Gold at Gympie

Early in 1866, not even a decade after its formation, the State of Queensland was experiencing a recession, exacerbated by a prolonged drought. As the agricultural industry suffered, the Bank of Queensland shut its doors, the government suspended work on major infrastructure and masses of unemployed men protested in the streets of Brisbane.

In desperation, the government offered a £3,000 reward for the discovery of gold. While gold was first discovered near Gympie in 1851 by John Carne Bidwill, the first Land Commissioner of Wide Bay, it was James Nash who would turn it into a significant find.

Portrait of James Nash circa 1890s
James Nash, c.1890s, ITM435752

An impoverished Nash was heading towards Gladstone from Nanango in August 1867 with only his panning dish, pick and dog when he discovered ‘colour’ near the Mary River. In a day and a half of prospecting, he found approximately 33g (an ounce and three pennyweights) and, after replacing his broken pick in Maryborough, he found 2.1kg (75 ounces) in only six days. He sold the gold in Brisbane and returned to the diggings. In October 1867, Nash penned a letter to the Minster for Lands, confirming the extent of the gold in the area, collecting the reward and sparking a gold rush. It transformed the luck of the state, hailing the town as the colony’s saviour.

Miners holding tools in a mine shaft, Gympie, 1897
No. 2 South Great Eastern mine, 1897, The mine operated for around 33 years and produced 10,774 kilograms of gold. It had shafts extending to around 91 metres with crosscut shafts extending to around 290 metres. Peak production was between 1899 and 1906. It was the second of Gympie’s deep mines. ITM1359526 

The alluvial gold deposits were mined within a year, so underground reserves were created to continue mining. Reaching its peak between 1900 and 1910, the success of the gold mines created a permanent township, and many now heritage-listed buildings were constructed during this time. Formerly named Nashville to honour James Nash, the town was later renamed Gympie after the Gubbi Gubbi word ‘gimpi gimpi’ – a stinging tree that grows well in the area.

Miner's right issued by the Treasury Department, 1866
Miner’s right issued by the Treasury Department, 1866, ITM1139519

The discovery of gold helped change the course of history for the state’s economic development and created a town with a gold mine of history, nestled on the banks of the Mary River.

Town poses for a photo in Mary Street, Gympie, 1868
Mary Street, Gympie, 1868, ITM435753

Within weeks of the Gympie Gold Rush of October 1867 many hotels were set up. They opened their doors to thousands of gold miners to socialise, drink and eat.  

The Tattersalls Hotel was one of the first hotel businesses built in 1868, only six months after the town of Gympie – then still known as Nashville – was settled. In those early days, the Tattersalls was a stopover for mail coaches, so that miners would come to collect their mail and have a drink. In 1868 another historic hotel, the Golden Age, first opened its doors. 

The Maryborough ChronicleWide Bay and Burnett Advertiser of 4 April 1868 reports that James Nash met his wife Katherine Murphy at her family’s hotel, the Traveller’s Rest in central Mary Street. Local research suggests that in the 152-year history of Gympie over 170 hotel licences have been granted. The first round of applications were granted in December 1867. 

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