Ophir, NSW

Site of Australia's "first significant gold discovery".

Ophir (pronounced 'o-fa' to rhyme with 'sofa') is famous as the site where payable gold was first found in Australia. In April, 1851 what is now a peaceful recreation reserve with picnic and camping facilities where Summer Hill Creek and Lewis Ponds Creek meet, was the site of a discovery that changed Australian society and the Australian economy dramatically. Today it is a pleasant picnic area with two excellent walks through quiet bushland which was once the site of mines, tunnels and furious activity as more than 2,000 miners dug for their fortunes.


Ophir is located 27 km north east of Orange and 280 km west of Sydney via Orange.


Origin of Name

Prior to European settlement the area was inhabited by the Wiradjuri people who knew the gorge as 'Drunong Drung' which was said to mean 'many snakes'. The first Europeans into the area called it 'Yorkey's Corner' after a shepherd from Yorkshire who grazed his flock along the creeks.  Reputedly it was the father of William Tom (one of the trio who found gold in the area) who suggested 'Ophir' which was a reference to a place in the Old Testament famed for its fine gold.


Things to See and Do

The True History of Ophir and the Discovery of Gold
It has become part of local mythology that Edward Hargraves was the first man to discover gold in Australia. This is simply not true and the story is an almost perfect example of how someone, eager to claim glory and fame, can push themselves to the front of the crowd without too many objections.

It seems likely that the first person to find gold at Ophir was a Sydney jeweller who, discovering gold in 1849 in the district, tried to persuade the New South Wales government but was met with disinterest.

Two years later, in February, 1851, Edward Hargraves and a colleague, John Lister, found gold-bearing gravel at the junction of Lewis Ponds Creek and Summer Hill Creek. The gold was poor quality and Hargraves temporarily abandoned the search.

In April, 1851 William Tom found a 14 gram gold nugget on a rock bar which he named FitzRoy Bar after Governor Fitzroy. It was near the junction of the two creeks. At the time Tom was accompanied by his brother, James, and a friend, John Lister. Lister and James started fossicking in a nearby creek and in three days had discovered 113 grams of gold including a 55-gram nugget.

They then made a terrible mistake. They informed Edward Hargraves who took the samples to Sydney, showed them to the Colonial Secretary and revealed the location of the finds. The New South Wales Government, quite incorrectly, recognised Hargraves as the "first discoverer of gold in Australia". He was paid £10,500 reward and, in 1877, was granted an annuity of £250 a year. He also received £2,381 from the Victorian government and was asked by the West Australian government to prospect there in 1862. Hargraves travelled to England in 1854 where he was presented to Queen Victoria and he published a book entitled Australia and Its Goldfields in 1855.

It is a cruel irony that he enjoyed so much fame and fortune when, with panning expertise he had gained on the Californian goldfields, he had been unable to find gold at Ophir. The true heroes were William and James Tom and John Lister.

Ophir was not the first gold. It was the first payable gold and within weeks the gully was overrun by at least 400 eager prospectors. With the miners came pubs, blacksmiths, general stores selling wood and canvas, a police station made from rough hewn logs, sly grog shops and a Commissioner's Camp which comprised tents and a slab-and-bark cookhouse.

Further down the creek, at Tinkers Point on a bend in the river, a second settlement named Newtown grew. It is claimed that at its peak Newtown was home to 2,000 prospectors by the winter of 1851. This was early days and the rules were chaotic. Only 446 licenses were issued in July, 1851. Many prospectors were fossicking illegally and fleeing at the approach of the Commissioner's men.

Then, as was to become a pattern on all the goldfields, word spread that there was easier gold to be had on the Turon fields and many of the prospectors, confronted with a wet and bitterly cold winter and poor returns, left Ophir for easier pickings.

There were only 84 licenses issued in August, 1852. The gold rush had lasted a little over a year.

Ironically tenacity was rewarded. A few miners stayed on and had some success and by 1855 the highly organised Chinese had moved in and were reworking many of the old mines. They camped on the flats below Murray's Hill and their earthen water races can still be seen in the hills.

