Edward Hammond Hargraves was born in Gosport, Hampshire, England, the third son of Lieutenant John Edward Hargraves and his wife Elizabeth Hargraves. He was educated at Brighton Grammar School in England and Lewes. He travelled to California during the California Gold Rush, but his prospecting there was not successful. On 12 February 1851 he, with John Lister, william and James Tom, found five specks of gold in Lewis Ponds Creek in New South Wales Australia. Enlisting the help of others to continue the search, he returned to Sydney in March to interview the Colonial Secretary, and, encouraged by his friends at Bathurst, wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald describing the rich fields.
In 1856, Hargraves purchased a 640-acre (260 ha) landing at Budgewoi on the Central Coast of New South Wales. He went on to build "Norahville" at Noraville. Wollombi Aboriginal Tribe members are known to have worked on the property. Some sources state that Hargraves had "befriended" the Aboriginal tribe members.
In 1877, Hargraves was granted a pension of £250 per year by the Government of New South Wales, which he received until his death. Shortly before his death in Sydney on 29 October 1891, a second enquiry found that John Lister and James Tom had discovered the first goldfield. Lister is buried in the cemetery at Millthorpe, NSW and Tom at Byng, NSW, both within 20km of Ophir.
Hargraves was rewarded by the New South Wales Government for his find – he was paid £10,000 and was appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands. The Victorian Government paid him £5,000. He only claimed £2,381 before the funds were frozen after James Lister protested. An enquiry was held in 1853 which upheld that Hargraves was the first to discover the goldfield. The goldfield, Ophir, New South Wales, was then named Ophir.