On this day in 1872, German gold miner Bernhardt Holtermann discovered the Holtermann Nugget in New South Wales, Australia, one of the largest single specimens of gold ever found.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, Holtermann emigrated to Australia aboard the ship Salem in 1858 to avoid military service. After working a variety of jobs in business, Holtermann began prospecting for gold with Polish miner Ludwig Hugo Louis Beyers.
They didn’t strike it rich. For years, Holtermann and Beyers worked in the Hill End gold mining town without success. Then, in 1871, their company, the Star of Hope Gold Mining Company, struck generous veins of gold.
The men redoubled their efforts and grew their company–at this point, it was listed on the stock exchange and Holtermann and Beyers remained major stockholders with one-sixth holdings, each. Their efforts were soon rewarded.
On 19 October 1872, at 2 AM, after a midnight firing, a “veritable wall of gold was revealed,” according to the local Town and Country Journal. They found a giant slab of quartz, richly veined with the valuable yellow metal.
The specimen was 59 inches long, weighed 630 pounds, and contained an estimated 5000 ounces of gold. Strictly speaking, the find was not a nugget, but a matrix, a vein of gold embedded in a rock.
The prized nugget was photographed, measured, and displayed, then crushed with 245 kilograms of ore to release the gold. It reportedly yielded 15,488 ounces, 11 pennyweights of gold.
Not long after, the Star of Hope Gold Mining Company discovered a similarly-sized piece of gold-veined slate in the same area, but not quite as big as the previous find.
Holtermann retired, built a mansion in a Sydney suburb (complete with a stained glass window depicting himself and the nugget), invested his wealth, and pursued his favorite hobby, photography.
Visitors can still find day books from Holtermann’s mine, along with a chunk of gold-veined rock the fortunate miner chipped off the tip of his treasured find, at the History Hill gold rush museum in Hill End, Australia.