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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 13 – The Prospect of Large Gold Nuggets!
What made Goldmine River so distinctive and important was the prospect of coming upon large gold nuggets which could provide the finder with an instant fortune. No wonder there has been such confusion over the weight, constitution and even location of the more spectacular examples. Here are some candidates for the role of largest nugget:
- “The Wicklow Nugget, found in Ballin Stream in County Wicklow, 1795.” It was owned by King George III and weighs 682g.
- Mr Atkinson, Lord Carysfoot’s agent, refused 80 guineas for a gold-encrusted quartz specimen, according to newspapers of 1795.
- “The largest specimen of native gold found in Europe as yet known, is that discovered in the County of Wicklow. It weighs 22 ounces.”
- 22oz nugget bought by Turner Camac for £80 12 shillings and presented to George III, who had it made into a snuff box.
There will always be fascination about the largest gold nugget and what happened to it. The information above is from authoritative accounts – which shows the level of confusion! So it is time to turn to Valentine Ball (1843-1895), a tall bearded man who spent 17 years with the Geological Survey of India in the search for economic minerals. He had notable success in finding coal deposits in West Bengal which are still being mined. Following a short stint in the Chair of Geology and Mineralogy at Trinity College Dublin, he became in 1883 the Director to the precursor to the Natural Museum of Ireland. He oversaw its relocation to the Leinster House premises it still occupies but was forced to resign through ill health at age 51 and died shortly after. He was clearly motivated in his new post. His interest in the gold nuggets arose from his need to label accurately any material held by the museum.
After much careful consideration, Ball concluded that the two gentlemen, Abraham Coates and Turner Camac, were the probable donors of the largest nugget to King George III and that the latter received it by early 1796. The allegation that the monarch had it made into something as trivial as a snuff box elicits the following comment from Ball, a most loyal subject of His Majesty. “That a snuff-box was made of a 22oz nugget may seem incredible, but possibly in some other form, and with an inscription, the metal may have been preserved, and this record of fact and dissipation of myth, will I trust, aid in its ultimate identification.”
With the passage of a century since its donation, it seems overly optimistic to think that it might then be found, but earnest Ball does not entirely subscribe to this view: “Although I have not been able to obtain information from Windsor Castle as to the existence of any trace of this transaction, I by no means despair of such ultimately being found.”
Nevertheless the fame of the largest nugget, 22 ounces in reputed weight, did not diminish with time. In fact several models of it were made soon after its discovery and examples are now in the possession of the National Museum of Ireland, the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Natural History Museum, London....
To be continued…
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