Image Horsedrawn whim on a gold field at Gympie, 1870-80

TLF ID R7996

This is a black-and-white photograph of the minehead area at a Queensland goldmine. It shows the mine's headframe and a horsedrawn 'whim'. The whim consists of a wooden derrick construction with two large vertically mounted drums at its centre, one with a rope wound around it. The rope is connected at one end to the swivel harness of a horse, which moves on a worn circular track. The other end of the rope is attached to a bucket that draws the load up and down the mine shaft (shown to the right, covered by an open-sided shed).

Educational details

Educational value
  • This horsedrawn whim, pictured on the Gympie gold field in the 1870s, was used to haul buckets of excavated ore up a mine shaft. The gold fields area was originally heavily timbered and hilly, with reefs of gold-bearing quartz on ridges and alluvial gold in gullies. As mines began to be built down into the ridges, whims were needed to raise the heavy ore because manpower alone was no longer sufficient.
  • Whims such as this one illustrate the advance of technology in goldmining. They were more complex than the simple man-powered windlass or horse-powered whip. Whips used a derrick and pulley, over which a rope was passed. The harnessed horse pulled up buckets of ore by being walked away from the shaft. Whims could raise heavier loads by using a rotating drum on a vertical axis. Steam-powered poppet heads were eventually used in deep reef mines.
  • Whim horses were well trained to instantly obey orders such as 'back up', 'turn', 'pay out' and 'take up slack'. They would learn to move off gently when pulling up the buckets from the bottom of the shaft, so that all obstacles were cleared. If a horse did not stop in time after raising the load, the bucket of ore would hit the pulley, possibly crashing down the shaft and injuring those below. The special swivel harness the horse wore allowed it to turn quickly in its own length.
  • Gold was first reported in the Gympie region by James Nash in 1867, and the Curtis Nugget, the largest found in Qld, was discovered there in 1868. By 1869 15,000 miners were living on the field and in 1903 the population reputedly reached 30,000. The gold field was the sixth largest in Australia and the third largest in Qld. Its early yields were credited with helping to solve the colony's pressing financial problems. By 1923 mining had virtually ceased.
  • The miners in the photograph would probably have worked for a mining company. On the Gympie field, as in many gold fields, the shallow alluvial gold, worked by independent small groups of miners, soon gave out. Once machinery such as whims was required to reach deeper seams and to crush and separate the ore, individual miners could not raise the necessary capital or afford the labour for such large operations.
  • The background of the photograph hints at the environmental effects of goldmining. Trees have been removed, some to provide mine supports or build mining structures or accommodation. Timber was needed to feed new mining machines and waterways were fouled, diverted and irreparably changed. Deforestation, ravaged ecosystems and erosion were the results.
Year level

3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: E H Forster
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
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  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: E H Forster
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements