Gold was first discovered in 1851 at Wombat flat as prospectors searched through the creeks and streams heading to inland Victoria. By 1855 alluvial diggings had spread across the region with Daylesford town centre spring to prominence from the early 1860s.
In 1854 the first hard rock reef opened out was the Mauritius “Kidd’s Gully” mine. Soon after production from Burdon’s reef at Doctor’s Gully realised 2 oz to the ton. At this time Addis and Brook opened the Cornish reef with the production quoted as 3 oz/ton.
By 1856 the Daylesford auriferous belt is had been recognised as a significant gold field It is described as “approximately one mile in width and can be traced for several miles north and south”. The belt comprises many north-south trending reefs including Ajax, Rising Star, Specimen Hill, Colliers, Freemans, Wombat Hill, Cornish, Fear Not, Crown, St George, Eugenie and Hepburn. The earliest reference identified so far suggests mining on the Ajax line of reefs started around 1857.
By the 1860s the Connells and Nuggety Ajax reefs between Connells Gully and Tipperary point as well as Packers Reef on the Dry diggings and Frenchman’s, Steels Pioneer and Humbug reefs at Yandoit were all in production. Unfortunately, the Yandoit reefs proved poor and by 1861 largely shut down.
The ore of the goldfield generally was largely treatable through traditional gravity methods however in the literature there is reference to the treatment of pyritic ore using a chlorination process starting around the 1870’s. As enough of the ore had proved to be refractory but worth recovering, the Daylesford Pyrites Company (“Daylesford Pyrites Works”) using a 30 ft long furnace and grinding mills to treat ore was established. The works was reputed to be reasonably efficient using the “Newbury Vautin Improved Rapid Chlorination Process for Gold Extraction”.
Fortunes started to shift and late in the 1870s the Cornish mine fell into partial decline and by the 1880s was not considered profitable, and attention shifted to the 1886 Rising Star line. Whilst most mining was in decline sporadic production continued and in 1903 an English company took control of Cornish Hill. They were able to turn a profit from the mine until the First World War. The shifting fortunes of the main lode systems within the Daylesford goldfield seems to have migrated from one line to another and as one became unfavourable, a second became more profitable.
As a more profitable mine, the Ajax company continued well towards the First World War and in fact by 1911 Ajax Co was running a 20 head battery and at North Nugget, a 10 head battery. In 1914 a disastrous fire at the Ajax/North Nuggety destroyed winding engine and housing as well as boilers and compressing plant. Given the mine was still considered highly profitable, new equipment was installed over the old Ajax shaft and the mine continued working well into the 1920s. The Ajax mine attracted neighbours at Nugget Ajax, Ajax North, Ajax South, and Christian Ajax and the importance of the lode structure was well established.
For Ajax mining at depth was starting to compete with water influx. The mine was also struggling for materials and labour and by around 1917, most of the mines on the Ajax lines only continued to engage in minor prospecting. Reportable ore grade and production started to diminish. A year later the Ajax Company discovered a new line of reef however this was short-lived and Ajax North became largely unprofitable in development operations confining its production to taking out remnant stopes.
Ajax and Ajax North closed initially by 1926, however mining continued in Daylesford and in 1939 the most prolific and high-grade producer at 33 dwt/ton is the Maxwell Consolidated working to the 600 ft level.
The gold mining as elsewhere faltered during the First World War. A resurgence again in gold from Daylesford in the 1930s was driven by the Maxwell Consolidated. Its success revived the interest in the Ajax mine also but was short lived, Sporadic attempts to reopen the Ajax Consolidated occurred up until around 1947. The poppet head was eventually pulled down in 1979 and the shaft closed forever.
Today some of the original town centre is now submerged beneath Lake Daylesford (an historical dredging pond now rehabilitated as a feature in Daylesford township). The community however lives on and is a thriving tourist destination bustling with cafes, restaurants, and crafts shops. The township along with sister town, Hepburn, now promote the natural spring water found in the area and many tourist ventures often refer to the glorious gold mining days that built the town.
Many of the historical workings are now covered over or have collapsed. While evidence of some shafts remain as small openings in the countryside, most are too dangerous to easily access and will require substantial rehabilitation works to make safe. There is expectation that some point of entry will eventually be opened, and the historical mine can again be accessed for exploration purposes.