In 1860 James Boor, while looking after sheep for Captain Walter Watson Hughes, a retired sea captain, discovered copper in a wombat hole. A year later, Irish shepherd Patrick Ryan, who also worked for Hughes discovered copper at a place known to the local Aborigines as Moonta-Moonterra. During most of their working life these mines were among the largest and most profitable mines in Australia.
After the initial discoveries many other deposits were located and worked for some time. Some of these were the Parrara, Paramatta, Poona, Karkarilla and Yelta mines. There were also the Wheal James, Wheal Devon, Wheal Humby and Wheal Stuart. Unfortunately none of them proved to be very successful.
Several of these mines were struggling from the start and regular calls were made on shareholders to pay from one to ten shillings per share by the different secretaries of these mines. In 1864 F. Driffield of the Yelta and Jason Scott of the Karkarilla called up money to keep the mines going.
Wheal Hughes was one of the first mines discovered on Yorke Peninsula in 1860, well before the Moonta and Wallaroo deposits. It was named after Walter Watson Hughes. The Wheal Hughes showed good prospects and some rich ores were obtained. The first half-yearly general meeting of the company was held at its office in King William Street, Adelaide on 27 July 1866. The directors informed the well attended meeting that a good lode had been found in which copper had been struck to a depth of twenty metres. They adviced that the mine should be pushed on with vigour, particularly in Cooper's and Colley's shafts as outlined by Captain Kitto.
In February 1868 fifteen men were working underground at the 24 fathom level cutting away fine blocks of yellow ore. Captain Cowling had sold more than 130 tons of ore during the last months and reported that the future of the mine looked good. During that same time a branch line of the Wallaroo Tramway was constructed close to the ore floor which would make transport easier and cheaper.
Unfortunately the deposit gave out shortly after. Much capital was used in finding another load but to no avail and mining was abandoned. The Wheal Hughes Mining Company was wound up voluntarily in June 1874 and James Simpson Scott paid £20 for his services as liquidator. In 1890, with better technology and higher copper prices, the mine was restarted and once again worked for a short time.
A hundred years later, in December 1990, the Wheal Hughes mine was reworked by open-cut method. The ore was crushed on site and partly processed at nearby Kadina before being sent to New South Wales for final processing. When it closed in 1993 it had produced some 300,000 tons of copper from open-cut and underground mining.
The mine was acquired by the local council and developed as a Tourist Mine. After dewatering, installation of electricity, telephone and rock and cable bolting the mine was ready to take its first visitors. Naturally they were students from the Moonta Area School in December 1997.
The Wheal Hughes Tourist mine was officially opened on 29 November 1998 by Senator Robert Hill and Pearce Bowman, General Manager of WMC opened the Visitor Centre. For tour bookings please ring 08 8825 1892.