5 February 1869: World’s biggest gold nugget is found

Australian gold being conveyed to London, 19th century © Getty images
Melted down, The Welcome Stranger was taken to London

On this day in 1869, the world’s biggest gold nugget was found in Australia by two Cornish gold hunters.

It was named ‘The Welcome Stranger’ and eventually weighed slightly more than 71kg after being refined. It was discovered in Moliagul, Victoria which is around 200km north west of Melbourne.

The two men who discovered it were John Deason and Richard Oates. They found it only an inch below the ground near a tree. Its gross weight was just under 110kg, which after they managed to trim the dirt and mud around it dropped to 78kg.

The gold was so heavy that it caused a constant headache for the two men. First, they had difficulty transporting the gold back. Secondly, they were unable to weight it because no scales for gold went up to such weights. Eventually, it was broken on an anvil into three pieces by a blacksmith named Archibald Wall to be weighed.

Along with a few friends, they then took the gold to the London Chartered Bank of Australia in Dunolly.

After some consideration the bank bought The Welcome Stranger at just under £9,400 or £2.5m in today’s money. The gold was soon melted down into ingots, transported to Melbourne, and then by late February, left for London to take residence in the Bank of England.

After their discovery the two men headed separate ways. Deason, who was by trade a tin dresser, stayed in Australia and invested his money in gold mines. Unfortunately, he never hit it rich again and lost a substantial part of his fortune trying. He eventually died in 1915, at the age of 85.

Oates, on the other hand, returned to England and got married. After some time he returned with his wife to Australia and they parented four children. He used his share of the money from The Welcome Stranger to buy an 800-acre farm. He lived and farmed there until his death in 1906, aged 79.