Latest From The Snowy River Gold-Fields
18 February 1860
Latest from the Snowy River Gold-Fields.
The following, bas been extracted from the letter of a practical miner, a member of the Local Court of Adelong, who had just returned from the new diggings at the Snowy River:-
Adelong, 9th February, 1860.
Nothing will prevent the Snowy River diggings being a very prosperous place, in my opinion, excepting the snow, which is said to accumulate to an immense depth - to 20, or as some say, 100 feet.
It is quite true that the skeletons of two oxen have been discovered 16 or 20 feet from the ground, lodged in trees, on the wooded hills.
They could not have got there by any other means than by walking on the snow - after it had become hardened, and must have been trying to feed on the gum leaves, starved to death, and then the snow melted and left the carcasses where the skeleton is now soon.
Water could not have carried them there- as at Gundagai at the time of the great flood - because of the great elevation of the ground where they are found.
I very much fear that many persons out of the thousands that, are there collected, will stop there too long trying to brave the storms and will get caught in the snow; which, if they do, many will inevitably perish.
If I knew the Commissioner, I would advise him to grant persons, who were desirous of doing so, business licenses all along the road from Tumut river to the diggings, a distance of 40 miles, which would be of great assistance in saving life in the event of such a sad catastrophe occurring - as is quite naturally anticipated.
There are about 2000 persons on these diggings at this time, and the number is still increasing. Gentlemen who have been in this part of the country for years, say, that those who attempt to stop there later than six weeks from this, will act unwisely- but I think they may remain there with safety until the middle of March or first May.
It may be interesting to you to know that a quartz reef has been found out at the new diggings, which is said to be rich and promising.
Quartz mining could be carried on there when alluvial could not.
There is a cattle station within 10 miles of the diggings, but they are troubled, very much with snow - notwithstanding the difference in the elevation of the two places. The diggings are 60 miles from Cooma, and 70 from Tumut, or 80 from this- by the tract I went and came.
No dray road had been opened up to the 3rd instant, but many enterprising merchants were trying to get there with drays. Meat was plentiful and other provisions were scarce, or not to be had.
(From the Goulburn Chronicle, February 14.)
We have much pleasure in laying before our readers the following letter, from a valued correspondent,who has just made a visit to Gibson's Plains. It will, we have no doubt, be read with great interest, and its truth may be implicitly relied on:-
Starting from Gundagai, it is 20 miles to Tumut, over a road too well known to require any description; from Tumut to Blowering- the station of E. Brown, Esq.- is also a good well beaten road, in which one has to cross the Tumut River, now about up to a horse's knees, and from which crossing-place the traveller has nothing to do but keep on the road that runs along the river for 18 or 20 miles.
There is nothing much finer in river scenery in the colonies than this ride along the Tumut; it is a series of pictures, waiting only for the hand of the artist, or the pen of the tourist, to be made famous.
For the whole twenty miles, and I can't say how much farther, the river is a tumbling, sparkling stream of' watery life, as different a thing as possible from the heavy, mud-coloured, sluggish waters of the Murray or Murrumbidgee. Looking at the dark and evil-looking stream of the latter river, you are not at all surprised to hear that it rose one night and bore away upon its bosom seventy or eighty struggling victims; but the Tumut looks, like, nothing of the sort: whether foaming and flashing down a ledge of rock, murmuring over sparkling pebbles, resting in clear, crystalline pools, in which are reflected the thickly-wooded mountain slopes, or blithely coursing round a river flat, on which the cattle stand knee-deep in soft green grass, it is the same merry-looking wanderer from the mountains, rushing unconsciously to its grave in the Murrumbidgee.
About twenty miles from the crossing place a creek crosses the road on its way to the main river, and about a quarter of a mile from the stream the ascent of the mountain commences.
I heard there was an ascent of at least four miles, but on reaching the terrible Talbingo, I found, the actual pinch to be only about three quarters of a mile, and at that I think it overestimated: but what there is of it is sharp - there's no denying that, and unless the lungs of the traveller are in first-rate working order, I would hardly advise his going into such a piece of climbing business.
