The Man from Clare who started Australia’s Biggest Gold Rush

By Martin Gleeson

Patrick (Paddy) Hannan was born at Gorteen, near Quin, County Clare in April 1840, the son of John Hannan and Bridget Lynch. It is thought that he attended school in Kilmurry. He grew up during the bleak Famine days in Clare and many of his family emigrated to Australia from 1852 onwards.

Bust of Paddy Hannan in Ennis Library

Paddy sailed to Australia when he was 22, arriving in Melbourne at the end of 1862 aboard the Henry Fernie from Liverpool. He was the first of six brothers and six sisters to leave Ireland. He joined his uncle William Lynch who was mining at Ballarat, Victoria, and for a while he worked in the goldmines. During those heady days of gold prospecting, Paddy became determined to discover gold for himself.


For several years, Paddy tried his luck looking for gold in Tuapeka, New Zealand and took part in the great Australian gold rushes of the time, in Terama, New South Wales, Teetulpa, South Australia, and the fields around Southern Cross, Western Australia. He prospected in the gold camps around Coolgardie. Unfortunately, his prospecting was not very successful.

Statue of Paddy Hannan in Kalgoorlie.

In 1892, Paddy heard a rumour of a gold discovery in the desert at Mount Youle, WA. He set out from Coolgardie with Tom Flanagan ( originally from Doora Barefield, outside Ennis, County Clare). They met up with Dan Shea (often called Dan O’Shea) from Cork. The three Irishmen decided to form a prospecting trio.


The three partners followed a group of prospectors who were headed for Mount Youle. In June 1893, near Mount Charlotte, less than 30 miles from the Coolgardie goldfields, while looking for water to fill their water bags, Paddy Hannan and Thomas Flanagan found surface gold clearly visible in a gully. They concealed their find. During the night, they moved one of their horses into the scrub. On the following morning, they told the party of prospectors that the three of them would stay behind to look for the ‘lost’ horse, and the larger group moved away.

Paddy and his two companions started to gather the gold nuggets. They then pegged out the area of their discovery. While the two others who had better eyesight remained at the site collecting more gold, Paddy, the youngest, rode to Coolgardie and registered their claim. There he was awarded the piece of ground, 500 feet by 50 feet, that is still known as ‘The Hannan Award’. While he was away, Paddy’s two partners secured another 100 ounces of gold. That would be worth nearly €200,000 today.

Paddy has been credited with being the undisputed leader of the trio of Irish prospectors and the principal pioneer of the Kalgoorlie gold rush.


The news of the discovery of gold by the three Irishmen spread like an Australian wildfire. At 9 o’clock in the evening, Paddy’s application notice had been put up at the tent which served as the office of the Registrar. There was an instant surge of excitement. During the night and the following morning there was a stampede of men towards the new find. Within three days, 400 prospectors had arrived. This grew to 1,000 after a week. People came from all over the world to this hot and barren stretch of desert. A downpour of rain was a godsend, leaving the prospectors with a supply of water until the following November.


The concentrated area of gold, along with nickel and other metals, caused the emergence of the towns of Kalgoorlie and Boulder in the middle of a barren landscape. In 1896 a railway line was run from Kalgoorlie to Perth and in 1903 a pipeline brought water 350 miles from a reservoir near Perth.

Hannan Street Kalgoorlie, 1900

Lying 370 miles east of Perth, the population today is about 30,000, about one quarter of whom work in the mining industry. Kalgoorlie possesses such a concentration of goldmines that the area is often called the Golden Mile and it was often referred to as the richest square mile on the planet.

None of the three Irish prospectors became wealthy from the gold bonanza that they started.


The surface gold in Kalgoorlie soon ran out and most of the prospectors left. Large mining firms moved in to develop the goldmining potential. The three Irish discoverers sold their claims and went their separate ways.

Thomas Flanagan, who some said was the original discoverer of gold, suffered from weak lungs, as many miners did. In 1899 he lodged with his sister-in-law, Margaret O’Halloran, in Bendigo, but caught influenza and died in November 1899.

Dan Shea continued to seek the precious metal in the Murchison and Pilbara goldfields. He spent the last years of his life in and around Perth and he died penniless in Perth Hospital in September,1908.

Paddy Hannan had sold all his share of the goldmine. However, his search for gold continued until after 1910, his seventieth year. He had been given an annual pension of £100, later increased to £150 by the Government of Western Australia. He lived with his sister, Mrs Lynch and two of his nieces at 6 Fallon Street in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick.

He died in 1925 and lies in the Catholic section of Melbourne General Cemetery. However, the main street in Kalgoorlie is rightly called Hannan Street and standing there is a statue of Paddy Hannan, outside the Town Hall. It was erected in 1983. It depicts Paddy sitting down, clutching his all-important waterbag which acts as a water fountain for thirsty tourists. The railway station is called Hannan Station and there is a Hannan Hotel.

In Ireland there is a bust of him in the de Valera Library in Ennis and a plaque dedicated to his memory opposite Quin Abbey in Clare.


The gold discovered by Paddy Hannan, Thomas Flanagan and Dan Shea is still being mined. Today the modern massive open cast mine in Kalgoorlie is called the Super Pit. It is estimated that about $100 billion (not million) worth of the shiny precious metal has been extracted and the excavation still goes on.

Martin Gleeson sends us the following background information: I come from Thurles, in Co. Tipperary. Over the years I have worked as a Marine Radio Officer, a Radar Technician and a Lecturer in the  Limerick Institute  of Technology. I retired 10 years ago and live with my wife Carmel. One of my five children, Rory, lives in Melbourne, a city I dearly love.

3 thoughts on “The Man from Clare who started Australia’s Biggest Gold Rush

  1. A great article, Martin, thank you. There is also a statue to Paddy Hannan in the main street of Foster, South Gippsland as he was one of the original ‘Stockyarders’ to find gold there in 1872.

    • Hello Liz,
      You obviously have a great interest in Australia’s mining history.
      Re Paddy Hannan, he arrived in Australia in 1862 and travelled widely before the great gold bonanza of Kalgoorlie in 1893.
      I did not know about his involvement in the Stockyard Creek gold rush in 1870. I enjoyed looking at the picture of the miner’s statue in Pearl Park in Foster.
      Martin Gleeson

      • Glad to have added a little more to your knowledge about Hannan. I’m more interested in Anastasia Thornley (nee Burke) from Callan, who owned the Foster Exchange Hotel – and owned several gold and coal mines in the district. Regards Liz.

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