LARGEST NUGGET IN THE WORLD, THE WELCOME STRANGER
The following collection is the only primary sources known regarding the Welcome Stranger nugget.
Dunolly & Bet Bet Shire Express February 12th 1869
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 day named, 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 2268oz. 10dwts. 14grs. 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 2,217oz. 16dwts’. 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.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.
No photographs or casts were made of the nugget. Replica nuggets are based on these two sketches.
The sketch on the right by Francis Fearn is shown upside down to how it is normally shown in Robert Brough Smythes report contained in appendix F in his 1869 book: Goldfields and Mineral Districts of Victoria. When Fearn's picture is presented as shown similarities of outline to Webber’s sketch become apparant.
Report to the Mines Minister.
By Francis Knox Orme February 12th 1869
Sir, I have the honour to report for your information that in company with the Mining Surveyor Couchman I proceeded yesterday to the ground where the large nugget was found and now named by the finders 'The Welcome Stranger'. It weighed 210 lb gross and 2269 oz 10 dwts 14 grains of smelted gold have been obtained from it irrespective of a number of pieces of gold and specimens which have been given away by the finders, and which they estimate, and I believe correctly, at one pound weight, and also irrespective of a considerable quantity of broken quartz mixed with gold which has been obtained from the nugget when breaking it into pieces for the purpose of carriage. The finders are named John Deason and Richard Oates, miners who have worked in this locality for about seven years and have a puddling machine there, and the nugget was found on Friday 5 February instant about one inch below the surface on the western side of a gully slope, going from the Black Reef down to a gully which is known as the Bulldog Gully or Black Lead. They estimate the size as about twenty-one inches in length and about ten inches in thickness but unfortunately broke the nugget in three parts before they informed anyone of it, and at their request it was for smelting purposes, at once broken into small pieces with a sledge hammer and chisels, when taken to the London Chartered Bank on the 9th instant.
The nugget was found in some surfacing (of which from ten inches to a foot is generally puddled) of loose, gravelly loam restir on thick, red clay, with a bottom of sandstone about ten inches fro the surface.
A nugget of nine and a half-pound was found in the gully about ten years since, and also one of thirty-six ounces was found there by Deason on 8 June 1866, about one hundred yards from where the 'Welcome Stranger' was found. This is about two and a half miles from the south of Mount Moliagul - one and a quarter miles from the township of Moliagul - about a mile from the Gipsy Diggings and eight miles from Dunolly.
The precise locality in which it was found will be seen at once from the plan attached which has been made for the information of the Hon the Minister for Mines by Mr Mining-Surveyor Couchman, and in which the position is connected with the lands held under leases No 709 and 752, with the township of Moliagul and in which both the Bulldog and Black Reefs are shown. As soon as the exact weight of the balance of the gold obtained from the nugget and not in-cluded in the 2268-10-4 already mentioned has been ascertained, you shall be informed of it, and also of the amount of gold given in presents by the finders, so that a correct return of the whole actual weight nett of the nugget may be given.
It is greatly to he regretted that such a splendid nugget should have been broken up and that no photograph or drawing of it was taken, but I am glad to say that I confidently expect that a drawing of it from memory made with all possible care and fidelity will be made without delay and forwarded to you without delay.
F. Knox Orme, Warden.
Above: William Parker re-enact ment photo.
William Parker was a photographer who had a studio in Dunolly.
John Deason’s 1905 account of the nugget discovery:
The following is John Deason’s account of the discovery of the Welcome Stranger gold nugget as signed by him (with his mark) in November 1905.
It was between 9 and 10 am the fifth of February 1869. I was at work picking the surface for puddling and put the pick in the ground and felt what I thought was a stone. The second blow struck in the same way and the third time also. I scraped the ground with the pick and saw gold; then I cleared away further and right round the nugget. There was a stringy-bark root going right across it and a small bit of gold stood up and the root of the stringy bark ran through this. I tried to prise the nugget up with the pick but the handle broke. I then got a crowbar and raised the nugget to the surface. It weighed nearly three hundred weight. At first there was much quartz with the gold. As the nugget lay in the ground the solid piece of gold was underneath and it was deep in the ground but the top of the nugget was not more than an inch below the surface. The nugget was about 18 inches long by 16 inches wide and about 16 inches deep. My mate, Richard Oates, was working a short distance below the puddling machine in his paddock and I sent my son down to call him. When my mate came I said ‘what do you think of it Dick. Is it worth 5000 pounds? ‘Oh’ he said, ‘more like 2000 pounds’. We then got the dray and lifted the nugget into it and carted it down to my hut, which stood about one and a half chains to the north of the old puddling machine. We took it out of the dray and put it in the fireplace, built a good fire on it and kept it burning for about 10 hours, leaving it to cool for 2 hours. We sat up all night breaking it free from the quartz. My wife, my mate and myself were the only people who saw the nugget as it was first found. When it was cold we broke 70 lbs of quartz away from it. Besides detached pieces of gold, there was one solid piece of it that weighed 128 lbs (troy). This was on the bottom of the nugget as it lay in the ground. There was a great deal of loose gold when the quartz was broken off. The 70 lbs of quartz broken away had coarse and fine gold through it. It was taken to Mr Edward Udey’s battery close by and a load of other quartz with no gold in it was crushed with it and 60 ozs of smelted gold obtained. Several small pieces of gold and quartz were broken off and given to friends after the burning. About 5 ozs of gold was given away and this has never been reckoned in with the weight of the nugget as sold to the bank. I have still a small piece of the gold, the only bit that is left*. The total weight of gold was over 200 lbs (troy). It was put in a calico bag and taken in Mr Udey’s spring cart to the London Bank, Dunolly. My mate, Mr Udey, and I went with it. The gold was smelted and yielded 2280 ozs of gold, over 23 carats fine. The bank paid us 9563 pounds for it.
* Note: This was shown to Mr E.J. Dunn, Director of the Geological Survey. It is a specimen of about 2 to 3 dwts of gold with grey quartz and is a little more than one inch long.