Treasure Seeker or Pleasure Seeker?

William Edwin Collom

The photograph below is of my great-grandfather William Edwin Collom.

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The inscription on the reverse of this photograph reads:

To my Uncle and Aunt
From your nephew William Collom
Dec 25. 1868


It was taken at Beal’s Branch Gallery, Gold Hill, Nevada.

Winnemucca is also in Nevada, a distance of nearly 400 miles.


Gold digger?

Early training in the Royal Navy, and latterly with the Merchant Service, meant William was accustomed to foreign travel, so it was no surprise to find him in the USA. However, William’s presence there raises the question that he may have visited Nevada after the Californian Gold Rush, as disappointed prospectors had made their way across Nevada from California searching for gold and silver, still hoping to strike it rich. Gold Hill, near Virginia City, was a prosperous mining community.
Ore was also found near Winnemucca and there was mining activity there too. Winnemucca also played a significant part in the history of the USA. The building of the railroad in the 1860’s united the east and west of the country for the first time. The Central Pacific rails reached Winnemucca from Sacramento on September 16th, 1868, a distance of over three hundred miles, and the line was officially opened to Winnemucca on October 1st 1868, the first locomotive arriving a few days later. Consequently, the town itself began to flourish; it was well on its way to becoming a well-known mining and cowboy town of the West.


It seems likely that William was panning for gold, but highly improbable that he was a labourer employed in railroad construction, as the majority of the workforce was Chinese. Maybe he just took advantage of the train journey between Sacramento and Winnemucca, visiting Gold Hill en route, in order to spend Christmas in the saloons, clubs and theatres and generally enjoying the good life of these thriving towns. The train journey itself passing through spectacular scenery would have lasted more than twenty hours, not taking into account any delays caused by the winter snows in the mountains. That alone would be an exciting trip for someone who had spent much of his life at sea.

I have found out quite a lot about William’s experiences, but I don’t suppose I will discover his real reasons for being in Gold Hill or Winnemucca. There were many opportunities to spend newly-acquired wealth, if he had indeed struck lucky!