The Gympie region is a wonderful place with a rich history, full with fascinating stories. Here’s the Gympie town story….
James Nash sent the area into a gold rush frenzy when he officially made a gold claim on 16 October 1867. Nash had been out at Nanango on his way back from the north prospecting at Calliope Goldfield. Nanango goldfield was finished by that time and not worth staying for so rumour on the goldfields was that Nash made his way south to Durundur Station (near Woodford) and then a week later turned due north, via the tracks through the bush on his way to Maryborough. He stayed at various cattle stations and talked to the people there and heard stories of colour in some of the creeks. He stopped at Bella creek and spots between Imbil Station and Traveston having found some specks, but not having much real luck moved on. After leaving Traveston Station he made his way along the track that lead north. Again, one of the station hands had mentioned Six Mile Creek had shown a bit of colour but from Nash’s account he didn’t like the look of it and he didn’t try there at all.
As he was coming down what we now call Caledonian Hill in the heart of Gympie, he tried his luck in one of the gullies and found enough specks to consider looking at this area further. He moved up one of the other gullies (now named Nash’s Gully), to approximately the precinct of behind the now Civic Centre, Library and Town Hall and started looking for gold. He found what he was looking for! Gold! He spent a couple of weeks panning and collecting enough gold to be able to be sure that he had stumbled across what could prove to be a viable gold field. Nash needed more tools so he made his way to Maryborough, to a store owned by a man by the name of Southerden and exchanged some of the gold for cash and tools. He returned to his find site and collected some more gold. When he thought he had enough he returned to Maryborough and then took a boat to Brisbane where he staked his claim. On the 16 October, 1867 he made claim to the goldfield.
There was some discrepancy as to what the name of the goldfield should be. In the early newspapers you often read it referred to as Quiet Corner Gully, Gympie Creek (with spelling variations – Gympi/Gympy), Mary River, Maryborough and Nashville. Nashville was tried for a while, hence the newspaper commencing as the Nashville times circa February to October 1868…but the story goes….. that much of the mail intended for the Australian Nashville ended up in the American Nashville.
As Gympie evolved from a hastily established mining settlement, the early makeshift structures of the 1860s gradually gave way to more permanent and substantial public and private buildings from the mid 1870s. Gympie was gazetted as a town on 26 January 1880 and in 1883 a reserve for a town hall was created. A competition for the design of a Gympie Town Hall was conducted and in 1884 Clark Brothers (comprising John James Clark, architect and his brother George, an engineer) were named as the winners. Other buildings designed by Clark include the Treasury Building, Brisbane, Central Railway Station Tower, Brisbane and Townsville Railway Station. Clark had a long career, won many design competitions and produced many other notable buildings in Victoria, New South Wales, West Australia and New Zealand. Gympie Town Council proposed to erect its town hall on land at Nash’s Gully bounded by Mellor Street and Caledonian Hill which was to be reserved for this.
The goldfield was a harsh place filled with men scrambling through the bush making claims. There are reports of anywhere between 500 and 3000 men on the goldfield within the first week. Within six months some reports are of up to 30 000 men. There is a newspaper report of a man named White who was looking in gullies coming back with all his clothes ripped because he had been looking in thick vine scrub that was particularly thorny. This was no deterrent as he went back the next day to formally stake his claim. This area became known as White’s and Walker’s Gully. A month later, the One Mile Goldfield was claimed and an individual township sprang up there. Further out across Deep Creek, the Monkland was also named as part of the goldfield. The goldfield also spread north to the Two Mile and Chatsworth.
On the 6th February 1868, about four months after the beginning of the goldfields a massive nugget of fairly pure gold was unearthed. This nugget was named by its finder, the ‘Perseverance Nugget’ but it came to be known as the Curtis Nugget. George Curtis, who was a scab inspector (Sheep Inspector for Scab Disease) on leave from his district, and his nephew Valentine Briggs had taken up an abandoned claim. The previous claim owners had gone deep and found nothing that was profitable. It was actually Briggs who found the nugget. This nugget became famous. It was the third biggest nugget at the time to be found in Australia. It weighed 975 ounces and when refined yielded 906 ounces of gold. It was sold to the Sydney Mint for £3132/9/9 (3132 pounds/9 shillings & 9 pence). This nugget went on a royal tour of the country. The bank allowed the nugget to be displayed in Gympie first. If you wished to have a look it cost you 10s. This money was given to the Hospital fund. It then made its way to Maryborough and then via boat, down to Sydney. While in Sydney his Royal Highness, the Duke of York viewed it. He asked if he could touch it but was told that it was not possible to do so! There is no photograph of the nugget that we know of. After this, it was taken to the mint and melted down. There of course was controversy about who actually should lay claim to the nugget and a lengthy court case took place around that time.
The southern end of the goldfield proved to be the more profitable. There were some significant mining operations with mines such as The Great South Eastern and the Scottish mine. On the 10 July 1884, Gympie opened its own stock exchange. There were fifty-nine companies listed at the opening. The year of the 1893 flood proved rather disastrous for Gympie. The floods inundated many of the mines causing significant damage when the water pressure in the mines caused the explosion of many of the poppet heads and vents.
(Poppet heads sit over mine shafts and are used to winch ore laden buckets from below such as the replica poppet head located at Gympie’s Lake Alford Duckponds at the Gympie Gold Mining Museum –where the No. 2 South Great Eastern east shaft used to be located. However, the original headframe would probably have been 6 metres or more higher and the gantry probably 3 metres higher)
Due to the flood, the Stock exchange was closed for about six months. The town went into a depression and many businesses struggled to survive. This was also the beginning of the downturn of mining in Gympie. There was a slight resurgence in mining in the early 1900’s but it failed to pick up sufficiently for many of the mines to remain profitable. In this mix, we also had WWI and the great depression in the 1920’s and 30’s which caused problems across the globe. By July 1925, the mining activities had stopped with the closure of the last mine, of the large mines the No. 4 north Phoenix. This mine had been in operation from August 1881. Mr James Brown had been the manager for 44 years being appointed in November 1882. By the time the mine closed it covered an area of 46 acres. 85,191 tons of stone had been crushed with a return of 128,556 oz of gold valued at 458,373 pounds. 218,667 pounds had been paid in dividends. The mine was still producing gold when it closed but the water levels in the mine were increasing due to other mine closures around it. It was proving too expensive to keep the water out.
Following its continued growth, Gympie was declared a city in 1905. As gold production declined to cessation circa 1927, Gympie transformed into the service centre for its highly productive agricultural district noted for dairy and fruit-growing. As part of this evolution, the town centre shifted from upper-Mary Street near Commissioners Hill to lower Mary Street closer to the railway station, butter factory and fruit cooperative.
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Mr George Thomas was one of Gympie’s best known citizens, and his love for Local History inspired him to gather and record these stories. Mr Thomas published the information in his book How Gympie Streets were named in 1964. For more information on R. George Thomas click here.