Saturday, May 26, 2012


Making money during the Gold Rush was hard work and most people failed.  John Pilgrim made money by sitting on his behind all day.  He was neither a miner or a prospector.

Was he Creative?  Cunning?  Or Clever?  I'll let you be the judge.

John Pilgrim was born in 1834 in Earls Colne, Essex, England, the eldest son of a farmer.   At age 17, he was working as a servant and errand boy for a baker.

Within two weeks of marrying, John and his new wife Naomi were onboard the ship Taymouth Castle on their way to Australia.  The three month journey was not easy with the milk and salt beef rations being very poor.  There were many deaths on board, primarily from diarrhoea.

As the ship neared Port Adelaide, South Australia in June 1855, smallpox broke out onboard.  This resulted in total upheaval for all passengers and crew.  Upon arrival, those who were infected were moved to a dismasted ship and totally isolated to avoid further infection.  A make shift quarantine station was established at Torrens Island and the "non small box" immigrants were housed in canvas tents, supervised by constables who had orders to shoot if the immigrants tried to leave.  All clothing was boiled to reduce the chances of further infection.  After 6 weeks, and when there were no further outbreaks, the immigrants were freed from quarantine and could begin their new life in Australia.

Naomi and John Pilgrim
The long overland voyage commenced as John and Naomi made their way to Cockatoo Valley and commenced farming.   Farming was not  kind to John with several poor seasons. His crops suffered from Red Rust, a fungus that destroys wheat.

Fate was about to step in and change his fortunes.

In September 1868, a local resident discovered gold nearby and with several findings within a few days, news traveled fast.

With the most direct and accessible route to the diggings being through the property John leased, he soon put up signs at the gate and charged a toll for anyone passing through his property, being 6d (sixpence) for conveyances and 3d (threepence) for horses. There was quite an uproar as many people paid the toll day after day.

The population expanded quickly as people flocked to the area hoping to strike it rich. "Horses and Traps were tied up in every direction" and there was a "busy crowd all along the creek".

Water became a desired commodity as the creek soon became mud and was unsuitable for either drinking or washing the gold.  John saw another opportunity and soon sold the water from his paddock.  A payment was levied by the bucket, even horses could not get a drink without a payment being made.

John "rapidly regained his position, with the power and desire to benefit others by his 'diggings' which have been extremely profitable".

Creative?  Cunning? Or Clever?

Click on the picture for more information  and related blogs


  1. Oh definately creative with a bit of clever in there too. What a great story. :))

  2. I loved this story. His life started out so grim and ended so well. Definitely creative. And he deserved everything he made.

  3. I don't think this was unusual. I've read a lot about 19th Century gold rushes in California, New Zealand, Australia, Southern Africa and the Klondike, and this seems to be a common thread. Far more people made a living, or a fortune, from the ancilliary service trades, than actually struck it rich from gold mining. Great story and photo, thank you.

  4. Quite an entrepreneur. Good for him!

  5. Fascinating history of Naomi and John. It must have been a hard life but they made it in the end.

  6. Small Pox, or any fever, was highly feared ship board. Survivors are indeed lucky.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  7. Creative and clever dominate I think, as is your approach to the topic. Perhaps a dollop of cunning in his strategy. He grasped his opportunity in both hands.

  8. What a great story Sharon. His photo shows the look of a determined, strong & single minded man with all three qualities, I reckon. Good for him having the ability to make the very best out of a bad situation!!!

  9. Loved hearing of your Pilgrim's Progress

  10. Jill, What a great name for a book! Pity that I have already done the Pilgrim family tree book.
    Catherine you are very right. All the Pilgrims were determined, strong and single minded. Now I know where I inherited those traits from!

  11. I don't know about that part about "desire to benefit others" but he certainly bettered his position and he and his wife look prosperous in the portrait.