Tag Archives: Fraser River Gold Rush

From Barter to Tartar: A boatload of cash arrives in 1861

What brought the battle weary warship HMS Tartar to Esquimalt in 1861?

Before the Fraser River gold rush, the Colony of British Columbia did not exist and money rarely changed hands; most of the trade done at the forts was done by barter.

All that changed in the Spring of 1858 when gold seekers stopped at Fort Langley for provisions and $5 mining licences. Miners paid with cash — thus beginning the trend away from a barter-based economy.  This was great news for the Hudson’s Bay Company as James Douglas reported in 1858:

“A considerable cash business is now carried on at Fort Langley, the sales are averaging about $1500 a day. The articles sold are principally Flour, Bacon and Beans, and mining tools which we import from San Francisco, together with blankets and woollen clothing …”

The need for currency

Most merchants accepted gold dust as a means of payment for goods but they preferred cash.

Bank Exchange Saloon advertisement in Daily Colonist Nov 8, 1860

It was difficult to assess just how fine the gold was and to agree upon its worth. Both miners and merchants were often cheated. In addition, when it came time for merchants to restock their goods, transactions were being hampered by the lack of currency.

Many gold seekers left to take their gold to the San Francisco Mint to get money in return. This was another loss for merchants in British Columbia as well.

HMS Tartar arrives

As early as April 25, 1859 the Colonial Treasurer Captain William Gosset (of the Royal Engineers) informed Governor Douglas that something should be done about the lack of coins in circulation. He proposed that the Colony of British Columbia import £100,000 worth of coin and sovereigns to be repaid in gold bullion.

Almost exactly two years later, in April, 1861, HMS Tartar brought florins amounting in value to £4,000, shillings amounting to £2,000, sixpences amounting to £800, and threepenny pieces amounting to £100; total, £6,900. The Daily Colonist made a brief note of its arrival from Britain, mentioning that the ship brought a “large amount of silver coin but no copper currency” [small denominations were made of solid copper until 1860]. A week later, The British Columbian newspaper anticipated a warm welcome for the arrival of the coins.

Scarcity of Coin

When these coins were finally brought over there still wasn’t enough to satisfy the demands of the merchants. The lack of a circulating currency continued to be a problem.

On November 7, 1861 the New Westminster paper in an editorial said:—

“Owing to the scarcity of coin in the Treasury here and in the banking-houses in Victoria, miners are compelled to go to San Francisco for the purpose of having their golddust turned into coin. . . . If the coin question is so seriously felt now, to what alarming dimensions will it attain next year with a mining population at least fivefold what it is now, and a corresponding increase in the yield of our mines.”

Later the government offered a premium on sovereigns imported from California, but even that wasn’t enough.

Whaleboats down the Fraser River

How many American gold seekers drowned while trying to cross the Strait of Georgia or in the Fraser River? Getting to the gold diggings on the Fraser River was not easy. It took two days of paddling from Victoria just to reach the Fraser River. Some used canoes, rafts and even whaleboats. Once they made it to the mainland, there were several dangerous rapids to run on Fraser River.

Dangerous rapids

Governor Douglas wrote in a May 19, 1858 despatch to Lord Stanley, the Colonial Secretary in London: “Many accidents have happened in the dangerous rapids of that [Fraser] river, a great number of canoes having been dashed to pieces and their cargoes swept away by the impetuous stream, while of the ill-fared adventurers who accompanied them, many have been swept into eternity.”

What happened to the 8,000 men who didn’t return?

The Alta California newspaper reported that 27,534 people sailed directly to Victoria from San Francisco between April 1, 1858 and March 31, 1860, and 19,051 returned during that same period. What happened to the 8,483 persons who did not sail back? Did they return by another route, did they settle in Washington Territory or did they lose their lives by accident?

The Alta California article, printed on May 26, 1860, went on to say that the free port of Victoria was still importing large amounts of American goods yet  “the white population of Victoria and British Columbia” was no more than 6,000. Clearly they weren’t counting all the blacks who emigrated!

