After the alluvial gold became more scarce, gold prospectors dug into the earth to continue to find the riches that were available around the Ballarat area.
The mines were either relatively shallow, dug by individual prospectors, or ran deep, supported by more elaborate mining setups by larger companies, that then employed miners who then drew a wage to dig, rather than earning nothing, or everything. These miners earned around $65000 in today’s dollars, but the work was dangerous, and their life expectancy short.
If not for the cave-ins, drowning and all the other heavy risks, the air itself was laden with dust, and every breath took a toll.
Just out of interest, the mine above was dug into ancient creek beds, and yielded a 69kg monster. At today’s price, you would get just about enough change from $3.5 million to buy a cup of coffee (but it might have to be instant).
Larger mines may have been built stronger, but the miners constantly listened to every murmur, every creak, and when the timber started to talk, it was time to run and even then, it was often too late.
If you were exceptionally lucky, the gold was there to find.
This could be broken up by hand (sledgehammer), but to process the amount being mined, more elaborate methods were introduced.
One such example is shown above, using a method not dissimilar to milling wheat into flour, this crushes the quartz with a heavy, iron-reinforced stone wheel, pulled by horse.
Other subtle methods were used later in the piece, such as a ball grinder that uses a bowl with a free-running large stone ball to grind the fine samples even further to release the gold therein.
With the increasing introduction of industrial methods to increase yield and process the maximum amount possible, we have the crusher!
Rock is fed in from the right, and hammers pound it to dust, before it flows over an oscillating cloth bed designed to catch the gold, while the quartz dust flows over the top to discard (or finer sorters).
But I don’t think you get the full effect in a photo or two. So this might help understand just how much force is really involved!
Once the gold is extracted, it is melted down to have its impurities removed, and cast into ingots.
This fiery brick is $150000 of pure gold.