Ulooloo Goldfield, South Australian History

The Ulooloo Goldfield.

Part 1

On 24 December 1869 the Register reported that gold had been discovered at Ulooloo Hill, about 25 miles north-east from the Burra, 12 or 14 miles from Mount Bryan, on the Government reserve, not far from Messrs Stephens and Brayley's run. Mr Harvey, of near Kapunda, an experienced digger, lately took up land in the neighbourhood, and from the quantity of quartz in the locality he and Mr Brayley determined to sink on the creek in search of the precious metal.

Three holes were sunk and gold found in each, and out of three tubs of 'stuff' two penny weights were procured. This is all the information that can at present be obtained. In the meantime we must hope that Mr Brayley will continue the search. Unfortunately the land is nearly all alienated from the Government for a distance of two miles up the creek, where a thick scrub commences, very similar to the Humbug Scrub of Barossa.

Gold had also been discovered on sections 650 and 673 at Ulooloo in 1869 about ten kilometres east of Hallett. The terrain was easy to prospect as there were few hills and little vegetation. Ulooloo was named by Surveyor General EC Frome in 1843 after an Aboriginal word for permanent stream or meandering creek. The land at that time on which the gold was discovered was held by Chewings and Hiles. In the early 1870s a favourite pastime of the Chewings’ children on a Sunday was to go along the creek picking out the gold, and being rewarded by fair success.

A month later the Northern Argus reported that 'The goldfields in this locality are causing a great deal of excitement, and many are the colours which the various reports wear concerning them, but as yet they have not had much of a trial, as a great many of the diggers know but very little about the work before them and are easily disheartened. I will quote one instance, in which two tradesmen left this town, on or about the 12th for the Ulooloo diggings, with the very good intention of showing the diggers how and where to find the gold, being well supplied with tools and food.

On arriving at their destination their ardour was considerably damped on ascertaining that they would have to camp out in the open air. They, however, after passing a sleepless night on the hard ground, commenced work the following morning, and toiled very hard the whole day; but, alas! the weather was anything but favourable for new chum diggers, being far too hot and dusty for the gold to make its appearance, with the exception of one nugget, which, on being viewed through a powerful magnifying glass (which they had with them), appeared to be fully the size of a small pin's head.

In the evening, the sky having become overcast with black clouds, they began to fear the probability of a wet night, and in consequence got thoroughly disheartened, so they packed up their traps and made the best of their way home, quite disgusted with gold digging. On returning home, they informed their anxious friends that there was neither gold nor water (the latter is in abundance) in the vicinity of Ulooloo. Since then there has been a large number of people on the diggings but as far as I have ascertained none have as yet been very fortunate, and the largest quantity that I have seen was about 2 dwt., which was obtained by two men in about five days.

All the diggers that have had any experience in Victoria are of the opinion that a good payable goldfield will yet be discovered in the neighbourhood and it is to be hoped there will, for it wants something to stir up the dull monotony which prevails in this part of the colony. At present there are about 50 men working on the diggings, and there will probably be a great many more shortly'.

Three days later the same paper made it known that 'the Ulooloo diggings are creating a great sensation in the Northern districts. According to reports several ounces of gold have been taken into Kooringa and sold. As yet the diggings have not had a fair trial, but they may afford sufficient employment to a large number of men during the dull winter months; and if the Ulooloo should not prove to be remunerative, there is a probability of gold being found in payable quantities in the vicinity'.

Great hopes and expectations were felt when several more ounces were unearthed from the creek and sold in Kooringa. In no time at all men were checking out the area, including James Goddard. As unemployment was still a problem at this time, there were many people who believed that the unemployed should be put to work on known goldfields or encouraged to discover new ones. There was still the conviction that the South Australian goldfields would easily support a large number of those who were out of work, if they were not afraid of hard labour. However to work on a goldfield they would have to take out a licence of ten shillings, money they either did not have or could not spare.

As yet the field had not had much of a trial, as ‘a great many of the diggers know but little about the work before them and are easily disheartened’. Even so, early news from the field was decidedly favourable. Several parties who had been prospecting returned to Burra with the conviction that there was a deposit of gold somewhere on that field. During early February it was reported that 'as many as 250 persons were on the field, most of whom were searching for the precious metal, and in most cases with moderate success. The sinking varied from 18 inches to 5 feet, through alluvial drift.

