them the tools, supplies and transport to get to the goldfields!
If you had lived in those times, would you have ventured to the goldfields? Were those who did incredibly brave or incredibly foolish?
Let me know what you think in a comment below.