This gold cradle was the first to be used in Australia. It was made by William Tom Jr following directions from Edward Hargraves and was based on similar cradles (also called rockers) used to wash for gold in California. The cradle was a box with two metal sieves. Earth and water were shovelled on top and, by the action of being rocked back and forth, were forced through the sieves and out the bottom. Because gold was heavier than the rock and soil it was mixed with, it sank to the bottom and was caught in the base of the cradle.
William Tom (1791-1883) was a farmer in the Orange area when he met Edward Hargraves in February 1851, when Hargraves visited his property. Hargraves had just found grains of gold in Summer Hill Creek and was anxious to prospect for more in the Orange area. He showed William Tom Jr (1823-1904) how to build a cradle and, together with his brothers James and Henry, William used this to search for gold along the creek. Eventually they found as much as 16 grains of gold in one day. When they found nuggets weighing four ounces they wrote to Hargraves who hurried back and named the field Ophir. By then Hargraves had written to the 'Sydney Morning Herald' describing his finds and in May described specific areas where gold existed. By 15 May over 300 diggers were at work at Ophir and the Australian gold rushes had begun.
The cradle is cedar, possibly made from off-cuts since some pieces of wood have nails embedded in them that do not relate to its construction. Although Hargraves is credited with the first discovery of gold in Australia, in fact gold had been found by Europeans as early as 1823 (by James McBrien) and Aboriginal people were well aware that a shiny gold mineral could be found along rivers and in rocks. The real contribution Hargraves made was in the introduction of Californian mining methods, particularly the cradle. Easy to make and thus accessible to all, cradles made it possible for anyone to prospect for gold.
Kimberley, Webber, September, 2000