Rumours of gold being found in Launceston’s Cataract Gorge first surfaced on March 12, 1857 with a brief item on page three of The Examiner.
“Gold is reported to have been found near the Third Basin by two fishermen and two mechanics . . . today we believe a party goes out to test the truth of the statement.”
Claims of gold discoveries were not uncommon in the 1850s and in a decade that saw the Victorian and Californian gold rushes any new rumours spread quickly.
According to the Cornwall Chronicle the Gorge gold find was attracting all sorts to the Third Basin where a century later the Trevallyn Power Station dam would be built.
“Bankers, merchants, millers, mechanics, labourers and idlers all rushed across the river in the punt to the West Bank of the Tamar to ascertain personally the truth of some rather exaggerated statements which were in circulation, respecting the gold discovery.”
The Examiner advised caution but undertook to substantiate the claims and when a reporter visited the site there were more than 40 prospectors at work and some were only too willing to show off the gold they had found.
“Nearly every dish of stuff yielded some specks of gold, and in one case a few pieces of the size of small shot were found; in another the pieces were the size of flattened pins heads.”
There were still some hardy gold hunters at the Third Basin a month later, but interest was rapidly waning and by the end of 1857 the gold, and the interest, in the South Esk had petered out.
It would be another 20 years before the rich reef of gold near Beaconsfield was discovered and large-scale gold mining really commenced in Tasmania.
Over its life the Tasmania Gold Mine at Beaconsfield produced nearly two million ounces of gold.
The construction of the Duck Reach Power Station in the 1890s no doubt changed the water flows in the South Esk below the Third Basin but the river wasn’t entirely abandoned by prospectors.
Retired Launceston fireman and former railway worker Lance Carroll says that men were still prospecting for gold there in the 1930s.
When train driver Lou Dennis wasn’t working with the Tasmanian Railways he was prospecting for gold, often with his brother Jack in the Gorge, and other places, and taking photos recording a life unknown to many.
How successful Lou Dennis and his fellow gold prospectors were is unclear, but the construction of the Trevallyn Power Station in the early 1950s brought an end to gold panning at the Third Basin.