The main workings were not on the Ulooloo Creek, but on its tributaries, some of which were six miles long and gold had been traced up almost all of them. Concerning the paying qualities of the field, we have it on competent authority that a man can earn on average from 5sh. to 6sh. per day. One party of two men from Clare set to work for a day, and got about 4 dwt. of good coarse gold. We saw a portion of the metal thus obtained, and amongst it was a splendid nugget weighing over 1 dwt. None of the gold we saw had a water worn appearance, which shows that it was found not far from the spot where it was first deposited by nature. Several reef claims have been taken up at the head of the tributaries'.

Early prospectors looked anywhere and everywhere, but none of them found their pot of gold and the majority of them were soon of the opinion that the Ulooloo goldfield was yet another duffer. For several months individual diggers and several parties were unable to locate more gold and in April 1870 there was only one party on the field, which was ‘prosecuting the search in the vicinity with a perseverance that deserved successes. They had been at work for the past two months but up to the present time their labours had not met with adequate reward. Even so, they kept trying and hoping.

Later that year success seemed imminent when it was reported that W Williams had obtained gold as well as William Dare who got as much as four ounces in three days. Anticipating a rush and hoping that some of the successful diggers would want a little more substantial accommodation than a tent, WF Gray & Sons advertised their Diggers’ Huts. These very comfortable and easily removable buildings could be seen during the next few days at their site in Gawler Place, Adelaide.

These latest discoveries were again followed by months of unsuccessful searches. However in February 1871, diggers were leaving Gawler and the Barossa goldfields for Ulooloo when it became known that William Dare had been fairly successful. A few weeks later Gold Warden Peterswald was shown rough nuggetty gold by John Sibley Westcott, an experienced digger, who had ‘never seen such auriferous looking country in South Australia’.

Peterswald was suitably impressed and decided to have a look for himself. He arrived at Ulooloo on 16 March, where Westcott, who wanted to claim his reward for the discovery, was waiting for him. Peterswald reported very good prospects, but he said it was impossible to say what the results of further prospects would be. He stayed for another week and before leaving left a book with Miner’s Rights for William Gerard Coglin, son of Patrick Coglin and Crown Land Ranger at Burra since 9 November 1861.

After his return to Adelaide, Peterswald wrote his report for the Commissioner of Crown Lands in which he stated that ‘Since my first report I have made a thorough examination of a great part of the adjacent country where some eighteen months ago gold, of a thin flaky description, had been found. I have seen Westcott obtaining more than an ounce by washing.

Being completely unprepared for the diggings was more common than would be expected. Early in April Westcott wrote that ‘A good many useless persons have been up, unprovided with tools, expecting to get it with their blankets; a few with shear blades. One party of five from Adelaide never tarnished the brightness of their dishes. They walked down the creek and back again, and off. A party of what I think are the right sort of diggers has just come in, and I doubt not they will give the creek a good trial’. More often than not eager diggers scraped the surface or dug small holes, throwing out the mullock, expecting to find nuggets but missing the very small specks of gold contained in the mullock.

As was usually the case, some people had faith and remained hopeful that a major discovery would be made almost any day. Within a short time a store was opened at the diggings and later a hotel. By the end of the year there were about 50 men digging and the North Eastern Mail intended to run a trice weekly coach service from Burra.

Slowly prospects improved but most of the diggers on the field weren’t talking much about it. This changed dramatically when it became known that the bank in Burra had bought 200 ounces of gold from these diggings. Within days the digging population on the field increased to well over 100, necessitating the presence of a policeman.

With most of the alluvial gold at Ulooloo located fairly quickly, it was again a matter of ‘deep sinking’ to find the reef, or reefs, from where the gold was supposed to have come. Shallow reefs could be worked by a small team of miners with very little and primitive equipment. Most shafts were only very narrow and shallow. Digging within this confined space only required a short handled shovel and a pick with a sharpened point at one end.

