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By The Fraser River
by [?]

The first experience I had in regard to gold mining was in Ballarat, when a well-known miner and business man in that pretty town took me round the old alluvial diggings and pointed out the most celebrated claims. These (in 1879) were, of course, deserted or left to an occasional Chinese “fossicker,” who rewashed the rejected pay dirt, which occasionally has enough gold in it to satisfy the easily-pleased Mongolian. I went with my friend that same day into the Black Horse Mine, and saw quartz crushing for the first time; but, naturally enough, I took far more interest in the alluvial workings that can be managed by few friends than in operations which required capital and the importation of stamping machinery from England; and Ballarat, rich as it once was for the single miner, is now left to corporations.

One of the strangest features of an old gold-mining district is its wasted and upturned appearance. The whole of the surrounding country is, as it were, eviscerated. It is all hills and hollows, which shine and glare in the hot sun and look exceedingly desolate. When, in addition, the town itself fails and fades for want of other means of support, and the houses fall into rack and ruin as I have seen in Oregon, the place resembles a disordered room seen in the morning after a gambling debauch. The town is happy which is able to reform and live henceforth on agriculture, as is now the case to a great extent with Ballarat and with Sandhurst, which has discarded its famous name of Bendigo.

To a miner, or indeed to anyone in want of money, as I usually was when knocking about in Australian or American mining districts, the one painful thing is to know where untold quantities of gold lie without being able to get a single pennyweight of it. I remember on more than one occasion sitting on the banks of the Fraser River in British Columbia, or of the Illinois River in Oregon, pondering on the absurdity of my needing a hundred dollars when millions were in front of me under those fast-flowing streams. Those who know nothing about gold countries may ask how I knew there were millions there. The answer is simple enough. First let me say a few words about one common process of mining.

When it is discovered that there is a certain quantity of gold in the vast deposits of gravel which are found in many places along the Pacific slope, but especially in Oregon and California, water, brought in a “flume” or aqueduct from a higher level, is directed, by means of a pipe and nozzle fixed on a movable stand, against the crumbling bench, which perhaps contains only two or three shillings-worth of gold to the ton. This is washed down into a sluice made of wooden boards, in which “riffles,” or pieces of wood, are placed to stop the metal as it flows along in the turbid rush of water. Some amalgamated copper plates are put in suitable places to catch the lighter gold, or else the water which contains it is allowed to run into a more slowly-flowing aqueduct, which gives the finer scales time to settle. This, roughly put, is the hydraulic method of mining which causes so much trouble between the agricultural and mining interests in California; for the finer detritus of this washing, called technically “slickens,” fills up the rivers, causes them to overflow and deposit what is by no means a fertilising material on the pastures of the Golden State.

Now, what man does here in a small way, and with infinite labour and pains, Nature has been doing on a grand scale for unnumbered centuries. Let us, for instance, take the Fraser River and its tributary the Thompson, which is again made up of the North and South Forks, which unite at Kamloops, as the main rivers do at Lytton. The whole of the vast extent of mountainous country drained by these streams is known to be more or less auriferous. Many places, such as Cariboo, are, or were, richly so; and there are few spots in that part which will not yield what miners know as a “colour” of gold–that is, gold just sufficient to see, even if it is not enough to pay for working by our slight human methods. I have been in parts of Oregon where one might get “colour” by pulling up the bunches of grass that grew sparsely on a thin soil which just covered the rocks. But the united volumes of the Fraser and the two Thompsons and all their tributaries have been doing an enormous gold-washing business for a geological period; and all that portion of British Columbia which lies in their basin may be looked upon as similar to the bench of gravel which is assaulted by the hydraulic miner. And just as the miner makes the broken-down gold-bearing stuff run through his constructed sluices, Nature sends all her gold in a torrent into the natural sluice which is known as the Fraser Canyon.