Menzies Gold mine Barossa Goldfield South Australia

Menzies Gold Mine,
Barossa Goldfield

Leslie Robert Menzies was born on 26 November 1864 in Baltimore, America, Menzies started his search for gold, money and fame at the age of nineteen in New Zealand. From there he made it to Western Australia where he discovered a very large and very rich goldfield in October 1894. The field became known as the Menzies goldfield and after shouting champagne to the tune of £4000 to celebrate the event Menzies City was born.

In June 1896 Menzies had made it to the Barossa Valley and was impressed with what he saw. He showed a particular interest in the Royal Phoenix, which had been financed by E. Lucas and H.C. Taylor from Gawler. Before the end of the month it was decided to form the Menzies Barossa Gold Mining Syndicate.

The proposed capital was £16,000 made up of 160 shares of £100 each. The prospectus listed as provisional directors, Sir George Shenton, H.S. Parker and L.R. Menzies all from Perth and the Hon James Martin, MLC of South Australia. The purpose of the company was to acquire leases 500 and 548, known as the Royal Phoenix claims. The property, according to Menzies, had been inspected by Captain William Oats, manager of Brookman’s Boulder Company of Western Australia.

When news of the Menzies syndicate became known, it resulted in a stampede to acquire Gold Mining leases near his mine, or failing that, anywhere on the Barossa goldfield or even in the Hundreds of Barossa, Para Wirra or Angas.

Among the first to apply for a lease were James Robinson, Phil Alexander, Thomas Hissey, Thomas Berrett, H. Bischop, jun., D. McMillan, W. Penna, A. Sheard, James Beasley, E. Lucas, M.C. Taylor and A. Francis. Several local men found work at the Menzies Barossa and G.R. Annells, a ‘former Gawler boy’ was appointed secretary.

The popularity of Menzies and the mine, which everyone expected to be a big success, created a few problems as well. In an effort to attract finance several new companies and syndicated included the word Menzies in their name. One of the first jobs Annells had to do was to lodge an application for an injunction with the Registrar of Companies to prevent this without Menzies’ consent.

Although this was possible in South Australia, he had little control over those mines in Western Australia or Queensland, which used the name Menzies. One of the first was the Menzies Barossa Junction Gold Mining Syndicate situated peg and peg with the Menzies Barossa. This was followed by the Menzies Sunbeam Gold Mining Company with Sir John Downer, KCMG, MP., as director. Then there were Whitfield’s Menzies Gold Mining Syndicate, Wallaroo Menzies, Menzies Lady Sherry, Warrior Menzies, Great Menzies Extended, Menzies Lady Mary, Menzies Tornado and the Adelaide Menzies Gold Mining Syndicate.

In July 1896, Captain S. Oliver, from Clunes, Victoria, was appointed mine manager at £6 per week and settled with his wife near the mine. He started three shifts for underground development, which the newspapers wholeheartedly supported. One of them said, that much of the past mining had been little more than scratching but a vigorous policy of development and thorough testing ‘would make Barossa a permanent and payable field’.

It believed that Barossa would yet put many of the Western Australian fields in the shade. Articles like these had the desired effect as many people now believed that the mine had to be something. Among the new investors was G.E. Machattie who advanced several hundred pounds to the company. Within two months Captain Oliver was also put in charge of the old Malcolm’s Barossa mine which had been renamed Menzies Welcome. Other mines supervised by him were the Menzies Barossa North, and the Barossa Treasure.

With expectations still running high, Edward Gaston applied for a Gold Mining lease adjoining Menzies Welcome, Barossa Central and the Barossa Treasure mines. James Robinson, Herman Heinge, E Broadbent, George Wright Telfer, R. Rankine and Francis John Cahill all applied for Gold Mining leases near the Menzies Barossa.

Others went prospecting and discovered alluvial gold in a tributary of Stone Chimney Creek at Wilton. Friedrich Wilhelm Russack, prospector of Parkside was confident enough to take out a lease over eighteen acres on section 108 at Para Wirra. He was later joined by Gustav Boursier and H.H. Harris who both applied for forty acres.