The Belmore Reef was discovered in 1866 and reef mining was still producing profitable returns as late as the 1890s. The veins were rich in gold but often short-lived. In the 1890s Doctors Hill became an important mine and a small settlement grew up there, although flooding of the shafts proved a major problem. Today gold is still mined in the area but the returns are so marginal that when the price of gold falls the commercial operations stop.

The Ophir Reserve and the Walking Tracks
The main attraction at Ophir is the 560 ha Historic Ophir Reserve which comprises camping and picnic facilities; the junction of the Summer Hill and Lewis Ponds Creeks which flow into the Ophir Creek; two pleasant walking trails which include the site of the original 1851 gold strike and of the 1866 Belmore Reef find; earthen water races, a rare stone gravity-fed water race (c.1890) for washing the crushed quartz from the stamper batteries; abandoned tunnels, old diggings, a flagstone causeway, mullock heaps, the remains of a flying fox and the old cemetery. One tombstone identifies Charlie Corse who received a bullet in the head when he dared Richard Spencer to shoot him in a dispute over a saddle. Spencer was gaoled in Bathurst prison. On the northern side of the causeway is an obelisk to commemorate the historical importance of the site which was built in 1923.

Walking Tracks No.1 and No.2
There is a large sign, complete with a good map, in the picnic area on the south side of the river, which indicates the two walks which offer a comprehensive overview of the remnants of the gold site.

Walking Track No.1
This walking track, on the southern side of Summer Hill Creek, passes along the creek's bank past the Bluff Tunnel (it can be safely explored for about 23 metres from the entrance - the tunnel was used to transfer mined rock from shafts on the Bluff Hill above to the tramway which ran past its entrance), up Eau De Cologne Gully, past Belmore Reef Mines, Salvation Bob's Mine and Spencers Cut and then via the former site of the 7-header stamper battery back to the Historic Reserve.

Walking Track No. 2
This track starts on the northern side of the ford, takes in the Ophir Monument (across the road) and the former site of Ophir township before making its way along the banks of the Ophir Creek, past the site of Newtown at Tinkers Point, heading up to the earthen water races and heading back to the picnic area.



* The area was known to its original inhabitants, the Wiradjuri people, as 'Drunong Drung'. This is said to mean 'many snakes' as the creatures were apparently attracted to what was a very reliable water source.

* To the early European settlers it was known as 'Yorkey's Corner' after a reclusive shepherd from Yorkshire who kept his flock here.

* A Sydney jeweller tried to make the government aware of the gold traces he discovered there in 1849, with no success.

* In February, 1851 Edward Hargraves, who had garnered some experience and success at the California goldfields, together with John Lister, turned up a pan of gold-bearing gravel at the junction of Lewis Ponds Creek and Summer Hill Creek. The find was of little value so Hargraves temporarily abandoned the search.

* In April, 1851 William Tom found a 14-gram nugget near the junction of the two creeks. Three days later, with his brother James and John Lister, he had found 113 grams including a 55-gram nugget.

* Within weeks there were 400 prospectors in the valley and Australia's first goldrush had started.

* By July, 1851 hotels, blacksmiths, general stores, a police station and a commissioner's camp had been built.

* A second settlement called Newtown grew up at Tinkers Point and by mid-1851 there were 2000 diggers in the area. 446 licenses were issued in July 1851.

* By 1852 the rush was over. A small number of hardy diggers persisted.

* By the mid-1850s Chinese miners were reworking the diggings with some success. They camped on the flats below Murray's Hill and their earthen water races can still be seen.

* In 1866 the Belmore Reef was discovered and reef mining was pursued for the next 30 years.

* Copper was mined at Lewis Ponds in the 1860s and 1870s and silver, lead and zinc in the 1880s.

* In the 1890s Doctors Hill became an important mine and a small settlement developed there.

* There have always been miners in the area. As recently as the late 1970s a 5.22 kg nugget was found.


Visitor Information

The Orange Visitors Centre, Civic Square, Byng St, tel: 1800 069 466 has information on the walking trails and Ophir.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

42 suggestions
  • What is the road like to Ophir. I would be driving a Toyota sedan via Orange. Is the road dirt or tarred? And how long would the trip be?

    It is a perfectly good road. Most of it is sealed but there is a dirt (good quality) for part of the way. The distance from Orange is 17 km. It will take around 20 minutes.

