Guarding the New Gold Finds (1849-1851)

The first record of Native Police being stationed at a gold discovery is dated 5 February 1849. The entry in the Day Book held at the Native Police headquarters at Nerre Nerre Warren states that William Dana, Sergeant Richard McLelland and eight troopers departed 'for the Gold mine'. The place they went to was located in an area known as the Pyrenees, at a station called Daisy Hill about 40 km north of Ballarat. The station belonged to McNeill and Hall, and it was here that three men, Brentani, Chapman and Duchene, had recently found some gold.

The Commissioner of Crown Lands responsible for this district, FA Powlett, was also asked to attend. On 22 February 1849 he reported to Superintendent Charles La Trobe that there were between 30 and 40 men at the station of Hall and McNeill. Powlett took note of the kinds of equipment the men were using. He also reported that once the Native Police arrived, everybody who had been at the station decided to leave. He was convinced that nobody had found any gold there, and that the real location of the gold was being kept a secret by those who had discovered it. Powlett ordered Sergeant McLelland and some of the troopers to stay at the station 'to prevent any unauthorised occupation of Crown Lands in the neighbourhood'. In a report regarding Native Police activities for 1849, Henry EP Dana stated that the Native Police had been ordered to 'take possession of the Gold Mine' that was supposed to exist there. These statements suggest that the government of the Port Phillip District wanted to assert control over the gold discovery and keep it quiet.

Image of Commissioner's Tent and Officer's Quarters
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Image 32: Forest Creek was the location of a gold discovery in 1851. The following year, 1852, the place was surveyed and renamed Castlemaine.
Thomas Ham, Commissioner's Tent and Officers' Quarters, Forest Creek, Decr 1851, 1852. La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria.

On 17 March 1849, Sergeant McLelland wrote to Dana. He reported that the hut at Daisy Hill was no longer fit for use and that he had moved his team to the creek near the station of McNeill and Hall. He continued to patrol the area where the 'mine' was supposed to be, but stated that nobody had been seen there for the past month. The team soon after returned to Melbourne.

The Native Police returned to this Pyrenees area in 1851. Henry EP Dana and his troopers were accompanied by David Armstrong and the Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Wimmera district, Mr Wright. They went to the station of Donald Cameron on the Deep Creek near Mount Greenock to investigate a gold discovery. On 27 July 1851 they found about fifty men working the area in groups using cradles, and others washing the soil in tin pans. When he returned on 6 August, after touring the other gold discoveries in the Pyrenees, Dana found that there were many more men who had arrived at the diggings. There were now around 60 men washing for gold, with more arriving daily. Dana estimated that the men were each making around 10 shillings per day. A separate report was made by David Armstrong, a man who had had experience on the Californian goldfields. Armstrong estimated that the men who were using cradles were making about 10 shillings a day but that those working with tin pans were 'barely covering their expenses'. According to Armstrong it would take 100 men around two months to work the six to seven acres of land that were currently being mined. Armstrong also reported that there was likely to be gold at other places in the area.

Image of Forest Creek Diggings, Mt Alexander
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Image 33: Samuel Charles Brees, The Forest Creek Diggings, Mt Alexander, Port Phillip, 1856. Courtesy of Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum.

Convinced that the men at this gold mine were behaving peacefully, Dana decided to return to Melbourne. Nevertheless, he made arrangements for three mounted troopers and a constable from Carisbrook Police Station to remain under the orders of Donald Cameron, the station owner. They were later joined by another team of Native Police returning from an expedition in the Murray River district.