As a mine shaft extended to deeper levels, mining called for elaborate and expensive equipment, beyond the resources of the single miner or small team. Most of the early miners were not really experts in this kind of operation. Few of those rushing a newly proclaimed goldfield knew anything about gold or how to find it. Some tried to pick out the grains with pins or knives; others used tin pots, dishes or whatever they could lay their hands on. Most of the precious gold dust would slip unnoticed through the fingers of these eager but clumsy diggers.

In August 1871 there were enough people in and around Ulooloo to consider the building of a church. The foundation stone for a Wesleyan Chapel was laid by Mrs Lee, the wife of the Rev. G Lee, Superintendent of the Burra Circuit, on land presented by Messrs Stephens & Brayley and in the presence of a large company assembled from adjoining distant parts. At the Ulooloo Station tea was afterwards served up to more than a hundred persons. At the meeting Messrs Lee, Carvosso, Ridgway, Earle, and Stephens spoke. A progress report stated that the cash and labour given amounted to over £60. The building will be of stone, 18 x 30 ft in the clear, and it is anticipated will be opened before the end of the year.

Westcott returned from the Ulooloo field after being unable to discover a payable goldfield in the neighbourhood. He reported about 13 or 14 men at work who were ‘only just making their grub’. Slowly though their numbers increased as more and more gold was located and especially after a 12 ounce nugget was found in early December. By the end of the year there had been a great improvement and Crown Lands Ranger Coglin reported about 200 men on the field, including some recently arrived diggers from Victoria. Most of the men were earning about £4 per week.

William Armstrong of Hindmarsh, formerly a Victorian digger, stated his experiences of his latest three days' work. He mentioned that he was satisfied that Ulooloo was the best poor man's diggings the colony possessed. Armstrong went there a month ago, and was so pleased with the appearance of the country that he determined to settle there for a time and with his mate put up a hut. The week before last they got half an ounce of good clean gold, last week 15 dwts, and during Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday obtained 16 dwts, worth a little over £3.

He was so pleased with the value of his claim, and the prospect of doing well, that he went to Adelaide to spend Christmas in good spirits and intends then returning and thoroughly developing his block, which is on a spar, where the sinking does not exceed 12 feet. The workings are a couple of miles from the creek, and 2sh. for a load of 50 buckets of wash-dirt is paid for the cartage to water.

The Wesleyan Chapel at Ulooloo was opened on Sunday 31 December when the Rev. Leggoe, from Fiji, preached twice to large congregations. On New Year's Day a large concourse gathered from the diggings and surrounding country to manifest their appreciation of the creature comforts provided, and show their sympathy with the effort to meet the spiritual and educational wants of the neighbourhood. Proceeds, with previous subscriptions, raised the total receipts for the building to £127. The chapel, now completed and furnished had cost about £239, exclusive of a nice harmonium, which was the result of the zealous efforts of the Misses Hiles, who so much contributed to the pleasure of the evening by their rendering of excellent music.

Early in 1872 a good many holes had been sunk and several diggers had found gold at the bottom of them and by April Peterswald reported Ulooloo to be one of the most flourishing gold districts of South Australia and was glad to see that his early opinion of the field had been realised. During the previous year it had a population varying from 50 to as many as 400 men. At present, he said, there were still some 200, most of whom were making a fair living.

Some good finds were reported in February. One party was said to have obtained a pound weight of gold in three weeks, and some others were making fair wages, but many next to nothing. Bitter complaints were being made when it became known that a public house was being allowed to open on the ground before the diggings were properly established but many others were convinced that a licensed inn was surely much better than a sly grog shanty, and one or other might with confidence be expected ere long.

Deep sinking also meant that diggers stayed much longer on the field and many of them took their families with them. As the Ulooloo goldfield was located in a farming district, there were enough children in 1872 for 18 year old William G Torr, born in Tavistock, Cornwall, to provide education on the field for 95 days for as many as 35 children. By October 1873 as many as 60 pupils were enrolled.

When a new alluvial deposit was located some six kilometres to the northeast it resulted in a temporary depopulation of the Ulooloo diggings and the closure of its school. Most of the men returned eventually and when another government prospecting party arrived in September there were enough men on the field to support two general stores and the hotel.

