Nuccaleena copper mine


On 4 March 1859 a mineral lease was applied for, and granted on 11 June 1860. This lease (no.33) was issued over section 105 of eighty acres in the Northern Flinders Ranges to John and James Chambers for 14 years, starting 6 June 1860. They sold it without much delay to the recently formed Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia. This section 105, which became the Nuccaleena mine, was the twelfth mine sold by Chambers and others to the Great Northern. The birth of this English owned company was really on 23 July 1857 when James Chambers and his friend William Finke applied for a lease (application no. 64) over eighty acres, at an annual rent of $80. This section and eleven others for which they applied during the next two years were all in the Northern Flinders Ranges. Not only that, they were also in mountainous and often extremely difficult country, which even today is still inaccessible by conventional transport.

After local rain the track becomes impassable.

All sections were surveyed by licensed surveyor John McDouall Stuart, and by 1858 mining had commenced on three of them, namely Mount Deception, Mount McKinlay and Mount Samuel. On 8 January 1858 Captain A.H. Freeling informed Chambers and Finke that their application, no.64, near Mount McKinlay had been approved, on condition that they surveyed the section and supplied a plan of it within four months. They also had to place pegs in the ground with the letters "C" and "F" painted on them to mark the survey. A similar letter was received by them on 2 February 1858 for application no.70, near Mount Chambers.

Specimens from some of these northern leases were exhibited by Chambers at his premises in Currie Street Adelaide, and some were shown to Henry Ayers, who at that time was the secretary of the South Australian Mining Association and also a member of the Legislative Council. In November 1859, a prospectus of the Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia was published in the English Newspapers. Immediately a great rush for its shares followed. In fact the rush was so great that the subscription list had to be closed almost "as soon as it opened".

The purpose of the Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia was to buy the eleven leases, which were to run for fourteen years from 23 July 1859 for section one and two and from 17 June 1859 for the remaining sections. Two years later the Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia started a fight, lasting almost as long, to cancel these leases. The Company itself was to be wound up on 1 March 1869 and finally dissolved on 17 December 1880 when it ordered that "all the books, papers and documents ... be destroyed by being cut, torn or otherwise separated into fragments so as to render the same useless as a means of information".

No sooner had the Great Northern been incorporated than it dispatched the ship New Margaret from England with 10,000 ore bags, 160 barrels of gunpowder and a large quantity of mining implements for their mines in the Northern Flinders Ranges. The ship left Gravesend on 19 January 1860. At Nuccaleena mining was started, and by June, William Finke and sixteen miners had raised about a hundred tons of copper ore.

Before long it was decided to appoint Captain J.B. Pascoe, a Cornishman who had previously worked at Glen Osmond and at the Strathalbyn Mining Company, in charge of that mine. With transport cost high and troublesome, the Great Northern commissioned the survey of a railway line from Port Augusta to Nuccaleena. Charles Bonney even tried to form a tramway company. Early in 1861 some new appointments were made to the local management. They were John Bentham Neales, Richard Bowen Colley and Francis Corbet Singleton. W.S. Whitington, who had been secretary since 1860, was reappointed.

With the initial success of the Nuccaleena mine, many people believed that its copper deposits extended far beyond the limits covered by section 105. In fact many miners left the Burra mine hoping to find more remunerative employment in the Northern mines. At Nuccaleena mining and building went ahead. Underground, experienced miners such as Henry S. Hemming, who would later become superintendent at Sliding Rock, were removing the rich copper ore.

At the surface of the mine the building of offices, workshops and engine houses was commenced as were the living quarters for the miners. Captain Pearson Morrison's house and that of Dr. Magee, the medical officer, were already completed. By the end of 1861, about eighty-five miners were employed at the mine, several of whom were married and lived with their families in the as yet unsurveyed and unnamed town.

Several Adelaide identities made their way north to pay the mine and its workers a visit. Some were on government business while others came for different reasons. One of them, G.W. Goyder, Inspector of Mines was very impressed during his stay at the mine with the progress made so far. Some months later the mine was visited by Mr. Austin, as part of his tour of all the northern mines.

