Gold nugget model, of 'Welcome Nugget' nugget found at Bakery Hill, Victoria, in 1858, plaster, maker unknown, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1858-1885
Public interest in the gold rushes of the 1850s had not flagged by the 1880s, when this Museum was in its infancy. The Welcome Nugget and a few other very large lumps of gold had acquired almost legendary status and represented the ultimate 'get rich quick' story for their finders. But the nuggets themselves were too precious to preserve, and most had been melted down not long after being found. Hence museums displayed models like this one to let their visitors gain an idea of what the nuggets looked like and perhaps dream of finding one of similar value.
This nugget model is from a collection of 15 purchased from James White in Melbourne in 1885. Between 1885 and 1886 the Museum also commissioned a local model maker, Mrs AG Goodman, to make copies of New South Wales nuggets as well as commercial fruits and minerals. Today, models such as this one of the Welcome Nugget are a reminder that despite the hardships of the 1850s gold rushes, some people did strike it rich and the hope of uncovering such wealth kept hundreds of thousands of diggers constantly searching for new deposits in all the Australian colonies from 1851 up until the early 1900s.
When founded in 1880, the Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum (the forerunner of the Powerhouse Museum) was to be a showcase for 'all the products of useful art' from raw materials to finished products. When the Technological Museum opened in Ultimo in 1893, visitors ascended from economic geology on the ground floor through economic botany on the first floor to economic zoology on the top floor. The focus in economic geology was on Australia's raw materials and the methods used to process them into useful products. Gold, and the history of gold discoveries in Australia, were highlighted in Bay 18, where models of nuggets discovered in Victoria and New South Wales were displayed alongside models of the furnaces used in gold smelting.
'The 'Welcome Nugget' was found on 15th June, 1858 by a party of twenty-two Cornish miners at the Redhill Mining company's claim Bakery Hill, Ballarat. The nugget was discovered in the roof of a tunnel 180 feet (55 metres) underground. The nugget was jagged and pitted in shape and weighed 2,217 ounces 16 pennyweight. (68.98 kg). It was sold for 10,500 pounds sterling ($21,000) and exhibited in Melbourne until March 1859, when it was re-sold. This time however, the nugget brought only 9,325 pounds ($18,650) and was said to weigh 2,195 ounces (68.28 kg). It appears that 22 ounces 16 pennyweight (0.7 kg) of gold was removed from the nugget after its initial sale at Ballarat. The nugget was melted down in London in November 1859.
Other models of the nugget were held by the (since closed) Mining Museum in Sydney and (of the nugget as sold in 1859) in the Melbourne Museum. Photographs of the discoverers of the nugget are in La Trobe Library, Melbourne. This model of the nugget was purchased as part of a larger collection of 15 model nuggets from James White for 9 pounds 10 shillings in 1885.
The model was displayed in a Victorian International Exhibition.