Clare County Library
Clare People
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | Search this Website | Copyright Notice

Hannan, Paddy
(1840-1925)


Extract from ‘Ramblers from Clare and Other Sketches’ by John T. McMahon
Dublin: Talbot Press, 1936, pp. 43-55

The Birth of Kalgoorlie

Another Rambler from Clare
Standing in the place of honour in the main street of the capital of the Eastern Goldfields in Western Australia, is the bronze statue of a man, dressed in the rough garb of a prospector, with pick and shovel lying near him. The figure is erect, in a half-sitting posture, as if he was resting on a narrow ledge of rock that jutted out from the hillside. The figure is below average height, of medium build; the hands are wiry and sinewy, giving one the impression of a man, active and alert, the result of a healthy and vigorous outdoor life. The bearded face looks down the principal street; a serious, stern look, relieved, somewhat, by a hat that had seen better days, worn rakishly, as if the owner was mindful of the whimsical angle of the “caubeen” in his native land.

That bronze figure has pleased a distinguished visiting artist better than anything else he had seen in Australia. A prospector of the early ’nineties, wearing the dungarees of the time—beside him are the miner’s tools that went with him as he treked the trackless plains in search of gold—is on a pedestal to remind us, of short memories, of all that we owe to the sacrifice, patience, and perseverance of the early prospectors, symbolised in that bronze figure.

But who is this man and why stands he here? He is a rambler from County Clare, Paddy Hannan by name, and his statue dominates Hannan’s Street in Kalgoorlie, the capital of the world’s richest square mile, the “Golden Mile.” Paddy Hannan was born in the parish of Quin, County Clare, Ireland, about 1842. At the age of twenty-one he came to Australia and landed in Melbourne in 1863. The cry of gold brought him to Western Australia in 1889. He joined the thousands who went out to face the unknown in a waterless and foodless country. He was one of the lucky ones. In later years when his name was known throughout Australia, and, indeed, throughout the mining world, Paddy Hannan made no extravagant boast. He declared that he had been but one among thousands, and they, not as lucky as he was, are no less worthy of merit.

Paddy Hannan was a quiet man, undemonstrative, silent, and peaceful in strong contrast with a type of Irishmen then commonly met on the goldfields of the West. He was not a total abstainer, but a very temperate man. When Kalgoorlie became populous, he occasionally returned to the scene of his prospecting success and, naturally, he was lionised, but he kept his head, and remained the same quiet, unassuming rambler from Clare. On these occasions he could have gallons of whatever he wished to drink, but nothing would induce him to exceed the very moderate allowance of intoxicants to which he strictly limited himself. On that point he was adamant, even under the strongest temptation to be otherwise. It was unusual in those days of the “roaring nineties” to be so very temperate, but he had remarkable self-control and inflexible strength of will. This may not have added to his popularity amongst a few of the gay, reckless spirits of the early goldfield days, and that may explain the support given to the counter-claims of Flanagan and Shea as the discoverers of Kalgoorlie.

A resident of the goldfields, who knew Paddy intimately, paints the following picture of him: “Paddy was not garrulous or a good conversationalist, though in some respects, pleasant and genial. He was of a kindly disposition, quiet and reserved; and particularly concerning himself, he was not disposed to be communicative.”

I know the shaded country roads that serve the village of Quin, County Clare, where to-day the ruined Abbey of the Franciscans attracts visitors and students. Along those roads went Paddy Hannan from 1848 to 1856, barefooted, with the children of the parish to the National School. There he received an ordinary primary education, and a more than ordinary training in writing, both in the clear expression of ideas and in caligraphy. The letters that I have seen, written by Paddy, then an old man living in Melbourne, indicate a remarkably good hand, and a habit of precise thought.

On June 10th, 1893, Paddy Hannan found gold at a spot in Kalgoorlie, later marked by a pepper tree. The tree was planted in the presence of Paddy on August 3rd, 1897, four years and a couple of months after the discovery. The day before the planting Paddy went for a walk in company with a journalist from Galway, John Kirwan (now Sir John Kirwan, President of the Legislative Council in W.A.). During the four years that had intervened since the discovery of “Hannan’s Find,” the appearance of the locality had considerably changed. Much of the country had been cleared of timber, streets of canvas and tin huts had arisen where the “bush” had reigned undisturbed. Paddy had the unerring instinct of a bushman. He surveyed the landscape carefully and deliberately, walked about for a quarter of an hour, and seemed to have no difficulty in fixing the exact spot where he found gold.

