Beechworth - centre of Ovens gold field
I cannot imagine that it is unhealthy, because there is a natural drainage that must always leave the city free from damp. It is fairly laid out, and from all parts of the town a magnificent landscape lies before the resident-the snow clad Buffalo Ranges to the south, picturesque hills all round, green fields and forest everywhere. Beechworth itself, however, has but little changed in the past 10 years, and but for the new Lunatic Asylum, which is a very imposing building a few miles distant from the city, and other structures of a public character, a Rip Van Winkle might wake up from a ten years' sleep, and have no difficulty in recognising the Beechworth of 10 years before.
Some official figures will verify what I say. The net annual value of rateable property within the municipality of the borough of Beechworth in 1865 was £17,787 10s.; in 1870, £19,403 10s; and in 1875, somewhat less, being £19,227. The annual value of the rateable property in the shire of Beechworth in 1865 was £22,004 8s; in 1870, £23,969; and in 1875, £26,071 10s. In 1871 the borough and shire were united, and now constitute the united shire of Beechworth, but the figures I have quoted are given as if the borough still continued separate from the shire, the revenue and expenditure of the two ridings being kept separate and distinct from each other. What was the borough of Beechworth now constitutes the borough riding, and what was the shire now is the shire riding.
When it is remembered that it was only in the middle of I860 that the principal alluvial mines of Ballarat were first placed on the Melbourne market, and that it was only at a latter period of the same year that the quartz mines of Bendigo became known as things which might be invested in to the Melbourne capitalist, it is not matter of wonder that the riches of the neighbourhood of Beechworth were all but exhausted before the public generally, so much engrossed with rich claims or pleasant prospects nearer at hand, became fully aware of what the district had been, and could form any idea of what it was likely to be in the future. A good deal of speculation followed, but the milk had been drawn from the cocoanut before the latter was exposed for sale; and not a few among what I may call the select speculators of the city have reason to regret that they listened to the voice of the charmer.
Shares in those claims were neither of £1 nor £6, and no such thing as "no liability" as attached to a shareholder was then understood. Some very heavy speculations were undertaken about eight or nine years ago in shares of very large amount, but few of them were successful, and it may be said that though many of the sufferers were able to bear their losses and still follow their usual walks in the city, not a few of the others are scattered as far and as ---? ?- ----? household" of which Mrs Hemans has written so plaintively. Among the more famous of the claims that succeeded those of the Woolshed and Reid's Creek were the Sons of Freedom and the Doma, between Chiltern and the Indigo diggings, and among the fortunate men of the Ovens there was - and I am glad to say, after various remarkable vicissitudes of mining fortune, still is - the Hon. J A Wallace, whose peculiar costume on his occasional visits to Melbourne, so different from what was usually to be seen on " the block," made him the object of not a little attention. These claims were alluvial.
At the time I speak of they were regarded as of great value, and they are still productive, having given 1,750oz. of gold in the quarter ending 31st October last, while the yield in the previous quarter was less, being 850oz. Mr Wallace was interested in them, and with characteristic energy he went some years ago to London to place the claims on the market there. The effort was not successful, and it is to be regretted that it was so, for there is still a great deal to be done in alluvial mining in this locality with the help of capital. Time has shown that Mr Wallace had a valuable property in hand, and if English capital could have been brought in, under his direction, to work the mine to which I am alluding, it would have had a very important influence on the for- tunes of mining in the Chiltern subdivision of the Beechworth district. Since this failure, however, mining enterprise in the Beechworth district has been left very much to the enterprise and the capital of local men. In the immediate neighbourhood of the town there is nothing doing except in sluicing, which has been carried on steadily for at least 10 or 12 years, and which seems to be just as profitable now as it was then.
Nothing can be more simple than this form of gold-mining, and it is only here in Victoria that it is followed out to any considerable extent. It is simply the cutting of channels in which wooden races are put down, with bars loaded with quick-silver at certain intervals. Into these races water is led from a long distance, and a constant stream maintained. The old alluvial workings to the south of Beechworth, on the higher level than the Woolshed, are re-worked with the help of this water supply, the whole of the likely "dirt" being emptied into the races.
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