Lyndoch Valley Mine, South Australian History

Lyndoch Valley Mine.

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In May 1863, Henry Marshall of Penrice, South Australia, who had previously worked for Captain Rodda who had laid out and named Penrice, wrote to the Advertiser that although he was but an amateur, ‘the researches and observations I have made and the information I have collected from various parts of the world, combined with personal observations on the Victorian diggings, lead me to be almost positively certain that gold diggings exist, but to a very moderate extent in South Australia’.

In 1866 John Chambers, John Tuthill Bagot, J. Burnett, Richard Holland and William Lawes Ware were willing to prove it and promoted the Lyndoch Valley Mining Company ‘to discover and mine copper and gold on land leased from the South Australian Company’. They hoped to sell 1,400 shares of £5 each to the public to finance the work while keeping another 1,120 shares for themselves as fully paid up plus 480 in reserve for later disposal. W.S. Whitington was engaged as secretary and would process the share register and the payment of five shillings per share on application.

The site had originally been a copper mine first opened in 1846 with Captain Rodda in charge. He had found a gold nugget of more than three ounces but by the time this news had reached London it had ‘grown’ to more than three pounds. Like most other mines, it ceased production in 1851 when most South Australian copper miners became gold prospectors and miners in Victoria. The Lyndoch Valley Mining Company was a short-lived affair. Samples from the mine surveyed by James James gave 21 ounces to the ton, but those assayed by A. Thomas gave only one ounce to the ton.

At its first general meeting, chaired by J.T. Bagot, for the consideration of the Articles of Association, election of directors and any other business, about 40 shareholders were present, including Dr William Gosse, who had assisted Tolmer at Mount Alexander 15 years before, J.M. Wendt and George Henry Catchlove of North Adelaide. Some small bars of gold were laid before the meeting to show the result of the first crushing.

Catchlove made a very sensible suggestion that instead of investing in large and expensive machinery, they should take 10 or 15 tons of ore to Ballarat to be crushed. They could even send one of the directors with the load. After the results were known it could then be decided to go ahead, or not, with buying machinery.

The meeting also decided that only those holding at least 25 shares could be elected as director. After the counting of the votes the first directors elected were, John Chambers, J.M. Wendt, E.M. Bagot, R. Holland and W. Main. No sooner had the Lyndoch Valley Mining Company meeting finished than Whitington made the first of many calls. This one was for five shillings per share and was followed by a similar call in October. Later calls were for one shilling only. Not only had the directors allotted themselves a large number of shares, without paying for them, they also decided that they should be paid £150 a year plus £2.2 for each time they visited the mine.

After some ten tons of quartz had been mined, Wendt escorted it to Ballarat for assaying. When he came back he was able to show the proceeds in the form of a five ounce bar of gold. While in Ballarat he had also bought machinery that was now on its way to Adelaide.

At its second annual general meeting, held on 15 July 1867, John Chambers advised those involved that results had not been as good as expected. John Chambers was by this time already a large landowner, operator of mail coaches, pastoralist, and speculator in many mining operations. His brother James, who had been involved in similar pursuits, had also been involved with the Gold Escorts. He and his friend William Finke were the first to operate a mine in the northern Flinders Ranges and John bought all the surveyed blocks of the new mining town of Oratunga.

Both had already held a large number of mineral claims and leases, most of which had been surveyed by John McDouall Stuart. The Chambers brothers and the government later financially supported Stuart with his exploration work. In return for their patronage Stuart named numerous geographical features after the Chambers family. Not satisfied with their number, James Chambers changed many other names, in favour of members of his family, politicians and others, before Stuart’s maps were printed. Hoping for additional financial gains he also omitted the location of good lands and the possible occurrences of gold pointed out by Stuart.

Early in March a rich copper lode was discovered with gold underlying and shareholders were quite sanguine about future prospects of the mine. Arrangements had been made with ‘practical Melbourne parties ‘for the extraction of the gold on improved principles’ and they would start within a week.

The crushing machinery had been started and worked well. When all the other machinery was in place and ready for a trial run, the neighbourhood was rocked by the explosion of the boiler, injuring five men, including Painter the engineer. He had only just survived another accident, when down in a shaft a large iron chain above him broke and fell on him. The boiler was blown out of its bed and parts of it finished up as far away as 80 yards. It damaged both the puddlers and the crushers. Total damage was estimated at about £400. Boiler explosions were not uncommon. Only a year before a similar explosion had occurred at the New Cornwall mine.

Even so, the results of prospecting and digging had been rather poor. The main reason for the disappointing result of the Lyndoch Valley Mine was the fact that little gold had been found after extensive searches and what was found was difficult to separate from the quartz.

Attempts to separate gold from its host rock were first described by Georgius Agricola, (George Bauer) ‘the father of mineralogy’ in his book De re metallica, published in 1556. Similar attempts had been made in South Australia from 1850 onwards but it would take years of debate and numerous trials and errors before this problem was solved in a satisfactory way.

William S. Whitington, who had made a call of five shillings in May and June 1867, had been able to secure the services of Captain Albrecht and it was hoped that the next report would be more encouraging. The enterprise did not live up to expectations and on 7 August, just after another five shilling call had fallen due, a special meeting was called at which it was moved that the company would be wound up voluntarily ‘following an explosion in the mine which destroyed much of the machinery’.

Both John Chambers and Whitington were appointed liquidators. They gave notice that the list of contributories to winding up the company was lodged with the Registrar of Companies. Any objection to the said list had to be made to them in writing. They also made it very clear that any unpaid calls would be placed in the hands of solicitors for recovery.

In October tenders were called for the purchase of the mine, engine, machinery, tools and anything else that could be salvaged. When the winding up process had been completed, creditors were paid seven shillings in the pound for outstanding amounts. The Lyndoch Valley mine became one of the numerous prospects which was started with high hopes but after spending shareholders’ money turned out to be a fiasco.

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