Fifteen miles or so from the Egyptian coastline of the sparkling Red Sea stand a series of crumbling structures. Standing upon an area known in antiquity as “Mons Smaragdus”, these ruins in the Egyptian Eastern Desert are all that remains of Sikait, the Roman Empire’s only emerald mine. Archaeological work conducted in 2020 and 2021 by the University of Barcelona suggests that as the Empire’s grip on the area loosened and eventually receded, some of the buildings were occupied or possibly even built by a nomadic tribe, the Blemmyes, which gained influence in the area.
The Blemmyes appear in written records starting from the 7th century B.C. and disappear sometime around the 8th century A.D. they are mentioned in Strabo’s Geographica in the 1st century A.D. as essentially non-bellicose nomadic raiders. Their cultural and military power increased to the point they formed a kingdom on the flank or Roman Egypt requiring repeated intervention of the Imperial army to keep them from causing trouble.
The researchers believe that the Blemmyes took over not just the site but also the mining activities at the site, possibly also making improvements to building some of the structures on the site.
Remarkable among the finds of the researchers are ancient inscriptions including at least one by a members of a Roman Legion. This inscription would be the first evidence that the Roman army was involved in exploitation of Egypt’s emerald mines, not just to defend them but also probably to help construct them. It was not uncommon in the empire for the legions to be used for civilian construction projects. Not only would this kind of work keep the troops in good physical shape between campaigns, it would keep them busy and productive. It was a Roman belief that a busy army was less likely to mutiny. The legions were involved in the construction of town walls, roads, aqueducts and mining related buildings and equipment such as water mills, stamp mills and dewatering machines.
Roman necklace originating in Egypt made of gold, blue stone and emerald, A.D. 2nd century
Beryl intaglio with portrait of Julia Domna A.D. 200-210.
Julia Domna was wife of Emperor Septimus Severus and mother of Emperor Caracalla. The Egyptian mine at Sikait is the only source of Emerald, a form of Beryl, within the Empire, and thus the likely source of the material for this object if it was not imported.
Roman gold and emerald necklace 1st – 2nd century A.D.
Ruins at Sikait, Egypt
In the mountains along the Red Sea coast of Egypt, across from Sinai, lie the remains of Sikait, location of the only emerald mine in the Roman Empire. This photo shows the ruins of the most impressive building complex at the site, known as Tripartite Building.
By Roland Unger – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71533171
Poor Afghanistan. It is the country that never seems to catch a break. Remote, poor, land-locked, and yet highly strategic because of its position as the gateway to India and its position athwart the ancient silk road trade route to China, it has seen armies pass through from Alexander the Great to the Moghuls (think the creators of the Taj Mahal), to the British and Russians, and finally the Soviet and Americans.
Afghanistan Mineral Resources
Photo By This file was contributed to Wikimedia Commons by National Archives at College Park – Cartographic as part of a cooperation project. The donation was facilitated by the Digital Public Library of America, via its partner National Archives and Records Administration.National Archives Identifier: 159081989Source record: http://catalog.archives.gov/id/159081989DPLA identifier: a982bb69e64e77d42e7d7f8e0a1c5f33, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=96782925
One ever-constant bright spot for the nation has been the enormous mineral wealth it sits above. A massive upheaval about 40 million years ago between the Indo-European, the African, and Asian plates created the towering mountains upon which the nation sprawls. This also created a wide variety and enormous quantity of mineral wealth, particularly in the north and northeast of the country All told there are over 1,400 mineral fields encompassing barite, chromite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, lead, natural gas, petroleum, precious and semi-precious stones, salt, sulfur, lithium, talc, and zinc, rare earth minerals, and high-quality emerald, lapis lazuli, red garnet, tourmaline, turquoise and ruby just to name a few examples. This enormous wealth has been well know for over a century from surveys conducted by the British and Russians. During their occupation the Soviets conducted their own survey. Most recently, a United States Geological Survey estimate prepared after the overthrow of the Taliban that there was perhaps a trillion dollars worth of mineral wealth in Afghanistan.
