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The California gold rush was the transcontinental journey of eastern profiteers after the discovery of gold in California in 1848. Of the 80,000 people that arrived in the first year, some were called forty-niners.

Extremely harsh living conditions and the violent life of the gold fields took many lives and only very few made fortunes. There were also gold riches in Australia, South Africa and the Klondike, Canada in the next half a century but these were not as big and nor as infamous as the California gold rush.

On 24 January 1848, James Wilson Marshall was a carpenter. He was hired to build a sawmill beside the American River, near Colama in California. There, he found nuggets of gold buried amongst the dirt. Although he did try to contain the secret, the word quickly spread over the world, he soon found himself besieged with gold-hungry prospectors.

Sixty shiploads of people sailed from eastern USA around Cape Horn. The first arrived in the first week of February but as soon as the winter was over more people flocked to the gold. California’s population in 1848 reached its peak at over 107,000. After the gold rush the population levelled back to the normal figure.