Gold washing cradle, wood / iron, designed by William Tom Jr and Edward Hargraves, made by William Tom, Ophir goldfields, Australia, 1851
This gold cradle was the first to be used in Australia. It was made by William Tom Jr following directions from Edward Hargraves and was based on similar cradles (also called rockers) used to wash for gold in California. The cradle was a box with two metal sieves. Earth and water were shovelled on top and, by the action of being rocked back and forth, were forced through the sieves and out the bottom. Because gold was heavier than the rock and soil it was mixed with, it sank to the bottom and was caught in the base of the cradle.
William Tom (1791-1883) was a farmer in the Orange area when he met Edward Hargraves in February 1851, when Hargraves visited his property. Hargraves had just found grains of gold in Summer Hill Creek and was anxious to prospect for more in the Orange area. He showed William Tom Jr (1823-1904) how to build a cradle and, together with his brothers James and Henry, William used this to search for gold along the creek. Eventually they found as much as 16 grains of gold in one day. When they found nuggets weighing four ounces they wrote to Hargraves who hurried back and named the field Ophir. By then Hargraves had written to the 'Sydney Morning Herald' describing his finds and in May described specific areas where gold existed. By 15 May over 300 diggers were at work at Ophir and the Australian gold rushes had begun.
The cradle is cedar, possibly made from off-cuts since some pieces of wood have nails embedded in them that do not relate to its construction. Although Hargraves is credited with the first discovery of gold in Australia, in fact gold had been found by Europeans as early as 1823 (by James McBrien) and Aboriginal people were well aware that a shiny gold mineral could be found along rivers and in rocks. The real contribution Hargraves made was in the introduction of Californian mining methods, particularly the cradle. Easy to make and thus accessible to all, cradles made it possible for anyone to prospect for gold.
Kimberley, Webber, September, 2000
Edward Hargraves (1816-1891) is credited as the first person to find gold in Australia. In fact, Aborigines were well aware that a shiny gold mineral could be found along rivers and in rocks and the first European mention of gold being present is as early as 1823 (by James McBrien). The real contribution that Hargraves made was in the introduction of Californian mining methods, particularly the cradle. Easy to make and thus accessible to all, cradles made it possible for anyone to prospect for gold.
William Tom, (1791-1883) was farmer and Methodist leader who came to Australia from Cornwall in 1823. He settled in the Orange area and established a property called 'Springfield'. In 1851, Edward Hargraves visited 'Springfield' and explained to William Tom's sons how to build a cradle, and William Tom Jr (1823-1904), with his brothers James and Henry worked along the creek, eventually washing sixteen grains of gold in one day. Soon afterwards William Tom Jr and John H A Lister found nuggets totalling four ounces and wrote to Hargraves who hastened back to the field, and named it Ophir. The gold rush followed. William Tom Jr with his brother James, testified to the Select Committee 1890 on the discovery of gold. Lister died during the proceedings.
William Tom met Edward Hargraves in February 1851 and made the cradle shortly afterwards.
This cradle was used by William Tom (1823-1904] and his brothers, James and Henry, to prospect for gold in the Orange area (later known as Ophir). Once their discoveries were published in the Sydney Morning Herald, thousands of diggers rushed to the area and the Australian gold rushes began.
It appears that this cradle remained in the Tom family until it was donated to the Royal Australian Historical Society. It was subsequently acquired by the Museum as part of the Royal Australian Historical Society Collection in 1981 (RAHS #523).