A serious accident occurred at the Nuccaleena Mines on the evening of the 30 May 1862. The South Australian Weekly Chronicle reported that 'A man named Thomas O'Neal had a piece of lighted fuse in his hand while standing about 15 fathoms below the surface near a keg containing 45 lbs. of powder. He threw the fuse carelessly away, and it fell into the powder, which immediately exploded with a fearful concussion. Several miners were near at the time, and were almost smothered with the smoke, but none was seriously hurt except poor O'Neale, who had his hair burnt completely off his head, and his eyes totally destroyed. He was otherwise dreadfully burnt, but bis wounds appeared to be in a fair way of healing, when hectic fever supervened, brought on by the large suppuration from the surface, and he died on the 11th instant. This accident should be a warning to miners to be careful how they throw away lighted fuse'.

Progress had certainly been made, and in a very short time! More was to come that same year. Charles Faulkner had started on the building of his three-roomed hotel, "The Bushman Inn", for which he was granted a publican's licence at the beginning of 1863. Nuccaleena had become a major settlement. P.R. and J.R. Warren were granted a storekeeper's licence and had opened a store, a chapel was completed, a cricket team started and the first race meeting was being planned. Civilization had come to the Northern Flinders Ranges!

Unfortunately not all the people at Nuccaleena were civilised. This is well illustrated by an incident which happened on 3 December 1862. On that day Henry Hammond, also known as Yankee Harry, rode with his bullock team into town with supplies for the mines and miners. During the last part of the journey he had been accompanied by Robert, an Aborigine. When Hammond noticed a leg of mutton missing, he suspected the Aborigine of having stolen it, but this was denied by Robert. Both Hammond and Robert went back on the road to see if it had dropped from the wagon. When nothing was found, Hammond attacked Robert, hitting him "with some blunt weapon" which was, according to Dr Cotter, sufficient to kill him.

As there was no police station at Nuccaleena, it befell to the purser of the mine, Mr Price, to travel on horseback to the Mount Serle police station to report the murder. Later when the new Sub-Protector of Aborigines, John Parker Buttfield was appointed in 1866, he tried to make Nuccaleena his head quarters to work from but the government wanted him to stay in Blinman.

More evidence of progress was seen during March 1863, when Arthur B. Cooper arrived to survey and lay out the townsite of Nuccaleena. When he finished he had pegged out seventy-seven town blocks, on the western side of the creek which separated the town from the mine, its surface workings and buildings. The main road was named Nuccaleena Road. The other streets were Chambers Street, Cooper Street, Neales Street, Morrison Street, James Street, after James Chambers, Bonney Street and Percy Street. A Post Office was opened in 1864.

There were several deaths during the early days at Nuccaleena. A. Fry died on 25 May 1862. He came from Springhill near Kooringa and was only 48 years old. Captain Samuel Garland died on 8 November 1864 at Plympton, aged only 34 years. By the end of that month, it became clear to the mine owners that their mine was not as good as they had expected. Since the opening up of the deposit at Nuccaleena the Great Northern had used up more than 40,000 on testing and locating the lode. On buildings and machinery it had expended another 5,000. In return for this expenditure only 13,000 was realised from the sale of copper.

The mine owners had to admit that the search for minerals had proved unsuccessful. Only about eight hundred tons of ore had been raised. Consequently on 15 November 1864 the management of the Great Northern wrote to the Commissioner of Crownlands in Adelaide informing him that it would like to surrender some of their mineral leases, including the Nuccaleena lease. A contributory factor to this decision was no doubt the severe drought which was devastating the north at the time. It made life very difficult for anyone and everyone. J.M. Hill, storekeeper and originally from New Zealand, only had ten shillings in his estate when he died at Nuccaleena in 1866.

After the breaking of the drought life returned slowly to normal. Mines were restarted and pastoral stations restocked all over the north and many people returned to look for work. Not all of them tried to earn a living in an honest way. On 11 May 1868 Police Trooper George Edwin Curnow arrested William Perkins for stealing 6, a coat and a book from Michael Marra of Nuccaleena. The property was recovered and Perkins discharged.


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