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This book deals with the inception and development of adjudication systems on the gold fields in NSW and Victoria in the 19th century. The sudden onset of the gold rushes in NSW and Victoria in 1851 created an immediate necessity for a system of resolving disputes among gold miners. Despite a large literature on the gold rushes generally, virtually nothing has been written on the adjudication systems.
The aim of this work is to examine what these systems were, to discover what records of them have survived and to expose samples of those records. The work concentrates on the period from 1851 to 1875 when the adjudication systems were at their most active. It records the changing legislative provisions relating to adjudication in that period. The first adjudicative institution created in both NSW and Victoria was Gold Fields Commissioners appointed under the Crown Lands Act 1833. In NSW the first Commissioner appointed was John Richard Hardy who reached the Western Gold Fields at the beginning of June 1851 and immediately started both issuing licences to mine and settling disputes. The Commissioners operated in Victoria only until 1855. Having been discredited as a result of the events leading up to the Eureka Stockade, they were then replaced by Wardens and Local Courts. However, the Commissioners were successful in NSW, in part because of the personal qualities of Hardy, and continued to operate in one form or another until 1874 when they were replaced by Wardens’ Courts.
The book explores what records survive of adjudications in both Colonies and incorporates samples of them. It examines in some detail the career of Thomas Alexander Browne (who was the novelist Rolf Boldrewood) as the Commissioner at Gulgong in the early 1870s and who, atypically of Gold Fields Commissioners, was at odds with his community. It also examines the reported cases in the Supreme Courts concerning gold fields adjudication. The work thus presents, for the first time, an account of these adjudicative systems. After 1875 a system of Mining Wardens’ Courts for determining mining disputes became universal throughout Australia, and widely used beyond, which system, in one form or another, has persisted into the 21st century.