Whaleboats down the Fraser River

L. F. Bodkin was one of the American miners who struck it rich on Island Bar north of Spuzzum in 1858. He stayed and worked through the winter then in March 1859, he prepared to head back east with about $2,000 worth of gold dust.  He canoed down the Fraser River and at Fort Hope he embarked in a whaleboat along with several other miners. They had just rowed past  the mouth of the Harrison River when the whaleboat hit a snag and flipped over. Everyone made it out alive, but Bodkin lost his gold.

whaleboat

Just the previous month, Captain Brock of the ‘Gold Hunter’ found the body of a fifty year old man from San Francisco in the same vicinity and buried him “on the point of the first riffle above the Harrison River”.

Immediately after that disaster, Bodkin returned back to the bar and worked it for another year and a half, this time accumulating about $4,000 in gold dust. This time though, he wasn’t so lucky.

On August 15, 1860 Bodkin attempted to canoe down the Fraser River with his gold dust and a load of fresh beef to Boston Bar. He was just four miles from his destination when he attempted to run a “small but dangerous riffle” and the canoe capsized. Two others, “an Indian and Chinaman” managed to hang onto the overturned canoe until they were rescued by some miners three miles downstream.

Bodkin, his beef, and all his gold were gone.

Fraser Canyon War and the Nlaka’pamux villages

Before the Fraser River gold rush, there were several Nlaka’pamux villages occupying the flat land along the Fraser Canyon. Trails led through the forests from winter village areas to food-gathering and hunting areas; every peak, every lake, every clearing was known to someone.

One of these villages was Tuckkwiowhum (Tuck-we-ohm) meaning ‘great berry picking place’. For thousands of years, people lived at the spot where Anderson River meets the Fraser River. People stopped here on their travels to and from Klickumcheen (Lytton).

The ancient village of Kopchitchin was directly across the Fraser River.

Fraser Canyon War

The summer of 1858 was a brutal one for First Nations who sought to protect their territories. The American army was engaged in a full out war against several First Nations from Fort Simcoe to Fort Okanagan.

Steamboats plowed the waters up to Yale, unloading hundreds of miners at a time. Natives blamed the boats for preventing the salmon from their migration. Foreign goldseekers set up camps on every bar that could be seen, crowding out Natives who were also panning for gold.

Then the freshet came and goldseekers were impatient to head further north into Nlaka’pamux territory.

The walls of the Fraser Canyon echoed with gunshot as goldseekers attempted to gain ground above Hell’s Gate. The Nlaka’pamux responded with poison-tipped arrows.

Hudson’s Bay Company in the middle

Without any legal authority, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s chief factor of Fort Yale was powerless to stop the carnage except to appeal for peace. What could a handful of HBC clerks do against several thousand miners?

Fort Yale Chief factor Ovid Allard wrote to James Douglas:

The Miners have abused the Indians in many instances particularly at what is called New York Bar by insulting their women after they had voluntarily given up their arms. I understand that the same thing has also occurred at “Quayome”. From what I can learn I have reason to believe that some 15 or 20 Indians have lost there lives and three or four whites.

At Yale, goldseekers armed with percussion revolvers and breech loading rifles formed into at least five American-style militia groups.

Villages Burned

In August 1858, these militia forces completely burned the villages of Kopchitchin and Tuckkwiowhum.

In all, the militias burned five ‘rancheries’; three above the Big Cañon and two below. The militias destroyed all their provisions including salmon and dried berries.

Lake House: a strategic stopover in the Fraser River gold rush

Lake House was a popular stopping place during the Fraser River gold rush. It only stood for two years between 1858 and 1860 yet it was an important site on the trail between Hope and Lytton.  How did Lake House come to be? And what brought about it’s demise?