An early turquoise mine in the Madan village of Khorasan
Photo by Major Henri De Bouillane de Lacoste (tr. by J. G. Anderson) – “Around Afghanistan” as digitised by the Internet Archive’s text collection., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3850890
The mineral wealth can be divided into industrially useful and specimens & gemstones. Just in Baghlan Province one finds important deposits of clay, bauxite, gypsum, limestone, and coal. Clay in particular has been used since ancient times. Other industrially useful minerals include chromium, mercury, copper, gold, silver, iron ore, lead, tungsten, zinc, lithium, beryllium, cobalt, marble, sulfur, tin and talc. Perhaps the world’s largest copper lode exists in Aynak.
An Afghan Marble Factory
Photo by USAID Afghanistan – 100525 Hirat Marble Conference 133, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15375462
Green Tile with Star Design, 12th–13th century, Earthenware; molded decoration, monochrome glazed, Attributed to Afghanistan
Gem Producing Regions
Afghanistan is particularly noted for it’s rich gemstone wealth. Lapis Lazuli, Kunzite, Morganite, Emerald, Aquamarine, Tourmaline, Beryl, Spinel, Sapphire, Topaz, Fluorite, Garnet, Corundum (Ruby), and Green Serpentine are all present. Indeed, the Black Prince’s Ruby and the “Timur ruby” in the British Crown Jewels (both actually Spinel and not Ruby) are both believed to have originated in or near Afghanistan. Most recently, and perhaps controversially Hiddenite (or “Hiddenite-like”) has been discovered.
There are four main gem-producing regions: the Panjshir Valley for emeralds, the Jegdalek area for rubies and a range of fancy colored and blue sapphires, Badakhshan for lapis lazuli, and Nuristan for a wide variety of semi-precious gems including as tourmaline, kunzite, aquamarine, spodumene and beryl.
The Panjshir emerald deposit may refer to the ‘smaragdus (green stones) from Bactria’ in Pliny’s in his ‘Natural History’, written in the first century AD. The emeralds occur at altitudes of between 3000 and 4000 meters. The clarity of these emeralds rivals that of the world-famous Colombian emeralds. The remote and inaccessible Panjshir valley, is also the home of the Northern Alliance – the main Afghan resistance to both the Soviets and the Taliban in the 1970 – 2000s. The same inaccessible terrain makes extracting the emeralds a challenge.
Photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10135249
Jegdalek Gandamak rubies are mined in Kabul Province from Proterozoic calcite-dolomite marble bed between 500 and 2000 m thick in a regionally metamorphosed marble cut by Oligocene granitic intrusions. This mine was worked to provide marble for the Taj Mahal – but it is uncertain whether rubies were actively mined at that time. Jegdalek rubies range from nearly colorless to deep red and purplish red with strong UV fluorescence. True rubies form about 15 % of production, along with pink sapphires (75 %) and blue sapphire (5 %), and 5 % mixed blue and red-to-pink corundum. Clean faceting quality rubies from this mine are said to match the very best in the world.
Photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10448845
Afghanistan is world famous for its lapis lazuli, a rock composed of the feldspathoid minerals lazurite, hauyne, nosean and sodalite, with other minerals including calcite and pyrite and lesser amounts of diopside, amphibole, feldspar, mica and other silicates. Lapis from Badakhshan in the north of the country is still regarded as the world’s premier source in terms of quantity and quality. The name derives from a mixture of Latin and Persian: the Latin ‘lapis’, meaning ‘stone’ and the Persian ‘lazhward’ meaning ‘blue’. Then material is used to make beads, boxes and other decorative articles, often carved into figurines and is popular for men’s jewelry.
Lapis is mined on the right bank of the Kokcha River in Badakhshan in an area known as the ‘Blue Mountain’ in skarn lenses 1–4 m thick in marble. At one time there were as many as seven lapis mines there is only one, the Sary-Sang deposit at an elevation of around 3500 m where, on because of low winter temperatures, mining occurs only between June and September.
