Gold-Rush Banker: Falconer Larkworthy

Patricia Wright profiles Falconer Larkworthy, a man who served in the banks of both Australia and New Zealand during the great Gold Rush of the 1850s.

The very words ‘Gold Rush’ conjure up mental pictures of devastated landscape, diggers’ tents, lawlessness and - if in Australia-of the Eureka stockade or Ned Kelly’s gang. From Wild West films we are used to the miner and his poke of gold-dust, the crooked assayer and the storekeeper, staking the prospector in return for a share of the spoils.

From my great-grandfather’s papers, however, a fascinating picture emerges of just how the financial side of those gold-rushes was organized by the banks and the government, so that robbery and extortion, if not attempts at trickery, became very rapidly the exception and not the rule in the Australian and New Zealand goldfields.

Falconer Larkworthy was born at Weymouth in 1833, but brought up by an aunt in Elgin after the death of his parents. His account of his schooling in Scotland certainly makes it clear that the discipline problems of modern comprehensives are scarcely yet on such a scale as, say, those of Elgin Academy in 1843:

The provost appeared on the platform to introduce a new master... the utmost silence reigned until he had delivered his speech, when the whole school broke out into whistling and catcalling... inkpots, books and slates began to fly about and pass uncannily near the head of the new pedagogue and, ducking the missiles he made for the door, amidst the howls of the whole school. The Provost stood his ground and seized one of the ringleaders, but the youth was too strong, struggled out of his hands and he and most of the others disappeared in a body through the window.’

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