A.C. Anderson’s dilemma

Years before the Fraser River gold rush in 1858, the Hudson’s Bay Company made several attempts at forging a trail up the Fraser Canyon. After the Oregon Treaty of 1846, the Company found itself required to pay American duties on goods shipped by way of Fort Vancouver. The Company’s mapmaker, A.C. Anderson was pressured to find ‘an all British route’ that could be used by men and horses loaded with bales of furs travelling from Fort Alexandria or Fort Kamloops down to Fort Langley.

Lake House – a notorious roadhouse (approximate location of trail)

The short life of Fort Yale

Anderson figured on a route down the Fraser Canyon but it was exceedingly challenging and furthermore, their intrusion into Nlaka’pamux territory was unwelcome. Despite the problems of the route, a small fort was constructed at Yale and another wayside hut, called Simon’s House, was erected near the First Nations village of Spo’zum (Spuzzum) near where a brigade could cross the Fraser River and up the steep slope on the other side. There was a long climb up to the top of Lake Mountain and down the other side to the Coquiome (Anderson) River. Considering the length of time it took to reach their destination, there would have been frequent camping spots along the way.

Eventually, the HBC came to use another route to Fort Kamloops following the Coquihalla River  which resulted in the abandonment of Fort Yale and the establishment of Fort Hope.

Gold!

Anderson’s old route up the Fraser Canyon came to be used again. In 1858, a couple of miners arrived at Fort Yale and swapped their boat for an old horse which they loaded with coffee and whiskey. They followed the former HBC trail up Lake Mountain and rigged up a canvas tent on the plateau within view of the lake.

A goldseeker who wrote to the San Francisco Bulletin in the fall of 1858 described Lake House as “nothing more than a large round tent, wherein you can get a good cup of coffee and beans adlibitum for one dollar…”

From tent to wood hut

With more and more miners passing by, a wood cabin was built to accommodate overnight visitors. Robert Frost, a judge in Olympia, Washington, recalled his stay at Lake House some time later:

“We made Boston Bar that afternoon, beached the canoe as we could not take it through the canyon, we started up the mountain; night overtook us and we had to sleep in the snow. About nine o’clock next morning we made the Lake House on the trail, a mere shack; where the proprietor got us up a breakfast at $1.00 each. It consisted of hard tack, bacon,and beans with a raw onion. I thought at the time that it was about the best meal I had ever eaten.”

A.R. Lempriere and his group of Royal Engineers stayed overnight at this location on August 8 of 1859:

“Left Boston Bar having procured 4 horses the day before and in the evening reached the Lake House situated on the top of a mountain. As it was very cold our men being tired we rushed to stay there the night: There was only one room in which we all slept with a lot of miners, Indians etc., in all numbering about 14 or 15: Bunks were arranged in three tiers all round the room, for the accommodation of travelers. I cannot say it was particularly agreeable.”

Burnt down under orders

The following year, a judge in Yale sent an officer to burn down Lake House because liquor was being illegally sold to Natives. Upon hearing the news, one of the owners, W.H. Weatherhill, protested the razing. Weatherhill claimed that he was away operating the ferry at Boston Bar and that the fellow responsible for selling the liquor had moved in without his consent.

A new route to Boston Bar

In the fall of 1860, a new trail was carved out by contractors Power and McRoberts at a cost of $62,000. This new trail which opened in April 1861 went directly from Chapman’s Bar to Boston Bar. The trail climbed along the rocky ledge about 800 feet above the Fraser River through what was known then as the ‘Big Cañon’.

Gold rush history unearthed

Lake House literally faded into the ground until it was unearthed by student archaeologists from Kwantlen Polytechnic University in 2013. It turned out to be a treasure trove of Fraser River gold rush history with almost 300 items uncovered. Among the artifacts identified were solder seam cans, footwear, mule shoes, machine-cut square nails, American militia buttons, a Chilean coin marked 1845, ceramic pipes, coins, a three pronged fork and spent ammunition.

