A rough life on the goldfields

This account of the cases coming before the bench at Tambaroora provides a revealing glimpse of life on the goldfields, at the beginning of the 1871-74 rush at Hill End/Tambaroora. There were numerous instances of drunkenness and the occasional petty theft, but the case of Ah Luk is particularly interesting. It gives an almost verbatim account of his interrogation and arrest, and reveals that one William Allene was sworn to interpret for the prisoner.

This seems to indicate that (at least in some instances and some localities) the authorities attempted to ensure a degree of fairness in the criminal justice system by providing an interpreter for Chinese prisoners.
Now a ghost town, Tambaroora was once a thriving gold rush settlement. The Hill End-Tambaroora Gold Field was one of the richest gold mining areas in New South Wales, and the first reef mining area in Australia. Gold was discovered in 1851, but the ‘boom’ years were 1871-74, during which the population reached 8,000. The total production of gold from the district was over 50 tonnes; including the famous Beyers and Holtermann nugget (286 kg), the largest single piece of reef gold ever discovered.

Source: NRS 3436 Court of Petty Sessions Tambaroora Bench Books, 1862-80, Extract for 1 September 1871 [4/6599]
NRS 8210 Lands: Lithographs 1856-1930, Plan of the town of Tambaroora, 1860 [SR Map No. 10215]


Thursday 31 August 1871
Michael Ackerman & George Purcell, Encroaching on Allotment, 29 Augt 71
Deft promises to give up possession today, on the Commssrs paying him
the sum of £2:10:0
John Hurley JP
Danl Martin J.P
Court House, Tambaroora
Friday 1st September 1871
Ah Luk, 47: Larceny at Orange, 11 August ‘71
William Allene sworn to Interpret
Sergeant Mark E.D. Ford, on oath states, yesterday evening about
five oclock in consequence of information received I went down
to the Lower Turon River where I arrested the prisoner at work
with other Chinese in the Bed of the River, Gold digging.
I asked how long “have you been here?” and he replied “I no savee”;
I asked do you carry Tea and sugar and hawk them: he replied
again “I no savee”. I went into a hut about two hundred
yards off, and asked prisoner to open a Box there fastened
with a Pad-lock the key of which was attached to two others
with one of which the hut door was unlocked by a Country
man of Prisoners to whom prisoner had thrown the keys I
believe. I asked the other China man to unlock the Box before
prisoner came into the hut, and he the other China man replied
“no fear, me too “much frightened”. The prisoner afterwards came up
and unlocked the Box on my asking him to do so as before stated.
The Box contained the Fig tobacco now produced, which is about
twenty pounds weight. I told him to take out what was in
the Box, he commenced doing so, and I noticed him sud-
-denly put something in his pocked [sic], coat pocked [sic], I said
“hallo, what have you got there”, and took the pipe case produced
containing a new pipe from his coat pocked [sic]. I said “where you
catch em pipe and “Tobacco” he replied “buy em, Orange
The box also contains six cakes of blacking: three leathr Shoe laces,
The witness being at Orange (necessary for the further hearing
of the Charge against prisoner) he is remanded to the Bench
of Magistrates at Orange for further examination.
J. W. Lees P.M.
Monday, 4 September 1871
Joseph Williams, 33. Drunk & disorderly in McMahon St, Tambaroora,
2.30 pm, 3rd Sept 1871
Pleads Guilty
Fined 5/- [5 shillings] or indefault to be imprisoned 48 hours with
hard labor.
JW Lees PM
Thursday 7th September 1871
Ellen Brown, 40: Drunk in McMahon St, Tambaroora
8.30 Am 6th Sept 71
Pleads Guilty
Fined 5/- [5 shillings] or indefault to be impnd for two days
JW Lees MP
Danl Martin JP
William Walters, 37: Drunk in Mudgee road, Tambaroora
10.0pm 6 Sept 1871
Pleads guilty
Fined 5/- [5 shillings] or indefault to impd for two (2) days
JW Lees PM
Danl Martin JP
Ann Burns, 53: Stealing a shawl, property of Mary Grattan, 6 Sept 71
Constable Souter, on oath states, about 1 o’c yesterday afternoon
it was reported to me that one woman had robbed another at the rear
of the Hunter River Inn, in this town: I found Mary Grattan in a State
of drunkenness, & prisoner was sitting by her side, & this shawl was lying on the
ground, and ______ where Mary Grattan was. I arrested prisoner charging
her with stealing the shawl which a man named Marshall charged her
with putting into her bundle. Prisoner replied she was taking care of it

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