With some panting and perspiring, and I must admit an occasional execration, it was got over, and about four miles more of up hill and down hill, brought us to a well-grassed and watered nook in the mountains, where we made our first camp.
About eight miles from the top of the mountain, on an open plain, well grassed, and through which is running the most crystalline of creeks, well walled in with high granite rocks, are the remains of some paddock fencing, indicating the sites of the old station of Yarrangobilly.
Being with a friend somewhat a-head of our party, we forded the crook to examine a bit of granite wall that rises perpendicularly from the stream.
A small arch just above the water level is the entrance to a cave, but a large pool of unknown depth, a few yards from the entrance, stops further exploring; a shaft running up from it, however, indicates another chamber, which we reach from the outside, after much scratching and scrambling.
Here there is a gallery six or seven foot high, and running for about thirty yards parallel with the face of the rock: one or two passages, branch off from this, but appear to run in no great depth.
It is evidently a bit of coast line, set up by one of nature's miracles among the mountains of a continent; the marks of marine insects are fresh on roof and wall; for countless years the wave has been busy with pillar and cornice, and but for the grass waving in the crevices of the rock, and the bramble blustering round the cavern doors, you might imagine, the ocean wave had but lately ebbed, away.
A little farther on are some very Stonehenge-like masses of granite, one of which is a perfect arch, high enough to ride through, but not being in our line of march, have no right to a place here.
Leaving the flat are two roads : the one branching to the left is the best road, but six or seven miles further round; parties taking this, road must be careful on reaching the long plain to keep well round to the right, keeping well under the timber, and leaving the open plain on the left hand; the best plan, however, is to take the right hand tract from the old station (by which route it is only eighteen miles from the station to the diggings); the road is well worn after once getting on it, and it brings one out nearly at the end of the long plain. Care must be
taken here to keep well round to the right, cases having occurred of parties wandering out into the open plain, and being lost for days; that they ever found themselves at all is a marvel; I would almost as soon be adrift on the wide Atlantic as astray on that interminable, treeless wilderness.
A peculiar feature of our road on the plain is a bog at every twenty or thirty yards; green moss-covered patches on the hill sides, from which issue trickling cool little streamlets, they look like sores that have broken out upon the face of nature; if you would know how far they have eaten into natures system, it is only necessary to attempt crossing them. When a horse has suddenly, sunk in up to his shoulders he hasn't quite explored their depths.
My horse on one or two occasions suddenly objecting to turn explorer, I very nearly had to do the business head first, after which I tried the crown of the ridge, and found, as my successors on that track will find, that the worst, of these bogs may- if not got over - be got round.
At the end of the plain there are a few miles of scrub, and then emerging on the open plain again, you can see upon a distant hill side a few white calico patches, by which repose the pilgrims who have reached the shrine.
The plain we have just left is the watershed of the Murrumbidgee and Tumut rivers; upon this last and smaller plain I observe the creeks are tending in an opposite direction, indicating that we are now on the fall of the coast.
The cold of which so much has been said had been gradually making itself felt along the open ground, but on getting well on the last plain it commenced pinching us in earnest, bringing the nose up to the true cherry colour, and blueing the finger tips.
The men we met on their way to Tumut for "tucker" were wrapped up in monkey jackets and comforters, and had very much the appearance of Arctic travellers.
Sixty miles behind us were parched plains, and shriveled herbage browning under a summer sun; here was the mist curling about the hill tops, and scudding along the plain; the few scattered trees were rustling in a bleak wintry wind, and the sparkling streams that crossed our path at intervals, told us that we were in another and a juicier land.
We were in cloudland at last- not in the rainbow-tinted cloudland of our youth- but the hard, cold reality of the Showy River.
It was pleasant to unsaddle at the journey's end, but by no means comfortable to rest ourselves on damp grass, with a bitter wind biting one side, while a large fire scorched the other.
Wandering along the creek I found, as I had expected to find, the rumour had been somewhat in excess of reality.
Every man we met upon the road had his tale of wonder; ten pounds weight of gold was an ordinary day's find; nuggets were strewn about the soil like potatoes in a field: the Commissioner, who preceded us by two or three days, was reported to have cut the service, and taken to ground sluicing; and though it seemed somewhat irreverent to imagine officialism divested of its lace and spangles, how could we wonder at those gorgeous trappings being exchanged for pegged boots and striped, guernseys, when fifteen pounds weight of solid gold was the daily reward such self-denial.
As the clouds cleared off the next morning, I found the actual diggings to have: contracted, to some two miles of the creek, certainly not more; and the three or four thousand diggers, to have dwindled down to some fifteen hundred; of these, a great number were new arrivals, and had evidently not made up their minds exactly where to go, or what to go at; those who were working in the bed of the creek, were, without exception, doing well: numbers were busily prospecting the bank with what success I could not hear.
I saw several parties prospecting in different gullies, and saw them in every place getting the "colour," but in no place but the above mentioned two miles of the creek, did I hear of an very large finds; that the gold is thickly strewn there, there is no doubt, and the first escort (arrangements for which are already made) will be a large one.
Numbers of people are still drifting along the different tracks, and as they must push out from the present diggings, the whole of which is occupied, we shall no doubt hear of other spots being struck of equal richness. I believe the present rush will lead to the discovery of the most extensive gold field ever found in the colonies; for thirty or forty miles the country is of the same character, and likely to be as rich; but at present the diggings are limited in extent, and not likely to be opened much further this season.
Sluicing appears to be the only mode of working, and that requires a party of at least seven or eight; a great many though are doing very well by washing the earth from between the rocks in tin dishes.
I inclose you about 1 1/4 oz. which was sold me by a man who told me it was the result of his previous day's work; it will give you a good idea of the character of the gold.
The want of tools and flour is the great source of discomfort at present; there is abundance of beef and mutton, but four packhorses laden with flour from a station 12 miles on the Cooma side, is the only regular supply laid on at present; of course the stores are rushed upon their arrival, and troopers have to be stationed at the store to preserve order among the hungry crowd; six pound weight is the utmost sold to each customer, and that in many cases has to supply 8 or 10 men for two or three days. Several parties are, however, commencing to pack flour up from Tumut.
Drays can be taken to the foot of the big hill, and a day and a half will be sufficient to pack it from there to the diggings; there are several drays loaded with flour also out from Tumut by different roads, some of which I have no doubt will succeed in reaching the El Dorado.
In fact there is little doubt but what the diggings will ultimately have to be supplied from Tumut; the present road is good, and at no very considerable expense can, I have no doubt, be made available for drays; even now, in its state of nature, it is an easy day's ride, and parties running short of supplies can go to the town, and return with a pack horse under three days.
The greatest drawback to the success of the diggings will be found to be the severe winter, the high table land through which the river runs being under snow for at least six months of the year.
There is no doubt that it is unsafe to remain there after March; and it is much to be feared that numbers, disregarding the experience of those who have seen winter on these mountains, will remain on the ground until escape becomes impossible.
It is notorious that herds of cattle have been snowed in, in the gullies, in a night; and winters have been known when snow has filled up all the gullies, and formed a level plain from one mountain top to another.
I am forgetting that you have other matter for your journal besides this letter; but, before I conclude, I must offer a bit of advice to those who, I see by the Chronicle, received this, morning, are preparing to start from Goulburn and Sydney.
It is now February; after next month it will be unsafe, I might say impossible, to remain on the ground.
Now, is it worthwhile to start at this advanced period?
By the time the ground is reached, the place prospected, a claim fixed upon, and all preparations made, it will be time to decamp, and the work will have to be commenced again next year; in addition to which, perhaps, a long road will have to be retraced, the difficulties of which will probably be increased by intense cold, and every track being hidden by the snow.
That there is room for thousands of willing hands there next spring, there is no doubt, and it is equally sure there will be some thousands on the ground. T
he wisest plan for the intending digger would be, to make ready for a spring campaign, but by no means to risk, for the sake of a few ounces of gold, his life among the snow storms of these inhospitable plains.
C. M. Gundagai, February 10, 1860.