Meet the Man Who Found Australia’s Largest Gold Nugget

The lucky man who discovered it retired and built a mansion in Sydney, complete with a stained glass window of himself and the nugget.

On this day, in 1872 , the single largest gold specimen ever recorded  was discovered in New South Wales by German gold miner Bernhardt Holtermann.

To avoid spending time in the military, Holtermann migrated to Australia in 1858 aboard the ship Salem. When he arrived, he worked a few jobs but found his true calling when he began gold mining with Ludwig Hugo Louis Beyers.

Mining gold is a notoriously slow and arduous process with very little success. The duo spent years mining in Hill End without reward. It wasn’t until 1871 that their company, the Star of Hope Gold Mining Company, hit gold.

It was at this time the duo honed in and redoubled their efforts. They extended their company, listing it on the stock exchange. Eventually, their efforts paid off.

On October 19, 1872, at 2 a.m., a “veritable wall of gold was revealed,” Town and Country Journal reported.

The duo had found the motherlode—a  huge slab of quartz stuffed with extremely precious yellow metal.

The nugget was 149 centimeters long, weighed 285.763 kilograms, and contained 141.74 kilograms worth of gold. In technical terms, the slab would be referred to as a matrix instead of a nugget, as it was heavily veined with gold.

After it was photographed, weighed, measured, and put on display for the world, it was crushed to release the gold. The slab yielded 11 pennyweights of gold.

Image: Bernard Otto Holtermann and the world's largest "nugget" of gold, North Sydney, ca. 1874-1876 / montage photograph by American and Australasian Photographic Company" The "nugget" was found in Hill End, New South Wales by German prospector, Bernhard Otto Holtermannon 19th October 1872.

Just after the discovery of the goliath slab, the company found another one similar  in size.

Holtermann, with a small fortune under his belt, retired from the company in 1873. He built his own mansion in St Leonards, Sydney, fitting it with a stained- glass depiction of himself and the nugget. Holtermann then invested his money wisely, which allowed him to pursue a career in photography and patent medicine. After his retirement, Holtermann wrote papers and formulas, and even promoted and sold one of his formulas as “Holtermann’s Life Preserving Drops.”

Later, he was elected as the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for St Leonards.

It is believed that Holtermann’s photography was part of a tourist scheme to attract migrants to New South Wales. In 1875, Holtermann produced a series of 23 albumen silver photographs, which joined together form one large, 978- centimeter view of Sydney Hharbour. It was known as the Holtermann panorama.

As recently as 70 years ago, 3,000 glass negatives were found in an old shed in Chatswood. The negatives are now UNESCO listed and housed in the Holtermannn Collection at the State Library of New South Wales.

Lead Image: B.O. Holtermann (2nd from left), Richard Ormsby Kerr (centre) and Beyers (2nd from right), with reef gold from Star of Hope mine, 1871-1875 / American & Australasian Photographic Company

Related Articles

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit