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Friday, 9 March 2012

How to beat the recession #93: salting a mine.

OK, I lied.  The other 92 mthods aren't there, but in my current digging, I came across this yarn while wading through historic newspapers at The National Library's Trove historic newspapers archive.

It comes from The South Australian Advertiser, Tuesday 26 March 1889, 6, and you can read it for yourself at

Think about it: our incomes are plummeting as the GFC cooks our geese that were supposed to lay golden eggs, turning them into something less palatable than KFC *.  Meanwhile, the price of gold is sky-rocketing, and that means there has to be an opportunity for we older and wiser types.

Oddly enough, there was great mineral wealth at Leigh Creek, but it came in the form
of coal. I was out there last year, looking mainly at historical things, and there is a huge
open-cut coal mine there. If the geologists had known that then I guess they would have
been amused, as gold and coal don't usually both occur in the same place. I wonder
(a) if that is always so and (b) if they knew that in 1889?
Digging for gold is hard yakka.  It would be more fun catching and skinning a couple of money market wide boys, some of the undeserving rich, with a get-rich-quick (for us) scheme.  The temptation is there for me, but I now see that one needs to get up early to get past the experts who will be hired by the marks to keep their ill-gotten loot safe.

So I will take the moral high ground.  Children, this is no suggestion that you go out and commit an act of swindling.  Instead, it is an admonitory tale of how some not-very-bright evil-doers were caught by a bit of basic science.  If you choose to use the story to improve your own technique, it has not and will not occur to me that you might use it that way—though I rather think the 'Tiser may have been thinking just that, when you look at their 123-year-old headline.

Enough from me: here's the story

The annexed documents will explain themselves. Certain gold specimens were forwarded to the Commissioner of Crown Lands by the Great Northern Gold Mining Syndicate with the request that be would allow the Government Mining Inspector to visit the property and report upon it. The result was a communication as follows:—
"Crown Lands Office, 25th March. Sir, On the 14th inst. an application was received from the Great Northern Gold Prospecting Syndicate for the Inspector of Mines to be allowed to inspect and report on the syndicate's claims at Leigh Creek. Accompanying the application were six specimens, in which gold was easily discernible. I at once examined the specimens with a powerful glass, and detected that where the gold was to be seen the quartz presented a glazed appearance, as if glue had been applied. I then took the stones to the Government assayer, and pointed out the peculiarity. He confirmed my opinion, and applied a needle, which penetrated sufficiently into the glutinous substance to stand upright, and when withdrawn left a very perceptible puncture. It was not until this morning that I had an opportunity of showing the stones to the Government Geologist, the Inspector of Mines, and the Government Assayer, and their certificate is attached
—I have &C.,
G. S. Wright, secretary to the Commissioner of Crown Lands."

"Crown Lands Office, March 26.—Sir—We the undersigned certify that on a careful examination of the samples of stone forwarded with the letter of the 14th instant on behalf of the Great Northern Mining Syndicate the appearance of a glutinous substance was at once detected on two of the samples where the gold was thickest, and on boiling the smallest sample with water for a minute all the gold came off the stone. The glutinous substance having dissolved proved incontestably that the sample had been artificially produced. The gold dissolved out of the sample is in our opinion alluvial. A coarse speck of gold in one of the other stones is also in our opinion alluvial, and has been placed there artificially.
 —Signed, H. Y. L. Brown (Government Geologist),
D. D. Rosewarne (Inspector of Mines),
G. Goyder, jun, (Government Assayer)." 
Another sample has been preserved by the Crown Lands department, and can if necessary be dealt with in the same way.  

In my past, working as a fraud investigator, I knew enough to think like a criminal, to plot how I would pull the fraud, if I were in their shoes.  This gave me pointers to where the evidence would show up, and that worked.  If the frauds I was after had thought through how an investigator might look at the data, they might have hidden their tracks better.

So if you insist on being naughty, plan ahead!

Who says science training is of no use?

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* The KFC shot was, admittedly a bit cheap and slightly misleading.  I quite enjoy KFC in moderation, and my defence must be that many things are less palatable than their chooks, including most of what their rivals push at us.  No unkindness to Colonel Sanders was intended.

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