Born in Adelaide on 5 October 1860, John Henry Reid was orphaned while still a small boy of three years. By the time he was eleven years old he too wanted to see the world and stowed away on a ship in Port Adelaide bound for England. Once in England he continued his maritime travels, which only came to an end in 1873 when The Cornwall, on which he sailed, was wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico.
When he returned to Australia in 1880 he lived in Port Augusta for some time, before moving to Blinman in the Northern Flinders Ranges. In 1881 while working as a telegraph
linesman, he married Mary Ann Bralla, an eighteen year old girl from Blinman. After their marriage they moved to Beltana where eight of their nine children were born. Reid was also in the area when finally the long-awaited railway line from Port Augusta to Marree was completed. It was Reid who discovered the Leigh Creek coal deposit when a dam for the railway was excavated near Copley in 1884.
With a government reward of $20,000 for the discoverer of a workable coal deposit, Reid had a close look at the dirt thrown from the dam and became convinced that it showed indications of coal. To prove it for himself Reid sank several shafts and found enough evidence to ask for outside help to continue the search for coal. First he tried to float a company but could not find anyone interested. Subsequently Reid went into a partnership with Samuel Gason and Drew Williams and a new start was made. They employed several experienced coalminers to sink more and deeper shafts.
Years later Reid said, The coalfield will be developed and South Australia will depend on Leigh Creek coal for many years to come. Reid's claim was later disputed by Drew Williams who tried hard to prove that he was the original discoverer. In August 1891 Reid showed visitors from all over Australia around the mine.
When John Henry Reid took up the Mochatoona mine in 1893, a tunnel of about thirty metres into the side of a hill was already completed. It followed the lode, which was of a uniform thickness of about thirty centimetres, showing high-grade copper ore in some places. An open cut
operation had also been tried on the same hill, giving ore as high as twenty-five percent. It does not seem that Reid was very successful with his mining or smelting work. No production figures are available for that time, nor from the gold claims Reid took out at Angepena.
Somehow it seems that he lost faith in the northern mines for on 25 April 1894 he wrote from Beltana to the Mines Department applying for a job at the Mount Torrens Government Battery in the Adelaide Hills. After all he had been an engine driver and worked for eight years in the government Locomotive Department. This was unsuccessful and in 1896 he was once more working in the northern Flinders Ranges. This time he was at Mount Serle and sending samples of promising looking rocks to Adelaide. These were returned in June 1896 advising him that they contained no gold but did have some silver and lead.
John Henry Reid died in 1924, without ever having been granted the $20,000 reward. His grave is at West Terrace Cemetery, almost forgotten, with only a few people realising that he discovered the biggest and most profitable mine worked during the next hundred years, not only in the Northern Flinders Ranges, but also in the whole of South Australia. Twenty years after his death, and as a result of hard work and political skill of Premier Tom Playford, the mine was opened again and coal is still being produced today for the Port Augusta Power Station.
On 3 September 1983 a new park, opened in Leigh Creek by Mrs Gregory grand-daughter of John Henry Reid, was named Reid Park.