Nash’s triumph and tragedy

James Nash discoverer of gold in Gympie in a photograph taken in Maryborough in 1868.

Gympie Family History Society

Known as the ‘Man who saved Queensland’ from financial depression, records show that James Nash was the first to report the discovery of profitable gold in the area, by taking his find up to Maryborough, 60 miles north of Gympie, on 16 October 1867.

And so, the Gold Rush and eventually Gympie began.

The field was officially proclaimed on 31 October 1867 as “The Upper Mary River”, 25 square miles in extent.

The name soon changed to Nashville, after the discoverer, but as this was the same name of a large American city, it was deemed wise to alter it, first to Gympy, and then to Gympie.

The Nash family were originally French Protestants, Huguenots and reared as Quakers, who had settled in England.

James Nash was born on 5 September 1834 at Beanacre, Wiltshire, England and was the son of Michael Nash, a farm labourer, and his wife Elizabeth nee Prosser.

He finished his education by the age of 9 and became a farm worker, however he migrated to Sydney, Australia at the age of 23 and did labouring work between prospecting for gold at various goldfields.

A popular conception was that James Nash was a sort of swagman with a lust for gold.

He would be described as a quietly spoken, solitary man, short and stocky who favoured wearing white moleskin trousers and big white felt hats and who was fond of relating his mining adventures.

James moved to Queensland in 1863 to the Calliope and then to Nanango area and while travelling around prospecting he went on to find rich gold in 1867 near the Mary River.

The Government had offered a £3000 reward for the discovery of payable gold within a radius of 90 miles from Brisbane.

James’ discovery was deemed, by the Government, to be further than the 90 miles away, so for his discovery, after twelve months of debate, he was only granted £1000.

James with his brother, John, earned a further £7000 from their claims.

Nash’s Claim (plant included) was sold on 7 September 1887 for £100.

A quartz reef believed to pass through the claim is why the price was so high, however unwise investments in mining shares as well as a drapery store saw them soon lose their winnings.

James Nash married Catherine Murphy, a nurse, in Maryborough on 5 July 1868.

Following their marriage, taken up upon their returned from a visit to England, was a farm 4 miles from Tiaro, named ‘Tilson’ where James rented out agistments for mares.

James also held the license to the Queens Hotel in Tiaro for 10 months in 1876- 1877.

James and Catherine went on to have six children.

Elizabeth Amy was born on 26 February 1871.

Better known as Amy, she assisted in the care of her father James during his latter years, and passed away on 20 July 1960.

Francis James was born on 6 June 1874 and tragically passed away on 14 April 1875 from dysentery.

Twins Kathleen Mary and Herbert James were born on 2 March 1876.

On 30 June 1880 their pram got away and rolled down a hill with dreadful consequences – the tragic accident claimed the life of Kathleen and left Herbert totally deaf and unable to speak.

They were just over four years old.

Herbert went on to become a fine artist and passed away on 6 March 1957.

Allan William was born on 7 May 1879.

He was a popular Headmaster of Two Mile State School at the time of his enlistment for WWI and while he was a Major in the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, was killed in action at Gallipoli on 29 June 1915.

It is recorded: “Allan Nash was one of the most efficient, conscientious and respected officers in the Regiment and his loss a serious one“.

Eva Kathleen, the last of the couple’s children, was born on the 28 September 1881 and passed away in Gympie Hospital on 7 March 1897 at the age of 15 years and 5 months.

In 1888 the Queensland Government made James the Keeper of the Gympie Powder Magazine for £100 a year.

In 1898 the Magazine and James were moved to Traveston and he would retire in 1912 due to ill health.

While James was living in Traveston, he would often come to Gympie and visit his family.

He was very proud of Gympie and the magnificent views which could be seen from the hills.

Though James and Catherine lived apart for some time, they were still friendly and would often meet when he visited Gympie city.

James Nash lived his last couple of years with his youngest brother Mark’s family in Mellor Street, passing away on the 5 October 1913, aged 79.

He was given a Civic funeral and is buried in Gympie Two Mile cemetery.

On James’s death the Government granted Catherine an annual pension of £50.

James Nash was honoured, by the public of Gympie City, on 6 March 1915 with a seven ton granite block memorial which was placed in front of the Gympie Town Hall.

James Nash had made very little money out of the gold rush he started – a rush that added some £34,538,328 to the Queensland economy.