Remembering the Past Australia

A Visit to the Northern Mines of South Australia


As published in the South Australian Register, 28 November 1846.


Kooringa – The Burra Burra Township 1847. State Library of South Australia.

We started from Adelaide in a rather extraordinary-looking covered vehicle, ponderous, and springless withal, and three horses abreast, about half-past two in the afternoon, of Thursday, the 12th November, and passing over the Frome Bridge, soon got into what is called the Great North Road, upon which, as well as on its sides, we found many pleasing improvements since we formerly journeyed on that agreeable outlet from our provincial metropolis.

Beyond the windmill there is a very pleasant-looking road-side inn, and at the little village which has sprung up in the Pine Forest, we observed several neat and almost genteel cottage residences, with good fences and garden plots, having pretty displays of hollyhocks, and some of those lesser groupings of flowers which give such a charm to English village scenery. The Primitive Methodists have a neat chapel there, which is well attended; and the whole neighbourhood is as generally, agreeable in appearance at it is reported to be healthy and prosperous.

Further on there is another neat and commodious inn, kept by a Mr Isaac Jepp, and near it a steam flour mill at present unemployed, through the recent bursting of the boiler, which is undergoing the process of renovation at Wyatt’s Adelaide Foundry. 

We were disappointed to find the intended stone bridge over the Dry Creek still in future, a few loads of stone only, having been provided by the contractor, and the apologetic bridge upon a circuitous road into the village called after the creek is a sad affair. Not so the inn, which, under the management of Mr and Mrs Smith, exhibits a pleasing instance of the progress of colonial improvement, and is in such deserved repute, that many a “thirsty traveller” is induced to “drink and pay,” instead of resorting to the gratuitous refreshment of the well, which yields abundance of good water, at a moderate depth. Until the summer fairly sets in, the traveller on the road to the Little Para is surprised to see the number of widely circuitous tracks, especially at one place which is carefully shunned on either hand, being ominously called “the glue-pot.” The approaches to Harvey’s everlastingly frequented inn at the Little Para are still susceptible of much improvement, and so is the bridge, although it is “a very passable one” compared with some we have seen in South Australia.

The direct route over the Gawler Plains is rendered disagreeable, particularly after nightfall, by some stony ridges which the super-incumbent soil has, in certain places, only partially covered; but these impediments are so few, and so easily remediable, that we wonder they have been suffered to remain.

We entered Gawler Town some time after dark, passing, not without some degree of hazard, the bed of the South Para; for the passage of which, and its mighty winter floods a bridge will be commenced by the local Government as soon as willing contractors and masons are to be found, the funds, amounting to about £2,400, having been long ago provided at the provincial treasury. The township of Gawler is a very thriving place, and contains several shops and a steam flour mill, besides three good inns, Calton’s, the oldest, retaining a deserved priority, although Cleland’s and Donnelly’s are “very good both,”and replete with excellent cheer and the best of liquors.

In the morning we resumed our journey, stopping to bait [?] at the unfinished but promising road-side inn newly occupied, and architecturally progressing under the superintendence of Mr and Mrs Templar, late of Adelaide, who are likely to reap the deserved reward of a very spirited effort to afford public accommodation in a central but hitherto unappropriated spot.

Our next halting-place was at the River Light, where there at at present no other entertainment for man or beast but such as Dame Nature has imperfectly provided, the water being scarcely fresh enough for the tea kettle, and the pasturage so insufficient to “arrest the attention” of the horses, that tether ropes or hobbles are indispensable. On resuming our journey, we intended to reach an inn which has hitherto been called “The Stone Hut,” before we pulled up for the night, but early in the evening there was much rain, and the sky became first overcast, and then so pitchy dark, that even the awfully-vivid lightning lost its terror, its lurid light affording us occasional glimpses of the devious track, and enabling us to grope our way in safely to one of Mr Master’s sheep-stations. The shepherd was out in the pitiless corn, caring for “his fleecy charge;” but his wife gave us a welcome shelter, spread before us a comfortable repast, and conducted us to an apartment, unartificial enough to suit the taste of an anchorite, but nevertheless faultlessly clean, unexpectedly dry, and remarkably comfortable, where we enjoyed a sound re-pose.

