Dr McArdle, who recently retired as Director of the Geological Survey of Ireland, has had a long term interest in the history and origin of the Goldmine River gold deposits.
Text copyright Dr Peadar McArdle 2011.
Pt 4- The mania of gold finding
In the midst of all this optimism, the thought must have struck many, not least those in authority, that whatever gold resources existed could not have been extracted to maximum effect by the unruly and unregulated mass of people who currently occupied the valley of the Goldmine River. It is hardly surprising that rumours of an imminent takeover were commonly heard. A Col. Craddock was reported to have visited the workings on Sunday 11 October. Given the reported presence of 4,000 persons, he must have been startled by what he saw that day, and particularly in the context of the uncertain security situation which faced the country at that time. He must have felt that it was only a small further step to open revolt and his report to Dublin Castle was likely to have been unambiguous. The Castle’s response was rapid and strong. Finn’s Leinster Journal reported that on Friday 16th October, a party of soldiers left Dublin to take possession of the gold workings in His Majesty’s name and force workers to return to their former occupations. The ruins of the small barracks they built and occupied are still visible in the valley. It seems there was genuine concern about public disorder, given the numbers present and the sale on-site of alcohol. This general unease can only have been heightened by rivalries among diggers over possession of the more rewarding stretches of the river. The Freeman’s Journal stated that by the following Tuesday, 200 military personnel were in position. Fifteen of them were on guard at any given time, patrolling the ground and ensuring the “peasantry” were excluded. The purpose of this exercise was explicitly “as well to put an end to the mania of gold finding, and confusion and idleness among the people, as to secure the wealth therein for his majesty, to whom all such so discovered, of right belongs.”
“Idleness” is a curious term, given the frenzy of activity in the workings, but “confusion” even more so – who was confused in the frantic search for what might amount to instant wealth? Not the peasant gold-diggers for sure! Goldmine River was widely seen as a valuable prospect at the time, and the real motivation of the Government must surely have been to secure its perceived wealth for the realm.
The account in Saunder’s News-Letter is both entertaining and authoritative, and indicates that the military took possession of the gold workings on Thursday 15 October 1795, precisely one month after the discovery came to public notice.
“The mines at Little Peru, otherwise Croghan Mountain, were taken possession of on Thursday last, on behalf of his Majesty. Major Browne, of the Royal Engineer, attended by Mr Coates, Port Surveyor of Wicklow, marched two companies of the Kildare militia from the Barrack of Arklow, towards the place where the gold is got; but with great judgement and propriety, on consultation with that active and spirited Magistrate, Thomas King Esq, it was judged proper to send a constable before them to read a proclamation and advise the crowd to disperse and leave the ground. In an hour afterwards, the Major, accompanied by Mr King, Mr Hayes, Sub-Sheriff, who readily attended, and Mr Coates, marched the army, about 68 men rank and file, to the place, when the crowd, without riot or resistance, dispersed. When men, who conduct themselves with such coolness, judgement and spirit, as those gentlemen did, support the law, there is no danger of opposition. It is much to the credit of the peasantry of the county of Wicklow, that not the slightest opposition had been given to the execution of the law; that country is not cursed with disloyal Defenders.”
To be continued…
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