Nuccaleena copper mine , part 2

Nuccaleena.

Part 2

Other buildings too had been completed by the end of 1861, among them Captain Pearson Morrison's house and that of Dr Magee, the medical officer. Ore to the value of £18,000 had been raised by about 85 miners who were employed at the mine, including Edwin Williams. Several of them were married and lived with their families in the as yet unsurveyed and unnamed town. One of them was Henry Hunt and his young wife Esther, whom he had married in Port Augusta on 22 October 1861.

They lived in a newly completed house, made of local pine trees. Esther though did not live long to enjoy the luxuries of her new home. On 31 August 1862 she died at the age of 24, five weeks after having given birth. Henry Hunt placed a notice in the Register which ended with the epitaph "greatly lamented". Another early miner was John Branch. Born on 2 October 1835 at Crowan, England, Branch arrived on the Standard in South Australia in 1854. On 20 August 1862 he married eighteen year old Emma Bennett at Kooringa and later moved to Blinman where William Edwin was born in 1873, without the assistance of a medical practitioner, John Charles in 1874, Elsie Laura in 1878 and Mira Augta in 1881.

His obituary in 1914 stated that; John Branch, one of the oldest and most respected residents of the Blinman district, died on February 15 after a few hours illness, at the age of 78 years, as the result of a paralytic stroke, accompanied by heart failure. He was born ¡n Cornwall and left there at an early age for Australia. As a miner he followed his occupation on the Victorian diggings, afterwards leaving for this State, where he worked in the Burra, Spring Creek, Nuccaleena, Oratunga, and Blinman mines.

He eventually settled at Blinman and engaged in the occupation of a butcher and sheep farmer. He followed these pursuits successfully until age compelled his retirement. Branch lived at Blinman for nearly 50 years, and was well known throughout the north. He left a widow and two sons (Messrs John and William Branch) and one daughter (Mrs SEB Young, of Yorketown).


February 1862

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, GW 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 JB Austin, as part of his tour of all the northern mines. In his book, "The Mines of South Australia" he gave the following account of it; “This Mine has an immense surface deposit of rich ore, in the side of a hill, from which more than 600 tons were taken.

The lode was then lost, and the water stopped further progress until the engine was erected. After the water was in fork (pumped out) the lode was recovered at the 10 fathom level, and when I visited the Mine it presented a most encouraging appearance. The lode was proved for 18 fathoms in length, with well-defined walls, and underlying 18 inches in the fathom; the width of the ore (black oxide and sulphurets) being from five to seven feet.

A winze was sunk three fathoms five feet on the lode, and from it seven tons of good ore was raised, the quality improving with depth. The engine-shaft is 18 fathoms in depth, having been commenced about 12 fathoms above the level of the creek, in the side of the hill. The stopes are 33 fathoms North of East, from the engine-shaft, and five levels have been driven on the course of the lode, all the "backs" and "bottoms" being stoped away.


Open Cut

An adit was driven into the hill, and cut the lode in nine fathoms, and which was then driven on for 40 fathoms, a large amount of stoping being done. At the 10 fathom level a winze is sunk, about 15 fathoms east of the whim shaft, leaving the extent of ground which carried the lode recently recovered. The main cross-cut was driven 22 fathoms south into the hill to cut the lode, but was temporarily stopped. If it proves successful, it will give the stope of he entire hill, and enable a tramway to be laid to convey the ore to the floors.

The Mine is under the superintendence of Captain Pearson Morrison, a JP and a gentleman of considerable experience both in Cornwall and America. This Mine presents a more pleasing appearance, as to its buildings, and all the arrangements at "grass" than any mine in the north; there is an air of comfort as well as of business about the place, which its more recent competitors have not yet attained to. Moreover, the 16 inch cylinder steam engine adds very much to the appearance of the mine; this, which is a low-pressure condensing engine, was made by G Wyatt, of Adelaide, for the Reedy Creek Mine: it was then used, for a time, at the Charlton Mine, and at last found its way here, being the first engine erected in the Far North.

The Captain's apartments, office, and three other buildings of stone, are erected on a terrace opposite the engine, and present a frontage of nearly 100 feet. There are also substantial stone stables, a good store, smith's shop, workshop, &c., besides a general store, established for the purpose of supplying the wants of the miners; also a doctor's house and about 20 good pine huts for the men. A Mechanic's Institute has been formed here, and the men seem to devote themselves after work to useful study, or to innocent recreation.

They have established a judge and jury club, for the trial of petty offences amongst themselves, and it has been found to work well. There is also a good musical band, including some good singers among its members, the instrumental part consisting of a drum, triangle, "bones," violins, and a concertina. On the evening of my arrival the band was "discoursing sweet music," the sound of which reverberating through the hills, was very enlivening, especially to weary travellers, who had been long absent from anything of the kind”.


August 1863

Not everything went according to plan. Few miners had heard of safety rules or if they had, took little notice of them. On the evening of 30 May 1862 a serious accident occurred at the Nuccaleena mine. It was 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, and 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'Neal, who had his hair burnt completely off his head, and his eyes totally destroyed. He was otherwise dreadfully burnt, but his 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 11 June 1862. This accident should be a warning to miners to be careful how they throw away a lighted fuse”.