The highest quality lapis lazuli in the world is from northeastern Afghanistan (northern Kuran Wa Munjan District, southern Badakhshan Province)
Photo by James St. John – Lapis lazuli (lazuritic gneiss) (Sar-e-Sang Deposit, Sakhi Formation, Precambrian, 2.4-2.7 Ga (?); Sar-e-Sang Mining District, Hindu-Kush Mountains, Afghanistan) 1, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83302689
Lazurite, Pyrite, marble Locality: Sar-e-Sang District, Koksha Valley (Kokscha; Kokcha), Badakhshan (Badakshan; Badahsan) Province, Afghanistan. A well-formed euhedral crystal of lazurite (lapis lazuli) – not to be confused with lazulite
Photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10175015
Afghanite on Calcite, Koksha Valley, Badakhshan, Afghanistan, Asia
The fourth major gemstone region is Nuristan on the eastern side of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan, an area dotted with high mountains cut by numerous steep-sided valleys. The region is notable for its pegmatite fields, a late-stage crystallisation from molten rock, hosting a wide variety of minerals and gems commonly of unusual size and quality. Gem-quality tourmalines in a wide range of colors from pink though pale blue, indigo blue (indicolite), green, and emerald green. In addition, rare two-colored stones of green-pink and blue-green are much sought after. The crystals are beautifully formed, elongate with a distinctive ‘rounded triangular’ cross-section.
Photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10448930
Some of the world’s oldest mines are believed to be in Afghanistan. Production in antiquity focused on precious stone production as well gold and silver extraction. Lapis lazuli was produced in the region of Badakhshan as early as 8000 B.C. Lapis was traded to the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Akkadians, Babylonians to be made into amulets, seals and other objects. The Aynak copper mine has been in use for at least two thousand years based on the coins and tools found on the site. Afghan ruby and spinel is mentioned in writing of many travelers from the Muslim world from the mid-900s onward. Rich iron, metal, gold, copper and silver deposits are indicated by a strong metal working tradition, and the deposits of lapis, marble, alabaster and other materials led to a strong stone carving tradition.
Shoe Buckle in the Shape of a Recumbent Ram, Bactria, 1st century B.C.–1st century A.D. Gold inlaid with turqoise.
Khyber Knife, made of steel and iron, Afghanistan, 18th – 19th centuries. Afghanistan has significant iron deposits.
Bronze Age Seated female, ca. late 3rd–early 2nd millennium B.C., Steatite or chlorite, alabaster, Bactria-Margiana
Capitalizing on its sovereign mineral wealth has always been challenging for Afghanistan. Corruption, civil war, occupation, have meant problems extracting, and transport minerals, and great difficulty in the wealth being used to improve the well-being of the population. Mineral extraction, particularly in the high mountain mines remains exploitative and dangerous. These challenges are compounded now by the renewed takeover of the country by the Taliban. Traditionally, whichever party ruled the nation tried to exert control over the mineral wealth, and the Taliban are no exception. There is discussion of the government imposing new taxes on the mineral extractors, transporters, and exporters. Will any of the taxes make their way into the common good? Will those who labor at the bottom the industry benefit? Will the money simply support the Taliban? Will the endemic corruption inhibit or expedite the mineral extraction? All of these questions remain to be answered.
In addition to all these factors, Afghanistan is now the subject of new geo-strategic maneuvering. In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal and the collapse of the Republic of Afghanistan, new players are angling for power and influence to exploit the mineral wealth. Players like Iran, and Russia are making moves to strengthen their hand with the Taliban, and the discovery of vast deposits of rare earth mineral (in reality not terribly rare, but that’s another discussion entirely) and the newly recognized importance of the lithium deposits for use in electric car batteries has led to keen interest and competition by the Chinese in and Afghanistan. How this all plays out remains to be seen, but unfortunately it is most likely that little will change for the common laborer working in the mines of Afghanistan.
If the mineral is green and gorgeous there is a good chance it’s malachite. Like its copper cousins Turquoise, Azurite, and Chrysocolla, Malachite is found in copper deposits. It first became useful to humans as an ore used by the ancients to produce copper metal. Today, its primary use is decorative: bracelets, necklaces, pendants, as a gemstone and cabochon, and other types of jewelry. It’s also popular as a tumbled stone and as a standout display specimen for rock and mineral collections.
