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Early in June, 1866, a party of miners succeeded in bottoming a shaft - rather a paddock - in the bed of Crocodile Creek, and, what was of much more importance, found payable gold. Miners began to quickly drop in from various places, and a lot of shafts were bottomed on gold. It is not quite clear who first got gold in the creek, but Messrs. William Brady, Thomas Feely, and their mates were among the first. From the creek bed claims were taken out in all directions. Early in August there was a population of at least a thousand persons, and the unemployed rushed there from all parts of the colony, as did also a number of Chinamen. A Lot of Rockhampton people started stores and hotels on the field. Coaches were put on the road from town, and when the gold began to come in the importance of the field was recognised throughout Queensland. Gold buyers used to go out to the field, purchase considerable quantities of gold, and so put cash into circulation.
The stores and hotels were naturally of a flimsy and temporary character, but they were erected rapidly, whilst every facility was afforded the miners to spend their money without going into town. Day by day the population increased, and by Christmas it was estimated the number was over 3000 persons, which included a number of women and children, and about a thousand Chinese. All were not getting payable gold, but a large number were, including some hundreds of Chinese. The Europeans who were not getting gold were exasperated by seeing the Chinamen securing the treasure which they considered rightly belonged to them. Meanwhile Mr. John Jardine had been appointed Gold Commissioner, and he resolved to protect the Chinese, and give them all the privileges of the white population, which, of course, only increased the number. Chinatown, as the lower portion of the place was termed, was steadily becoming an abomination, with gambling, opium smoking, and other evils, which included the Chinese luring young girls of twelve or fourteen years of age into their premises.
The gold won was not all confined to the creek and flat, for several other gullies, including the Five mile, were opened, and some of them turned out a fair amount of gold. Many of the gullies that ran into Crocodile Creek also contained gold, and some claims in these paid their owners well. Among such places were Slaughter yard, Commissioner, and Poverty gullies. The work in the Crocodile Creek claims was very laborious, for the huge boulders had to be lifted out of the way, whilst some claims were wet, and required almost constant bailing. As a rule the best gold was obtained on the sidings of the granite bottom, and not in the deepest ground. Indeed, it became a proverb almost, that those who struck heavy water in the deeper ground obtained light gold, and vice versa.
Among the diggers were a lot of new chums who came up from Brisbane, which at that time was crowded with unemployed. A good many of these men were quite unfitted for such work, and some of them did not want work at all, but on the whole the people were law abiding, and would have been thoroughly contented if the Chinese had not held many of the best claims. It was the law, of course, that was at fault, but it was many years later before an Act came in force to exclude Chinese from mining on all goldfields for two years from the date of discovery.
Butcher's meat, bread, and stores of all kinds were cheap, only a shade above Rockhampton prices, while coaches ran daily at a fare of 2s. 6d. each way. Among the early storekeepers at Crocodile was Mr. Christian Jagerndorff, and for thirty nine years the veteran has remained faithful to the old spot. He has reared a big family on the creek, and notwithstanding that he has passed the allotted span of human life, and that he has been battered about by numberless accidents, including the loss of a leg, the old "King of Crocodile" is still full of vigor.
Many estimates have been formed of the quantity of gold won at Crocodile from the alluvial diggings, but nothing more than an approximate idea can be arrived at. Mr. R. L. Dibdin was the principal gold buyer in those days. He paid a weekly visit to Crocodile to make purchases, and in addition he bought gold in town. Mr. Dibdin built an office at Crocodile at the latter end of 1866. At first he bought gold for himself, but subsequently he purchased for the Bank of New South Wales. He was never molested on the road either going or coming, though he was well known to be travelling with either gold or cash. Mr. Dibdin never kept a record of the quantity of gold he purchased, but he estimates it at 50,000 oz. In all probability he did not purchase more than half of the gold obtained at Crocodile, in which case the total quantity won would be about 100,000 oz., all of which was alluvial gold. That will possibly be the outside quantity, for after the first twelve months, when the principal claims were worked out, the bulk of the population disappeared, and the gold yield of course fell away. At any rate, it may be assumed that Crocodile yielded somewhere between 80,000 oz., and 100,000 oz. of gold, worth about (3 15s. per oz. The gold on Crocodile was of a coarse character, heavy, and fairly well water worn. Occasionally nuggets of an ounce or two in weight were found, but not many much bigger. One Chinaman is said to have found a nugget that weighed 9 lb. in weight, and if the story is correct, the nugget was the largest reported. Coming, as this diggings did, when there was a financial crisis in Queensland, it helped the colony over difficulties which were pressing on all sides.
Several of the diggers and residents of Crocodile in the early days have won distinction in various walks of life. Among such was Mr. John Hamilton, who was so long a member of the Legislative Assembly, and did so much both in the House and out of it for the reform of the mining laws. Mr. Hamilton worked a claim on the flat, and met with an accident there that seemed likely to end fatally. One evening he was hauled up from the underground workings by the windlass, and in the usual way he sat down for a second or two on the edge of the shaft. He was all wet and slimy, of course, and in shaking his foot to free it from the rope in which it had been placed, he slipped off the round log on which he sat, and fell 27 ft. to the bottom of the shaft. He dropped partly into the well hole, where the water broke his fall, but his right arm struck the edge of the well slabs and he sustained a nasty wound. He visited Rockhampton as soon as possible, and had the injured limb attended to. It did not improve, though and finally two doctors told him it would be necessary to amputate the arm to save his life. Hamilton declined to suffer such a loss, saying he would sooner die. His medical attendants accordingly washed their hands of him, and Hamilton had to doctor himself. The arm was in a high state of inflammation, and Hamilton bathed it with a carbolic lotion, at the same time taking a cooling mixture internally. He was stopping at the Commercial Hotel at the time, and during the night, in a half delirious state, he drank from the wrong bottle, and narrowly escaped death from poisoning. He bore his sufferings with a patience and fortitude but seldom witnessed, and finally subdued the inflammation, and saved his life and his arm also. It was years before the arm thoroughly healed, and not until a splinter of bone had worked out.
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