At the start of 1897 G.R. Annells, who now also looked after the affairs of the Devon Consols Gold Prospecting and Mining Association and the Killaloo Progressive Gold Mining Company, called an extra ordinary meeting of shareholders to consider the amalgamation of Menzies Barossa Gold Mining Company and the Lady Pearce Gold Mining Company, which was achieved after some hard work by W.A. Kingsborough.

It was now decided to dig a vertical main shaft to intersect the reef worked at a depth of sixty metres in the Phoenix tunnel. Tunnels would then be driven north and south to connect with the Lady Pearce and Phoenix tunnels. This would make it possible for all the ore from the different locations to be hauled up the main shaft to the surface.

After having a parcel of twenty-three tons treaded at the Mount Torrens Government Battery and obtaining 15 ounces, it was decided to install a large battery at the mine. A tramway linking the various tunnels and shafts to the battery would be constructed and extensive machinery installed. Two weeks later Menzies made it clear that it was ‘absolutely necessary to push development ahead vigorously’ and also stated that he wanted a forty head battery put in place at once, plus a winding engine and hauling gear. He, and his partner W.A. Redmond, had visited Martin & Co and May Brothers & Co, both of Gawler, with the view of obtaining prices, delivery dates and other information.

They soon learned that the total cost would be well in excess of £700. When asked how this, and all the other costs, was going to be financed Menzies stated that running his mine would cost £306 per week. This, he said, would require 76 ounces of gold per week to be mined, which would not be a problem as much more would be produced. Dividends would amount to £600 per week or £31,200 per year.

Those who were still sceptical were informed that what was previously called the Lady Pearce tunnel was in effect a gold reef. There would be no problems in achieving all his objectives, Menzies said, as ‘we have as fine a gold mining property as exists anywhere in the world’. After all I have returned from Western Australia to devote my time, energies, capital and experience to the exploration and development of South Australian mining properties.

Menzies planned to make the mine the largest in Australia. After the contract for the forty head stamp battery and its installation had been signed at Martin & Co, it was found necessary to make the first call on the shareholders for sixpence a share.

Annells now invited tenders for the purchase of all or any of a parcel of 986 shares that had not yet been applied for. Development at the mine was pushed ahead energetically and with satisfaction. More than thirty men were employed to get the mine into production. The main shaft, measuring 4.3 by 1.5 metres, had reached a depth of forty-five metres and had been timbered for all but the last seven metres.

It was later extended to a depth of sixty-five metres and timbered to the surface. It was one of the very few mine shafts in South Australian gold mines to be divided into three compartments. One was for a ladder way and all the pumping equipment, another compartment for hauling up the ore to the surface, where it would be tipped into trucks and carted over a horse-drawn tramway to the crushers and the third compartment was used for lowering the empty kibbles.

The tunnel on the riverside was now 110 metres and looking as good as ever. A poppet head of nearly fourteen metres was erected over the main shaft and everything was in readiness for the winding gear, which would be completed in a few days. Menzies now lived in Gawler and visited the works frequently.

Menzies and his partner, W.A. Redmond believed in doing things in a big way. They invited the Commissioner of Crown Lands, the Hon L. O’Loughlin and his secretary, T. Duffield, Henry Allerdale Grainger, MP, H.Y.L. Brown, Warden of Goldfields Lionel Carley Egremont Gee, and Professor Provost to inspect their mine. They all had breakfast at Menzies’ Sunnybrae residence and were later joined by E. Lucas and W.J. Minnis, chief engineer at Martin & Co. They were taken to Victoria Hill where thirty-five men were at work. Captain Oliver, the mine manager, showed them around the mine and the extensive machinery worth well over £5000.

Everyone was suitably impressed, even H.Y.L. Brown, who later stated that they were ‘doing everything in good style on a large scale and not working out a little here and there, but intend to go to a good depth, the proper thing to do’. There is a good change, he said, of the district being proved by the Menzies Barossa.

One paper went even further and in reference to the mine and the Talunga Goldfield Development Company in the Adelaide Hills, prophesied, ‘If both succeed we shall in twelve months have mining operations extensively carried on in a belt of country which runs from Barossa in the north to Woodside in the south. This means the employment of thousands of men and the assured prosperity of the whole of South Australia and would mean the addition of at least 100,000 people to our population’.