Hike into the past

Today you can hike this same trail that was used thousands of years ago by Nlaka’pamux who gathered cedar bark, followed by HBC fur traders and goldseekers over 160 years ago. Opened in 2012 after a massive volunteer effort, the trail past Lake House is now called the Tikwalus Heritage Trail, after a Native village that once stood near the trailhead.

The man who built Trounce Alley

How did Trounce Alley in Victoria B.C., get its name?

Thomas Trounce

Thomas Trounce

Thomas Trounce was a gold rush miner and a builder, originally from Cornwall, England. He moved to London as a young man and later with his wife Jane, moved to New Zealand where he worked as a carpenter and joiner. When the California gold rush broke out, they sailed for San Francisco. With all the fires that occurred in San Francisco, Trounce had steady work as a builder. Then, in 1858, news of the Fraser River gold rush reached his ears and Trounce got on a ship bound for Victoria.

He first lived in a tent on Government Street while he worked as a builder. He was able to buy a property not long later. The only issue was that the right of way to his property belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company and this they sold. What was he to do? Trounce was hardly discouraged, instead he established his own thoroughfare between Government and Broad Streets which became known as Trounce Alley.

Tregew ‘The Flourishing Place’

In 1860, Trounce built his house in James Bay which he named Tregew, Cornish for ‘the flourishing place’. It lived up to that name with all the fruit he grew there.

Many buildings in Esquimalt were built by Trounce thanks to his good business dealings with Admiral Hastings and Paymaster Sidney Spark. It was discovered later that the paymaster had overlooked the requirement to get other tenders.

Trounce, who advertised himself as an architect and builder was able to take advantage of both roles. He built several brick buildings around Victoria and was the contractor for the construction of the St. Nicholas Hotel.

In later years, Trounce served as alderman on Victoria City Council and he became a Grand Master of Masons. Apples that were grown at Tregew earned him a prize at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition. Shortly after his wife Jane died in 1888, Trounce married again to Emma Richards, a widow 27 years younger. He was 76.

A hundred and seven years after it was built, Tregew was demolished to make way for an apartment building.

Water Troubles in Victoria

In the early days of the Fraser River gold rush, drinking water was expensive. Every saloon charged “one bit” (12 cents and one half penny) for a glass of water. Some even charged as much as 15 cents. In comparison, you could buy a cocktail for two bits (25 cents).

water for sale - September 28, 1859
water for sale – September 28, 1859

Why was water so expensive? There was no sewer system back then, only open drains which contaminated the local streams. John Muir, one of the early settlers of nearby Sooke, recalled that to navigate Wharf Street one had to wear boots at least 32 inches high. Given that and the overall stench, it is no wonder that the citizens of Victoria didn’t trust to drink or even bathe in water unless it was purchased from a water carrier. If they were short of water they washed themselves in the ocean or used rainwater they collected.

Every day, water carriers took their horse drawn wagons to a place outside of town known as “The Springs” and filled their barrels free of charge.

Victoria’s water source sold

Governor Douglas had declared The Springs to be public property in August 1858, however the lands belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company. After the HBC was officially removed from its control of Vancouver Island, it began to sell its properties. In March 1861, an area surrounding The Springs was auctioned off.

The sale of Victoria’s water source escaped public knowledge until the new owners fenced off the area and hired a guard to keep out trespassers. A notice was put up at the gate informing the new price of water. A water carrier was caught trying to break down the fence and was arrested and hauled off to police court. As soon as people read about it, they were outraged. The Water Case as it became known, received extensive coverage in the Daily Colonist:

Editorial: The British Colonist (1861-04-26) p 2 “The Water Stoppage”
Editorial: The British Colonist (1861-04-26) p 2 “The Water Stoppage”

