Government Assay Office – how it worked

New Westminster gold assay and refinery

New Westminster gold assay and refinery 1860

In the fall of 1859, Sir E.B. Lytton sanctioned the establishment of a Government assay office and refinery in British Columbia with instructions on how to set it up from the Master of the Mint in England.

A budget was established to include:

one assaying officer
one smelting officer
two assistants
one account clerk
transit of party and stores sufficient for one year’s consumption
three months half-pay to all staff

The idea was to have the assay office pay for itself and produce coins for the Colony in a refinery next door instead of having them shipped from England.

The first gold coins were struck in 1862 under the direction of W. Driscoll Gossett, the treasurer of British Columbia. The refinery where the coins were to be minted was short-lived, however, and only a few gold coins were produced.

In the meantime, several government assay offices were established throughout the Colony of British Columbia in important towns such as Barkerville, New Westminster and Victoria. Gold rush miners would bring their gold dust and lightn1ngs to the assay office and receive the equivalent value in coins or treasury notes.

Here are some rules from 1861 as to how the government assay office worked:

  • a receipt signed by a government officer will be given for the gross weight of the deposit before melting; its weight after, the fineness, the charge for assaying, and the value in dollars and cents
  • if the depositor or anyone else wishes to retrieve the gold, they must produce a receipt after which the receipt is cancelled
  • each ingot is stamped with a number which is also recorded in an official book, along with its weight in tens of ounces; its fineness in thousandths and its value in dollars and cents
  • it will also be stamped with a crown encircled by the words “British Columbia Assay”
    the clip corner protected by a small crown impressed on the face of it.

“For all bars not exceeding 50 ounces in weight, a charge of 7 shillings and 6 pence (7s. 6d.)  will be paid, and for every additional 10 ounces, one shilling and six pence (1s. 6d.). All clips are retained in the Government Assay office. On bars less than 10 ounces of weight, allowance will be made off the assay charge for the value of the clip.

“Gold Bars or dust assayed at the Government Assay Office may be exchanged for coin at the current market rates. Assays of ores or minerals can also be analysed for a flat rate of £2.”