Resources for Sofala research:
Cobb & Co Heritage Trail Bathurst to Bourke by Diane de St. Hilaire Simmonds available from: (click)

Gold Nuggets Galore at Sofala from 1851 by Joyce Pearce




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The Village of Sofala

From: Cobb & Co Heritage Trail Bathurst to Bourke by Diane de St. Hilaire Simmonds

Sofala, a tiny gold mining village on the Turon River, has many buildings still standing and in use that were built in and before the days of gold mining and Cobb & Co.

Sofala is an historic village today. It is a favourite spot for tourists, artists, campers and gold panners.

Sofala originally stretched for 16 kilometres along the Turon. It had more than 40 licensed hotels. The Gas Hotel was one of the first two hotels licensed, in 1851, and is still standing. The building is on stumps that have slightly sunk, giving it the crooked charm is now has. Note the low doorways.

The Royal Hotel, established in 1862, still stands. The Cobb & Co booking office is now part of the bar. The Royal Hotel closed for 12 months about 1940, but it was reopened when Toohey's Brewery issued a licence to Fred Smith and it has been operating as a hotel ever since.

Hyland's Hotel, now a private residence and once the Globe Hotel, still retains its original cellar in the kitchen area. Meals were delivered to the dining room via a 'dumb waiter'. Hyland's still has the original wooden shingles under the tin roof. It is next door to the Sofala Souvenir Shop. There was once 35 hotels in Sofala, spread along the Turon for miles.

In 1866 two other hotels were the Sofala Inn and the Barley Mow. There was also a Cobb & Co booking office at the Barley Mow.

The Post Office, built in 1879, is now a private residence. It was a Post Office until 1989 and also housed a telegraph office.

Sofala still has the Blacksmith's cottage, now the Cafe Sofala, the general store and other original buildings. It also had a Court of Petty Sessions, District Court, Police Camp, Gold Commissioner's Camp, 3 churches, each with a cemetery, and a hospital. There were two denominational and two private schools. Sofala also had a Savings Bank and the Australian Mutual Provident Society.

The present general store was built in the 1860s and is a little gem to browse through.

Sofala had a coach running from Bathurst every day. Wm. Maloney competed with Cobb & Co on this run. In December 1891, Maloney received a coach built by Cobb & Co for his Sofala run that seated 20 passengers. Another driver at Sofala was named Grose.

The first gold in Sofala was found by two men, Lester and Raffael at Golden Point, 3/4 mile east of the village, three weeks after the Ophir strike in 1851. Miners poured into Sofala from the Mudgee Road over the Razorback Mountain.

But by 1853 the miners were abandoning the gold fields because of licensing regulations and the flooding of the Turon - a major problem. They had meandered south to Wattle Flat along Oaky Creek by 1854, which was not subject to flooding as the Turon was. New gold discoveries at Stuart Town in 1856 decimated Sofala. The Colonial Gold Co at Hargraves finished up at that time as well, turning the ground over to individual miners.

By 1858 alluvial mining was prospering. By 1861 Sofala had a population of 1,646.  In 1864 Sofala produced 26,266 ozs of gold valued at 101,016 pounds, 3 shillings and 5 pence. There were 2,088 miners' rights, 61 business licenses, 19 leases under which 2700 yards of river bed and 600 yards of quartz vein and 10 acres of alluvial land were let.

By 1875, dry conditions hampered alluvial mining and leases were cancelled and not retaken, sluicing stopped because of lack of water and crushers came to a standstill.

A company was formed to build a water-race 32km long, from Bingletree, 6km east of Upper Turon to Circus Point on the lower Turon, to guarantee water supplies.

In 1878 a crushing plant was brought from Tambaroora and erected at Spring Creek, but mining was still retarded by lack of water, with many miners buying land and combining their actions with farming.

Rain in 1879 brought mining back to life, then dry weather again for the next five years.

By 1880, the Chinese were credited as the most successful miners in the region.

In 1881 the Tom brothers erected an engine and ten-head stamper battery at Tobins Oakey Creek, north of the Hill Top reef, but the next year, miners again had to turn to farming to survive. Some left to work on the Wallerawang-Mudgee railway line.

In 1884 many miners went to the newest discovery at Sunny Corner. In that year the Mining Registrar showed about 60 European, 116 Chinese alluvial miners and 140 European quartz miners were still seeking gold in Sofala.