“The rightful owner of the Springs is the public. We have unquestionable authority for stating that Gov. Douglas declared them, in 1858, a public reserve; and, as Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay Company, empowered to dispose of their lands, he refused to do so, on the ground that they were wholly reserved for the uses of the town. Under the Grant of the Island to the Company [Hudson’s Bay Company], he had the right to reserve any land for public purposes. Besides, the Company had no right to sell a public reserve. Having acted in good faith with the public in 1858 in respect to the Springs, how is it that faith has been broken? How is it that the Company has been allowed to sell them? On Mr. Pemberton’s new official map we find no public reserve marked at the Springs…”

Edward Mallandaine’s night school for miners

Heading back to school? If you were in Victoria in 1859, chances are you would have seen a ‘notice’ (advertisements were called notices back then) for a day school run by J. Silversmith:Select Day School 1859

Select Day School. J. Silversmith, Principal. Corner of Broadway and Yates streets, Victoria. Parents and Guardians are advised that in this Institute, children of both sexes, from the age of five years and upwards are successfully instructed in the elementary branches of an English education – and free from Sectarianism. Private Tuition in the French, German, Spanish and English Languages. Music: Piano, Violin, Guitar and Singing.

School for Young LadiesAs soon as the Fraser River gold rush began, Bishop Demers, who was already running several schools for boys, sent word out to the Sisters of St. Ann to come and teach girls. In June 1858, four sisters arrived from eastern Canada after a lengthy journey by ship via Panama and San Francisco. In December 1859, the Sisters of St. Ann opened a school for ‘young ladies’.

What about the miners? It wasn’t just young people who needed an education. If you were going to strike it rich, you needed to know basic math.

The winter months were a time when a lot of miners returned to Victoria from ‘the diggings’ with gold dust and time on their hands.

Edward Mallandaine

Edward Mallandaine – architect, teacher, school principal

Edward Mallandaine saw an opportunity. He was trained as an architect but had caught the gold fever himself and wound up in Victoria like so many others. In December 1859 he started teaching miners at night at J. Silversmith’s select school.Evening Tuition - Select School

To All Persons Wishing to Profit by the Winter Season, the undersigned, E. Mallandaine, at the above central establishment, offers evening instruction at moderate charges, in Reading, Writing and Ciphering. To more advanced learners, thorough tuition in the English and French Languages, Grammar and Composition, Arithmetic, Geometry, Elementary Algebra, Drawing, and Line Drawing, the principles of Architecture and Design. Apply at the “Select School,” Broad Street to E. Mallandaine.

At first he saw this as a way to make extra money while he furthered his career as an architect but he wound up buying the school from J. Silversmith and it operated for many years.


Notes:

The school where the Sisters of St. Anne taught was constructed in 1848 by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s expert post-and-sill builder Jacques Laquechier. It was sold and moved several times before Bishop Demers bought it and moved it yet again. This school was later bought by the provincial museum and moved to its present location on the museum grounds.

Ciphering was an old method for solving proportions. It predated algebra. Here is an example via mathforum.org.

To cipher to the rule of three for 3, 9, and 2 
is to complete the phrase "3 is to 9 as 2 is to ___," with the answer 
being the quantity 6.

Flour Sacks in the Gold Rush

Flour sacks were very useful  long after they had been emptied of flour.  They were made from tough woven fabric and could be sewn together for a sheet or a quilt to keep out the chill in a drafty log cabin.

In the early days of British Columbia’s settler history, it was a challenge to find a flour sack. Thousands of sacks of ‘Golden Gate Flour’ and ‘Self Rising Flour’ were imported, but they disappeared just as quickly as they arrived.

Flour was traditionally shipped in barrels, but because of the need to transport to the gold fields, it was much easier if the flour was put into sacks. The size of the sack was made in comparison to the same amount of flour that would fit into a barrel. One barrel held 196 pounds of flour, a half barrel was 49 pounds. For example, ‘Olympia’ flour was shipped in quarter sacks.

