Historical information

This image shows the approach to Beechworth from the south-west via the Newtown Bridge. Numerous early buildings line the road as it bifurcates to become Ford and High Streets on the ridge above Spring Creek, Gorge and Newtown Falls. The sloping, rocky terrain and water course along the gorge show evidence of the intense mining activity that occurred at the site.

The Ovens Gold Rush at Beechworth started when gold was found at Spring Creek in February 1852, prompting an influx of miners from around the world. The population grew to over 20,000 by 1857. While the earliest mining at Beechworth was similar to that in other Victorian goldfields like Ballarat and Bendigo, Beechworth is notable for its use of hydraulic sluicing as a major method of removing wash-dirt.

Hydraulic sluicing employs high pressure jets of water to blast away large areas of earth and wash it down to be run through a sluice box. Gold gets caught in the sluice and the remaining slurry is washed away. This method of mining is extremely effective, but causes significant environmental damage and impacts waterways along with agricultural operations. Large water quantities were required, and the long water races and deep tailraces that were constructed are considered feats of engineering.

The site in the photograph is associated with the Rocky Mountain Mining Company, who constructed an eight hundred meter tunnel under the township between 1876-1880 to reduce water levels at Spring Creek, which had been subject to diversions since the earliest days of alluvial mining. Over four million ounces of gold (115 tones) were found at Beechworth between 1852 and 1868. The wealth from the Gold Rush built Beechworth and the nationally significant buildings that stand today.

Significance

This image shows the early development of the Beechworth township above Spring Creek, where gold was discovered in 1852. Evidence of hydraulic sluicing, a uniquely predominant method at Beechworth, and water-works engineering are present in the landscape. By the 1870s, alluvial gold deposits were depleted and increasingly complex engineering was required so deeper shafts could reach bedrock. This image is significant for understanding changes to the landscape and the evolution of mining methods and engineering practices related to the extensive construction, manipulation and management of water networks. The shift from smaller scale alluvial mining to larger company dominance in the mining industry has implications for understanding wider social, economic, political and industrial changes, both in the region of Beechworth and within the context of the Victorian Gold Rush more broadly.

Physical description

A black and white rectangular reproduction photograph printed on photographic paper.

References