Good rain in 1886 brought sluicing back in vogue again and gold was discovered at Crudine Creek west of Sofala by Howard and party. HL Beyers and party contracted to erect a crusher in that vicinity to facilitate the operations. Five men also began work at the new Razorback gold diggings on the Upper Turon.

In 1886 Adolphus Oppenheimer was granted a 40 acre mineral lease on the Razorback Road 19kms from Sofala near the headwaters of Two Mile Creek which caused much controversy from Flynn and party, stating that a mineral lease cannot be legally held on a proclaimed gold-field. The gold from a two acre lease within the lease had to be shipped to Europe to treat the ore. But mining stopped as the company awaited hydrogen and amalgam process machinery for treating the ore to come from England.

In 1887 the Big Oakey Gold Mining Co began mining at Surface Hill with six men and a capital of 2,000 pounds. They struck a good reef one to 1.6 metres thick and erected a tramway, with a ten head battery, where 510 tonnes of ore yielded 21g of superior quality gold. In 1889 the mine reported a total of 6 662g of gold, but the mine lost large amounts of fine gold in the slimes and tailings.

In 1889 the 5 year drought was broken and mining flourished, a total of 134 492 g for the year and a rich reef was found at Nuggety Hill.

1890 was also wet, increasing sluicing activity. The most successful miners being Herriot & McLean, Williams and Co and Bennett Brothers, some of them producing 200 pounds per man over 6 months of work. That year also began the custom of forming companies to work the mines rather than individual sluicing.

The rain continued into 1891 and beyond.  Thomas Shaw and party struck a reef at Eldorado in 1893.

Dry weather again in 1894 returned to hamper alluvial mining.

1895 was another dry year, but Cox and McPeak at Redbank mined 200 pounds of gold in one day and 220 g during the next week.

1898 was a bad year for alluvial gold, the worst on record, due to dry weather. A dredge erected on the Turon increased the quantity of material washed for gold. The dredge used a floating pontoon carrying a 20hp boilers, a 16hp engine, steam winches and a small donkey engine. A second, smaller dredge was also built 5km downstream from Sofala.

1900 marked the formation of companies to dredge the Turon. The Sofala Gold-dredging Co Ltd began working in October, making three dredges on the Turon. This form of gold mining continued for the next ten years.

The Sofala Gold-dredging Co Ltd closed in 1901 and sold the next year.

By 1908 only two reef mines were successfully mining gold: the Hill Top gold mine worked by MJ Burrell and party and the Queenslander gold mine worked by JS Atherton and sons.

By 1913 quartz mining had all but ceased. the dredge was dismantled in 1914 and since then, nearly all gold has been produced by sporadic alluvial fossicking.

A total of 5 924 775 g of gold was taken from Sofala and Wattle Flat, but this figure would actually be a lot more because not everyone admitted their finds to the mining registrars and this figure also does not account for production before 1875 when the Department of Mines began keeping records.

 

There are many folk stories about the old gold diggers. One concerns an old German miner who died, leaving his old mining hut and belongings behind on the goldfield. The police burnt the old hut down, as was the custom, and two men, Gale and Knight sunk a hole where the hut stood, striking rock bottom at 10 feet and 250 pounds of coarse gold.

According to Gold Nuggets Galore at Sofala from 1851 by Joyce Pearce, dredgers were getting 80 ounces a week upstream from Sofala, plus paying the workmen an additional 80 ounces of gold per week as well.

Pearce tells another interesting story regarding two young girls shanghaied from Ireland when they were on their way to market to sell eggs. Both ended up at Sofala, one marrying a man named Dawson and one marrying a man named Moore. Mrs Dawson was 84 when she died and gold sovereigns to the value of 1,400 pounds were found hidden in her house.

Simmonds tells us in Cobb & Co Heritage Trail, Bathurst to Bourke, that in its heyday, Sofala was said to have had 30,000 diggers including many Chinese. The first Chinese, 150 of them, arrived in June 1856 and by 1861, 642 Chinese lived in the town - half the male population at the time.

Some Chinese miners found a nugget so large it took 6 of them to carry it. The nugget was found at Spring Creek Sofala. One of the discoverers was Dr Marc Howe, a Chinese doctor. The nugget was broken up and sent back to China. Remains from Chinese water races can still be seen in Sofala, one was seven and a half miles long. The Chinese used a cup filled with water balanced on a stick for a spirit level when cutting a race.