    Bill Griffith
  • is it still possible to pan for gold at Ophir?
    Are there any designated areas for panning with maps if possible?
    Any help would be appreciated
    Thank you

    Very simple answer: there is an exceptionally good Visitor Information Centre in Orange and they will provide you with all the information you need. My memory is that there is panning at Ophir and that the Visitor Information have maps. But I may be wrong.

    Graham Bishop
    • I used to live at Emily Downs on the Ophir Rd. A great area to discover. The granite outcrops just up the road are one of the undiscovered highlights of the area.

  • Does anyone please know of the Cantrell family in the Ophir area or nearby? Please, I want to know more about my mother’s side of the family. The name might mean something to someone she knew. Please answer me.

    Brett lindsay
  • I lived at Ophir from 1972 to 1975. The Father’s Day nugget was found on our property in 1975 – just behind our house. Don Peters and Phil Culverson and Russel Peters found it. My name is Glenn Johnston. I now live at Forster, NSW. The house is haunted also a fact not many people know either. I know because I have seen the ghost when I was 15 in 1975. That is the reason my mother sold the 25 acres and mud cottage for a measly $10,500. Don’t know if anyone else has seen the thing since but I did. It was terrifying. I’ll tell you that I’m 57 yrs old now and have never seen anything like it since. Any inquiries ring me 0490131204. bye

    • Can you pinpoint the find location?

    • Interesting story on the Fathers day nugget, Don And Peter discovered it above the Bluff. No houses for miles. in 1979. it sat in my fathers sink for 2 days.

      Andy Culverson
      • Hi Andy he had it as kitchen door stop when I was there waiting for the sale. They were trying to sell it as a nugget not to be refined. That’s what your dad said . Was a long time ago .

        Tom Garvin
    • Interesting story Glenn. It appears all the history books, news paper articles and media reports are wrong. Let alone what Peter Culverson and his family remember.

      Ian Warby
  • I visited Ophir today to see where my mother MarionMcConnell was born and found that her grandfather my great was at rest in the cemetery along with other family members, who had live there since the gold rush of 1851 her father Leslie Lewis McConnell was born at lower Lewis ponds, and his father was Samual McConnell

    Rob Williams
    • I take it that Lewis Ponds named after your LEWIS family. Do you know if these LEWIS’ are related to Richard LEWIS the first Commandant of Bathurst and Superintendent on the Cox Road construction?

      Graeme ROWE
    • Hi Rob Williams,
      I too am a descendant of Samuel McConnell, one of his sons, Andrew William McConnell is your Leslie Lewis’ father and Leslie’s older brother was Theodore Valentine McConnell who is my Great Grandfather on my fathers side of the family.
      Samuel and Agnes had 10 Children, (John; Mary; Samuel Jr; Edward; ANDREW WILLIAM; William; Agnes; Emily; Robert James and Archibald Smith). John, Robert, William and Archibald discovered and named the following mines The Belmore – The Young Australian – Lucas Gully – Nelsons Reef and Murrays Hill around Ophir. John was killed in an accident at the Young Australian mine. Andrew and his wife Elizabeth Jane (nee Owen) had 7 Children (Sarah Elizabeth; Mary Eliza; THEODORE VALENTINE; Agnes Beatrice; Mabel Pearl; LESLIE LEWIS and Bertie Cecil). I hope this can be of some help to you. Kindest regards.

      Lynette Hoskins (nee McConnell)
      • Hi Lynette Hoskins and Rob Williams I am writing in regards to information further about the McConnell family there are two granddaughters (elder still alive ) with further info and correct info of the family tree.

        Nicole Mac
      • hi lynette do you have a contact email there is two granddaughters of Andrew McConnell and Elizabeth McConnell alive and have notice that there father and his siblings are not spoken of any where except the only sibling being Marion McConnell sister of Agnas Sarah and Andrew just wondering where you come into the family tree and why Andrew is never spoken of

        Nicole Mac
        • Hi Nicole & Rob
          I’m also related to Andrew William & Elizabeth Jane McConnell their daughter Agnes Beatrice is my grandmother. I’ve been to Ophir and visited the sites that a number of the McConnell family lived and were buried in the local cemetery. Is it possible for you to contact me to further discuss details of the McConnells? Any information would be much appreciated. Regards