North American deposits include Mexican deposits in Milpillas; American deposits in Bisbee, Morenci, Bingham Canyon and others; African deposits in Namibia, Gabon, Zambia, Uganda, and The Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire). Russia was at a one a major source of Malachite, particularly gem quality stones, however most of these deposits have been mined out and eclipsed by the quantity and quality of the African deposits. African mines product spectacular massive malachite specimens as well as gem quality malachite, and plancheite, cuprite and carrollite are also present in these deposits.
Malachite from a Smelter’s Crucible, Egyptian, Joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, ca. 1479–1458 B.C., 18th Dynasty
Copper deposit don’t typically yield huge amounts of malachite. Previously, Russia was the only significant source of a large volume of gem-grade malachite, but as the Russian mines have declined and the African mines became available the African finds have far exceeded Russian production. African banded layers malachite is sometimes over a foot thick with very tightly packed submicroscopic needle crystals. Since the opening of the African mines, the mineral market has great cutting-grade malachite with bands of very light green to almost black- green.
Malachite was well known to the ancients. It’s Latin name, “Molchitis” derives from the Greek “molochites lithos” whose meaning is “mallow green stone” due to the mineral’s resemblance to the mallow plant’s leaves. Some evidence exists o Malachite mining in Britain at the Great Orme Mines perhaps as far back as the 3rd and 4th millenia B.C. There is also archaeological evidence of Malachite mining and smelting to produce copper 3,000 years ago in the Timna Valley, associated with King Solomon’s Mines in modern day Israel, where it is still mined to today to produce copper.
Lapidary, work with malachite requires a facemask. The copper carbonate dust from Malachite is poisonous. Most lapidaries use water to cut down on the dust in the air. Undercutting is often a problem during polishing, since each malachite band has a slightly different Mohs hardness, however experienced lapidaries shouldn’t have a problem. Banded malachite is always beautiful no matter how it is used.
Qing Chinese Malachite Carving, Late 18th – Early 19th Century. Seated Luohan With Servant
Above is an outstanding example of carved malachite. A Qing era Chinese art work originating in the late 19th through early 20th century, it depicts a seated luohan, or one who has achieved enlightenment. This particular luohan is identified as Nakula who sits in meditation with a rosary; a boy-servant attends at his feet. From his long eyebrows and position beneath a tree. Carved writing in the upper right corner is a poem of praise for Nakula in the upper right was authored by the Jiaqing emperor (r. 1796–1820) and inscribed in the hand of his elder brother Yongxing (1752–1823).
French Monumental Malachite Vase. Lapidary Work Early 19th Century, Pedestal And Mounts By Pierre Phillippe Thomire
The monumental vase above is crafted from Russian malachite, bronze, gilt bronze and a filling material. Malachite grows in layers of tiny crystals its colors correlating with different crystal sizes, creating the pattern. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most malachite came from Russian mines by the noble Demidov family. The family exploited hardstone quarries and metal deposits located on their estates in the remote Ural Mountains. In the 1820s on of the great discoveries in the history of semiprecious stones happened when an enormous malachite boulder around five hundred tons was unearthed there. Malachite is extremely brittle, so only small display objects can be cut from single blocks of the material. Large objects require a core structure, to which the malachite can be attached in thin pieces, effectively a veneer. Russian craftsmen developed a method to use the stone’s natural pattern and a precision cutting technique to form a continuing or “endless” ornamentation. This type of veneering appears nearly seemless and is called “Russian mosaic”.
The Demidov family used the flashy appearance of malachite to improve their social status, filling their palaces with the material and even decorating an entire room with the green stone, which inspired Czar Nicolas I to commission the famous Malachite Room in the Czar’s Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.
The monumental vase above is modeled on an ancient Roman bell-shaped krater, the most famous example of which is the first-century Medici Vase, now in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. This shape was quite much admired through the early nineteenth century. Count Nikolai Demidov commissioned this particular malachite vase for his villa at San Donato, near Florence. Unlike with the Russian mosaic technique, large areas of this vase’s surface is composed of small malachite particles mixed with filling substance in the same way as modern terrazzo. This raw malachite was probably transported from one of his mines to Florence to be shaped and finished by local artists not trained in the specialized Russian technique. The vase would then have been sent onwards to Paris to be fitted with its mounts and pedestal.
