Prospectors at Homebush

Several of the great great grandfathers of my husband Greg Young were gold diggers. One, John Plowright (1831 – 1910), followed the rushes in Victoria with only small success and settled at Homebush, a few miles from Avoca. Frederick James Cross, Greg’s great grandfather, also settled at Homebush and took up mining. Frederick married Greg’s great grandmother Ann Plowright.

Some years later James Cross, son of Frederick and Ann, and John Plowright’s grandson and Greg’s great uncle, seems to have had some luck. He and his mates found what appeared to be a promising reef and dug out a small amount of gold, not enough to make them rich but enough to keep them looking for more:

On 20 July 1908 the Melbourne Argus reported:

MARYBOROUGH,Sunday - Very rich gold bearing stone has been struck at Lower Homebush The prospectors are Messrs Gus and John Nicholls, James Cross, and F. M. Nicholls. They originally commenced operations on an abandoned reef, about a hundred feet to the east of the present find, but on Thursday, while awaiting the return of one of the party, they determined to try an outcrop, which had previously been located. This outcrop had been exposed by the removal of the surface for road making purposes and it did not take long to uncover the cup of a reef, 7ft wide. Both walls were laid bare and at a depth of 10ft on breaking into the western or hanging, wall of the lode some splendid gold bearing stone was broken The party state that on Thursday afternoon specimens to the the value of £40 were obtained. Friday was devoted to properly exposing the cap, and on Saturday morning another lot of specimens were obtained probably equal in value to the first lot Although too soon to express any opinion on the find the chances are good. Up to the present the gold has all been found on the hanging-wall, associated with ironstone and a little iron pyrites. The reef runs north and south with a slight westerly underlie and has good walls. The land is on the northern slope of what is known as View Hill, Homebush, and within half a mile of the famous Homebush lead.
The claim of Messrs. Wilson and Shields [Sheill], from which rich returns have been won for some time past, is a mile further north, on the same line. The gold in the specimen is of a heavy - solid character, one piece of golden stone, barely 2in. square, weighing over 12 oz., and is estimated to contain quite 5oz. of gold,
The find has caused much excitement, and the claim had a great many visitors yesterday and today.

Greg’s great uncle James John Cross (1887 – 1963) was one of the miners. About the time of the discovery John and Gus Nicholls and Jim Cross were photographed on some gold diggings.

Image in the collection of the Avoca and District Historical Society and reproduced with permission

Less than a month later the Ballarat Star continued reporting the good news

At the Homebush Rush, Nicholls, Cross, and Nicholas crushed 15 tons at the Government battery, Avoca, for 30 oz. The reef is 7 feet wide. A rich specimen obtained on Thursday was not in the crushing. Webb’s Reward is down 53 feet. They will shortly open out for a continuation of the lode being worked by Nicholls and party.

A year later the Melbourne Age indicated prospecting was still successful but the reef was still elusive and it seems Jim Cross was possibly no longer working with the Nicholls brothers.

MARYBOROUGH.— Some excitement has been caused at Homebush by the discovery, by Messrs. Nicholls Bros, and Stratman of some rich specimens on the surface. They are loaming the surface, in the hope of finding a reef which is believed to be close at hand.

The Ballarat Star of Monday 6 September 1909 was optimistic about the gold discoveries at Homebush.

Satisfaction has been caused locally by the news that the Working Miners' claim at Homebush has again been floated into a good solid company. It is freely admitted that the Homebush lead is one of the best in the State, and it is a matter for regret that it should have been allowed to remain idle for such a long time. The returns obtained from the Working Miners’ claim some years ago were excellent, but the mine was difficult to work in those days and was abandoned. The township of Homebush then sunk into obscurity until Messrs Wilson, and Shiells located a rich reef. Gradually, but surely, the mining industry began to stir, until other reefs were opened up. Then the attention of mining men was naturally turned to Homebush, and as a result it has been decided to resume operations in the alluvial ground. The revival has been steadily approaching, and has been predicted on several occasions by “The Star.” That our anticipations were correct is borne out by the interest that is now being centred on this field, which a few years ago was practically dormant.
Daly and party, who discovered a reef at Homebush a few days ago, are putting through a crushing at the Avoca Government battery.
Yet another reef has been located at Homebush by Messrs Squires and Trounsen. They have obtained some good prospects, and are taking out a crushing.
Developmental work is being carried out by Messrs Nicholls Bros, and Stratman, at the Dreadnought claim, Homebush.
At the Lord Nolan claim, situated at Mosquito, a quantity of stone has been taken out and will shortly be tested. The claim is surrounded with reefs, which proved very profitable some years ago. A well-defined lode exists in the Lord Nolan, and it is improving with depth.
On the whole the mining industry in the district is looking much brighter than it has for some time. When the now alluvial claims are opened up, renewed prosperity is in store for Maryborough.

Another of Greg’s great great grandfathers was George Young who was a miner at Lamplough on the other side of Avoca. The grandson of George Young, Cecil Young—Greg’s grandfather—grew up in Homebush. Greg inherited a small collection of picture postcards from Cecil, among them one of addressed to Miss Eva Hogan (1889-1913). It shows a group of miners and a dog at a puddling machine.

Addressed to Miss E Hogan Bromley near Dunolly and postmarked 6 August 1909.
Dear Eva Just a line hoping you all are doing well, & did not get washed away. Tell dad Gus wrote to Charlie to give him a show if he gets it, that is all we know at present. When are you coming to see us. Give love to all from all yours Mary.

I think the writer of the card was Eva’s sister Mary (Hogan) Nicholls (1884 – 1984) who had married Gus Nicholls (Augustus Walsh Pugh Nicholls (1885 – 1969)) in 1905. Charlie might have been Gus’s brother, Charles Edward Nicholls (1876 – 1930).

I think the card shows members of the Nicholls family but don’t know who was who. It seems likely that the dog at least is the dog in the earlier picture. Perhaps Gus Nicholls is holding the horse and Jack Nicholls is standing in the trough holding the shovel.

Puddling machines were developed on the Victorian goldfields in the early 1850s. A circular trough in the ground, lined with wood or bark, was filled with clay and water. A horse circled the trough and dragged a harrow through the clay mixture, breaking up the lumps and turning it into a runny sludge. The gold released from the clay would sink to the bottom, and the watery clay would be drained off from the top. The residue at the bottom of the trough would then be cleaned up with a pan or cradle to collect the gold.

In 1910 Jim Cross married Eva Hogan. They had two children. In 1913 Eva died of septic poisoning. Jim moved from Homebush to Wonthaggi in Gippsland where he worked at the State Coal Mine.

Jim and Eva Cross
photograph in the collection of a grandson

The Homebush mines did not yield gold in the quantities hoped for, and the miners and their families moved away. A derelict schoolhouse stands by itself in an empty paddock; nothing else remains.

Post by Anne Young