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William Tipple SMITH


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History stands corrected: Smith, not Hargraves, first to discover gold in NSW
A clerical filing error in the mid-1840s meant that William Tipple Smith's claim to be the first to discover gold was lost in the mists of time.

For 170 years all that remained of mineralogist William Tipple Smith was a quartz gold sample, an unmarked grave and a reputation as the fraud who claimed to have discovered payable gold before Edward Hargraves.

On Thursday the history that most Australian schoolchildren learnt about events leading to the NSW gold rush in 1851 was corrected.

An anonymous grave, previously known only as number 4929, section four, Rookwood Cemetery, was marked for the first time. It now reads: "William Tipple Smith, 1803-1852, Mineralogist, discoverer of Australia’s first payable gold and co-founder of Australia’s iron and steel industry."

A commemorative plaque also details Smith's contribution to Australian history, ending a decades-long fight by his descendants to correct the record.

"A wrong perpetrated by a corrupt colonial administration in 1851 has been put to rights by its successor, the NSW government, almost 170 years later," was how his descendant and author Lynette Silver summed it up.

Ms Silver found missing documents that proved Smith had sent gold nuggets to England and letters detailing his claims that in 1848 he had found a payable goldfield near Yorkeys Corner. Missing for decades, the letters had been filed under "M" for Sir Roderick Murchison (a prominent British geologist who encouraged Smith) instead of "S" for Smith.

Three years later in February 1851, Hargraves heard there might be gold in the hills west of the Blue Mountains. He only found a few specks, but that didn't stop him from boasting of it to the Colonial Secretary and asking for a reward.

Hargraves returned to look for more gold, helped by men who had been told where Smith had found gold. When one of the men relieved himself in a creek near Yorkeys Corner, Ms Silver said, something sparkled – and he found a gold nugget. After Hargraves had claimed credit and boasted miners would find nuggets as "big as your boot", thousands rushed to the goldfields.

Smith had emigrated to Australia from Suffolk in 1835. In 1847, he went looking for gold on the western side of the Blue Mountains and he found it the following year. That same year he and partners produced Australia's first iron and steel at Mittagong. His company would later become BHP.
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