The collection

The Gold Collection contains over 980 specimens of gold in matrix (or reef gold), gold nuggets, gold ores, as well as gold granules, flakes and dust.

Once gold was discovered in New South Wales in the 1850s, there was a desire to acquire specimens for the Australian Museum.

'Welcome' Gold nugget replica D.58141
'Welcome' Gold nugget replica D.58141 Bakery Hill Ballarat Victoria Australia 18 x 45 x 14 cm Acquired 1886, registered 1905 (L.569) Registered 2011 D.58141 Image: Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum

From at least 1853, gold ores began to be acquired, as the Museum sent gold-bearing quartz to Assistant Surgeon Balfour of Madras as a specimen exchange in that same year. Also, Curator William Wall and Trustee E Deas Thomson both presented gold in quartz from the Shoalhaven district of New South Wales to the Museum in 1853. Then, in 1856, a group of valuable gold specimens from Australian locations were purchased from the Commissioners of the Paris Exhibition for £96.

Between 1861 and 1874, when Gerard Krefft was Curator and Secretary of the Australian Museum, gold from various locations in New South Wales was presented to the Museum by the Mint in 1865. In 1888, a magnificent specimen of electrum (a gold-silver alloy) from the historic Rosia Montana deposit in Romania was acquired from the Foote Mineral Company of Philadelphia for £5. A group of 43 Queensland gold ores was presented to the Museum in 1897 by Robert Logan Jack from the Geological Survey of Queensland and, in 1898, the Museum received its first specimen of calaverite, the rare gold telluride, from Western Australia. Also in the late 1890s, the Museum acquired gold specimens from Lucknow, New South Wales, and Palmerston (Darwin).

Crystalline gold on quartz
Crystalline gold on quartz, Edwarts Pit, Golden Mile, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Western Australia. 9 x 4 x 3.5cm. Acquired using the Gwendoline A West bequest. Image: Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum

Acquisitions from private collections

In the 1900s, the Museum began purchasing private collections. In 1901, the Museum purchased the D A Porter Collection, which contained 75 gold specimens mainly from New South Wales (New England) and Queensland localities. The George Smith Collection, purchased in parts in 1907 and 1927, contained 130 gold specimens of great interest from mainly Australian locations that covered a large number of famous and lesser-known historic mines.

Bernard Otto Holtermann with the Holtermann ‘Nugget’
Bernard Otto Holtermann with the Holtermann ‘Nugget’ about 1873–79. Image: Charles Bayliss © Coutesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Gold specimens from Australia and overseas continued to be donated, exchanged or purchased throughout the life of the collection.

The 9.9 ounce ‘Sesquicentenary’ gold nugget from Goanna Patch, Western Australia, was purchased from a prospector in 1977 to celebrate the Australian Museum’s 150th anniversary. A rich 38-ounce specimen of gold in quartz from Hill End, New South Wales, was purchased in 1979, and a 19-ounce nugget from the Ovens River, Victoria, was purchased in 1980. A magnificent 4-ounce crystallised gold on quartz from Kalgoorlie- Boulder in Western Australia was purchased in 2008.

Finders of the Welcome Stranger gold nugget
Miners and wives posing with the finders of the Welcome Stranger nugget, Richard Oates and John Deason. Photo by William Parker. State Library of Victoria. Image: William Parker © Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

The Gold Collection also has a set of 43 gold nugget replicas, representing nearly every Australian state, as well as New Zealand. In 1883 a group of five Victorian gold nugget casts were purchased from James White of Hotham, Victoria, and a further 11 in 1886. The total of 16 gold nugget casts cost £8. The replicas bear such famous names as Holtermann’s ‘Nugget’, ‘Welcome’, ‘Welcome Stranger’, ‘Platypus’, ‘Viscount Canterbury’, ‘Viscountess Canterbury’, ‘Beauty’, and ‘Precious’. Replicas were often cast from originals, but many are impressions made from descriptions, drawings and photos.

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Crocoite on limonite D.50681