Author Alistair Rutherford writes a blog post for Auld Reekie Writing on Scotland’s very own gold rush.
Dex Delphi and the Gold Mine is partly set in Helmsdale, a wee fishing village up in the Scottish Highlands. One of my reasons for doing that is because Scotland had its very own gold rush back in the 19th century. And it was in Helmsdale…
It was in the surrounding area of Kildonan that a single gold nugget was found in 1818. Clearly news travelled slowly back then because it took 50 years before anyone took up the serious challenge of trying to find more.
So it wasn’t until 1868 (20 years after the California gold rush) that a brief item in the local newspaper mentioned another gold nugget had been found in the Kildonan area by Robert Gilchrist.
Gilchrist had spent seventeen years prospecting in the Australian goldfields and it was the local laird, the Duke of Sutherland, who’d granted him a licence to go prospecting.
This time the news spread quickly and the gold rush was on.
By early summer of 1869 there were more than 600 men up in the hills, swirling their pans around in the streams and finding not much more than silt and mud, wet feet and a constant bad cold.
It wasn’t only prospectors either – many tourists and journalists flocked to the area to witness gold fever for themselves.
With local accommodation unable to cope with such a massive influx of people, two temporary settlements appeared on the hillsides. It was also handy to stay close to your licensed stretch of water to maximise the time spent panning.
I think the two men sitting on the hillside didn’t get the memo about bringing their own hut…
His owner oblivious, the dog points to where the gold really is…
By the end of the summer of 1869 so much gold had been extracted from the streams that the price began to fall. In addition, the Duke’s licences cost £1 a month (and 10% of all gold found) so people began to realise they were never going to become rich.
By the end of the year, and as the weather closed in, Scotland’s gold rush was over.
However, if you follow in Dex Delphi’s footsteps today you can still pan for gold in the rivers around Helmsdale and you never know, you might just find some!
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