Historical information

This photograph was taken in approximately 1870 and depicts four male miners standing in mining sluice at the Three Mile Goldfields. These men are wearing typical attire for 1870s gold miners. They wear white shirts, tan coloured pants with water proof shoes and most of the men are wearing an apron to prevent their clothing from becoming too dirty from the mud. Each man is wearing a wide brim hat and hold large wooden tools used for sorting through the sluice. Three of the four men have full beards.

The photograph was donated to the Burke Museum by R. Ziegenbein before 2001 but the photographer and the individuals captured in the photo are unknown. The image depicts the landscape of the Three Mile Goldfields during a period when open cut sluicing was undertaken to reach gold. Open cut sluicing is a method used to extract gold and other precious metals from beneath the surface of the earth. This technique involved the use of high-powered hoses which broke down the soil enabling miners to come along and search this soil for gold. After the gold rush of the early 1850s, diggers had to enlist the assistance of heavy machinery and techniques like hydraulic sluicing in order to reach gold because the surface alluvial gold had already been discovered and removed. This heavy machinery was not used until after 1853.

The Three Mile Goldfields was a site of rich alluvial gold deposits located about 5 km south of Beechworth in Victoria. Today, the location of this gold deposit is called Baarmutha. It was a popular area for gold mining in the 1850s but became largely abandoned by the following decade. In 1865, a man named John Pund recognized that the area could be potentially rich if a better water supply could be obtained. He secured a 15 year license with three other miners. Within the next five years, these men had constructed 19 km of water race going from Upper Nine Mile Creek to Three Mile Creek. By 1881, these four men had delivered 950,000 gallons to the Three Mile Sluicing area which is depicted in this photograph. Pund was later go into partnership with John Alston Wallace who would become owner of the Star Hotel in Beechworth. The Three Mile sluicing location continued to be operational until 1950.

Sluice box workers were a vital part of gold mining regardless of how inefficient they were in the recovery of gold. After using hydraulic sluicing to cut away the earth, miners would use the big wooden boxes depicted in the image to catch the earth which would then be sifted for gold. However, accidents would occur often which would result in the gold washing away and unable to be recovered. It was not a very efficient system because the gold, which was alluvial and thus very fine, would often pass through the sluice box undetected.


The search for gold is ingrained into the history of Victoria and therefore, images like this one which portray an open cut sluicing site can reveal important information for society and technology for the date when the photograph was taken. This image is of important historical significance for its ability to convey information about sluicing and the methods used to find gold in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It also shows a location where sluicing was undertook which provides insight into the impact of sluicing on the environment at a time when it was done.

Images, like this one, of Australian gold rush history can reveal important information about the social and environmental impact of this period. This image depicts diggers standing in a mining location and therefore, this image has the capacity to reveal or support significant information for researchers studying the fashion and social status of diggers in Australia in approximately 1870. It can also provide information on the landscape of Australia in this period and the impact of mining for gold on both society and the Australian landscape.

The Burke Museum is home to a substantial collection of Australian mining photographs which can be used to gain a deeper understanding into life on the gold fields, technology used in mining, the miners themselves and the impact of the gold digging on the environment.

Physical description

Sepia toned rectangular photograph printed on matte photographic paper and mounted on board.

Inscriptions & markings


about 1870 /

97 2514.1 /