Rocky Road to Riches

Rocky Road to Riches

It seems strange that one man could have had the wealth of kings only to die a pauper. In 1886 George Harrison, a South African prospector, found traces of gold in the Witwatersrand Basin. Although it looked very promising, Harrison was at the time so desperate for cash that he sold his claim for a mere $50. In so doing he missed the rare opportunity to become a multimillionaire! The buyer took advantage of Harrison's impulsive move, and the accumulated claims that resulted became the South African Rand, the most productive gold—bearing region in the world. During its first century its forty mines yielded 36,000 tons of gold. It is till a major source of gold, as well as silver and platinum, and today produces over 70 percent of the world's gold supply.

When gold—bearing rocks erode, they crumble and release free gold particles that accumulate in stream channels, usually as very small nuggets — with occasional exceptions.

In 1879 two prospectors, almost at the end of their rope and ready to abandon the search, made a most extraordinary discovery. They found, in Victoria, Australia, a rather exceptional nugget. It weighed nearly 150 pounds, the largest single gold nugget yet found. It was a happy, unexpected discovery for them, so they named the nugget "Welcome Stranger." They promptly sold it for about $50,000, which in those days was considered a significant fortune. On the current market the gold alone would be worth millions, but as a single nugget one of this size would be absolutely priceless. The owners preferred to cash it in.

The adventures of this nugget of nuggets did not end there. In the museum of a leading midwestern university there was on display one of the gold—painted plaster models of the "Welcome Stranger." The printed sign next to it read, "The largest gold nugget in the world." In the description it was clearly identified as a plaster cast.

But during a dead—of—night raid a thief stole the cast, undoubtedly thinking it was real. An uninformed person, indeed, because had it been real gold he scarcely would have been able to budge the nugget, let alone carry it hastily from the premises. But his fortune turned to misfortune as he dropped the "nugget" at the door and the plaster shattered. The luckless thief was so taken aback by this unhappy turn of events that he gave himself up to the authorities.

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth