Nuggets are large masses of gold found in soil and stream beds, known broadly as alluvial deposits. While nuggets have been found on many goldfields around the world, those from Victoria were particularly large and abundant. From the time of the first goldrushes in the early 1850s, the discovery of a large nugget generated such excitement that news spread far and wide. Thousands of people from around the world migrated to Victoria, dreaming of making their fortunes on goldfields dripping, so they hoped, with nuggets.
Pride of Australia Nugget. D.25.23Source: Museum Victoria
No one knows how many nuggets were found. During the late 1800s, the Mines Department compiled an official list of discoveries and also made models of some of the large nuggets. By the time the reporting system ceased in about 1910, 1300 nuggets over 20 ounces had been recorded. However, almost certainly many more nuggets were found than were recorded, as many discoverers avoided publicity for fear of being robbed. None of the large nuggets found during the goldrushes survived, as all were quickly melted down. Today, fossickers with metal detectors still find large nuggets – those that the original diggers missed – on the Victorian goldfields.
While there are several theories for the origin of nuggets, the evidence points conclusively to them coming from the gold-bearing quartz reefs. Many big alluvial nuggets contain lumps of quartz, or show imprints of quartz crystals enclosed by the gold as it crystallised in cavities in the reefs. Why large masses should suddenly crystallise is not completely understood. However, it has something to do with conditions in the surrounding rocks changing the solubility of gold in the warm water that had dissolved it in huge amounts and carried it up from deep in the crust.
In some goldmines, large slugs of gold were found where quartz reefs cut particular layers in the surrounding sedimentary strata. These layers became known as ‘indicators’ and were actively sought out by the early miners. Over millions of years of erosion, the landscape was worn down, exposing the quartz reefs and the enclosed gold. Gradually, weathering caused the reefs to disintegrate, freeing the lumps of gold. These moved into the soil, then down slope into the nearest stream.
Victorian nuggets are rich in gold, with most being at least 95% gold, or about 23 carats. The remainder is mostly made up of silver dissolved in the gold. The composition of the nuggets is very similar to the composition of gold found directly in the quartz reefs.
The Welcome Stranger, found near Moliagul in 1869, is the biggest known nugget, containing 2300 ounces of gold.
Welcome Stranger Nugget. D.25.24 Source: Museum Victoria
The Welcome, from Bakery Hill at Ballarat in 1858, contained 2200 ounces. The 1743-ounce Blanche Barkly, found at Kingower in 1857, the 1600-ounce Precious, found near Rheola in 1871, and the 1110-ounce Viscount Canterbury, found in 1871, also at Rheola, were other big finds.
In the 20th century, the largest known nugget found with a metal detector was the Hand of Faith, containing 870 ounces, from Kingower in 1980.
Hand of Faith Nugget. D.25.19 Source: Museum Victoria
The Museum has only one nugget, the 50 ounce Bunyip, ploughed up near Bridgewater in the early 1970s. However, it has the historical collection of gold nugget models made by the Department of Mines, as well as models of recently discovered nuggets.
Terry F. Potter, 1999. The Welcome Stranger.
Hi Bruce. Thanks for your enquiry. We have not been able to find any reference to one of the largest gold nuggets found by tram workmen in Melbourne, Ballarat or Bendigo. It is not mentioned in the list of the biggest nuggets above, nor in this website, which discusses some of the gold finds in Melbourne. You may also be able to contact Ballarat & Bendigo historical societies and museums to see if they know anything about the story.
Hi there! We asked our geology expert, who says that it is a complex question and depends on the State you are in, and the status of the land in question. You can try the Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria as a good starting point for research about the ownership of gold nuggets.
Hi Omega. It might be possible for one of our mineralogists to look at an image of the gold pieces and advise on whether they are real. If they can't tell from a photo, they can suggest some other avenues for you to try. Forward your images and request from our identifications page and we'll get back to you.
Katie, we don't have a photo of the Welcome Nugget on our website but you can see it the Powerhouse Museum's here
Monica, the Museum does not offer valuations, and the Hand of Faith is not an item in our collection. You could contact a professional gold valuer for further advice.
Hi Naomi. The Precious Nugget was valued at about 6868 sterling pounds. A model of the nugget and further information can be found at the Powerhouse Museum. Unfortunately we couldn't find the value of the Viscount Canterbury Nugget when it was discovered in 1870 but it weighed 1114 oz and you be able to find out the gold prices of that period in the newspapers of the day. Try searching them on Australia Trove on the National Library of Australia website. Gold prices vary daily, so to work out what they are worth today you could calculate it by looking at the gold prices in the daily paper, on the internet or on the nightly news.
Hi, the Museum does not offer valuations, and the Hand of Faith is not an item in our collection. You could contact a professional gold valuer for further advice.