Gold seekers lost their lives in their efforts to save their precious sacks of flour. Consider this brief entry in the Daily Colonist on May 7, 1859:

A canoe was picked up floating down the [Fraser] river. In it was found a sack of flour. [The canoe] is supposed to have been capsized and those drowned who were working it up the river.

Cayoosh, BC November 4, 1859

We require a storekeeper with plenty of goods and capital; we have the greatest difficulty to keep a sack of flour in town; everything leaves for Fort Alexander, where there are some very rich mines…The great drawback all the way up and down the river is the scarcity of provisions. Hundreds of men have left this neighborhood for fear of starvation…Anyone opening a store here can make money rapidly next spring…

The invention of the sewing machine in the mid 1800s and improvements in spinning and weaving cotton made the use of flour sacks more cost effective than wooden barrels by the late 1800s.


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Searching for Gold in the New El Dorado

When gold was ‘discovered’ in the Fraser River, a promotional machine kicked in and British Columbia was touted as the “New El Dorado” (after the El Dorado of South America). Soon, all the newspapers began referring to British Columbia as the New El Dorado.

Gold rushes wherever they occurred were almost always promoted. Books were immediately printed, articles were published and even in the case of the Australian gold rush, a board game called ‘Race to the gold diggings’ was created to get young people excited about seeking gold.

Searching for Gold

Herman Reinhart - American prospector

Herman Reinhart – American prospector

Timing was everything, as Californian miner Herman Reinhart remembered. In July 1858, after months of travelling on foot, Reinhart arrived when the Fraser River was high:

“…boats got swamped and whole boat-loads of men were drowned, and many never knew what became of them.”

At Fort Hope he ran into an old friend James Daniels who had just sold his claim at Hill’s Bar and was leaving for San Francisco after having made $3,500.

“He left Sucker Creek in March, only two months ahead of me; he went by water to Victoria, and a little steamer clear to where he now was, and no hardships or danger like me…”

By the time Reinhart arrived at Yale, he didn’t bother going to Hill’s Bar:

“We saw some old acquaintances at Yale, but we were anxious to get down to Victoria, so we did not look around much. We were in a hurry to get back to California before we would get broke or out of money, so we did not go over to Hill’s Bar to see it.”

At Victoria, Reinhart met many gold seekers he knew from California and Oregon who were in a similar situation:

“…Many had no money and made application to our consul (agent for British Columbia) Edward Nugent. He said he would try and make some arrangements with the company of the steamer Pacific to take a lot of American subjects to San Francisco, who had not the money to pay their own fare. It was the duty of the government to take its people to their homes if they were in a destitute condition on a foreign shore or land, and there were over one thousand men in that condition.

“Just when the Californian newspapers were reporting the Fraser River gold diggings were ‘humbug’, in November 1858, Alfred Waddington published a book called “The Fraser Mines Vindicated” which spoke of the gold diggings in glowing terms.

Strapped gold seekers in Victoria

“The perils of searching for gold” – a lecture given January 29, 1860

When 1860 rolled around, the Fraser River gold rush was all but over. Yet young men, many of whom were well-educated, were still arriving in Victoria. Amor De Cosmos, the fiery publisher of the Daily Colonist, sounded the alarm on January 28th of that year:

“From exaggerated and too sanguine accounts they were led to believe that they had only to get here, to begin coining of money without delay. Almost their little all was spent in accomplishing a long and expensive voyage. And so it has come to pass, that some of these enterprising young men have found themselves “strapped.” Instances have occurred in which they have resorted to teaming, carpentering, and even baking bread…”

One can imagine Mr. Cosmos’ reaction when he read the London Times newspaper of January 30, 1860, which included the following report from their correspondent who was said to be in Victoria:

All accounts agree that the individual earnings of the miners are much larger than in California or Australia. It is very common to light upon a man going to San Francisco with several thousand dollars…

In March 1860 a handbook to British Columbia was published to lure Welsh men to leave for the goldfields. Emigration agents in Liverpool were kept busy—by July it was estimated that one in three of the working population in Wales was willing to emigrate.