          Di Goodwin
          • Hello Di I am the daughter of Cecil Theodore McConnell >Theodore Valentine> & Caroline Agnes(Madden) > Andrew William & Elizabeth Jane(Owen?) >Samuel & Agnes (Allen) > Archibald & Fanny The only Irish record I could find was for Samuel in Lettergul near Donegal

            Carol Beanland
        • Hi Nicole
          I’ve also been to Ophir to visit sites where the McConnell’s lived and were buried in the old cemetery.
          I’m related to Samuel and Agnes McConnell (great grandparents -x3)
          My grandmother Agnes Beatrice was the daughter of Andrew and Elizabeth McConnell.
          I’m also researching the McConnell family and would appreciate any information you maybe able to share. Regards

          Di Goodwin
          • Hi All,
            I am also a descendant of the McConnells. Mary McConnell (Daughter of Agnes and Samuel) is my great, great grandmother. I have Samuel McConnells Death certificate (Cause of Death: Dray passing over body – Ophir) . Agnes McConnell is buried in Orange Cemetery.

            Jo McManus
    • Hi I think we are related your grand ancestors were siblings to my grand ancestors, my great, great grandmother, Sarah Simpson nee Owens, lived and died in the Ophir area I think she may be buried in the cemetery on the hill or I believe there is an older cemetery in the area? She died in 1892, her husband I think was a blacksmith. Do you know of any residents lists for the time?

      kandi barry
      • Hi everyone,
        I am a descendant of this line too. And likely a mystery line to most of you as there was some divides with the family in times gone. I have been able to research a fair way back into the tree except I can’t find anything on the Madden line. Re- Agnes Madden who married Theodore. I have marriage certificates and I know her father Michael died and is buried there, however thats where there is a full stop. No record of his family, or birth. I know he had a brother named Walter as both served in war and Walter married my great grandfathers older sister Eliza Jane. My great grandfather married and had my grandmother with Dorothy who is Agnes and Theodores great grandaughter. Would appreciate if there is any information known about the Maddens? and and possible pictures.

        Memory walking
    • Hi Rob,
      If we have the same person, Leslie Lewis McConnell’s father was Andrew McConnell (married Elizabeth Jane Owen). Samuel and Agnes were Leslie’s grandparents who were assisted immigrants from Ireland (they came out on the ship ‘Isabella’ arriving in Australia 18 October 1840, and their first child John, was born on board that ship). Andrew is my 2nd Great grandfather and Leslie was the sixth of their seven children. Leslie married Theresa Jeannette Blake and they had 10 Children. The McConnell family had discovered / co-discovered and worked several gold mines, the Belmore, The Young Australian, Lucas Gully, Nelsons Reef, The Bluff and Murrays Hill. John McConnell was killed in an accident at The Young Australian. Leslie’s sister, Mabel Pearl was killed in a horse and sulky accident at Blacksmiths Pinch, Bluff Hill and it is said her ghost haunts the area where she died.

      Lynette Hoskins (nee McConnell)
      • Are u my uncle Ron’s daughter from Qld, if so we have a great family history

        Rob Williams
        • Hi Rob, I hope you still read these posts. I haven’t had the chance to get back here for a long time ( unfortunately life got in the way of my research. If we have the same person your uncle Ron is also my uncle, he and my dad (sadly now passed) were brothers. They lived at Elimbah, near Caboolture in Queensland. Who are your parents? We are probably cousins ????

          Lynette Hoskins (née McConnell)
          • Hello Lynette.
            It might be a long shot that you still pick up msgs from this page. I am reaching out on behalf of my mum who has recently decided to learn more about her McConnell family.
            My great great grandmother is Mabel Pearl (of the ghost fame). She had a daughter Lorna Juliet. Lorna’s daughter was my grandmother Beryl Mabel.
            If you do have any interesting information it would be great to connect.

  • Hello, Did Spencer’s Cut mine belong to Richard Spencer?

  • Richard Spencer was sent down for murder due to standing up for his mother and his self – in self defence from a bully. Does anyone know if Richard Spencer was hanged? Or is he the father or Grandfather of Les Spencer and his mother Jessie? I’m researching this family. I’m connected.

