Did you know we have a newly-restored replica of the largest single mass of gold ever found?

Our replica of the famous “Holtermann Nugget” found in 1872, has been recently restored by our versatile Mineralogy Volunteer George Smith.

The resin & fibreglass replica was displayed in previous versions of the Mineral Gallery up to the early1970s, when it was put into storage. It is about the size and shape of a small surfboard. It had been moved about five times to successive off-site storage areas, each time acquiring a coating of dust and becoming less recognisable due to accumulated protective wrappings. After a detailed search in early 2016 it was eventually identified and given priority for restoration.

The restoration was taken on by our multi-skilled Mineralogy Volunteer George Smith, and was finished by June 2017. George worked on it for a total of about 66 hours (about 3 hours per week for 22 weeks).

George removed decades of dust, repaired scratches & nicks, and restored the surface with two different tones of gold paint, and with white and grey-blue paint mimicking quartz and slate. Of course there was no colour photography in the 1870s, so the existing black & white images, taken by Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss of the American and Australasian Photographic Company only show brighter areas representing gold, and duller grey areas for quartz and slate. George interpreted the range of black, white and grey tones in the old images and restored the patches of gold, quartz and slate as closely as possible. As the reverse side was not originally photographed, it was restored with ‘artistic licence’. The result is a glittering transformation, and the replica now looks as good as it did many decades ago. The ‘nugget’ is a famous historical and scientific specimen associated with the gold rush era and the replica is ideal for future display.

Bernhardt Otto Holtermann and the 'Holtermann Nugget' in 1872
Holtermann Nugget and Bernhardt Otto Holtermann 1872, composite of three images, American and Australian Photographic Company. Image: American and Australian Photographic Company
© State Library of New South Wales

Holtermann Nugget facts

The mass of gold, quartz and slate known as ‘Holtermann’s Nugget’, is not really a ‘nugget’ as such. It is a mass of gold with attached rock broken from a quartz reef, a ‘specimen’ not an actual water-worn nugget of gold. It was the largest single mass of gold ever found.

It was discovered at 2 a.m. on the 19th October 1872 in the ‘Star of Hope’ mine, on Hawkins Hill, Hill End, New South Wales, after a midnight firing of explosives revealed a ‘wall of gold’. Mine Manager Bernhardt Holtermann and syndicate member Louis Beyers were major shareholders in the Star of Hope Gold Mining company. The mining syndicate of eight comprised of Bernhardt Holtermann, Louis Beyers, Richard Kerr, H. Miller, John Klein, James Brown, Moses Bell, and Mark Hammond (who was loaned money by Bell to buy Kerr’s share of the syndicate then paid him back after the discovery). Holtermann and Beyers received the credit whenever the discovery or mine were mentioned but they did not make the actual gold discovery themselves and the full story is more interesting. Holtermann gave orders to continue the shaft down vertically and rejected Hammond’s advice that a westward extension would be best. However, on advice from experienced miners Moses Bell and William Hunt (Bell’s miner representative in the shaft), Hammond went against Holtermann’s orders, sealed off the vertical shaft at 150 feet and commenced the west drive – and the gold was found.

The Gross Weight (gold + quartz + slate) was 285 Kg, and the weight of gold was 93.2 Kg (3,000 Troy ounces). It measured 144.8 cm high x 66 cm wide x 10.2 cm thick. The gold value today would be about 5.2 million dollars.

Soon after its discovery, the specimen was crushed in a stamper battery and melted down to extract its gold. It made Holtermann a rich man, and he built a palatial mansion (now part of Shore Grammar) in St. Leonards, Sydney. It had a square tower fitted with a 45 cm round stained glass window showing the famous picture of Holtermann posing with the ‘nugget’.

The famous photograph of Holtermann and the ‘nugget’ is a goldfields icon. However it is actually a montage of three superimposed images – Holtermann with his hand resting on an iron support, the verandah of Holtermann’s house, and the ‘nugget’.

Of course, I couldn’t resist having my photo taken with my hand resting on the ‘nugget’ in classic pose – just like Bernardt Holtermann!

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