There was thought to be 10,000 Chinese people living at Sofala. They had a Joss House south of the village. The Chinese had a custom of 'feeding the dead' at full moon, which was attended by Chinese people from Bathurst, weather permitting. A pig was slaughtered and slowly roasted, then decorated. It was then trussed on two long poles and carried in a procession by four people, especially chosen for the job. A lot of bowing and lighting crackers, they then threw rice and gave onlooking children small rice cakes and a slice of pig. The pig was then taken to Ar Gee's store, cut up and sold.

Several groups of Chinese fought over ownership of claims, with additional police being called in from Bathurst at one stage to prevent a civil war.

Chinese people were first buried in the local graveyard, but after about five years, they were dug up and the remains sent home to China. Folklore says gold was hidden in the bones to be shipped home. The Chinese customarily put food on top of the grave, believing it would be eaten by the spirits and the soul would be saved from the devil, but often the local children would sneak in and eat the food, thereby helping foster the belief.

The Isle of Dreams was the last Chinese quarter at Sofala. At Spring Creek, two men found a 200 ounce nugget. One man grabbed it and ran for the hills, his mate chasing him calling 'Honesty's the best policy'. Folklore says honesty won the day. A water race at this claim still exists today. The Chinese miners used to dig a drain about four feet wide and two feet deep, with a gradual decline from a creek to a sluice box, or 'long tom'. In dry times the Chinese rented their water to other locals who did not have the knowledge to build a race. They also sold water to local women at threepence a bucketful.

Georgie Love and George Williams were credited with two of the best water races. Love's race was 7 1/2 miles long. It is west of the town.

After the goldrush subsided, many Chinese grew vegetables in the area. Tobacco sold for six pence a pound. Many became storekeepers as well, their charity to struggling miners well documented.

According to Pearce, one of the last Chinese in Sofala was a man named Pooh Fi, a gold miner. His efforts were unrewarded however, so his dream to return home to China a rich man were lost. Pooh Fi gathered up some rabbit traps he'd borrowed, placed them by the garden gate of their owner, tied a rope over the gate and hung himself. He was found in a kneeling position at the gate.

Simmonds tell us another gold story concerns a man named Crosswell. He is said to have sheltered in a cave from a storm one day at the junction of Oakey Creek and the Turon, and sticking out of the ground in the cave was a huge nugget, 120 ounces. Crosswell's claim turned out to be the richest in the area. Three hundred ounces came in the first wash at McCann's claim west of the village.

But many struggled over the years searching for gold, with some families living on as little as 15 shillings a week, or four pennyweights of gold. Women made do and recycling wasn't an option, it was a necessity. Even the local flour mill bags were turned into underwear by industrious mothers.

In 1866 Sofala had a tannery, 6 quartz crushing machines with alluvial and quartz mining. The surrounding diggings were at Wattle Flat, Erskine Flat, Pennyweight Flat, Arthur's Station, Palmer's Oakey, Spring Creek, Paterson's Point, Little Wallaby, Circus Point, Guard's, Little Turon.

Circus Point is undoubtedly named after the Ashton Circus, which entertained the men every day and night for six months and employed them in the hard times. You can imagine the atmosphere and excitement in the gold village, streets packed with men convinced they would find their fortune, hotels booming with music and entertainment  a circus performance day and night, horses, bullock teams and Cobb & Co coaches roaring down the street.

Tambaroora Gold field was reached from Bathurst to Wattle Flat and Sofala, but there was no bridge across Wallaby Rocks in 1898 for the Turon to Hill End traffic and none across the Turon until 1930 for the Bathurst Sofala Ilford Mudgee coach. Many people drowned crossing the Turon. It's constant flooding caused many tragedies.

One accident occurred when a driver took his horses to wash them down after a long hot ride. The Turon was flowing very swiftly and the coach, horses and driver were washed away. The driver hung on and was rescued, but the horses were lost and the coach  broken up in the swirling river and carried about 10 miles downstream.

By 1873, George Bristowe, a Cobb & Co driver, was driving the Sofala/Bathurst Road at Feley's Gully, a notorious piece of road between Sofala and Peel, when his horses bolted. The coach capsized and Bristowe was thrown onto the road and killed. The five passengers, one man, two women and two girls, were all injured. It was claimed Bristowe was drinking at Sofala, then at the Wyagdon hotel, the 'Goldminer's Arms' and was intoxicated. However, Rutherford testified that the man had a natural flushed face and stuttered, which the passengers mistook for drunkedness, and the jury accepted his evidence.