Hi Haley, Bailey & Rochelle. We don't have the biggest nuggest in Australia but we do have a list of those in Victoria. 1. The Welcome Stranger, 2284oz, finder: John Deason & Richard Oates, 1859, Moliagul; 2. The Welcome, 2217oz, Red Hill Mining Co, 1858, Bakery Hill Ballarat; 3. The Blanche Barkly, 1743oz, unknown, 1857, Kingower; 4. The Precious, 1717oz, Ah Chang & party, 1871, Catto's Paddock, Berlin; 5. The Canadian, 1619oz, unknown, 1853, Canadian Gully Ballarat; 6. The Lady Hotham, 1177oz, unknown, 1854, Dalton's Flat Ballarat; 7. The Sarah Sands, 1177oz, unknown, 1853, Canadian Gully Ballarat; 8. Viscount Canterbury, 1114oz, Schlossman & Davis, 1870, John's Paddock Kangederaar; 9. Unnamed nugget, 1034oz, unknown, 1855, Blackman's Lead Maryborough; 10. Unnamed nugget, 1011oz, unknown, 1853, Canadian Gully Ballarat.
Hi Haley and Bailey, we have found a reference in the Mineralogical record that suggests Australia's biggest 10 nuggets by net weight are 1. Welcome Stranger, Victoria, 2,520 ounces, 2. Welcome, Vic, 2,217. 3. Blanche Barkly, Vic, 1,743. 4. Precious, Vic, 1,717. 5. Canadian, Vic, 1,319. 6. Burrandong, NSW, 1,286. 7. Lady Hotham, Vic, 1,177. 8. The Golden Eagle, WA, 1,135. 9. Sarah Sands, Vic, 1,117. 10. Viscount Canterbury, Vic, 1,114.
Hi Olivia, the Berlin goldfield is now known as Rheola, and is in the Greater Bendigo Region of Victoria.
Thanks for your question Misael. The largest gold nugget on display is the Hand of Faith, found at Kingower in Victoria, in 1980. It was purchased privately by the Golden nugget Casino in Las Vegas, and is on display there.Melbourne Museum also has life-sized replicas of nuggets on display, and a genuine nugget, the Bunyip Nugget, in its collection.
Hi Amy, the Welcome Stranger no longer exists. It was sold after it was found and melted down. A replica is housed in the Old Treasury Building in Melbourne.
Olivia, we do not have an image of the Blanche Barkly nugget in our own collection. Nor do we have a replica of the nugget. There may have been an image of this nugget in London newspapers when it was returned to the UK. You may also wish to search for image of the nugget using the Picture Australia website.
Hi Lisa, perhaps contact the South Australian Museum, they may offer an identification service, or be able to suggest somewhere closer to home for you to take your specimens.
The best source for this kind of information would be the Department of Primary Industries.
Best of luck!
We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.
Hi Kylie, gold was formed millions of years ago and as a molten metal was forced into seams in various rock formations. As those millions of years passed, the action of water and temperature changes destroyed the rocks and the gold was washed out into rivers and creeks. Why is gold found on the bottom of rivers? Gold is a very heavy metal - it is nearly twice as dense as lead - so it quickly falls to the bottom of the stream. Hope this helps.
Hi Kylie, it appears that gold is usually found in quartz rocks. Due to erosion, the rocks are broken down and the gold particles are then released into the environment and run-off carries these particles to rivers. Because gold is a heavy metal, it sinks to the bottom of the river bed, see here.
Some nuggets have been found in some rivers and creeks in PNG, but obviously these aren't very common because gold itself is quite rare. Significant finds have been made near Mt Kare in PNG, for example.
Hi! Thanks for the question, without an image an accurate identification is impossible, the object sounds like a nugget of pure 'blue'!
Good question, Bro - we've done some research on this and we think a useful educational site with links to other sources is: http://www.enotes.com/topics/gold-rush . An interesting first-hand account of a gold-seekerfrom the California Gold Rush , with information about the discovery, can be read at: http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/californiagoldrush.htm. Many of the diggers came to Victoria in 1851 when gold was discovered here, and made a contribution to Victoria’s history.
Hope this information is of interest
You can find lots more information on gold by visiting Dynamic Earth, a stunning exhibition at Melbourne Museum that uses cutting-edge technology and thousands of minerals to tell the story of our ever-changing planet.
Whilst visiting the Museum stop in at the Discovery Centre and have a look at some of fantastic books on gold and mineralogy.
Hi Maddi, Gold was first discovered near Bathurst, NSW in 1823 by O'Brien, the NSW Government surveyor. The first gold nugget (16 ounces) appears to have been found in January 1849 by Thomas Chapman at Daisy Hill, near Maryborough, Victoria. But, in June 1851, James Esmond was the first to claim a registered finding of a 51 ounce nugget in Clunes, Victoria.
Hi Kim,The largest nuggets found are listed in the article above, under the 'Which are the biggest nuggets?' heading. The largest nugget in Moliagul was found at Black Lead, at a depth of 1 inch.
Hello Eden - we checked with our Geology Department on this, and they've provided the following info:
The Precious is 40.5 x 29 x 11.5 cm
Hope this helps!
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