After breakfasting with good appetite, we journeyed onwards, and passing another of Mr Masters’s stations, not far from that gentleman’s comfortable residence, we reached the before-mentioned incipient tavern, first known as the “Stone Hut,” then as the “Saddleworth Hotel” (in the licence), and now appropriately called the “Miners’ Arms,” by those jolly operatives going to or returning front the Monster Mine, and who consider themselves entitled to furnish a name, because they do so much “for the good of the house.” The main building, which is of two stories, and substantially built of stone, is ready to receive the roof as soon as carpenters and shinglers can be got to put it on; and in the meantime, the business is carried on in the extensive lean-to at the back by Mr and Mrs Uphill, under much disadvantage and inconvenience.

The next “stopping-place” is at a station of Mr Price Maurice’s, near his snug cottage residence. The supply of water is from a newly-sunk well hard by, which is to supersede a former dilapidated one, and from a neighbouring water-hole.

Our next stage was to the Black Springs where Mr Cudmore, the well-known brewer and malster, is busy employed in the erection of a tavern and brewery. The beer was new and the fare homely, but both went down with a good relish ; in short, being sharp set, we were right glad to find provision of any kind, especially accompanied with civility and good promise for the future.

From Mr Cudmore’s to the “Sod Hut,” the drive was a very interesting one, not only from the facilities of a beautiful route formed by example without precept through very remarkable and picturesque, but not sylvan scenery, which seemed calmly to await the further impression of human art and cultivation-but interesting too from the traffic which had awakened the silent echoes of the mountainous recesses; for in these parts we met with a great number of loaded drays from the Burra Burra, some of them containing from two to three tons each of green Malachite ores, and drawn by eight bullocks, having the appearance, at a little distance, of huge loads of green vegetables going to a market.

The “Sod Hut” is a sorry halting place, it has been unroofed by the hands of wanton despoilers, and the natural supply of water, is become scant and muddy. It was dark enough before we had left the “Sod Hut” a mile behind; and at this point as well as at others on our journey we found several bullock drays and horse vehicles drawn up for the night, near the gypsy fires of their respective drivers or passengers.

The remaining difficulties of the way were overcome with some little care; and by pursuing the beaten and generally level track, we soon reached the tavern at Kooringa, the township so called, founded by the proprietary of the Borra Burra mine, at the distance of three quarters of a mile from the principal workings, the unprecedented success of which has already conduced so much to South Australian wealth and celebrity, and the undoubted successful continuance of which is evidently destined to confirm those impressions which have set forth the copper mine of the Burra Burra as “the richest of the kind in the known world.”


Burra Burra Mine – The Surface Operations 1847. State Library of South Australia.

It was at or near the hour of ten on Saturday night when we reached the long desired tavern, and found Mr Wren, the landlord, who, like Saul the son of Kish, is higher than most men “from his shoulders and up ward,” busy in enforcing the ale-house statute of ejectment upon a multitude of obstreperous customers with whom the worthy host seems eminently calculated to deal from his judicious admixture of prowess and persuasion. Mr Wren seems quite at home in his active and responsible calling, and seemingly the more so because he has been fortunate and happy in the choice of his “better half.” The “noisy mob” having dispersed, some quiet folk remained to sup, and these, we were glad to join, retiring to rest our jolted limbs in good season. The present temporary establishment is soon to give place to a handsome hotel which will comprise sixteen commodious apartments, besides perhaps some of those subsidiary bed-rooms which are such useful appendages to public houses of entertainment in South Australian times of congregation. The basement is already formed of capital stonework, the superstructure will be principally of the same durable material, and in all probability the excellence of the future accommodation will induce many a protracted visit to a healthful as well as wealthy and very remarkable district.