After the walk and talk between Hannan, the rambler from Clare, and Kirwan, the “Galway Blazer,” on the day he pointed out the scene of his find, both went to the journalist’s office, where the story of his discovery, as related by him, was written down, and subsequently read to him and checked. There is nothing sensational about it, but as a story of another rambler from Clare, it is worth retelling. Here are his exact words:

Paddy Tells His Story
“I arrived in the colony in March, 1889, and reached Coolgardie a few days after Bayley reported his discovery. I was at Parker’s Range, about forty miles south of Southern Cross. There was not much mining going on. Fraser’s mine and the Central mine were the principal properties. “Early in June, 1893, news arrived at Coolgardie of a rich discovery at a place called Mount Youle, somewhere to the east or north-east, and parties left Coolgardie in search of the new find. A few days after the report of the discovery had been received, my mate, Thomas Flannigan, and myself, left Coolgardie. We left on June 7th, and would have gone earlier with the others, but we could not obtain horses, and so we were delayed two or three days. We were lucky enough to pick up some animals in the bush ten or twelve miles out of Coolgardie. The other parties were mostly travelling with teams, but only one or two of the prospecting groups had horses of their own. My mate and I had previously made up our minds not to travel with the teams, but to form a separate party of our own. We would thus be left free to travel how and when we liked. We could also by this arrangement, if we chose, prospect any country during the journey.

“On June 10th, three days after leaving Coolgardie, we reached what is now known as Kalgoorlie. The other parties had gone on in the direction of the reported discovery, only to find later that the report had been false. Coolgardie was getting dull, and a large number of men had started from there for Mount Youle. There were a great many men travelling all over the country. Only Bayley’s claim was working at Coolgardie, and the alluvial had become exhausted just about the time I left.

“Well, as I’ve said, when we came on June 10th to Mount Charlotte, my mate and I decided to stop and prospect the country round about, as we had found two colours of gold. We shifted down to near the place I have just pointed out, as where the first gold was found. We got good gold, more or less, from the north end of Mount Charlotte to down south of Maritana Hill.

“There was another man, by the way—Dan Shea was his name—to whom we gave an equal share in our prospecting claim. “On June 17th I started for Coolgardie to apply for a reward claim. I got there on a Saturday night. The news of our find soon got abroad, and people began to set out for the scene. There was a good deal of excitement over my report, and there were fourteen hundred or fifteen hundred men dry-blowing in the locality in a week. In fact, most of the men who had got beyond Southern Cross were quickly on the field. “The water difficulty, which was usually great, was solved. Rain began to fall when I was on my way into Coolgardie, and continued for some time. The fall was fairly heavy, and, of course, exceedingly welcome. The downpour left plenty of water in the lake, and the supply lasted till the following November. “There were no surface indications that I noticed of the existence of reefs. I think Red Hill was the richest alluvial ground there. There were also some very rich claims between Cassidy’s Hill and Maritana Hill. Two or three hundred ounces were taken out of one claim. As time went on, whilst some of the diggers settled down, others were leaving every day as the alluvial got worked out. A great many went further back; Broad Arrow, Bardoc, White Feather, and ‘I.O.U.’ were found. “The two first applications for mining leases at Kalgoorlie—apart from alluvial claims—were those of Cassidy’s Hill and Maritana Hill. Jim Cassidy pegged out his lease first, and the Maritana was pegged out soon after. “Other discoveries took a great many people away from the locality, but there were continually new arrivals from the other side. The population in general began to increase. Before Christmas two hotels were opened. “I left about January 20th, 1894, for a holiday, as I had then been on the goldfields for some years, and had not seen the sea since my arrival in Western Australia, nearly five years previously. I was not at that time in the best of health, and a brief spell away from the fields I felt to be necessary. Life on the fields was, of course, much more trying than some years later. It was only now and again we could get fresh meat. We managed to get some during the winter.”

Above are the bare facts of Hannan’s discovery as told by himself over thirty years ago in Kalgoorlie. It was apparently altogether an after-thought that made him deem it worth while mentioning, that when he left to make the application for the claim at Coolgardie they had only two quarts of water left, and, as he observed, “but for the rain I don’t know what we would have done.”

Shaving in Champagne
A few hundred yards from that spot where Paddy Hannan first specked gold, and where his jaded “brumbies” neighed for water, there stands the reservoir of the Goldfields water supply, into which fresh pure water flows each day from Mundaring Weir, through a pipe line over three hundred miles in length. To a countryman of Paddy’s, the late C.Y. O’Connor, is the credit of bringing this stream of life up a three hundred and seventy feet incline so that the desert might blossom like a rose. A State with a population of only 200,000 faced this task, which cost three million pounds, and brought it to a successful completion within a few years.

Before that living stream flowed through the “Fields,” it was much cheaper to shave in champagne than with water. Drinks all round did not cost much, but a drink for a horse meant a considerable outlay. Water was the most expensive drink on the “Fields” in the early days. With water came green lawns, so restful in the glare; gardens, parks, race-courses, and most of the amenities of civilised life. The first race meeting in Hannan’s was held on November 9th, 1894. George Bolger, the bookmaker, appeared that day with a water bag around his neck. He received and paid out in nuggets, which were casually dropped into the gaping mouth of the water bag. To-day the race-courses at Kalgoorlie and Boulder are much admired for their well-groomed lawns and well-kept flower-beds.

