When Jim Richards left the British Parachute Regiment to join a modern-day gold rush, he had no language skills, no money and no idea. The isolation, disease, equipment disasters and violent criminals came with the territory; but when he struck gold and diamonds diving in the piranha-infested rivers of Guyana, his problems really began.

Working in some of the maddest, baddest and most dangerous places on earth has gotten Jim into serious trouble. He discovered a fabulously rich goldmine (for somebody else) in the Australian desert, got caught up in the world’s biggest mining scam in Indonesia and started his own gold rush in the jungles of Laos. And that’s just his day job.

Chapter 1 First Strike

My introduction to mining at age seventeen. The Welsh gold-mining district, at Dolaucothi in West Wales, which is the site of the only known Roman gold workings in Britain.

Chapter 2 Mining Time

I soon shall be in Frisco and there I’ll look around.
And when I see the gold lumps there, I’ll pick them off the ground.

O’h Susannah’ by Stephen Foster, 1840s

Some inspirational and at times horribly unlucky gold rush history.

Chapter 3 Paying the Price

A very serious Lieutenant Richards of The 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment; desperately trying not to screw up on Airborne Forces Day 1987. My time in the Para’s was good preparation for the gold rush rigours to come.

Chapter 4 Gold Fever

Inspired by these images of a modern day gold rush at Serra Pelada in Brazil, I caught some gold fever. I resigned from the army and flew to the region to make my fortune. On my side was some insane optimism.

Image by Sebastiao Salgado courtesy nb pictures

Chapter 5 Lost Cities of the Maya

Moving through the war-torn wilds of the Peten Region of Guatemala. The looting of treasures from the ancient Mayan cities was big business in the area.

Chapter 6 The Mosquito Coast

The Honduran city of San Pedro Sula has the highest murder rate in the world. Explaining you wanted to buy gold prospecting gear (and not drugs) was a challenge.

Boarding this ancient Dakota for a flight to the Mosquito Coast. The remains of the previous aircraft stood at the end of the runway from a crash two days earlier.

Chapter 7 Four Problems

Just getting to Guyana was a serious endeavour, then I faced four problems.

Chapter 8 Gold Rush

There was a gold rush unfolding in South America.
Gold dredging on the Essequibo River in Guyana.

Chapter 9 Diamond Rush

Artisanal diamond miners near the Eping River in Guyana.

Chapter 10 Tepui Treasure

Jim pouring gold from a batea (conical gold pan). Ekereku River, Guyana.

Some Ekereku diamonds.

Chapter 11 The Reckoning

Dredging on.

Chapter 12 How to Find a Gold Mine

Metal detecting for gold nuggets in Western Australia.

Chapter 13 Heart of Darkness

Gold exploration in the Laotian Highlands. Land mines, civil war and getting shot by your own guys were among the hazards.

Chapter 14 The Big Con

Gold exploration trenching in Indonesia. Villagers dig, geologists look on. The BRE-X gold scam was about to explode our cosy world.

Chapter 15 Black Gold and Pink Diamonds

At the Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia. This deposit was discovered in 1979 and has been a fabulously rich producer.

The Argyle Pink Jubilee diamond at 12.7 carats is the largest pink diamond found in Australia.

Chapter 16 The Float

Drilling for gold south of Laverton, Western Australia.