On Sunday morning we took an early walk, and obtained a glimpse of the mine from the summit of an intervening hill, but were closely immured for the remainder of the day in consequence of incessant heavy rain. Early on the following morning our breakfast was cut short by the announcement that Captain Lawson was “waiting to accompany us under ground,” at the principal workings; and having provided ourselves with subterranean toggery, we made a hasty but becoming toilet, and hastened to attend our kind conductor in his descent. The huge cargoes which have been shipped, the piles of ore we had seen at the port, the hundreds of draught oxen and laden drays we met in their progress to the wharf, the thousands of tons of ore around the workings and near the intended smelting house their daily accumulations, and the reports of credible, unbiassed witnesses, had prepared us to expect much, but before we had passed through a single gallery, as the larger horizontal drivages or levels are very properly called, we saw enough to convince us we had commenced the examination of a mine incomparably richer and more productive than any mine of any kind we had ever seen in the United Kingdom.

We passed through a succession of galleries and chambers, as the larger excavations are justly named, (One of them being large enough to hold a congregation of a hundred or two persecuted Covenanters, “and sufficiently lofty for the pulpit and desk which those simple but devout worshippers managed to dispense with). In our progress we had to ascend successive perpendicular ladders, with a lighted candle retained between the fore finger and thumb; afterwards to make descent by similar contrivances, and others much more rude; until in divers wendings, prostrations, twistings, turnings, climbings, clamberings, and examinations, we had spent nearly three hours under ground, and passed through or looked through the greater part, if not all the extensive subsoil operations which were thus correctly described in the last half-yearly report of the directors:—

The present openings or workings consist of twenty mine shafts or winzes, the deepest being one hundred and forty-four feet (at which depth a lode of very rich ore has recently been cut), and they amount in the aggregate to one thousand eight hundred and sixty feet in depth; also, seventy galleries or levels, the united lengths of which measure seven thousand nine hundred and ninety -two feet, or rather more than a mile and a-half.

Subsequent operations have not been without commensurate results, for we counted more than the number of shafts and winzes mentioned; and although we could not estimate the lineal admeasurement of the various levels, galleries, drivages, and excavations, the time it took us to traverse them, and our impressions of their extent, convinced us that “the mile and a half” has ceased to be a sufficient longitudinal return. There are steps down to the first range of workings; and the passes, lines of communication, and ladder shafts, are so well contrived, that we had not often to trust our “precious bodies” to the kibble and the rope. Past experience enabled us to “draw” a pretty correct “inference from what we saw—and to estimate (if it be possible), the value of the property itself; but we could not repress the expression of surprise and delight as the successive astonishing development, of mineral riches presented themselves or were exultingly shewn us by some of the numerous miners employed.

The Directors’ estimate of the total quantity of ores raised in the twelve months ending on the 20th ult., was 7,200 tons ; but as in calculating the small ores retained for smelting at the mine at 1,462 tons, they were greatly below the mark, and have been raising largely ever since, the entire quantity produced within thirteen months may safely be set down at 10,000 tons. The prices obtained in the sales of Burra Burra ores at Swansea, already show an average of something more than £23 16s per ton; so that even deducting £8 16s per ton for carriage, freight, and charges, the mine may be said to have yielded value equal to at least a hundred and fifty thousand pounds estimated upon the ground (or “at grass” as a miner would say;) and all this within the short space of thirteen months from the commencement. Nor is this large amount at all likely to be a maximum, for the malachite, red oxide, and other rich kinds of ore have become predominant; and as the mine is undoubtedly equal to the production of 300 tons or more per week of ores likely to yield a much higher average than heretofore, it is not difficult to foresee the immensity of future returns. The great importance of the operations at this mine, as beneficially affecting the trade and commerce of the colony, may be judged of from the facts, that the sums already distributed by this one concern amongst our industrious settlers for carriage must have exceeded ten thousand pounds — those expended in wages and the various items of disbursement, twenty thousand — and the British or Colonial freights, which cannot be less than fifteen thousand.

It affords as much pleasure to be able to state, further more, that not a single accident has proved fatal to any miner employed in the Burra Burra since the operations began; and it is due to the resident managers to add that every precaution is used and no cost spared in order to secure the ground, which is in some parts precarious enough to call for constant watchfulness. Stuhl timbers of solid gum, 10 to 12 inches diameter, with stout head and foot pieces of large measurement were being provided without grudging from an ample store of materials contiguous to the working shafts, which are respectively named after the several directors or principal shareholders.