In June 1862 the engine was installed and started on 5 July when it was running to everyone’s satisfaction. In October it was said that the mine had much improved and about 30 miners were employed in November on the seven foot wide load consisting of rich black and yellow ore. Looking at the financial figures, matters didn’t look so good though. Total expenditure from November 1861 to November 1862 had been £32,230 whereas receipts had only been £4,625.

At the start of 1863 a few changes were made at Nuccaleena and elsewhere. Captain Pascoe was replaced by Pearson Morrison while Neales and Colley were replaced by Samuel Davenport and Abraham Scott, both members of the Legislative Council. During January the men continued raising quantities of rich ore and A Philips from Adelaide had secured a two-year contract to cart 30 tons of ore per month.


Charles Faulkner had started with the building of his three-roomed hotel, "The Bushman Inn", for which he was granted a publican's licence at the beginning of 1863. The hotel was also known as the Bottle Hotel as two of its backrooms were constructed entirely of dead marines, (bottles) and pug. According to regulations it had to be half a mile from the mine. Needless to say that after its completion the track between the hotel and the mine was soon covered with thousands of empty bottles.

Nuccaleena had now become a major settlement. PR and JR Warren 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 mine and its 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 then purser of the mine, EJ Price, to travel on horseback to the Mount Serle police station to report the murder. Police Trooper O'Reily had then to ride his horse all the way to Kanyaka, a distance of more than two hundred kilometres to inform and ask the coroner to hold an inquest. On 16 February 1863 Hammond was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in prison with hard labour.

Doctor Thomas Young Cotter who had recently been appointed medical officer was also performing the function of Secretary for the Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia. On 8 October 1863 while practising at Nuccaleena, Dr Cotter was invited by the people of Port Augusta to open his practice at the Port, and offered a guaranteed income. Though at first willing, he later declined because "the settlers in the north are unwilling to lose my services and have offered such inducements as would render undesirable to remove from the district." He stayed at the mine until 1866, after which he and his large family moved to Port Augusta.

More evidence of progress was seen during March 1863, when Arthur B Cooper arrived to survey and lay out the town site 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. At the mine it was the opposite, as little mining was done and it became known that in London there was talk about winding up the company.

When the survey was completed, 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. When Cooper arrived back in Adelaide he finished the plans before the end of the month, and his map was signed by GW Goyder on 1 April 1863. Within ten years Cooper had shown enough of his capabilities to be promoted to the post of Deputy Surveyor-General.

One of the first persons to buy land in the newly surveyed town was Charles Faulkner. On 20 July 1863 he bought town lots 2, 3, 4 and 7 on Cooper Street for which he paid the colossal amount of £440.3.0 . The normal price at that time was £5. Needless to say that he had to protect his hotel against other buyers. On 25 April 1863 an auction of Crown Lands at Nuccaleena was advertised for 28 May, upset price would be £20 per acre. Storekeepers Pearce Rogers Warren and John Rogers Warren bought town lot 15 on 11 January 1865 for £10.5.0. Two months later they renewed their storekeepers’ licence. Very few other town lots were sold.

Nuccaleena was one of many towns surveyed by the government during that year. In the Flinders Ranges there were Yarrah, Mount Eyre, Hookina, Mern Merna, Kanyaka and Edeowie. In the Northern Flinders Ranges there were the towns of Oratunga and Parachilna. Most were laid out near wells previously sunk by the government to make transport to the north possible. The next year saw the start of a regular mail delivery. Until 1867 coach services provided by Cobb and Co departed every Sunday morning at 6 am from "The Bushman Inn". Mail deliveries at first were once a week only from the nearby mining town of Blinman.

The contract for the mail run was secured by William Rounsevell for the next three years. W Dix became the postmaster after having paid £50 security himself and another £25 security provided by A Scott and C Bonney each. It never proved to be a profitable business for the Postal authorities. In 1864 the Melrose-Blinman-Nuccaleena-Yudanamutana mail run lost £208.10.1. The next year the losses had increased to £273.4.6. The post office at Nuccaleena was closed in 1866 after it had made a loss of £422.11.10.

During 1864 there was talk of a Great Northern Railway which would go within 15 miles of Blinman and 10 miles of Nuccaleena. It would secure the whole of the mineral traffic of that part of the country and reduce transport cost and make more mines economically viable. It would also provide a large number of jobs which at this moment were hard to find, even at Nuccaleena where mining had been stopped in September.

By November 1864, it was 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 directors of the Great Northern, who had already disposed of most of their shares during 1863, 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 that time. The summer of 1863-1864 had been a hot one with temperatures of 99 degrees Fahrenheit for many days in a row and to top it off a violent shock of earthquake on 24 December.