After the installation of the forty head stamp battery, the largest in South Australia, early in 1898, the mine was visited by some Western Australian experts, among them Thomas Hewitson, manager of the Ivanhoe, G.W. Kelly of the same mine and F.H. Pratt, of the Lake View Consols. They too were most impressed. After admiring the battery it was ‘transformed into life, the forty stamps rhythmically and uproariously crushing into fineness some barren stone which had been placed in the boxes. Critical eyes and ears were all attention but not a fault could be found and when tongues were let loose terms of admiration only were made use of. Powerful as was the force exerted, no vibration of the building was noticed and everything worked with smoothness and accuracy’. This was just as well as so far nearly £20,000 had been expended, all of which would no doubt prove to be of ‘great commercial benefit to South Australia’.

With continuous newspaper coverage still more leases were taken out by some well known men, who had neither paid the rent nor complied with the labour conditions. Most were shepherding their leases, which led one weekly paper to raise the question if it was not high time that such leases were cancelled. After all, it said, poorer men, who are doing their best to work their leases, but fall somewhat short of the conditions, run risk of having their claims jumped and losing their labour.

Shepherding remained a curse for every honest and hard working digger for many years to come. It was a very old practice and so common and widespread that Charles Thatcher had already made a song about it in the early 1850s.

Among the not so well known men to apply for gold mining leases were Edwin Munyard and R.B. McRobie. Munyard was interested in section 162 in the Hundred of Para Wirra and McRobie wanted six leases in the Hundred of Barossa. Unfortunately newspapers often created the wrong impression by talking up the gold mining activity in South Australia more than was warranted. Although total gold production in South Australia during 1897 had been well over 9000 ounces, this was not the case a year later when only 2524 ounces were obtained.

On 9 March acting Premier Hon J.G. Jenkins officially started the new batteries of the Menzies Barossa in front of nearly two hundred invited guests and just as many visitors who had assembled to see the spectacular. It continued crushing until 23 April 1898 when the plates were cleaned up. To everyone’s shock and horror only seventy-four ounces of gold were recovered. Work was stopped immediately and the mine once more inspected by several mining expert, all of whom gave very disappointing reports.

After all the big promises, hopes, and substantial investments the first crushing was an economic disaster. The battery was closed and all unnecessary labour dispensed with. At first the low yield was blamed on the new plates but a call on the shareholders for additional money met with equally poor results. It forced the secretary, G.R. Annells to inform them that all shares, on which the fifth call of threepence remained unpaid, would be sold at auction.

The results of the crushing also caused great concern as far away as Blumberg where it was felt that it would retard the development of their local mines, as no investment capital would be forthcoming. In April the directors of the Menzies Barossa mine invited H.Y.L. Brown to go over the mine and give a detailed report on it. His report was of a ‘disheartening nature’ and even though he did suggest a few different tactics, even a Government Geologist could not report gold where there was no gold.

At the shareholders’ meeting of 16 June T.R. Bright, Chairman of Directors noticed that most 160,000 shares were represented but not Menzies himself who was still managing director at £10 per week. In his first report Menzies had stated that he had not the slightest hesitation in stating that they had enough stone above water level to keep a hundred head stamp battery going for ten years. This time he asked W.A. Redmond to read his letter, which said how sorry he was that it all had gone wrong and so many people had lost their money.

Menzies was still convinced that the mine was a good one and would ultimately pay dividends but he had now gone back to the West to take up a position as mining manager. Years later Menzies wrote his autobiography but all he had to say about this sad and sorry saga was that ‘after my return from New Guinea I purchased and developed the Barossa goldfield. A few months after the mines had started I was aboard the Toku Maru, bound for Tokyo.

Another crushing was made in November with similar disappointing results and in January 1899 a special meeting was called at which it was decided to liquidate the company. In March tenders were called for the company’s interest in gold mining leases 488, 500, 548, 549, 600 and 680. They contained about 101 acres with plant and machinery, including the forty head stamp battery with iron frames, copper and blanket tables, ore feeders complete, three Cornish boilers, horizontal engines, double cylinders, cages, trucks and rails. There were also the complete buildings, mining machinery and materials and stores, all of it made by James Martin & Co of Gawler. All of it was sold for about £3000. The different leases of the Menzies Barossa were cancelled in 1901 for non-payment of rent.

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