Mount Serle South Australia

Mount Serle

EJ Eyre 1860 (SLSA)

One of the first to see the area was Edward John Eyre who climbed Mount Serle on 27 August 1840. The first pastoral lease, 468, for the Mount Serle area was issued in 1856 to Walter and Thomas Mc Farlane. The brothers also took up a lease on nearby Owieandana. They did not have it for a long time as they left the Flinders Ranges in 1859 when the Mount Serle lease was auctioned on 7 June 1860 and passed to Abraham Scott on 1 July. Scott acquired several more leases and by 1867 controlled some 250 square miles of country around Mount Serle.

By the mid 1850s settlement had moved to beyond the area when other stations such as Umberatana were taken up. It was even found that a police station should be opened and in March 1859 Corporal Alfred Burt was stationed at Mount Serle. During October of that same year Crown Land Ranger Alexander Tolmer stayed at the station due to illness. It was a busy station in the early days with troopers for ever trying to keep the peace between the settlers and the Aborigines. Both white and black were killed at times.

In 1884 T.W. Scott managed the station. After a number of different owners the leases were surrendered in 1896. Two years later the station became a government camel depot. Camels remained on the station until 1923 when most of them were moved to Muloorina. The main Mount Serle station area was again leased from 1906.

In 1905 that Larry Wells obtained 20 camels from Mount Serle for the Northern Territory survey. In 1924 Gordon Greenwood took up the leases after relinquishing Umberatana. Since 1985 the local Aboriginal people have owned the station, which after all had been part of their land for thousands of years.

Although the pastoral population was extremely mobile, the mining population was just as, if not more, mobile. Within a short time, but particularly during the late 1850s, many a prospector or speculator visited the Northern Flinders Ranges. They were checking out rumours of supposedly rich finds made by shepherds or Aborigines. Their reports in turn attracted even more prospectors and miners, leading to many more mineral discoveries, especially copper deposits.

On 26 September 1856 Babbage left Mount Serle leading a small party in search of gold. No gold was found but just as important was the fact that they found permanent water which he called Blanchewater. After 1856 explorers such as Bonney, Eyre, Freeling, Goyder, and Stuart, on their way back from trips to the Northern Flinders Ranges, were quickly followed by graziers, shepherds, prospectors and miners. The first discovery of copper in the Northern Flinders Ranges was made by John Bull, a returned gold miner, along the bank of the Warrioota Creek, near Mount Stuart, while working as a stockman for John and James Chambers.

In 1856 the South Australian government had voted a sum of money to help in the search for gold. Both B.H. Babbage and Charles Bonney went as far as Mount Serle, but neither of them found a payable goldfield. Not even any alluvial gold was discovered. Being one of the most northern stations at that time and also the most isolated, Mount Serle station was soon used as a staging point for inland expeditions and by surveyors.

In 1857 George W. Goyder and J.M. Painter visited it while surveying the country to the north of Mount Serle. While in the area Goyder found time to produce a sketch of Mount Serle. In 1858 P.E. Warburton returning from his northern expedition, proving the horseshoe theory to be wrong, travelled down the eastern side of Lake Torrens and via Mount Serle down to Adelaide, establishing at the same time a viable stock route. In 1859 Goyder was back with A. Selwyn, looking for indications of minerals. A few months later, on 28 October, it was Governor MacDonnell who called in before his inspection of the nearby Mochatoona mine the next day.

By 1860 several mines had been opened up and prospects looked promising enough to expand the workings at the nearby Mount Rose mine. Captain Thomas Prisk, an experienced Cornishman, was approached to take charge of the mine. He soon had enough copper ore dug up to start advertising for teamsters. The ore had to be transported south along the bed of a torturously winding creek to Mount Serle, and from there another three hundred kilometres to Port Augusta over almost equally torturous roads. In March 1860 Mole, Frost and Marsh advertised their weekly mail and passenger service between Mount Remarkable and Mount Serle.

