No; it was a gold-fever, and, as in all fevers, the victims became delirious and raving. Where the gold-mining industry had become established in other parts of the world it was ignored, probably because it was not exciting and romantic enough, for evidently the taste for romance seems to play no little part in mining speculation. And where are all those companies that were floated in the early days of Western Australian mining? How many have disappeared from our recollection, though probably not from the recollection of those who were ruined! Only a few are left - a few dozen out of many thousands, and even of these few dozen how many will be ultimately successful? We are apt to blame the promoters for this; but, after all, they are but human, and, like all of us, make money out of ephemeral fashions. The tradesman does it on a small scale, merely because the scope is not given him to do it on a large scale. As I have said in a former chapter, the promoter doesn't deprive us of reason and intelligence. And surely if we do not exercise our reason and intelligence, and therefore suffer the consequences, we ought not to blame others.
Reason and intelligence would have saved us from all the disasters that followed in the train of our folly and madness. It was not as if we had had no previous experience to teach us. We had had plenty of experience. We know that, as surely as the night follows the day, so surely will company promoters float companies the very moment there is a new gold discovery anywhere.
It matters not where that discovery may be. It may be in the wilds of Africa, amongst cannibals, where only one white man has ever been, or it may be in the Arctic regions, equally as remote from man's knowledge, still the promoter has for sale as many properties and mines as the public are willing to purchase. He is not foolish enough to wait for those properties to be discovered or those mines to be opened up. If he did, he might find the eagerness for them die out, and hence his opportunity would be lost. He must not waste time. He must cable out immediately to friends or agents in Australia, and get them to employ someone to peg out a few claims, and then to employ someone - a butcher or a baker will do - to write reports on them, and put M.E. after his name. All these properties are situated right in the heart of the discovery. Hundreds and hundreds are situated right in the heart, and the average man does not stay to think that they must all be piled on the top of each other, or else they could not otherwise be in the heart. The formation, of course - which is seen only by the eye of imagination - is of such and such a kind, all favourable to the existence of gold, and the lodes running through the property are all of the true fissure type.
Now, we know that all this has been done over and over again, and always will be done, and therefore why do we not take the necessary precautions? The question is more easily put than answered. Is it because of the absurd notions I have described? or is it because people see in it a unique opportunity for investment and speculation? Both reasons will, I think, account for it. There is no doubt that such a discovery inflames the imagination of the man who has hitherto never speculated or gambled in a mining share, and who has never troubled himself to learn anything about it. He has, of course, heard that people have made their fortunes out of it and that one or two have been ruined; but it is the fortune-makers that make the deepest impression upon his imagination, for those who are ruined are mostly fools, who would be ruined in anything. So he is tempted this time to have a 'flutter' himself, as he calls it. Everybody else is, and therefore he might as well be in it as not. He longs to be in it, and is envious of those who are pocketing their thousands, not knowing that the latter are merely the wide-awake speculators and promoters. So he succumbs to the temptation, and, once he succumbs, he finds it more and more fascinating, and he goes more and more deeply into it. He subscribes to the shares of new companies, and when he has them he doesn't know what to do with them - whether to keep them, or sell them, or speculate with them, or what. He knows nothing of mining, so he buys a treatise on mining to read it up, and finds he cannot grasp it. He asks his broker and other people for advice, and finds it contradictory. He buys financial papers, and has copies of financial rags sent to him, he knows not by whom. His attention is directed to an article on page so-and-so, and he may find that it is on the very company in which he holds shares. Of course, it dilates on the wonderful prospects of that company, and advises those lucky people who have shares in it to hold on, for they will become very valuable by-and-by. This is good enough for him. What doubts he may have had before are now cleared up. The paper must be right. It doesn't tell him on the title-page that the paper is a 'bucket-shop' rag, or one produced by the promoters themselves, or one run by a blackmailing gang, and that this very article has been handsomely paid for. He has no suspicions of the kind. It is to him a genuine article, written by an honest editor with no interested motives - by a man who knows what he is writing about, and not by a scoundrel who ought to be in prison. In another page he reads paragraphs recommending other shares in other companies, all of which have a great prospective value, and are good enough for a rise. Therefore, as he is in one good thing, had he not better go in another? He accordingly debates the matter with himself, and perhaps finally decides to buy some of those shares. And so he commits himself more and more deeply, owing to his ignorance. He reasons the thing out, so he thinks, in a sound, business-like way, but knows not what a child he is.