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The Story of the Welcome Nugget

Post date: June 8th, 2021

On the evening of 9 June, 1858 an excited shout rang out from Ballarat's Red Hill Mine. A party of 22 Cornish miners discovered what was then the world’s largest gold nugget. The Welcome Nugget weighed a whopping 69 kilograms and was just over 99% pure gold. To this day, it remains the second-largest gold nugget found in Australia.

Replica of the Welcome Nugget
Replica of the Welcome Nugget held in the Sovereign Hill Museums Association collection

The miners celebrated their discovery by baptising the nugget with beer from a nearby hotel. But this wasn’t the first time that gold had been found in the area. Ballarat’s traditional owners, the Wadawurrung people, had known about the presence of gold in their Country for tens of thousands of years. In 1851, the discovery of gold by European settlers in Ballarat’s Poverty Point drew hundreds of thousands of gold seekers from around the world to Victoria in the hope of finding their fortune.

So what made the discovery of the Welcome Nugget so special?
It was all in the timing. Once known as the ‘Queen of the Goldfields’, Ballarat’s gold production had started to decline during the late 1850s. The Welcome Nugget changed everything, as our Historian Anna Kyi explains. ‘The discovery of what was the largest nugget in the world at the time, renewed interest in the Ballarat goldfield and sparked hope’, says Anna. ‘The Welcome Nugget was a sign that the opportunity to obtain a better life still existed’. But this search for a new life came at a high cost. 

Mining gold in ancient buried rivers, known as deep lead mining, was a dangerous undertaking. Inhaling deadly air, the sudden inrush of water and the collapse of earth and rocks were constant dangers. No wonder the Welcome Nugget was met with so much jubilation and excitement from the miners and public alike. The miners were quick to bank on their newly-found treasure. They hauled the giant nugget onto a wheel-barrow and escorted it to the Treasury in Lydiard Street. The nugget, touted the ‘Wonder of the World’, was put on public display in Ballarat where it was used as a fundraising event for local charities. The nugget initially sold for just over £10,000 and was finally purchased by London’s Royal Mint where it was melted and turned into gold sovereigns.

The Welcome Nugget’s legacy is felt today with the retelling of its amazing discovery a central feature of our Red Hill Mine experience. Our Red Hill Mine was recreated using a lithograph made by Hermann Deutsch in 1858. The lithograph was commissioned by the owners of the Red Hill Company Mine to celebrate the Welcome Nugget’s discovery.

Red Hill Mine at Sovereign Hill
Red Hill Mine at Sovereign Hill
Lithograph image of Red Hill Mine
Lithograph commissioned by Red Hill Mining Company to celebrate the discovery of the Welcome Nugget, Hermann Deutsch (lithographer), 1858 (Ballarat Historical Society collection)

Our Red Hill Mine experience and the story of the Welcome Nugget itself feature universal themes still relevant today – the search for a better life, determination, technological development and adaptability in the face of great change.

‘The story of the Welcome Nugget tells of the rich rewards that were possible for those who adapted and persevered’, says Anna.

‘In understanding what the search for a better life can entail, the story of the Welcome Nugget demonstrates the amazing possibilities that can arise when we persevere in the face of hardship’.

Welcome Nugget - performers
Sovereign Hill performers recreating the Welcome Nugget’s discovery
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