Mercury use and loss from gold mining in 19th-century Victoria Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper reports on preliminary research into gold-mining-related mercury contamination in nineteenth-century Victoria. Data drawn from contemporary sources, including Mineral Statistics of Victoria and Mining Surveyors Reports from 1868‒1888, are used to calculate quantities of mercury used by miners to amalgamate gold in stamp batteries and the rates of mercury lost in the process. Some of the mercury discharged from mining and ore milling flowed into nearby waterways and some remained in the waste residue, the tailings near the mills. We estimate that a minimum of 121 tons of mercury were discharged from stamp batteries in this period. Although the figures fluctuate through time and space, they allow a good estimate of how much mercury was leaving the mine workings and entering Victorian creeks and rivers. Better understanding of historic mercury loss can provide the basis for improved mapping of mercury distribution in modern waterways, which can in turn inform the management of catchment systems.

publication date

  • 2015