The gilded bronze winged female figures on the body of the vase represent Fame. Their trumpets are shaped like handles, although the vase is too heavy to be lifted like a loving cup. A gilded bronze laurel garland of laurel (Laurus nobilis) runs under the lip mount. The laurel had been adopted by Lorenzo de’ Medici (who was also a lavish patron of the arts) as an emblem of his house with the motto “Ita ut virtus,” or “Thus is virtue”— that is to say, virtue is evergreen. It’s use here implies that the Demidov’s hoped that their fortune would also be evergreen.
The mounts and bronze pedestal were made by Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751–1843), known throughout Europe for his bronze decorations and ornamental sculpture. He established a reputation before the French Revolution with beautiful mounts for Sèvres porcelain vases. In 1804 he founded a workshop that produced furniture as well as luxury bronzes.
Malachite with Azurite
Description of Malachite
3.5 to 4.0
3.6 to 4.0
Perfect in one direction, fair in a second direction
Most examples are opaque while crystals are translucent
Polishes to a very bright luster. Large specimens tend to be dull and earthy. Silky luster in fibrous examples. Unusual crystals trend from vitreous to adamantine.
Even though chyrsocolla and azurite are both copper based minerals, malachite is a better indicator of the presence of significant copper deposits. The Copper Queen mine in Brisbee was created on the basis of malachite deposits.
Malachite Copper Crescent from Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Image of Malachite Taken Under a Stereoscopic Microscope
Malachite has a number of different cultural meanings and associations. For the Chinese, Malachite is a lucky stone for those born in the Year of the Rabbit or Year of the Tiger. For the ancient Egyptians, the color green was associated with death and the power of resurrection – as well as new life and fertility. They believed that the afterlife contained the “Field of Malachite”, an eternal paradise resembling their lives but with no pain or suffering. They also used the material in powder form for cosmetics, particularly to try to resemble Horus, the falcon headed god Those who believe in crystal healing, crystal spirituality believe the stone has any number of healing, or metaphysical properties on the body, spirit or chakra.
View our collection of beautiful malachite specimens for sale, perfect as display piece on your table or mantle, for your collection, or for use in spiritual or crystal healing.
This week marks the 152nd anniversary of the discovery of Welcome Stranger, the largest alluvial gold nugget ever found. Discovered 1869 in Moliagul, Victoria, Australia, the Welcome Stranger nugget had a calculated refined weight of 3,123 troy ounces and measured 2 feet by 1 foot in size.
The mid 1850s in Australia was a period of great excitement. Just as in California, gold had been discovered, and thousands traveled to Victoria looking to make their fortune. In September of 1852 gold was found in the area of Moliagul – an area which would later become famous for the discovery of Welcome Stranger.
One of the William Parker re-enactment photos. William Parker was a photographer who had a studio in Dunolly.
Pictured are Miners & Their Wives (Including Richard Oates, John Deason & His Wife) Posing With a Replica of the Welcome Stranger Nugget
Image by William Parker – http://search.slv.vic.gov.au/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=MAIN&reset_config=true&docId=SLV_VOYAGER1719441, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34745693
John Deason, a former tin dresser, and Richard Oates were two of the many miners who rushed to the area to make their fortune. Originally from Cornwall, England they had both staked claims in the area of Moliagul and set up small farms to support their operations. Deason was breaking the soil on his claim plot around the roots of a tree in Bulldog Gully near Moliagul in February of 1869 when he struck something hard about 3 cm below the soil. Originally thinking it was a rock, he hit it a second, then a third time. Finally clearing away the soil he discovered the massive gold nugget. Deason’s son quickly ran to the farm of Oates, his father’s partner, who was plowing his nearby paddock. Oates came over and helped cover up the nugget and they waited until dark when it would be safer to remove it. After they dug out the nugget, they held a party in order to reveal Welcome Stranger to their friends and neighbors.
Deason and Oates took the nugget into the town of Dunolly protected by a bodyguard composed of friends and sold the nugget at the London Chartered Bank of Australia for 10,000 pounds, or around $3-4 million in todays money. At that time there weren’t any scales capable of weighing this large of a nugget, so they had Dunolly based blacksmith Archibald Walls break the nugget into three pieces. The nugget was then melted down and the gold sent to Melbourne as ingots to be forwarded on to the Bank of England, leaving Australia on February 21st. The original nugget is believed to have weighed 241 lbs before being trimmed.