In June 1872 J Freeman, of Mintaro, told the Northern Argus that W Ashton had washed some small gold and a nugget weighing 1 oz. 8 dwts. Last Saturday he saw the same person wash out 10 dwts of splendid rough gold. Everyone on the diggings at present seems to be doing well. There is plenty of gold in that locality. At present there are not more than 100 persons at work but no doubt as the water gets more plentiful diggers will soon flock there. It would be a great pity if, at the present depressed state of trade in the North, any opportunities of acquiring money should be let gone.

Many diggers tried and most were making more than wages. As seeding time was finished more farmers were giving the field a go. Not all had previous experience with digging for gold and accidents did occur. On Thursday 11 July, an inquest was held at the goldfields by Mr Peterswald on the body of August Weser, a digger, who was crushed to death the previous day. Mr BH Hiles was Foreman of the Jury.

William Liskey, mate of the deceased, stated that they walked together to their claim in Coglin's Gully. Weser had been at work about two hours when he was buried by about a ton of earth that had fallen on him in the drive. Liskey obtained assistance and dug him out directly. He was quite dead, his head having been crushed. Other witnesses in corroboration of the above were examined and a verdict of accidental death returned.

The Adelaide Observer of 13 July 1872 published this contribution;
Ulooloo, 'In company with a jovial mate I started from Mintaro, which is distant 50 miles from Ulooloo. The roads were exceedingly good and by their appearance there could not have been so much rain as there had been down the country. The route was up Gum Creek Flat, past the Booborowie Station, and shortly after left Canowie road to the left, proceeding as far as the Well Flat, when we diverge to the right on a splendid road, which in the distance of about three or four miles brings us on to the Ulooloo Creek, near Mr. J Brayley's Station. We then get into a well-wooded country at a small distance, perhaps a mile.

We passed through one of the most romantic places possible, called Hell's Gates. A view of this place alone by those who love romantic scenery is well worth having. An artist would linger on the spot and sketch it. It is a narrow pass about 40 feet-wide, the rock standing perpendicularly 90 or 100 feet on each side. The rock is bare of soil, and is iron and sandstone. Immediately you are through this pass you discover that you are in an immense basin, and no doubt the pass has been formed by the immense weight of water.

A short distance further and we find ourselves at the washing-place on the creek, where most of those at work on the diggings are encamped. The want of water is a great drawback, some having to cart a distance of three miles. This greatly hinders prospecting, and those who are digging have not the means to do so. It is high time the Government expended money in prospecting. There are numbers of hard working men on the ground who would gladly avail themselves of employment in this manner, which would eventually benefit hundreds and the colony at large.

There can be no doubt that a large goldfield exists here. Mr S Hose has started a prospecting party at his own expense, and I am sure they will be successful. The diggings have not be carried on in anything like a proper manner. There seems to be no system; in fact, the ground seems to have yielded a fair return considering the way it has been worked, and a splendid return will yet be got by those that work the ground again. The most likely place, and what I venture to predict as the goldfield proper, is known as Black's Creek, north of the Scrubber Mine.

This has never been prospected until now. The digging has been confined to Coglin's Gully, a jumble of all sorts of rocks and strata running in delightful confusion, and bearing the appearance of anything but a rich field. Necessity compels parties to hang about, but all are aware that an extensive and rich goldfield is at hand. During my stay I saw good nuggets and nice rough gold. Some parties are doing well, and, like all other goldfields, some are unfortunate. By those who have time on their hands it is worthy of a trial.

There are several stores, one of them run by AC Simmons and one licensed hotel, which is convenient for people visiting the fields and those on it. Provisions are cheap—mutton, 2d.; bread, 4-lb. loaf, l0d.; butter, 1sh.; potatoes, 10 lbs. for 1sh., &c. Horse-feed is scarce. Many men are now talking of leaving for shearing, but state that when they have funds it is their intention to return, as they have every faith in the future of this field.

Last Saturday evening one of the diggers named William Bray was out opossum shooting, when his gun burst, blowing off the thumb of his left hand. He was conveyed immediately to the Burra by Mr. AC Simmons, storekeeper, and is doing as well as can be expected. Some fossil bones have been found at eight feet from the surface, on sandstone rock. They are now in the possession of Mr John Hose, and will be forwarded to Adelaide for examination. The animal must have been powerful, if its teeth are any criterion. Heavy rains fell on Wednesday night and Thursday morning'.