Interior of the Mine 1847. State Library of South Australia.

The productive hands are variously employed; some upon tribute — the highest proportion given being 3s 6d in the pound sterling of the value of the ores raised; the lowest 2s; and others by the ton, for “hard ore,” the prices varying from 18s to 27s 6d. The preparatory miners and labourers operate upon what is called tut work, or so much per fathom, or in specific jobs, or at per day, on owners’ account, or in labour subsidiary to and changeable upon the takers or contracting miners below. The tributers seem to prefer prompt bargains with the resident authorities to any long suspense; and an instance of this occurred while we were at the mine, wherein a guess was substituted for “the score and the tally,” and a hard bargain seemed to be driven between the respective parties, the particulars of which did not transpire until it had been wetted at Mr Wren’s, by the eight vendors; one or more of whom having overstepped the bounds of propriety and peace, which necessitated the interference of the doctor and the police, and during discussions upon the causus belli, the following fact leaked out, namely, that eight men had earned £375, or nearly five guineas per week each, during a period of nine weeks. We were informed that one man, a Cornishman, whose comrade had quitted him during his temporary absence front the Mine, and who resumed his workings alone, cleared fifty pounds in two months. We could adduce other instances of as large or larger earnings but we feel it our duty to refrain, because in a mine so very profitable, and one not unattended with personal risk to the underground workman, we think great liberality is called for; and are pleased to find that liberality is not wanting, although we found more evidences of prudential care, if not of tight dealing, than we were prepared to expect in a concern, as yet, so young, although so gigantic, and situated in a distinct so far removed from ordinary social facilities and the means of control.

We learned that a census had been taken a day or two before we reached the Mine, the following being the respective numbers employed, or resident in the township, or in and about the Burra Burra:—

238 men
70 women
160 children.
Total…… 468

Besides these, there are sawyers, charcoal-burners, carters, and others, to the number of 50 or more, employed at various distances from the Mines; so that the total population of the Association’s district probably amounts to 550 souls.

We can hardly imagine a more urgent call for the exercise of missionary zeal than that which forces itself upon the attention when contemplating this new and mixed community. It wants not only an exemplary schoolmaster and a schoolmistress who would find themselves sufficiently, if not liberally paid; but a zealous minister of religion, agreeing with the pattern presented by Saint Paul, namely, “blameless, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach, the husband of one wife,” and that wife “no slanderer, but discreet and faithful in all things,” assisting her husband to “rule well their own household.” The residence of such a couple would be likely to work wonders at Kooringa; and as there is no want of liberality amongst the well paid operatives, it behoves the Directors to take means without delay, for supplying the moral and spiritual wants of the young community, which the Association has called into existence.

Samuel Stocks, jun., Esq., the Resident Director is very generally designated “the Governor ;” and his residence called by some, the “Government House,” has a substantial stone gable and chimney, which reminded us of the fact that the first Government House in the province, built by the Buffalo’s men for Governor Hindmarsh (in warm weather, we presume), was begun, if not finished, without such a useful appendage. It would be difficult to find within the province a gentleman better qualified or more disposed to adapt himself to the onerous and important duties he has undertaken. In the execution of these multifarious duties, and his measures of conciliation and arrangement he is as markedly successful as he is generally respected. 

The surgeon, although well paid by direct stipend and monthly or occasional contributions, has evidently no sinecure; and finds it necessary to hold himself in constant requisition, as he appears to do with all conceivable suavity.

The mounted police force is only three in number, consisting of a serjeant and two constables. Their conduct is excellent, and their temper, management, and promptitude most praiseworthy.

The township of Kooringa is principally composed of substantially-built houses, constructed of stone, quarried within the township, and flagged with an excellent material, raised (we believe) upon the property of the Association, although at a distance of some few miles. Altogether, the local adaptation and facilities for the formation of a township are all but of the first order; and that Kooringa will be a very thriving place there can be little doubt. At first sight, the paucity of wood and the lack of a visible supply of water appeared to militate against domestic comfort, but when we learned that the employees of the Association were supplied with water at sixpence per week, and wood at the like easy rate, we became convinced that in these, as well as other respects, there was more than met the eye.