Note: I have noticed a few maps that show Yale and Hill’s Bar on the same side of the Fraser River, however, I have since verified that Hill’s Bar was approximately a mile and a half south of Yale and on the other side of the river. The Fraser River gold rush historian, Daniel Marshall, mapped out the location of the gold rush bars in his recently published book, Claiming the Land.

Types of gold pans and spoons used in the BC gold rush

Before the Fraser River gold rush got off to a flying start in 1858, Nlaka’pamux who lived by the Thompson River were bringing gold lightn1ngs and gold dust to the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Kamloops.

When news reached Fort Victoria, the officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company decided to send them some spoons. What did the spoons look like? What were they made of? For many years, this remained a mystery to me.

The other mystery which has perplexed me for years was the paintings by William Hind which show miners wearing a object tucked into their sash next to a mug.

In the course of digging up information for this blog post on gold pans, these two mysteries have been solved.

horn spoon

horn spoon

In the early days of the California gold rush, prospectors used ‘spoons’ made from cattle horns that were steamed and pressed to allow a person to use them as a scoop. The juvenile fiction book, “By the Great Horn Spoon” describes a horn spoon as half a bullock horn, from 6 to 8 inches long and up to 3 inches wide.

‘spoon’ gold pan made from mountain goat horn

This was copied and revised by the Natives further north who used the horns of mountain goats and shaped them into a shape that resembled a pinched frying pan.

So when the Hudson’s Bay Company met in Fort Victoria and talked of sending more ‘spoons’ to Fort Kamloops which the Natives to use for gold panning – they were referring to iron ‘spoons’ forged by their blacksmith.

blacksmith forged ‘spoon’

The blacksmith forged ‘spoon’ could have been similar to the type of one that was sent by the HBC to their fort.

iron spoon with long handle

iron spoon with long handle

Another example of an iron spoon is one that was typically used in the 19th century. Some people referred to it as a tasting spoon or a ladle. It was often found in pioneer cabins near the hearth and what could be more handier?

Consider this description of a Californian miner from G.A. Fleming’s book “California, its past history, its present position and future prospects” published in 1850:

“Occasionally, he dug the dust out of crevices with his long iron spoon and trowel, and found eight or nine dollars’ worth in a place not larger than one’s finger…a sheath-knife…was always worn in the belt used instead of suspenders, and to which was often attached that very useful article in the “diggings,” a long iron spoon, employed both to cook and mine with…”

Now, look at William Hind’s painting titled “Miner, Rocky Mountains” and you will see what definitely looks like an iron spoon tucked into his belt.

Gold pans are the most basic of mining equipment and there are almost as many types of gold pans as hats.

batea

batea

For thousands of years, people in South America have used a cone-shaped wooden bowl called a batea to wash the gravel. They vary in size but typically are wider than American-style gold pans and because of the wood, fine grains of gold are easily captured by it.

The batea is challenging to work with, but the idea of taking in a larger amount of gravel at a time soon caught on. The early gold pans were simply known as ‘washing pans’ because that is what a prospector did with them – they would gather up some gravel and water and swirl it around, literally washing the gravel.

1850s gold washing pan made from tin

Tinsmiths made gold pans that were tapered at the bottom like this one.

Inspired by the size of the batea, people starting making gold pans of a bigger size. The one I drew is based on a 19th century gold pan measuring 55 cm by 12.5 cm. The gold pans were made from steel. Oil was added in the manufacturing process to prevent the pan from rusting.

19th century gold pan made from steel

In the 1860s, Dickson, Campbell & Co. made galvanized steel “gold washing machines, different sizes” in Victoria at the corner of Johnson and Wharf Streets.

Many prospectors took their new ‘gold washing machine’ otherwise known as a gold pan and cured it over a campfire. This did two things – remove any oils which would cause fine gold to float out of the pan and also give the pan a bluish tinge which provided a greater contrast when gold appeared.