In 1887 there was great excitement over a huge gold nugget found at Maitland Bar near Mudgee.

Map sbowing where the gold nugget was found.

The prize was unearthed on June 22, as three miners were working their claim; Jonathan Thorpe, Isaac Holmes and Fred Leeder. After washing two tubs of material Holmes and Leeder told Thorpe they had found only specks. As a joke, Thorpe threw up a muddy rock and called ‘Well here’s the King!‘ He then realized that it was far heavier than an ordinary rock. In fact, it was solid gold.

From the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, October 25 1887;

The gold became known as The Maitland Bar Nugget. It was not only displayed interstate, but was sent as an exhibition piece, to the United States, highlighting the wealth of Australia.


In 1925 an interesting article about it appeared in the Tumut & Gundagai Advertiser. At the time only a model of the nugget was being displayed at a mining museum in Sydney’s George Street. The real thing was stored securely at the Mint. This annoyed the writer of the article. If it could be on display in Chicago, then why not here? He commented that the inference was ‘…quite wrongfully, that New South Wales ‘crooks’ are more dangerous than those of Chicago.

Worse still, the writer revealed that someone in the NSW audit department had suggested it be melted down and sold for the benefit of general revenue. Thankfully the Mines Department had other ideas, stating that such specimens should be preserved as historical objects, ‘Our descendants will still be able to point to these actual specimens of the metal of which the attraction did so much to make Australia a nation.

During the Great Depression the nugget did go on display. The sight of it must have created both wonder and a sense of longing in the hearts of people doing it really tough.

The following photo appeared in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on February 2 1938. Security was tight!

The Maitland Bar gold nugget on display in 1938.

When war broke out there was a call for the specimen to be sent to America in exchange for planes, but if anyone had tried to find it they would have been disappointed. The Maitland Bar nugget had somehow got lost within the vast network of government departments.

It was not until 1956 that it reappeared – in the most incredible circumstances. During a general audit it was found that the nugget had been sent to the New South Wales Treasury decades earlier, and a concerted effort was made to locate it.

It turned out that staff at Treasury had been using a heavy wooden box for cricket stumps during impromptu games in the passageways. It was opened and….eureka! Mind you, there had been a clue to the contents. The box was stamped WELLS FARGO, a legacy of the nugget’s past travels in the United States.

It is now housed in Sydney’s recently renovated Australian Museum, in the Gallery of Treasures. Valued at an estimated at almost $4,000,000, it actually priceless, as the largest known remaining specimen in New South Wales.


Admission to the Museum is free. For more on the wonderful Gallery of Treasures, CLICK HERE.

Oh yes, and the Museum’s new rooftop restaurant, No.1 William, is gold star quality too. Lovely views of the city skyline, St Mary’s Cathedral, Hyde Park and the harbour. They currently accept NSW Dine & Discover vouchers.

Dine with a view at the Museum's rooftop restaurant.
Lunch at the Museum's rooftop restaurant.

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