Excerpt from “The History of Mining: The events, technology and people involved in the industry that forged the modern world” – by Michael Coulson

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PADDY HANNAN (1840-1925)

The history of gold prospecting in Australia is populated by countless thousands of mostly unlucky and long forgotten men. One of the few whose name still survives is Paddy Hannan, who found the fabulous Kalgoorlie gold field in Western Australia in 1893 and whose statue is still to be seen in the centre of Kalgoorlie today.

Hannan was born in Ireland in 1840, one of five brothers and six sisters. He travelled to Australia in 1862 and worked for several years as a miner in the gold fields of Ballarat in Victoria where his uncle, William Lynch, was a miner. After that he went to work in the gold fields of New Zealand for several years and returned to prospect in New South Wales and then South Australia. He later crossed Australia to prospect for gold in Western Australia around Southern Cross. Hannan was a careful man with an ability to find water as well as gold, something that stood him in good stead in parched Western Australia. It was this skill at finding water that led to Hannan’s discovery of the famous Kalgoorlie gold field in 1892, for it was while he was looking for sources to fill his waterbags that he stumbled over surface gold.

Hannan did well from his claims, but Kalgoorlie’s gold ore was complex and really required sophisticated equipment to treat it and release the gold. As this kind of mining was capital intensive, it was beyond the financial means of small-scale prospectors and Hannan left Kalgoorlie in 1894 for the Victorian coast, leaving the development of the Golden Mile to the capital markets of eastern Australia and overseas, particularly London. After several months of holiday he returned to Kalgoorlie and then struck out north to Menzies where quietly on his own he prospected with little success.

In 1897 he returned to a Kalgoorlie transformed into a growing town of increasingly permanent structures and now the centre of one of the world’s largest gold fields. He gave an interview to the Kalgoorlie Miner whose editor called for the Western Australian government to grant Hannan a pension in recognition of him having effectively found the Golden Mile, which even in those early years had yielded around £100 million of gold, enriching the state in the process.

It was ten years before the pension of first £100 and later £150 a year was granted. Then Hannan, at the age of 61, decided to leave WA and return to Melbourne where, a bachelor all his life, he lived with one of his sisters and two nieces. But he was not done with prospecting. In 1910 a gold rush at Bullfinch, just north of Southern Cross, had Hannan sailing to Perth and then taking the train to Coolgardie having wired money ahead. Hannan found nothing and returned to his nieces in Melbourne with his prospecting days finally over. He lived there quietly until his death at the age of 81 in 1925, active and respected and liked by all who knew him, a man whose modesty was in stark contrast to many long-forgotten gold prospectors who talked a better game than they played.

A man of great integrity, he did not believe that he had achieved anything special, although many Western Australians, then and now, would disagree with him. It is therefore a fitting monument to Paddy Hannan’s memory that when the history of Kalgoorlie’s gold is told it is his name that we remember and his statue that we see in Kalgoorlie.

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