Bugger, now I’ve broken the bloody pick!

Most Australians have heard of the Welcome Stranger nugget but unless you’ve visited the site you may not know the humorous and typically Australian back story.

The Welcome Stranger the largest nugget of gold ever found was unearthed at Moliagul in the goldfields of Central Victoria. There have been some large nuggets found in this area and the ancestors of friends of ours found a 70oz nugget that financed the purchase of their land and the building of the farmhouse that is still in use by the family today. But the Welcome Stranger was and still is the absolute Daddy of them all. And here I must quote directly from the storyboard near the site of the discovery as this story could not be summarised nor described better. Note there are quite a few discrepancies as to the actual weight of the nugget and one must remember that a few ounces here or there are nothing compared to the nugget’s overall size.

The Monument at Moliagul reads:

“On this spot the largest

Nugget of gold found in

The world was discovered

On the 5th Feb 1869

By John Deacon and

Richard Oates”

The storyboard reads:

“Gross Weight 2520 (troy) ozs (approx. 72kg)

Value (1869) £9534

At today’s Gold Value (2013) $3 – 4 milllion

…Both Deason and Oates were born on the island of Tresco – 50kms south west of Lands End, England. The two grew up together and after learning of the discovery of gold in Australia, arrived in Bendigo in February 1854. They spent eight years there with only moderate success, and then moved to Moliagul.

Deason and Oates pegged a puddling claim on the side of this hill; they were aware of large nuggets having been found in the gully below (known as Black Gully).

They also selected farming land near this site which they continued to farm while stripping the surface layer of the puddling claim and washing it in a puddling machine.

In 1866 the pair found a 1.1kg (36oz) nugget, which encouraged them to continue their efforts.

As history shows their persistence paid off with the discovery of the “Welcome Stranger”, still the largest nugget ever found in the world.

On the morning of Friday 5th February 1869, Deason was breaking up soil on the claim when he hit what seemed to be stone. After hitting it a second and third time and clearing away the soil with a pick, he saw gold. The nugget was only 2.5cm (1 inch) below the surface, after clearing away more dirt Deason broke his pick handle in an attempt to lever it from the ground. He finally resorted to a crowbar.

Oates busy ploughing in his nearby paddock was called up by Deason’s son. Not wanting to create suspicion among people living and working nearby, the two miners covered the nugget again and continued as if nothing had happened.

Later that afternoon the nugget was placed in a dray and taken down the hill to the Deason house. The gold was stained black by ironstone deposits and was mixed with a large quantity of quartz. After placing the nugget in the fire, the gold expanded and the quartz became brittle and loose. When the nugget cooled 26kg of quartz was prised off and later crushed in a local battery, belonging to a Mr. Edward Endey.

After keeping the discovery to themselves all weekend, Deason and Oates decided to hold a party for their friends on the following Monday. They hid the nugget under a cloth at the end of the table, and at an appropriate moment during the evening revealed their magnificent prize. “Don’t go home boys” said Deason “that’s solid gold and I want you to stay the night and escort it to the bank at Dunolly tomorrow.”

Next morning the nugget was loaded onto Edward Endey’s spring cart and the convoy left for Dunolly. Walter Brown a neighbour, was selected to go into the London Chartered Bank and ask the teller “What are you paying for gold by the hundredweight?”, after which the nugget was brought in and presented to the manager.

Soon after the find, Richard Oates returned to Cornwall, where he married Jane Penrose. He wasted little time in bringing her back to Moliagul and continued working the claim with Deason. By 1875 it had been worked out and Oates moved with his family to Dunolly. He continued farming, shifting a second time to land in Bealiba then later to Woodstock near Bendigo. Richard Oates died in 1906

Aged 79, and is buried in the Marong Cemetery.

John Deason continued mining, having various puddling machines and later a quartz crushing battery. During the depression of the 1890’s part of his livelihood came from operating the battery in Moliagul, thus providing great stimulus and encouragement for other miners to sample reefs in the area instead of merely seeking alluvial gold. He invested money in further property, known as The Springs at Moliagul, and he and his family moved there. His descendants still farm land in Moliagul today. John Deason died in 1915 aged 85.”

Source: Compiled by the Goldfields Historical & Arts Society (Dunolly Museum) in co-operation with the Shire of Bet Bet, Victorian Tourist Commission and Dept. Conservation, Forests & Land.

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Welcome Stranger Monument, Moliagul

And at nearby Dunolly – The Welcome Stranger Nugget Anvil

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“The world’s largest

Nugget  (2332 ozs)

“The Welcome Stranger”

Was cut up on this anvil

On the 9th Febr 1869

Erected by John A Flett

(Curator)

January 1968

Footnote: The Welcome Stranger was never photographed, so called pictures that exist are of replicas. Our friends however have on their living room wall, what is to them, a priceless black and white photo of their ancestors proudly displaying their 70oz find.

Moliagul Map
Moliagul area map (Google Maps)
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23 thoughts on “Bugger, now I’ve broken the bloody pick!

  1. It’s a great story. I’m not sure I’d keep digging if I had a strike like they did. Guess they wanted to keep themselves busy and maybe wanted to feel the adrenaline rush of another find..

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      1. I’ve been reading “The Australians” series which, although they’re novels, are based on fact and give a real insight into daily life during the gold rush etc. As a woman, I’m very glad that wasn’t my time of life.

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  2. What a great story! My ancestor went to NZ in 1860 aged 20, he didn’t have quite the same success but did well for himself and became a pillar of local government. I love hearing these adventures.

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      1. He could, but his wife and daughters are the more interesting ones! I have lots of research on them. One of them was a scientist explorer and a founder of the Southland Museum in Invercargill. There are photos of him and his wife in there.

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      2. I’m up to my ears at present in researching that very thing. I’ve got to the stage of keeping a spreadsheet of all the relatives and the ships that they were on. I stumbled upon a Govt. report of 1855 on the deaths aboard ships into Melbourne that year and they were surprisingly low. But of course that’s the ships that made it here safely.

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      3. One of my ancestor’s sons is buried in Boroondara Kew Cemetery, Melbourne and his nephew in Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery, Melbourne. It’s amazing how much information is available from so long ago. Good luck with your research 😊

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