The Bathurst/Sofala Road was notorious, in need of much repair and work. Road workers were paid a shilling a yard to break up rock and quartz, and a good days work only being five yards laid. In 1871-3 a deputation lobbied for a new road to the Tambaroora goldfields via Circus Point. The most popular route from Sydney to the goldfields was via Wallarawang/ Tabrabucca/Pyramul/Sallys Flat via Monkey Hill.  The commissioner did not support the upgrading of this ridge road. Instead he recommended a new road via Bathurst. His investigator was instructed to examine the line via Bruinbun to Windburndale Creek. 'We have some hopes that on further examination a practicable line will be found in that direction to Bathurst. This would reduce the distance from Bathurst to Tambaroora to about 35 miles (73.6kms) and on it the whole of the Hill End and Tambaroora traffic could be conveyed from Bathurst and the rail terminus.'

Many actresses and actors came on the Cobb & Co coaches to entertain the goldminers. They always received a rousing welcome, sometimes an escort of hundreds of men, singing and cheering from quite some miles out. Henry Lawson describes the scene in his poem 'The Lights of Cobb & Co'.

We take a bright girl actress through western dusts and damps,
To hear the home world message, and sing for sinful camps,
To stir our hearts and break them, wild hearts that hope and ache
(Ah! When she thinks again of these her own must nearly break!)
Five miles this side the goldfield, a loud, triumphant shout:
Five hundred cheering diggers have snatched the horses out,
With 'Auld Lang Syne' in chorus, through roaring camps they go
That cheer for her, and cheer for home, and cheer for Cobb & Co.

Sofala had three bridges over the Turon, including a footbridge classified by the National Trust's Registrar as an 'item of interest'. It was restored by the 5 Field Squadron Royal Australian Engineers in 1974 on a weekend voluntary activity.  The bridge is 250 metres downstream from the original natural crossing. It is 90 metres long and one metre wide, of Warren Truss construction and made of wrought iron and wood.Two other bridges are the Wallaby Rocks Bridge (opened 1897) and the Crossley Bridge (opened 1930). Before the bridges were built, Cobb & Co let their Hill End passengers off on the western side of the crossing when the Turon was in flood (which was often, with many stories of drownings of people and horses) and passengers would be rowed across by Mr Tom Knight to meet a coach on the Sofala side.

The oldest homestead at Sofala was the first settler’s block granted by the Government on the Oak Glen property at Two Mile Creek, north of the village. The first settler block grant was closer to Bathurst: Brucedale belonging to the Suttor Family at Peel, which dated to the early 1820s.  Oak Glen was built shortly Brucedale. Oak Glen  was first owned by John Smeed, who was the first man to bring sheep into the Sofala area with another man, Frawley. Oak Glen extended from the Two Mile to about six miles west to the Crudine.

Sofala's first hospital was a temporary structure with a bark roof, built by the miners. The first doctor was Dr Hinton, whose son had a chemist shop.  Joyce Pearce tells us the doctor used to walk around the district to visit his patients and he never charged more than five shillings. The doctor was also a renowned baby doctor, delivering hundreds and never losing one. Pearce said at 88 years of age Dr Hinton walked 2 miles on the Upper Turon Road. The effort was too much for the old doc, and he was found dead by the roadside by a local resident.

Bradshaw's Flat school was at Wallaby Rocks. It was 12 feet square with wattle and daub walls and a bark roof. There were no toilet facilities, the local creek was a favourite spot when nature called. Hamilton Knight was educated there. He went on to become a Minister of Labour and Industry, and Robert Semple had a brilliant reputation as the Minister for Works in New Zealand Parliament. Larry Foley and Albert Griffiths were very high in the boxing world. Larry was known as 'the father of boxing' and Albert 'the smartest boxer the world has ever seen'. So, among other success stories we know little schools can produce some good results.

Sofala had its own lolly shop, Russell's Sweet Shop, which was a weatherboard building two doors west of the Royal Hotel.

The Convent opened in 1872 and closed in 1909 as a convent and in 1970 as a church. The building is double brick situated close to the public school.

A post inside Christ Church Sofala has a plaque stating 'This post which formed part of the original Church on this site, was placed there by the Right Reverend Bishop Broughton on November 5, 1851'. Bishop Broughton was the first Church of England Bishop of Australia. The Bishop visited Sofala and determined to build a church there.

