Summary

William Graham, gold prospector from Russell Creek in the Gippsland goldfields in Victoria, wrote a letter home to England in 1865, describing his life and activities at a small mining settlement.

This letter was written by William Graham to his brother John in England from the Russells Creek goldfields, dated 11 July 1965.

William is prospecting twenty miles from Mount Baw Baw which he describes as 'the highest mount in Gipps Land'. He is optimistic as he depicts his efforts to find a gold reef buried low along the Tangil River and 'make a little rise out of this claim'. William's prospects at the small gold-mining settlement at Russells Creek seem quite promising. The letter describes a recent discovery of a 'blow of a quartz reef last week (which) we could get a good show in a tin dish rough crushing with a pick'. William also anticipates employing a 'few wages men' in the coming months and eagerly informs his brother 'I shall drop on something heavy some of these days, and then shall get on like a house on fire'. William also discusses events he has read in a Melbourne weekly paper, noting 'Miss Kent has confessed to the Road murder', 'the Confederates are smashed' and 'Lincoln assassinated'.

It is not known when William arrived in Australia or the length of time he remained at Russells Creek in Victoria. He informs his brother that he 'had better direct to Melbourne after you receive this because I might not be here', indicating no specific plans. William makes no mention of his parents or a wife throughout the letter. He refers to his two brothers, John and Henry Graham, and Henry's wife Emma (a seamstress) back home in Lancashire, England (London, England, Marriages and Banns Index, 1754 - 1921: n.d.; UK Census, 1871: n.d.). William also mentions other unidentified friends and/or relatives in England throughout the letter, including Edward, Martha, Howard, Rogers, Molly, Mr. and Mrs. Foley and Mr. and Mrs. Martin, asking John to remember him to them. William's brother Henry had a daughter, Minnie, who was born in 1867 (London, England, Births and Baptisms Index, 1813 - 1906: n.d.). She later migrated to Australia in 1894 and died in 1943 (Obituary, 1943: 10; Australia Death Index, 1787-1985). Minnie and her husband, Ralph Weeks, had a daughter Mabel, who passed William's letter onto her children (Australia Birth Index, 1788-1922).

The Russells Creek goldfields were discovered in 1860 by prospector E.W. Gladman (Flett, 1979: 129). The discovery was announced in a daily Melbourne newspaper, The Argus, on February 8, 1860 ('Goldfields', 1860: 5). The article included an introductory letter written by Gladman which was forwarded to the paper by the Acting Police Magistrate, Palmerston. Later, in 1862, Gladman authoured a five-page field manual and map to the Mount Baw Baw goldfields, describing Russells Creek as 'the best creek opened upon these diggings' (Gladman, 1862: 1-5).

As of January 1865, police reports from the Gippsland goldfields estimated a relatively small population of 24 people at Russells Creek. However, by November of that year it was reported that most of the miners had left Russells Creek for New Zealand and that Russells Creek was now 'almost entirely occupied by Chinese' (O'Connor and Smythe, 1865).

In 2009, Australia Post commemorated its bicentennial year, through a 'Letters of the Nation' campaign, inviting Australians to send in copies of letters held in their collections in order to 'create a firsthand account of the nation's history' (Australia Post, 2009). William Graham's letter was selected as one of the top 200 letters of national significance, predominately due to William's evocative description of life on the Victorian goldfields.

References
Gold-Fields. (February 8 1860). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), viewed 10 March 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article/5676799
Gladman, E.W. (1862) 'Map and guide to the Mount Baw Baw gold fields [cartographic material]'. State Library of Victoria. Lithographed and printed by Lawson & Pearson, Melbourne, viewed 13 May 2016,  
Flett, J. (1979) The History of Gold Discovery in Victoria, Poppet Head Press, Melbourne.
London, England, Births and Baptisms Index, 1813 - 1906. London Metropolitan Archives, Canonbury ST. Paul, Register of Baptism, p83/pau1, Item 002.
London, England, Marriages and Banns Index, 1754 - 1921. London Metropolitan Archives, Saint Mary at Lambeth, Register of marriages, P85/MRy1, Item 433.
'Obituary: Mrs. Minnie Weeks ' (11 December 1943)., The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), viewed 26 February 2013, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/11789993
O'Connor, J. and Smythe, W. (1856-1871). 'Extracts from Police Reports on early Gipps' Land Goldfields', The Story of Traralgon. In: Cuthill, William. (1956). 'History of Traralgon', vol, 7. Unpublished typescript, viewed 11 March 2013, http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~surreal/AVG/Resources/goldfields.html


 

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