In a cavern, in a canyon dwelt a miner 49er …

‘49ers – 170th anniversary

2019 marks the 170th Anniversary of the famous California gold rush of 1849. Prior to this historic event California had been a small settlement of about 200 people. California had belonged to Mexico and there was no constitution or little in the way of laws or property rights, particularly for miners.

It all began the year before, on January 24th, when gold was found at Sutter’s Mill by James Marshall. It took a little while for the word to spread but over the next six years around 300,000 people made their way to the new goldfields of Sierra Nevada and Northern California. Initially from the United States and then subsequently, as the word spread further abroad, prospectors came from Latin America, Europe, Australia and China. About half arrived by sea and half came on the overland route. Both faced significant hardships as they travelled to this remote place. Those travelling by sea from the East Coast of the U.S would have had to sail around Cape Horn, which could take up to eight months.

The influx of so many people created a boom town. A whole new infrastructure was created as the prospectors needed suppliers of food, clothing, banking, transport, and security. Their families required schools, churches, bars and hotels. By 1850 California was recognised as a state. Many of the ships that arrived were abandoned, as the would-be miners moved away from the coast, and were used for building material or as storehouses, even a jail.

Most gold was extracted by panning from river beds. Enormous wealth was created for many, but others were not so lucky. It is estimated that tens of billions of dollars of gold was recovered during this brief period.

Interestingly, San Francisco’s celebrated football team named themselves the ‘San Francisco Forty Niners.’ According to Forbes Magazine, in 2016, the team was the 4th most-valuable team in the NFL, valued at $3 billion and were ranked the 10th most valuable sports team in the world, behind basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers and above soccer’s Bayern Munich.