The bishop, then 64 years old and lame, held a public meeting at 6am the morning after his arrival at Sofala. He seized a pick-axe and dug a hole in the ground where the north-east corner post was to be. The miners followed suit and before breakfast, all the post holes were ready for the builders. Meanwhile, others had gone into the bush to fell trees and carried the posts back to the building site. After breakfast the Bishop and the miners placed the posts in the ground then set to work on the wall-plates, joints and roof. The Bishop had already arranged a shipment of white canvas, and soon the white canvas church shone in the sun, a total of four days being spent in the erection of the building. The new church measured 64 by 21 feet, the old bishop directing and taking part in the building until its finish.

Temporary seating accommodated more than 200 people while another hundred waited outside for the first service. The prayers were read by Rev. HA Palmer, who was put in charge of the new church. The bishop preached the first sermon. The canvas church had its own communion table and purple cover, chancel rails, font and pulpit. Further attendance disappointed the bishop, but the church remained, ministering to who it could.

Bishop Frederick Barker's wife visited Sofala in 1855. She stayed behind while her husband toured to Wallaby Rocks with two gold commissioners and the rector, making a sketch of some diggers rocking their gold cradle all day long. Three men approached her to compliment the bishop and gave her some gold, not for the bishop, but for herself. There were two or three small nuggets from different places in the area.

'Our service in the evening was well attended by diggers and others to the text Romans VIII 32,' she wrote in her diary.

The oldest headstone still stands in the church: Sacred to the memory of Henry Robinson, who was drowned by the sudden rising of the waters of Oakey Creek on the 18th December 1851, Aged 51 years.

Another headstone is in memory of Robert McDougall, who died 23rd September 1853, aged 37 years. McDougall was an escort for a coach taking gold to Bathurst from Sofala. At the approach to Wattle Flat, the coach was held up by bushrangers and his horse dragged his dead body home to his Albury stables with his foot caught in the stirrup. McDougall's jacket, with the blast hold in it, hung on the wall of their old home at Sofala for many years.

Sofala church records date back to 1861. The first child baptised was Anne, daughter of William and Matilda Quinn of Hargraves on 24th March, 1861. Anne was born 10th January, 1861.

The first death recorded is Caroline Amelia Watson of Sofala, who died 14th April 1861 aged 17, daughter of Frances Nathaniel and Alice Watson. Watson was a carpenter.

 

 

 

 


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From Grey Nomad, Trevor Watson, Answer from Lynne Robinson, Mudgee Historical Society

My Grandfather one Leonard McConnell worked on a gold dredge on the Turon around Sofala from ?? till 1914 when he enlisted for WWI. He was an "Engine Driver" so would have been presumably driving the steam engines on one of the dredges.... He was a Train Driver in France in WWI, after returning from WWI he was operating a tin dredge in Siam (as it was then)  that must have been in the 20's as his marriage cert is dated 1923 and my mother was in Siam with him as a small child...circa 1901 he can be placed at the intersection of a "residence cnr Bowen & Davis sts Sofala" he would have been living with his parents I imagine...cheers, Trevor Watson

    

From: Glint of Gold by Kerrin Cook & Daniel Garvey:  Dredging on the Turon at Sofala, c 1900.

Thanks to Lynne Robinson, Mudgee Historical Society.

 

from Gary Webber

We will be visiting Mudgee & Sofala in mid September. I have attached a photo taken in Sofala (we think around 1936) of my grandparents and mother, this was outside of their farmhouse which was on the Turon River and opposite to a Chinese graveyard we think? The farm was owned by Roy’s mother, my great Grandmother, it was described as a small mud walled dwelling.

 My grandparents names were Roy & Tilly Johnson with my very young mother Janice (perhaps 3 or 4 yoa) who was born there.

Roy had moved to Sofala some years earlier, we are not really sure why but perhaps to recover from illness, he met Tilly who was visiting the area and they married shortly after. We understand that they established the Sunday School at the Church Of England, my mother believes that a memorial was established in the church or grounds to recognise their efforts may years later.

Roy went to war, Tilly & my mother went back to Sydney until he returned. As a child I recall stories of how the Sydney Bishop would visit their farm on his way to Bathurst, we only found out after Roy’s death that he was an ordained Church Of England Minister. We don’t know why he never told anyone, perhaps the war had changed things for him? The only thing he did mention was that he played the organ in Sydney Cathedral as a young man

Mum was over for breakfast on Sunday (a regular family get together with our children and now grandchildren) she confirmed the story of the Chinese graveyard which was supposedly on the hill above the farm, mum also rang me last night as she has located more old photos which I will try and have restored.

 If possible I would like to locate the position of the farm and where the photo was taken.

 I would appreciate any assistance which you can provide.

 RegardsGary Webber