Unfortunately the good years of the early 1860s did not last. The year 1863 saw the onset of a drought, which has ever since been known as the 'great drought'. John Jacobs of Mount Serle lost almost 17,000 pounds as a result of the prolonged drought. The direct result of this drought was that almost all the mines in the Northern Flinders Ranges including the Yudanamutana, Nuccaleena and Oratunga were forced to close. Very few new mines were opened up during this time.

By 1863 applications for mineral leases near Mount Serle had been made by C. Simeon and William Finke. Ten years later Fleming and White and Jones and Smith also held leases in the area. During mid 1872 a government prospecting party in the hope of finding gold visited Mount Serle. Although it was under the leadership of James Goddard, an experienced and successful prospector of Humbug Scrub, no gold was found.

Not until 1884 was the Northern Flinders Ranges honoured with the visit of Henry Y.L. Brown, Government Geologist. During August of that year he spent a few weeks in the area collecting information for the construction of a geological map. He visited many mines and reported on them as well. Some of the mines visited by him were; Mount Coffin, Mount Serle, Mount Freeling, Mount Lyndhurst, Yudanamutana, Paralana, Stanley, Daly, Leigh Creek, Umberatana and the Owieandana. Brown discovered no gold or new copper deposits. In May 1884 C.W. Marsh was sinking a trial shaft hoping to find gold but only found indications of fossils.

After his visit Brown reported that galena had been found in the Mount Serle area. Assays made from these specimens by G.Goyder Jnr. gave as much as 8 ounces of silver to the ton. Three years later prospectors did not need to be reminded any more. Silver mania seemed to have been replaced by Silver madness! Speculation was rife and on a grand scale with several workers at Mount Serle having a go as well. Some early companies were the Victoria Mint Silver Mining Company and the Beltana Comstock Silver Lead Mining Company. Both were incorporated in 1888. Other companies operating 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 map. A few were listed on the Adelaide Stock Exchange but most did not even manage that.

Gold was also discovered in the area. When the Angepena goldfield was discovered most workers at Mount Serle had staked a claim or two. The Angipena Treasure Gold Mining Company N.L. was incorporated on 15 October 1895 with a capital of $80,000 by issuing forty thousand shares of $2 each. However twenty thousand shares plus $4,000 in cash had to be paid to the owners of lease No. 490, F. Denford of Mount Serle and W. Rogers. The five directors, all members of the South Australian parliament, were A.R. Addison, Andrew D. Handyside, James H. Howe, Alexander Poynton and V.L. Solomon. Even the secretary, J.R. Kelly was a parliamentarian. Several individual prospectors also had claims in the Mount Serle area in the 1880s. Among them were T. Pearce, H.R. Fuller, C. Lyons, C.V. Lawrance and A.H. Catchlove. The Blackmore brothers had claims at Angepena Hill, P.G. Doig and A.S. Young at Mount Rose.

The local Aborigines did not always appreciate the intrusion by the early white settlers. As it turned out, most of the Aborigines who were causing all the trouble lived in the hilly country around Bolla Bollana and could not be pursued with poorly fed horses. They often killed hundreds of sheep and even attacked and killed shepherds. In an effort to appease them, a police station was established at Mount Serle in 1859 and manned by Corporal Alfred Burt. It issued rations to more than two thousand of them, as early as 1860. In 1862, one Corporal and three Constables manned the station. Police stationed in the Northern Flinders Ranges often could not go, or continue their patrols, as their horses were in extremely poor condition. Horse feed was often unavailable locally, most of the time it had to be brought up from Port Augusta, at very high prices and cartage rates, by bullock team. In 1865 Sergeant James Wauhop was in charge.