An accurate weigh-bridge has recently been put down at the mine, and every precaution seems to be used to produce a just impression of fairness “between master and man.” By the present monetary arrangements, the labourer can purchase his weekly supplies wherever he can do so to the best advantage; and although the profits of the Kooringa storekeepers are still good, it is said they have ceased to be at all “exorbitant.” Good stonemasons or wallers are much in request at 7s per day, or 4s 6d per cubic yard, finding their own materials, and masons’ labourers at 5s. Additional carpenters might find ready employment at 35s to 45s per week, according to ability. Sawyers get 10s 6d per hundred. The price of carriage to the Port is £2 15s per ton of 21 cwts., and although, this seems low enough for a hundred miles of carriage, over an unmade and sometimes “yielding* road, there is no lack of carriers, inasmuch as the average Monday presentation is nothing short of 60 drays and 360 bullocks. The charges for up-carriage of stores and charcoal are also consider able, the stock on hand of the latter being sufficient to fill a charcoal store of 150 feet in length, by about 27 in breadth. The smelting house is a most substantial and handsome building; measuring about 105 feet by 35 feet.

We closed our observations in the interesting neighbourhood of the Burra Burra with an examination of a valuable property contiguous to the great mine, and called “the Sydney Company’s,” at which, for no good reason that we could possibly discover, little had been done; and then prepared, not without regret, for a departure on the morrow.

The 100 miles of unmade road by which we reached the Burra, and the one which leads the explorer forty or fifty miles through “the endless plains” beyond, most strikingly exemplify the extraordinary natural facilities for communication and colonisation in South Australia.

Opening of Lode in Stock's Air-Hole, in the Mine 1847

Opening of Lode in Stock’s Air-Hole, in the Mine 1847. State Library of South Australia.

At noon, on Tuesday morning, we set out for the southern portion of the Special Survey of 20.000 acres, on which is the Princess Royal mine, another rich mineral pie like the Burra Burra, but with a thicker crust. About thirty men are employed, and something more than two hundred tons of good ores have already been sent from this mine; and it appeared to us that with a little more spirit and perseverance two thousand tons first, and then twenty thousand tons might follow. We inspected as many of the shafts as our time would perit, but especially one that had been sunk upon the original “monster lode,” upon the margin of a forest of stunted pines. The fact of possession of abundant treasure is decisive, although it is not so instantly tangible as that at the Burra Burra. A beautiful lawn was pointed out to us as the intended site of the Princess Royal Township, which will have the advantage of a sufficient supply of excellent water from a neighbouring spring. The present snug establishment is pleasantly located upon the Burra Creek.

The route from Kooringa to the Princess Royal and thence to the southward, crosses and traverses the creek, or rather its bed, for several miles, and at length reaches an abrupt but comparatively insignificant ridge, called “the Saddle” through which a passage has been (sparingly) cut, and other neighbouring “easements” effected. Then follows a flat which is rather too sweepingly called “the swamp.” We had the curiosity to pace enough of this flat to ascertain a length of two miles of absolute level, or very easy gradient, and coupling this observation with what we noticed in other parts, we can venture to say fifty miles of the hundred mile route from the Burra Burra to Port Adelaide, presents facilities for railroads which are scarcely to be surpassed by any in the world, either for ready capability of formation or cheapness. We do not mean a railroad adapted for high speed, and to be attempted only by a large amount of imported capital, but a work capable of continuous employment, and more diffusive and real in the benefits conferred upon the community than the present mode, astonishing as it is, can possibly be.

