The first mineral to attract the attention of early settlers in South Australia was not copper or gold, but silver. This was accidentally discovered at Glen Osmond when the wheel of a passing dray broke off a piece of rock and exposed the silver. The deposit gave rise to Australia's first mine, the Wheal Gawler, named after Governor Gawler, in 1841. Within a month of it being worked it was reported that 'a leading member of the bar in this city has during the past week, had the honour of having applied to a decayed tooth the first piece of silver which has been brought into practical use. We believe the operation has proved successful'!
Ever since the discovery of this deposit, South Australians have been involved in the production of this mineral. Recently it has been mined in the Northern Flinders Ranges. Port Pirie has been smelting the galena from Broken Hill to produce silver and lead for nearly hundred years. One of the companies formed in England to mine the silver and lead deposits at Glen Osmond, brought out Captain Pascoe and ten Cornish miners, with their families.
The next major discovery of silver was made near Cape Jervis. This became
the Talisker mine, which gave rise to the nearby mining town of Silverton.
The first discovery of silver in the Northern Flinders Ranges was not made
until 1869 when Thomas Flett found an outcrop at the Beltana mine. This deposit was worked for a short time under the guidance of Captain Samuel Terrell, while he was stationed at Blinman. However it was not until the early 1880s that a real interest was shown in the silver deposits of the Northern Flinders Ranges. It was only after the fabulous discoveries just across South Australia's eastern border at Silverton and Broken Hill that interest in South Australian deposits, which had been rather low, increased to a level which could be called silvermania.
Silvermania also affected the people at Beltana. On 30 January 1883 the Beltana Prospecting Company called a shareholders' meeting at Kelly's Hotel in Port Augusta, presumably so that the Port Augusta members would attend. The news that they were given was very encouraging indeed. Everyone was pleased with themselves, as they felt that they were onto something profitable.
By March 1883 forty tons of ore were raised and some of the best specimens of peacock and yellow ore were displayed in Hantke's shop. And what a splendid sight they were! The share prices were also splendid! They kept increasing in value; the more ore that was mined, the more the price would rise. The excitement was enormous. It was the talk of the town, district and newspapers.
This, it was suggested, was better than Kapunda, better than Burra. This was going to be a second
Moonta! During the first week of April, 165 bags of ore were carted to Port Augusta to be sent to the English and Australian Copper Company in Port Adelaide. The share prices kept on rising, until each share was worth $1,000. Half shares were sold, or quarter shares or even an eighth of a share. On 24 April the official price for a full share had reached $1,200! But nobody wanted to sell, not even for $2,000.
The Port Augusta Dispatch reported that truck load after truck load was sent down to Port Augusta and said "This will be the making of Beltana". By May the price of a full share had rocketed to $1,600. The members of the company must have been pleased, especially Theodore Hantke and Samuel Gason. People who could not afford an eighth of a share, or even a sixteenth, still came to his store to marvel at such beautiful specimens. If disappointed or sad for not being able to share in all this
excitement they could - and many probably did - go to Samuel Gason's hotel and drink away their sorrows.
Still they could take heart. As usual for every boom there will be a bust, and so there was for the Beltana Prospecting Company. After the
astronomical figure of $1,600 was reached, nobody owned a full share any more. This was just as well because it was from here that the downward slide set in and the eventual crash occurred. The lode had given out and the copper disappeared from the mine. As a result both the Victory Mine and the Beltana Prospecting Company disappeared from the news.
One of the first silver deposits mined in the Northern Flinders Ranges was at the Avondale mine. This mine, situated about three kilometres South
West from the Mount Lyndhurst Trig Hill, was worked in 1884 when Captain James Adams was in charge. Three years later Silvermania seemed to have been replaced by Silvermadness! Speculation was rife and on a grand scale. Numerous silver companies were started during the years 1887 and 1888.
Sometimes several companies a day were formed, often with very similar names.
One of these newly opened mines which was "to revolutionise the business in the north" was operated by the Great Gladstone Silver Mining Company Limited, which had its office at Comstock Chambers, King William Street Adelaide.
Other companies which operated in the area were the Great Nevada Silver
Mining Company, at Wirrialpa, The Great Comstock Silver Mining Company and the Imperial Mint Silver Mining Company at Mount Serle. Most of these silver mining companies never went any further than the x marked on the maps of the plains west of the Flinders Ranges or in the Ranges itself. A few were listed on the Adelaide Stock Exchange but most did not even manage that.
One of the best known, and most successful areas in the Northern Flinders
Ranges was the Ediacara mineral field. This field had been worked for copper
more than sixteen years before, but not proven to be very successful. With the rich discoveries in Silverton and Broken Hill in the early 1880s, miners in South Australia, the Northern Flinders included, started paying much more attention to the ground over which they walked. Some even remembered
old copper mines, abandoned long since, that contained silver as well.