THE SICKENING sound bone and flesh thudding into rock reverberated through a mineshaft 150 years ago in a chilling reminder of how dangerous the search for gold under Bendigo was.
One man lay dead 200 feet below the surface, his companion gripping a ladder in shock.
George Beamley was just one of the many miners killed or badly maimed as they dug ever deeper into Bendigo's bowels in 1871 during a new boom in exploration.
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An inquest into Beamley's death heard he had fallen 170 feet from a ladder that descended straight down into the dark. For some reason, neither man had bothered to climb down the ladder with candles.
In other mines that year, people would be crushed by falling rocks or squashed by machinery.
Miner John Louden described to one inquest how he had warned two people working close by that they risked creating a spark as they tamped gunpowder into a hole using a metal rod, instead of a wooden one.
They thought they knew better.
The explosion was "almost inevitable" and stones smashed Louden in the head, knocking him to the ground and badly injuring him.
He and a colleague managed to relight their candles and were met with a gruesome site.
Colleague John Hoskin's hand was badly mangled and would later be amputated.
Another miner, 22-year-old Andrew Garde, was alive, badly mutilated and "moaning heavily".
"I spoke to him but got no answer," Louden told an inquest that would later explore events leading up to the explosion.
"I put the candle towards his face, and saw his eyes were glaring, and that there was every appearance that death was at hand."
These kinds of tales did little to stop miners searching for the mineral that had made Bendigo one of the most illustrious cities in the 19th century world.
They were the price some of the world's best miners were willing to pay to show the doubters that the world's richest goldfield had more life left in it.
Bendigo had exhausted much of the gold sitting on or close to the surface in the two decades to 1871.
So when ambitious miners finally began churning out gold from "deep reef" mines in record hauls in 1871 an entire town breathed a sigh of relief.
They could not wait to tell the world about it.
The Bendigo Advertiser even proudly published the news everyone in town already knew, as part of correspondence that was to be sent back to England on a boat leaving Victoria in June.
"Some theoretical notables gave a very decided opinion that by the time the miners got down 1,000 feet the gold would be exhausted; but experience utterly condemns the theory," the piece's author boasted.
Miners had proved mother lodes existed before they had made it three quarters of the way to those depths by 1871.
"It is from the deep mines that the returns of gold at present are astonishing the community," the correspondence published in the Advertiser remarked.
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Digging down towards those depths had required astonishing feats of engineering and Bendigo had become the haunt of some of the most highly skilled miners in the world.
The bonanza beneath the city was fueling another rush as investors rushed down to Bendigo's stock exchange, housed along with share broker offices in Pall Mall's Beehive building, historian James Lerk said.
"Several mines had started giving fantastic returns and speculators were taking notice, even people from outside of town in places as far away as Melbourne and even Adelaide," he said.
Thousands of mining companies were formed during that period.
Some were more reputable than others. Mr Lerk said many companies' geologists were little more than men who could wield a pickaxe.
Many of the new mines had remarkably similar names to those already returning a profit, even if they were not located in the same areas.
The Advertiser was soon warning budding investors not to get trapped in debt by unintentionally taking out contributing shares - a type of investment that required more money if a company decided to invest in more equipment or expanded its diggings.
"So many people got caught out because they thought they were paying one deposit. But they actually had to pay until the stock was fully caught up," Mr Lerk said.
Such was the scale of trade taking place in the Beehive that crowds would sometimes spill out onto nearby streets.
People were complaining that it was slowing down traffic and wondering whether it was time to renovate the building.
They would not have to wait long for a chance.
The stock exchange erupted in flames early on the morning of August 25, 1871.
It was the most disastrous fire in the city's history, according to the press. That was saying something - building fires were very common at the time.
"People were not so much gazing in wonder at the flames. They were gazing in horror," Mr Lerk said.
"They were watching this very fine ash floating away above their heads and wondering if that was their wealth."
The damages were estimated to run in excess of £100,000, which would be well over AU$22 million in today's money by one estimate.
But nothing would stop traders capitalising on Bendigo's gold.
Hours after the fire the city's council had already gathered for an emergency meeting and allowed brokers to resume their work in a nearby building.
"Of course the fire gave a check to the activity of the mining market, but still some business was done throughout the day," an Advertiser story widely syndicated across Australia's colonies noted.
The city was going from strength to strength. These truly were its glory days.
None of that would have been a comfort to Andrew Garde, the miner badly injured in an explosion in in some now abandoned hole beneath Bendigo.
He was dead before his body reached the surface.
This story is part of the Bendigo Weekly's regular history series WHAT HAPPENED?
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