A story detailing the discovery was run in the Dunolly & Bet Bet Shire Express February 12th 1869, excerpted below:
The Dunolly district after having turned over a multitude of nuggets that puts every other goldfield in the Colony in the shade has at length, in the words of the Melbourne journals “beat the world” in producing the largest mass of gold on record. The ‘Welcome Stranger’ was found by two men, named John Deason and Richard Oates, on Friday last, February 5, 1869, near the Black Reef, Bull-dog Gully, Moliagul, a short distance from Wayman’s Reef, and only about a mile from the celebrated Gypsy Diggings. Deason and his mate have been working in the ground for several years past, and as is well known, had got, in digging parlance, so ‘hard up’ as to have been refused credit for a bag of flour a week or so ago, and we believe the very day before the discovery, were reminded by a tradesman that they were indebted to him for a few shillings. Still they persevered, until on the daynamed, Deason in working round the roots of a tree, at about two inches below the surface, struck something hard with a pick, and exclaimed, “D—n it, I wish it was a nugget” and had broken the pick. On stooping down to examine the obstacle, he found that the object of his dearest wish was lying at his feet, and it seemed as if the monster was so large as to be immovable. It was, however, at length released from its virgin soil, and carefully removed. The question then arose as to what was to be done with it, and the first intention was to convey it to Melbourne. When the men got to Dunolly with their prize, they were advised to take it to the bank and forthwith carried it to the London Chartered. The news of the discovery soon spread, and the bank was crowded with eager spectators, amongst whom was a number of Chinamen; and a constable was sent for to guard the prize. The weight in the gross was then found to be two hundred and ten pounds troy, and preparations were at once made to break the mass to pieces and smelt it. The appearance of the ‘Welcome Stranger’ in its pristine state was something wonderful, and it seemed impossible to realise the fact so great a mass of gold could be collected in one lump. But so it was. Many efforts were made to lift it, and many exclamations of surprise expressed at its immense weight and compactness. A sledgehammer and cold chisels were brought into requisition and several of the latter broken in the attempt to reduce into fragments the ‘Welcome Stranger’. It was found to be as solid as it looked, and as chip after chip and piece after piece was dissevered from it, its appearance was as clean as a well-cut Cheshire cheese. At length, after no less than five hours hammering, the monster was pounded up and smelted, the result being 2268 oz. 10d wts. 14 grs. of solid gold, exclusive of at least a pound weight, which was given by the delighted finders to their numerous friends, who were each anxious to retain a piece of the largest mass of gold the world has yet seen. Over nine thousand pounds were advanced on the nugget by the bank, the final value awaiting the result of assay. Some interest has been manifested as to the comparative size and value of the ‘Welcome Stranger’ and the ‘Welcome’ nugget found at Ballarat, to set which at rest we give the following particulars: -‘Welcome Nugget found in the claim of the Red Hill Company, Bakery Hill, Ballarat, on the evening of the 9th June, 1858. Weight 2,217 oz. 16d wts’. It will thus be seen that the ‘Welcome Stranger’ whose total weight (inclusive of the pieces distributed, and retained as referred to below, before being smelted) was in round numbers 2,300 ounces, being over 80 ounces heavier than the ‘Welcome’. Henceforth the almanacs, which have hitherto chronicled the Ballarat monster nugget, as the largest piece of gold on record will have to change the name to the ‘Welcome Stranger’, found in the Dunolly district, near Moliagul. Several interesting incidents might be published in connection with the finding and finders of the nugget. Oates has, we believe, neither kith nor kin with whom to share his prize, but probably soon will have. Deason has a wife and family at Moliagul, where he holds 80 acres of land under the 42nd section, which we believe he intends to settle down upon and cultivate. Oates, we understand, intends shortly to visit his home at Lands End.
