Scotland’s largest gold nugget goes on display at The Hunterian

Published: 30 August 2022

The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow is now home to the largest gold nugget found in Scotland in over 400 years.

The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow is now home to the largest gold nugget found in Scotland in over 400 years.

Gold nuggetThe ‘Douglas’ gold nugget weighs 85g and was found in a river in Perthshire in 2017. It is named after the finder, who otherwise wishes to remain anonymous.

Scottish gold laws date from late-medieval times and grant ownership of gold to the Scottish Crown, although in some places these rights were passed on to aristocratic landowners. The geological and cultural importance of the ‘Douglas’ gold nugget meant that Crown Estate Scotland and its mineral agent (Wardell Armstrong) worked with the finder, National Museums of Scotland and The Hunterian to preserve it in a public collection.

Crown Estate Scotland supported the process by granting a formal transfer of this unique geological specimen to The Hunterian to ensure that it is permanently preserved in a public collection in Scotland to be seen, enjoyed and studied. The National Fund for Acquisitions provided financial support.

The nugget is now on display at the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow.

Most Scottish gold has been found as dust, or sand-sized flakes in river sands and gravels, eroded from much older rocks. The geology of Scotland, especially parts of the Highlands and the Borders, is favourable for deposits of gold and potentially other valuable and useful metals. However, much of the bedrock is remote and hidden by vegetation, soil, glacial drift or water, so there is good potential for new mineral resources to be found.

The ‘Douglas’ gold nugget has been transported from its bedrock by water, becoming smooth and rounded by tumbling against other pebbles. It probably originally grew in rocks which were fractured and altered by hot mineralising waters about 400 million years ago. Gold is very soft and easily worn away, so a nugget of this size and weight has probably not travelled very far. Staff at the University of Glasgow have carried out a lot of research on Scottish gold, and other mineralisation, and this work is helping to guide mineral exploration.

In the 16th century large quantities of gold dust and nuggets were found in the Scottish Borders, especially at Glengaber and Crawford Moor. A lot of these finds were made into coinage and the Scottish royal regalia. Most surviving large gold nuggets were found in the 19th century, but none are as big as the Douglas Nugget.

The brand new underground gold mine at Cononish, near Tyndrum, where Scotgold holds a lease of the gold and silver rights from Crown Estate Scotland, is currently producing nearly 1000 ounces of gold per month. This is much more than has ever been produced in Scotland before. However the Cononish gold never forms large nuggets. Most is invisibly small micro-particles in rock which require careful processing to recover.

The Hunterian Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am–5pm, admission free.

For further information contact:
John Faithfull, Curator (Mineralogy and Petrology), The Hunterian

Neil Clark, Curator (Palaeontology), The Hunterian

For images contact:
Harriet Gaston, Communications Manager, The Hunterian

Notes to Editors

The Hunterian

The oldest public museum in Scotland, with collections spanning arts, sciences and humanities, The Hunterian is at the forefront of university museums around the world. Since it opened at the University of Glasgow in 1807, The Hunterian has been an invaluable academic and community resource and in years to come, The Hunterian is committed to becoming a more meaningful place for more diverse audiences.

As a university gallery and museum, The Hunterian creates space for intellectual inquiry and a process of learning and experimentation. The Hunterian collection’s Enlightenment history made a repository of knowledge that materialises the problematic history of Western modernity and its fundamentally colonial and capitalist underpinnings. The founding collection came through the bequest of Dr William Hunter (1718-1783) and since The Hunterian opened at the University of Glasgow in 1807, the collections have been developed in ways that reflect our city’s deep relationship with empire, transatlantic slavery, colonialism and migration. 

The Hunterian cares for some Scotland’s finest collections that cover subjects as diverse as the history of medicine, zoology and art. The whole collection is ‘Recognised’ as nationally significant in Scotland and includes outstanding Roman artefacts from the Antonine Wall; vast natural and life science collections; scientific instruments used by James Watt, Joseph Lister and Lord Kelvin; one of the world’s greatest collections of coins and medals and objects and belongings brought to Glasgow from around the world during hundreds of years of trade, empire, exploitation and migration. 

The Hunterian is also home to one of the most distinguished public art collections in Scotland and features works by James McNeill Whistler, the Glasgow Boys and Scottish Colourists, the largest single holding of the work of artists Margaret MacDonald and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, along with The Mackintosh House, the reassembled interiors from their Glasgow home. The Hunterian has also developed an important collection of works by leading contemporary artists including Christine Borland, Lucy Skaer and Adam Pendleton.

Twitter @hunterian
Facebook @HunterianGlasgow
Instagram hunterianglasgow

Crown Estate Scotland

Crown Estate Scotland is a public corporation which invests in property, natural resources and people to create lasting value for Scotland. Crown Estate Scotland manages seabed, coastline, rural estates and more, helping ensure families, businesses and communities can live, work and thrive on the assets which make up the Scottish Crown Estate.

The Scottish Crown Estate includes the rights to naturally occurring gold and silver across most of Scotland. The specific areas where rights belong to others are shown in maps available on our website. We encourage commercial exploration for gold and silver which is governed by detailed planning rules and other safeguards for the environment. This activity can lead to economic development and employment in rural areas which can benefit communities in a sustainable way. Any gold or silver within an area where the ownership of the rights remains with the Crown should not be removed or sold without express permission from Crown Estate Scotland.

More information can be found here.

Twitter @CrownEstateScot

National Fund for Acquisitions

The National Fund for Acquisitions, administered with Scottish Government funding by National Museums Scotland, contributes towards the acquisition of objects for the collections of museums, galleries, libraries and archives throughout Scotland. During financial year 2021/22, the NFA made 36 payments totalling £181,784 to 24 organisations, supporting acquisitions with a total purchase value of £604,114.

Find out more about the work of the National Fund for Acquisitions.

First published: 30 August 2022