We encamped for the night at “Tothill’s Gap,” where we found several drays going to and returning from the mines, a plentiful supply of water, plenty of fuel, and a remarkably ” dewy eve,” as our blankets bore testimony at day break. At a quarter past five we were again on the move, and after seeing some good country and a large lagoon, passed through a forest of about seven miles across, having in its midst the “Sawyer’s Hut,” properly so called, and eke a place of refreshment; but we passed on to one of Mr Dutton’s sheep stations, on “Tothill’s Creek,” where we breakfasted heartily, and then made our way to the Light, which we crossed with difficulty at a point far removed from our upward crossing place; and pursuing our way, passed by the wool shed of Messrs Newland, & Co., and arrived at Kapunda, time enough to take a first superficial survey. Kapunda is a wonderful mine, as the returns already made, and the mineral property on the ground sufficiently prove. The underground workings are for the greater part suspended in consequence of the insufficiency of the principal whim machinery for keeping under the water, and the non-arrival of a steam engine ordered from England by the proprietors.

Sixty to seventy tons per week, averaging more than £20 per ton in value, are even now sent from this very rich mine. Specimens of virgin copper in the laminated and foliated forms, as well as in amorphous masses, abound in this mine; and the kinds of ore produced afford a remarkable variety, comprising the grey sulphuret with green carbonate; produce 50 per cent or more. Black sulphuret with green carbonate; produce 23 to 60 per cent. Pale green carbonate; produce 26 to 48 per cent. Blue carbonate (hydrocarbonate;) 20 to 30 per cent Grey carbonate with red oxide; produce 28 per cent. Dark green carbonate; produce about 30 per cent — and some others of less value.

The locality of the mine is highly rural and the busy, operations of man have made it picturesque. Among the sections purchased by the Grand Junction Company are those situated on the east, west, and north, of Kapunda ; and although the workings of the Company have hitherto been unattended with profitable returns, it is evident from what has been seen in the present workings, that due perseverance will not be unattended with success.

Mr J. B. Hack is the Resident Superintendent on behalf of the Grand Junction Company, and it is not an unmerited compliment to either to declare that the appearances of comfort and good management were nowhere more apparent than in their establishment and amongst the operatives.

The single miners are provided with excellent board and lodgings at 10s per week each.

The buildings are judiciously planned, and calculated for durability.

On the Kapunda section, we searched for and found some of those beautiful debris which first enlightened the mineralogical observer as to the value of the Kapunda property, and were able to draw conclusions highly favourable to some of the adjoining properties. The inn {which is much wanted) is now nearly ready for occupation on the southern side of the Light, and distant about a mile from the mines of the Kapunda district; and it is to be hoped that the beautiful and available intervening country betwixt it and Gawler Town will not be long without its half-way house.

On our return to Gawler Town, we found the first annual races had commenced, and as all the sporting details have already appeared in the provincial papers, we shall not attempt any partial recapitulation; but we cannot help expressing the feelings of delight with which we contemplated such a scene upon a naturally formed course, which required appropriation only from man and beast, and afforded a complete and commanding view of the performances of both, from the sides and summits of its steep and crescent-formed banks. The evergreen foliage of the trees which marked the trending of the river on the opposite side of the race-course, completed the agreeable picture.

The attendance, although not large, was greater than we expected to find it, considering the urgency of the claims upon every man’s attention, and the paucity of leisure for any. The first novelty that attracted our notice was a “motley fool’s” exhibition, which rivetted the attention of a number of natives, until the musicians of the German brass band struck up in a neighbouring tent, when our sable brethren showed their innate susceptibility of harmony by deserting the man of shreds and patches, and winning as well as uncouth grimaces, for the concord of sweet sounds which “the tuneful nine” were so well qualified to produce. These German musicians are also miners, and as they will, in all probability, find employment together near Adelaide, we may calculate on their affording us a new species of enlivenment for our annual or occasional festivities.

Since our return we have seen a gentleman who enables us to speak with some degree of certainty of those things in our mineral world which we have not seen for ourselves, and of which we shall make brief mention. Mount Remarkable copper, he says, exhibits present abundance, and the promise of all that can be desired in quality. The mineral riches in the district of the Emu Springs are described as almost indescribable; and the yielded treasures of the mines in the Mount Barker and other eastern districts are said to be undoubted, and fully confirmatory of the best hopes of South Australia’s friends.

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