It was in the spring of the year of 1860 that the first prospecting party reached the hills, on which the present day town of Rutherglen now stands.
Brothers, John & Harry Mitchell & Thomas & James Keen, decided to strike out and explore the country between Chiltern & Wahgunyah and ascertain if it was auriferous. They passed over the Chiltern gap nearing the end of July 1860 and not finding anything at Christmas Town continued westward.
They next stopped near what is known as Drummond Street and pitched camp for the night. They liked the look of the country in the little valley between the Courthouse Hill and the Golf links Hill, where the Reservoir and the bowling green is situated.
The country looked promising so the prospectors decided to try their luck and they set to work. Their progress was watched by the settlers and the business people of Wahgunyah, especially by Robert Turner, a Butcher, who came across the camp on his delivery round, and supplied them with meat.
The first shaft proved a duffer. The prospectors then decided to move a few chains down the lead and commenced operations almost opposite the residence of Mrs Sheridan about 1½ chains (about 30m) in from Drummond Street. The mullock from these two shafts were landmarks until the early 1890’s when they were levelled off for cultivation.
The prospectors found that they were going down in deep ground, but also discovered their supply of provisions & cash was getting low and had practically decided to abandon their venture when Mr Turner returned to the scene. He urged them to continue & promised to keep them in meat. On returning to Wahgunyah he put the case of the prospectors to Mr Foord and other residents and sufficient was raised to procure a supply of groceries & bread which Mr Turner at once took out to the prospectors.
On his next weekly visit he was informed that they had bottomed on the wash and if he waited 15 minutes he could have the pleasure of washing the first prospect. Mr Turner waited and panned-off the first dish on the Rutherglen Gold Fields.
It was a good dish, the prospectors were so satisfied that they at once pegged out a reward claim and cleaned up the bottom of the shaft. They then proceeded to Chiltern to register their claim and put in their application for a reward for the discovery of a new Gold Field. This was on Saturday 9th September 1860.
On the Rutherglen Gold fields the gold was deep underground in the alluvial was of ancient streams called deep leads, and it had come from the reefs of mountain ranges eroded by the waters of millions of years.
Deep lead mining required different methods to quartz reefing, which was never important at Rutherglen. Further, once the gold resources of the deep leads were exhausted, mining ceased. It had sustained Rutherglen on & off for less than 60 years
By the end of the last 3½ months of 1860, 17 deep leads and 7 reefs had been found and over 2000 miners were at work.
Thomas Thornby reported that the population of the Indigo Mining Division encompassing Chiltern, Indigo & Rutherglen in December 1860 was 12,905 including 1925 Chinese. 7318 were miners, made up of 5473 Europeans & 1725 Chinese on alluvial & 120 Europeans on Quartz. During the periods of high gold yields it was estimated that 20,000 men were at work.
Rutherglen Gold Battery
The Rutherglen Gold Battery is located on the northern fringe of the township, an easy walk from the centre of town. Its purpose was to crush quartz from nearby quartz reefs and extract gold from within.
This site was close to the Rutherglen quartz mine and surplus water from the mine was used by the battery. The Battery requires 3000 gallons of water to crush 10 tons of quartz.
The battery was erected in 1908 and consists of a five-head battery, Wilfrey table, Bergin pan, portable steam engine and shed. Total weight 27 tons.
The first crushing took place on 23 December 1908. In August 1910 the steam engine was replaced with a suction gas engine of 16 horsepower, which enabled the battery to crush 10 tons of quartz in 16 hours at one-sixth of the cost of the steam engine. Electricity was connected to the battery in 1953.
The Wilfrey table was taken to Chewton in the late 70s. As well as providing a service for gold miners it was also used for recovery of tin. The rare and relatively intact site is of historical and scientific significance.
The battery underwent restoration works in 2011/12 and is now available for public viewing daily between 9.00am and 5.00pm. Collect an access key from the Rutherglen Wine Experience & Visitor Information Centre to enter the battery and view informative storyboards and video demonstrations.
Large groups can be catered for, and demonstrations of the battery can be arranged by phoning the Rutherglen Historical Society on 02 6032 9425 or 0408 087 079
Rutherglen Gold Battery is part of the Indigo Gold Trail www.indigogoldtrail.com