There were other problems too. On 5 November 1865 Jason Simpson informed the Chief Inspector of Police that there were no horseshoes or nails at their station. The only supply available was at Port Augusta, but there was nobody who could bring them up. Sergeant James Wauhop who was in charge at the Mount Serle police station in 1865 made it abundantly clear when he reporting to George Hamilton, Chief Inspector of Police. Wauhop explained ‘The Country is in such a state that it is impossible for horses to live, and do any work at present time... and it is impossible to follow them (the Aborigines) without horses, as no horse can stand more than a week's work without feed, no matter how good his condition may be when he starts’. In 1867 the station was visited by John Parker Buttfield from Blinman, in his capacity as Sub Protector of Aborigines.

It was also at this time that South Australia, and the north in particular, was in the grip of one of the worst droughts ever. Most of the northern pastoralists lost very heavily and had to start all over again after the drought. It was not until 8 December 1866 that very heavy rains fell in the Northern Flinders Ranges, extending as far north as the Yudanamutana area and the prolonged drought was broken. This at once solved several problems. Feed and water became again available and thus transport was possible within a short time. Supplies could be moved to the mines and ore to Port Augusta. Life once more could return to normal.

During this devastating drought it had also become impossible for the police to do anything at all. Their horses were all 'knocked up and without food'. Oats and horse shoes, which had arrived at Port Augusta months ago but could not be transported. It was not until May 1865 that Police trooper Skermer arrived at Mount Serle with fresh horses from Mount Remarkable. It was to be several months before Trooper Skermer could return.

Still there were more problems. A major one experienced by the all the northern stations and mines, was that of communication, or the lack of it. A post office was opened at Mount Serle in 1860. Most of the mail, small parcels and newspapers for the people in the north came from Adelaide, more than seven hundred kilometres away, often via Melrose or Port Augusta. On 10 March 1860 the mail between Adelaide and Mount Serle was carried by Mole, Frost & Marsh.

On 2 July 1862 tenders were invited for a fortnightly mail run between Angepena and Blanchewater, both of which were major pastoral holdings. From Angepena the mail was to go via Mount Serle and Mount Rose and on to Yudanamutana from where it then would continue to Blanchewater. The need for this postal service proved to be great at that time. After only six months operation the Post Master General, Mr J.W. Lewis, was forced to ask the Chief Secretary to increase this to a weekly run, at least for the section between Angepena and the Yudanamutana mine. When this request was approved the run was broken up into two sections. The post office at Mount Serle was closed soon after but reopened once again in 1893

Conditions in the north were harsh on everyone but on women especially. They were even more isolated than the men. One early worker at Mount Serle was James Duck who had previously been employed as a farm labourer. Maybe he was interested in mining or in a pastoral career. Whatever the reasons may have been, he found a job as a shepherd on the station. This was certainly not a case of upward economic or social mobility as wages for shepherds were lower than those for farmers. While still at Mount Serle, James and his wife Mary had their fourth child, a boy named Henry, born on 8 March 1865. Before Henry was fifteen months old however, his mother, who was only thirty-one, died of the fever and James Duck was left with three youngsters and a baby. Even today this would be a major disaster, although there are all kinds of support systems available. In 1866 there were no such things and James would have found it very hard and difficult to do his job and have his children cared for during his long days away from the homestead. Luckily for him and his children, he met Mary Ann James, and after a short courtship they married at Blinman in 1867.

In 1914 a move was made by the local Aborigines to have a school established at Mount Serle Station. There were a large number of school aged children on the station at time. The station employed many Aborigines and naturally most of their children were born at the station. In 1877 Ted Coulthard, son of Angepena Billy and Fanny, was born at the station. He later married Winnie Ryan who was also born at Mount Serle. In 1902 Jessie James, wife of Fred McKenzie gave birth to twins. Eva Driver was born in 1908 and later married Ted Wilson, also born at the station. Rufus Wilton was born in 1909 followed by Arthur Wilton in 1910. One of the last to be born at Mount Serle was Netta Wilton on 10 June 1941. In 1931 the station was visited by the Bishop of Willochra who had lunch with the Greenwoods. In 1957 station managed by Les Kent, who had been there for more than ten years. In 1958 Gordon Greenwood sold it to James Smith for $200.000.

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