As there were still no huge finds made by any of the men, most left again when the shearing season started to earn some badly needed cash. After all they could only live so long on possum, mutton, damper and water. Only 12 diggers remained on the ground to chase their grand illusion.

When the steamer Aldinga left Port Adelaide for Melbourne in September 1872, it had a large cargo of gold on board from the English Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank. Included were 384 ounces from Ulooloo as well as 123 ounces from the Barossa, 154 ounces from the Echunga and 33 ounces from the Onkaparinga fields. There were also 135 ounces from Mount Pleasant, 72 ounces from Sawmill Gully and 150 ounces from Sailor’s Gully. Total gold production in South Australia between January and October 1872 amounted to more than 4,500 ounces, not including the production from private land.

Meanwhile Warden Peterswald, who had been stationed at different goldfields during these years, thought it better if he was based in Adelaide rather than on the Barossa or Echunga goldfield. Accordingly he applied on 2 January 1873 to the Commissioner of Crown Lands if this could be arranged. The Commissioner could see some sense and advantages in his proposal and granted his request.

From that date Peterswald was expected to be working in the Adelaide office on Mondays and the other days visiting Barossa, Mount Pleasant, Echunga and Meadows, or any other district as required, returning to Adelaide on Saturdays. Special authority would be needed to visit Outalpa or Ulooloo. Within a week though Peterswald requested permission to visit Ulooloo as he had ‘not been there since July 1872’ and as the leader of the government prospecting party was about to leave his job there it would be necessary to engage another man on the spot.

In January 1873 the field was almost deserted and only a government prospecting party was actively working the area. Both the storekeeper and publican ‘wandered around fossicking the creeks and bewailing their lonely condition’. It was not just the miners; some of the locals, who had been able to supply diggers with basic necessities, also fell on hard times. The Mutton family was still trying, and by patient industry managing to eke out enough to pay for their daily needs. D Mutton, had previously found a very pretty nugget, weighing 27 dwts. and been offered £5 for it, later had a show at Cousins' Gully.

When Thomas Fitzgerald found a one-ounce nugget at a depth of seven yards on 11 March, more than 20 men rushed the field again. With other diggers arriving or leaving during the next few months, very few remained for any length of time; only 16 diggers were left by October 1873. A month later, on 1 December, Thomas Stafford also left the field to be admitted to the Adelaide Hospital with a broken knee-cap.

The only benefit of all the disillusionment experienced on the Northern Territory goldfields was an increase in prospecting in South Australia. The Guardian was glad to find that there was an increasing probability of good ‘Home’ diggings being developed. ‘Not only do the prospects of the Lady Alice, Tyeka and Barossa reefs generally promise abundant returns’, it said, ‘but the newly discovered reefs of the Onkaparinga district show equally favourable indications. The Kangaroo reef is widening and looking better than ever and a rush is setting in to the adjoining Empress claims’.

After the discovery of gold at Waukaringa in 1873 and other discoveries during the 1870s, it was once again realised that a much more systematic approach to prospecting and mining had to be made in South Australia if mining, of gold and other minerals, was ever going to provide lasting benefits. One newspaper supported the view that it was time South Australians devoted a little more energy towards developing their gold mines, as they were as rich, if not richer than those of Victoria.

As the average rainfall seemed to improve and more land being made available by the government, several people bought farming land in and around Ulooloo. In August 1874 W Brayley bought section 122 of 318 acres in the Hundred of Terowie. J Simmons bought section 670 of 539 acres in the Hundred of Hallett on 4 March 1875 whereas C Simmons bought 169 acres.

Finally there was one happy reader who commended the Bunyip newspaper for publishing so many reports on South Australian mines, which plainly showed that they were not run in the Northern Territory style, thereby strengthening the confidence of the shareholders. Presumably there were also other happy people around. On 1 January 1875 Rev JB Stephenson married Ernest Selles of Kooringa and Mary Ann Beckwith, eldest daughter of John Beckwith of Ulooloo.

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