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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Michel, Louis John (1825–1904)

by Louis R. Cranfield

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Louis John Michel (1825-1904), by unknown photographer

Louis John Michel (1825-1904), by unknown photographer

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H141726

Louis John Michel (1825-1904), gold discoverer, was born on 5 July 1825 at Walworth, Surrey, England, son of Louis Michel and his wife Elizabeth, née Watts; his parents were of French origin and came to England in the seventeenth century. He migrated in 1840 to Melbourne with his uncle. He worked as an assistant in a Collins Street grocery, saved diligently and after a few years bought the licence of the Rainbow Hotel in Swanston Street.

In 1849 a youth named Chapman showed the proprietor of the Waterman's Arms Hotel in Melbourne a nugget of gold measuring 2 in. (51 mm) by 3 in. (76 mm). Michel was one of many who went to see the find and though nothing came of the incident it served to whet his interest in finding gold. In April 1851 when the news of the discovery of gold at Summerhill Creek in New South Wales created excitement in Melbourne, Michel formed a party with William Habberlin, James Furnival, James Melville, James Headin and Benjamin Greenig to search for gold in the Upper Yarra districts and Plenty Ranges. For some weeks they had no success but on 30 June found likely quartz on the banks of either Deep Creek or Anderson Creek near Warrandyte. The party returned to Melbourne and Michel showed the quartz to Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe.

Michel's party disbanded. He soon proposed to Habberlin that the search should continue and offered to provide all expenses. Habberlin agreed and this time they kept much closer to the Yarra River than before. About 13 July the two men found a small quantity of alluvial gold in the bed of Anderson Creek about half a mile (800 m) from its junction with the Yarra. They returned to Melbourne and put in a claim for the £200 reward offered for the discovery of a goldmine within two hundred miles (320 km) of Melbourne, but this reward was never paid. Michel also offered to take any party to the scene of his discovery, and on 6 August he conducted an official party to the site. Some satisfactory finds were made and within a week three hundred people were prospecting along the banks of the creek. However, the discoveries at Ballarat soon caused the Anderson Creek goldfield to be abandoned though it was reopened about 1854 and worked with tolerable success for over sixty years.

In 1853 the select committee of the Legislative Council on the claims for the discovery of gold in Victoria decided to reward J. Hiscock of Ballarat, J. W. Esmond and Michel with £1000 each. However, the committee found that 'Michel and his party have … established their claim to be held as the first publishers of the discovery of a goldfield in the Colony of Victoria'.

Michel sold the Rainbow Hotel soon after visiting the Ballarat goldfields and bought the Ship Inn at Williamstown. He lived mostly in Lygon Street, Carlton, and in 1862-77 was licensee of the Duke of Wellington Hotel on the corner of Russell and Flinders Streets. Appointed rate collector for the Victoria Ward of the Melbourne City Council in 1883, he held the post until a few months before he died on 24 September 1904. Predeceased in 1875 by his wife Alicia, née Bell, whom he had married at St James Old Cathedral on 21 October 1844, he was survived by six of their eight children.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • J. Flett, The History of Gold Discovery in Victoria (Melb, 1970)
  • L. R. Cranfield, ‘Discovery of Gold in Victoria’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 31 (1960).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Louis R. Cranfield, 'Michel, Louis John (1825–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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