How Australia Remembers The World’s Biggest Gold Nugget

 In February 1869, two British prospectors, John Deason and Richard Oates, were digging for gold in central Victoria, Australia, when their ax struck something hard very close to the surface. When Deason bent down to examine the large stone he thought was in the way, he found an enormous gold nugget – the largest nugget that anyone had ever seen, and ever would see. The length of the nugget was two feet and width was about one foot.

Deason and Oates discussed the discovery enthusiastically, but in hushed tones. The nugget had to be put away safely before word spread. They waited until sunset, and under the cover of darkness, Deason and Oates dug up the gold and carried it to Deason's hut, where it was placed in a fire to burn the debris and break up the black quartz coating the gold. The nugget was fired throughout the weekend, and by Monday morning, about 70 pounds. Broken black quartz from the main nugget was taken to be treated at a local stamper, and 60 ounces of gold was recovered from this crushing. The remaining nugget was hidden under Mrs. Deason's skirt and taken in a cart to Dunolly, 9 miles away.

At Dunolly, Deason and Oates took the Nugget straight to the bank; They wanted to take it out of their hands as quickly as possible before it was plundered by bushrangers. Unfortunately, the nugget – now called the "Welcome Stranger" – was too large to be weighed on the bank's scales, and had to be taken in a cart to the local blacksmith, where it was broken into three manageable pieces. Sixty-six kilograms were sold to the bank, and the rest was kept by Desson and Oates. There are varying reports on the actual weight of the nugget, but the most commonly cited figure is 72 kilograms.

The bank paid £9,563 pounds for the nugget, which, according to John Tully, president of the Goldfields Historical and Arts Society in Dunolly, was equivalent to an average working man's salary for 43 years.

After the discovery, Desson continued mining gold and eventually became a storekeeper in Moliagal. He lost most of his wealth due to bad investments. He bought a small farm near Moliyagal and spent his last days as a farmer. Meanwhile, Oates returned to England and married. He returned to Australia, had four children and lived the rest of his life on his 800-acre farm until his death.

The memory of the discovery is kept alive by a granite obelisk on the spot where the Welcome Stranger was discovered in 1869. The monument is situated near Moliyagul. There is another memorial at Dunolly, and a statue depicting two miners digging Welcome Stranger in the middle of a parking lot in Redruth, England.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the discovery, descendants of Desson and Oates gathered in Moleagul on February 5, 2019, and reenacted photographs taken by the discoverers with their family members.

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