Excerpt from Dunolly & Bet Bet Shire Express February 12th 1869, by gracious permission of the Dunolly Museum, Victoria, Australia
The Dunolly & Bet Bet Shire Express February 12th 1869 continued…
Since writing the above we have visited the locality to be henceforth rendered world wide in its fame. The spot where the nugget was found is marked by a post, and was pointed out to us by the two fortunate finders of this truly ‘Welcome Stranger’. Messrs. Deason and Oates inform us that they came to the colony in the year 1854. On the 19th February in that year they reached Bendigo, and from that time have been engaged as working miners, with the varied successes and difficulties appertaining to digger life. On the whole they have just managed to make a living by dint of hard work and thrift. About seven years ago they settled down at Moliagul, and have been steadily working there ever since chiefly, washing about nine inches to a foot of the surface soil in an old fashioned horse puddling machine. Mr Deason informed us that they had many times washed a whole week for half an ounce of gold, while at other times they were very fortunate. Within about a hundred yards from the spot where the ‘Welcome Stranger’ was unearthed they, some time ago, found two other nuggets, one weighing 108 ounces, and the other 36 ounces. They have stripped and washed the surface soil from several acres of land and their working are easily traced by the red clay they have bared. They informed us that this red clay contained a little gold, but not enough to pay, consequently they do not wash it. They pointed out to us a peculiar kind of red clay similar to half burnt brick, which they regard as indicative of gold, and which has always been found associated with their larger finds, and particularly so with the immense mass of gold found by them on Friday last. It is much to be regretted that this, the largest mass of gold ever found, at any rate of which there is any record, should have been melted before any model of it was made, and the fortunate owners expressed to us their regret that such had been the case. But when they discovered it the mass, as may be supposed, was unwieldy, so much so that it had to be forced from its bed by a large lever, and the place is a very solitary one, anything indeed but such a place as one would care to keep ₤10,000 worth of gold, or to risk making its discovery known until it could by surrounded by the necessary protection. The mass when found was taken to Mr Deason’s hut and placed in the fire for the purpose of rendering the quartz friable, and Deason sat up the whole of Friday night burning and reducing the mass into a somewhat manageable shape, and the debris containing it is estimated about a pound and a half weight of gold. This done, they took it to Dunolly, as previously stated, and it was at their request that the nugget was at once broken up and smelted. Some golden stone was also broken out of the Black Reef itself, specimens of, which are preserved. It is worthy of remark that at the time of our visit, Deason and his mate were working away in their shirtsleeves at the claim as if nothing had happened out of the ordinary. We are glad that the monster has fallen to the lot of such steady and industrious men.
Excerpt from Dunolly & Bet Bet Shire Express February 12th 1869, by gracious permission of the Dunolly Museum, Victoria, Australia
Wood Engraving of Welcome Stranger Published March 1st, 1869 in The Illustrated Australian News for Home Reader
Image by Unknown author – http://sinpic.slv.vic.gov.au/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?DB=local&BBID=49297 [dead link]http://search.slv.vic.gov.au/MAIN:Everything:SLV_VOYAGER1690285, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15058593
There were other large nugget found in Australia, including the Holtermann Nugget discovered at Hill End, New South Wales in 1872, which weighed 290 kg. The Holtermann nugget is the single largest gold mass ever discovered, but whether it is technically a nugget remains a bit controversial. One characteristic of a nugget is that it left the lode at some point in the past and is no longer within the host rock, in other words it has broken off from the original lode of gold and has been carried away by water or erosion. The Holtermann was what was called “reef gold” after the quartz reefs often sought ought by the hard rock miners. The hand of Faith gold nugget was found in 1980 near Wedderburn, Australia and weighs in at 875 troy ounces (61 lbs, 11 oz). Other famous nuggets have been discovered in California, Alaska and Montana in the United States.
Deason returned to live in Moliagul and his descendants are still in the region,, but Oates later returned to Cornwall.
A monument consisting of a large stone obelisk surrounded by a fence was erected near the spot of the discovery of Welcome Stranger in 1897. The top image above is a replica of the nugget. A replica of the nugget is located in today in Melbourne, Victoria in the Old Treasury Building. The descendants of Deason own another replica now on display in the the town of Dunolly.
Top image by photographer:Rodney Start, Museums Victoria, https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/articles/3019
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