Later, during parliamentary inquiries many other reasons were given why the Nuccaleena was stopped. According to Charles Bonney it was because the ore was exhausted, after only eight hundred tons had been taken out. Water was another problem. The main shaft was sunk to a depth of eighty metres, which was sixty metres below the water table. The water also used to encrust the boilers very badly. On the brighter side though, Bonney was still convinced that the Nuccaleena ore was amongst the richest ever shipped to England.

Another problem was the excessively hard ground, resulting in the very high cost of sinking a shaft. Wood for timbering and other mining purposes was sold to the company for ten shillings per ton. Gleeson stated during the same inquiry that even though the mine had looked very promising on the surface, it had fallen away at depth.

During other inquiries, held as late as 1876, incompetence was given as the main reason for the mine's failure. According to Henry S Hemming, who had been working underground since the mine started, it was caused by incompetent men who wasted an enormous amount of capital. Captain Absalom Tonkin, previously of the Bremer mine, and with experience in hard-rock mining at Ophir and in Victoria, gave as the main reason the spending of money on buildings rather than on development underground.

The most damaging remarks came from Captain Samuel Terrell who also had gained a wide experience in mining before he went north. Captain Terrell had worked in the Montacute mine in 1844 and in the Mary Consols in 1850. He stated that it would have been a good mine if worked properly, but there was no one there that understood mining. What did Captain Morrison know about mining, nothing at all. Pascoe was a great deal worse. That has been the great evil of the mine.

No doubt there was some truth in all of these statements. What is interesting though is that all three Captains were Cousin Jacks and had known each other for a long time. All three had been members of the short-lived Cornwall and Devon Society. At the town of Nuccaleena, life went on much the same as before, at least for the time being. David Edyvean, a miner, and his wife had a son on 16 July 1864. George McNamara, aged about 40, died at the Bushman Inn from the effects of drink on 9 October 1863 and was buried by the police. A year later, on 10 November, John Torpy was shot at the same place by Frederick Stafford. John, who was a well-sinker, lingered on for almost two weeks, looked after by Dr Cotter, but died of his wounds on 23 November 1864.


An inquest was held by Coroner GB Smith on 9 December at the hotel during which Stafford was committed for manslaughter. When Stafford was brought to Adelaide under police escort, he jumped from the train at Salisbury and bolted. He was recaptured and given a two-year sentence with hard labour. He was also suspected of having stolen a cheque of £25.12.6.

The proceedings of the inquest were reported in several of the Adelaide newspapers. The list of members of the jury and the witnesses provides some information about who was living in or near Nuccaleena at that time. They were Thomas Anthony, Thomas Malony, John Rogers Warren, Henry Jeffery, Charles Thomas, Edward Knight, John James Magee, William Wright, William Dix, Thomas Blatchford, James Bennett Gibbs, John Gibbs, Cornelius Kellard, William George, William Cox, Dr Cotter, John Davis and William Paynter.

Paynter was the Trooper who had arrested Stafford. William George, who lived with his wife at the hotel, died two weeks later from excessive drinking. It was also during that week that the town's people were informed via the Register that Captain Samuel Garland, who had previously worked at Nuccaleena and bought land at the township of Victoria, had died on 8 November at Plympton, being only 34 years old.

A far happier event occurred a few weeks later when Nuccaleena celebrated its first, and probably also last, double wedding. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Twopenny on 13 December 1864, when he blessed the marriages between James B Gibbs of nearby Moolooloo Station and Ellen Fisher Cotter, eldest daughter of Doctor and Mrs Cotter, and that between their second daughter Jane Mary and Frederick Frost of Oladdie Station. A year later, on 4 December 1865 Dr Cotter became a grandfather, when his daughter Ellen gave birth to a healthy son. On 5 December 1872, his second son, Edward Jervis, married Anna Maria Sleep of Bugle Range.

After leaving Nuccaleena the next day, 14 December 1864, the Rev. Twopenny travelled to Moolooloo station to marry, by licence, Michael Frances Lennon and Sarah Ann Martin. Sarah's father later changed his job to become the publican at the Bushman's Inn at Nuccaleena. More miners had now left the town searching for work. Some found it at Blinman or other smaller mines nearby, but most went south. Faulkner kept his hotel open, even though the town was almost deserted. He did have problems trying to renew his licence in March 1865.

His request was delayed for 10 days to enable him to give a satisfactory answer to a charge of bad accommodation and allowing drunkenness in the Inn. It was refused but he was told that he could reapply next quarter. This time it was granted. When he applied again a year later it was granted after John Chambers had spoken of the good character of Faulkner and the need for a hotel at Nuccaleena. Faulkner was cautioned not to encourage drunkenness.

On 19 September 1864 JM Hill, the storekeeper, originally from New Zealand, died leaving the town without that service. Finally Dr Cotter transferred to Port Augusta and was replaced by Dr John James Magee, who had been there when the mine first started. By now most people had given up hoping the mine would restart again and left town. The South Australian Gazetteer and Road Guide of 1866 referred to Nuccaleena as a postal mining village about 120 miles north of Port Augusta. It still had a resident magistrate, P Morrison, but no mining had been done for nearly two years.

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