  • Hi Bruce, You mention Murray’s Hill here. Do you have any further info on this My family (Murray) come from this area. Also as a matter of interest John Lister was my great (maybe great great) uncle. Good to see you have the historically correct story. Thanks for that. Did you know that Lister died the day the court made a ruling on Hargreaves and the reward so Tom and Lister never received any compensation?

    Helen Woodward
  • It was John Lister and William Tom that found gold at Ophir. James Tom was not there. He made the gold cradle for them at Tom’s home at Byng. I was told James was away droving at time of discovery of gold.

    Peter Ogilvie
    • My mothers maiden name was Norma Tom a distant relative of Parson Tom. The original cradle (California Cradle) was made by William Tom Jr following directions from Edward Hargraves. It remains in the Powerhouse Museum.

      Meagan Jacobs
  • Does anyone have any info about the Fuller family in this time? My 3rd great grandad (Edward Fuller) wrote a book on Ophir, and I’m trying to find out if I am of indigenous descent.

    Grace Fuller
    • Hi Grace
      My grandmother is Agnes McConnell the sister of Sarah Fuller (nee McConnell). Sarah was married to Edward Fuller.
      Parents were Andrew & Elizabeth McConnell.
      You’re welcome to contact me.

  • Hello, we are planning a little holiday to Ophir and i was wondering if my family can prospect for gold with the gold detectors there- can anyone assist- is it allowed and is there areas where we can do this- i have 3 children who i wanted to show the town, history etc and whilst there for them to try their luck on the land in the nearby area around where Gold was 1st found-

  • Spent the first 5 years of my life living at Summer Hill creek started school there, early as not enough kids to keep the school open. I repeated kindergarten, haha .
    Was open shafts in school grounds, moved to the city but returned to the area every chance I got growing up and even as an Adult. many of my relatives reside in the Orange greater area .
    We panned in the Creek as kids and had common finds ended up un impressed strange to say it but did not have as much value as a rabbit skin for the fur traders that used to buy the dried skins, We ate the rabbit so better value as kids growing up, and more fun.

    Tommy Garvin
  • March 2021 we spent a night camping at Ophir in our RV, there is about 2 km of unsealed road in at both ends, quite manageable. Orange visitor centre provided maps, but is not well sign posted. Flushing toilets and gas BBQ available. While overnight a heavy storm hit so we were limited in exploring. Worth a visit but keep an eye on the weather, heavy rain in Orange can flood the causeway.

    Anneliese Whipp
  • Does anybody know anything about the Callan family, my great great grandmother Emelie Callan née Jones was born at Ophir, Lower Lewis Ponds in 1861. Her father was George Jones. They also found a good quantity of gold.
    Went down to see the where they would have panned for gold, the road is dirt but pretty easy with the right car. You can drive across the stream. There were a few people trying their luck in the stream. Not a lot of room for to many cars.

    Robyn Mcgrath
  • William Tipple Smith (1803-1852) has now been credited to be the first person to discover a payable quantity of gold that lead to the NSW gold rush of 1851.

    James Cosgrove
    • These stories are great, my mothers maiden name is Christopherson her great great grandfather is Thomas (Ophir joe) Christopherson discovered the first reef gold in Ophir (belmore mine) I believe in 1866 he was also known as Joseph Christopherson

      Adam Woods
  • Hi.
    My 3xgreat grandfather William John Tweedy also panned for gold at Ophir and is mentioned in the book Ophir Gold as being an “experienced miner”..his son Robert Patrick Tweedy was a teacher at Ophir school in 1900.

  • I lived in the last house on Ophir road in 1974/5 I was 14 then and saw a ghost there it was terrifying anyone with similar experiences please get in contact with me 0478847011 the old mud house we lived in might be gone now it’s the property don Peter’s and Phill culverson found the father’s day nugget in 1975

    Glen Johnston
  • Hi Has anyone got infromation on the Connolly family,and their endeavours in the early days of Ophir, specifically Patrick Andrew Connolly born in Ophir in 1866 to irish parents ( Patrick and Agnes).His mother ran a local pub in the district.

    Andrina Treadgold
  • I would like to know when Ophir Road from Bathurst was constructed and if it was earlier than (what we now know as) The Mitchell Highway?

    Kathleen Toovey