Paddy Pegs His Claim
There were other incidents of common knowledge that Hannan did not mention. For example, he brought to Coolgardie, when he applied for a reward claim, a parcel of gold. Its exact value was unknown, with the result that it was wildly exaggerated. Hannan’s application notice was posted at the Registrar’s Office, according to usage. It was put up at the tent, which served as an office, at nine o’clock in the evening, and during the night and next morning there was a stampede from Coolgardie of men towards the new find. It is said that scarcely fifty men were left in Coolgardie. Some of those who started lost their way, and were days later in reaching their destination. Others were inadequately equipped for the journey. The fall of rain to which Hannan refers, whilst solving the water problem, interfered with the operation of dry-blowing. The difficulty due to the moistness of the earth was, however, met by lightning fires and burning the “stuff” before it was treated.

Many stories differing from that related by Hannan have been current amongst old goldfielders. By some it was said that it was not he that first discovered gold near Mount Charlotte. Hannan was then over fifty years, but both Flanagan and Shea were older men. Because he was the youngest of the three, he was asked by the others to make the journey to Coolgardie to apply for a reward claim. As he made the first report the “find” became associated with him, and was known as “Hannan’s.”

Other old residents say that the three men, when proceeding with a much larger party to Mount Youle, found gold near Mount Charlotte, but carefully concealed the fact of the discovery in order that they might be able to make the most of it. It was asserted that they stayed behind on the plea that they had lost a horse. The members of the main party continued their journey unsuspectingly, and when, many days later, they discovered that the search for the Mount Youle “find” was but a wild goose chase, and they returned, they were amazed to see the neighbourhood of Mount Charlotte a hive of dry-blowers, most of whom were finding gold.

Other Accounts
Hannan’s account differs somewhat from the story of the “find” as published in W.B. Kimberly’s History of Western Australia, which was issued in 1897. This account states:—
“A few men who set forth for Mount Youle camped at Mount Charlotte, and amount them were ‘Pat Hannan’ and ‘Tom Flanagan.’ There was food, but no water at this spot, which was at once named Dry Camp; and as the horses could not proceed without a drink, the men remained there for two days searching for native wells or rock soaks. It is said that Hannan returned for water to what had become known as the Nine-Mile Rocks, and that in his absence Flanagan found gold in the neighbourhood. After Hannan arrived from the Nine-Mile Rocks, Flanagan induced him to remain and prospect more fully. The two men searched the surface for alluvial for about a week after the other teams, which practically walked over gold scattered on the ground, had resumed their journey to Mount Youle. In three days Hannan and Flanagan picked up about one hundred ounces, but the exact weight is not recorded, for the discoverers did not whisper their secret to every passer-by.”

All the accounts given above differ materially from that given by Dan Shea, who was a partner of Hannan and Flanagan. Shea went to John Kirwan’s office in Kalgoorlie not long after the version given by Hannan was published. Shea was then very old. Tall, thin, erect, with snow-white hair and beard, and piercing eyes, he was a picturesque figure. He was indignant at the attention given to Hannan. He claimed that it was he, and not Hannan, who first discovered gold. But his memory seemed to be failing, and he could not give a very coherent account of what actually took place. All that he insisted upon was that it was he who picked up the first gold. Shea died many years ago.

Who shall arbitrate? The weight of opinion in the Eastern Goldfields to-day favours Hannan’s claim. Paddy was an undemonstrative man, steady, and temperate, and, for that reason, not over-popular among the prospectors of his time, who were jealous of the name and fame that came unbidden to him. Paddy had good memory, and his quiet temperament is a guarantee of the accuracy of his story. He did not posses the rich imagination of his countrymen, and seems to have had little or no sense of humour. Hannan could not visualise that his find had enriched his adopted land by over £100,000,000, and that he was the pioneer of the “Golden Mile” that still produces gold. He saw no romance in prospecting. As a boy he must have been considered a “quare lad” by his Irish companions, so full of animal spirits. The boy was father of the man; not even the glamour of the gold rushes, when the noble man and the labourer shared the same tent, and the rough life of prospecting waived aside class distinctions and set man against man on equal terms, excited Paddy.

The glorious uncertainty of the early nineties, the thousands of light-hearted, optimistic, adventurous young men attracted from the four corners of Australia and, from over-seas, by the discoveries of Bayley and Ford at Coolgardie, left Hannan the same cool and prosaic prospector. He was not drawn to the bush by such poetic considerations as—

“The vision splendid of the sunlight plain extended
And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.”

Hannan and his mates, Flanagan from County Clare, and Shea, made little money out of the find. Paddy made millions for others but left himself poor. During his later years he lived in Melbourne on a small annuity—£150—from the Government of Western Australia. He never married, but lived with his sister, Mrs. Lynch, in a cottage in Fallon Street, Brunswick, Melbourne. He was happy and contented in his old age, wished for nothing, except the visit of a friend from Kalgoorlie with whom he would recall reminiscences, talking quietly of his prospecting experiences in the early days. At the grand old age of eighty-three, with snow-white beard, Paddy Hannan ended his rambles by dying peacefully in the home of his nearest relative, his own sister. He died as he lived—quietly, without any noise or fuss. But his name lives, and must live as long as Hannan’s Street in Kalgoorlie honours itself by honouring the name of its discoverer.

Back to Clare People: Paddy Hannan