The Ulooloo Goldfield.
On 18 May 1875, John Bryce, farmer of Ulooloo died at Redruth from inflammation of the lungs. He was only 52 years old. Less than a year later John James Bryce, aged 10 years, died of scarlatina and diphtheria on 4 August 1876. By 1877 there were few diggers left at Ulooloo, and those who were still there had not found too much gold either.
Johann Friedrich Carl Schmidt, who died on 4 August 1877, had been living in a tent with his mates W Mahnke and August Pepperkorn for some time. At the later inquest at Hallett on Tuesday, 7 August by Mr JD Gave, J.P., Samuel Temby was elected Foreman of the Jury. Henry Wehr, farmer, residing at McVitty's Flat stated 'I met deceased about six week's ago at Jamestown. There were five men together in a party. They stopped at my place for the night. Saw deceased again about a fortnight afterwards. He said two of his mates had left.
Last Sunday fortnight deceased came to my house and slept there that night. He complained of shortness of wind and of pain in the chest. He was spitting blood several times that day. Saw him again at his tent at Ulooloo on August 1. He did not complain then. Last Saturday went to cart deceased's and Mahnke's washing-stuff to the creek. Deceased then appeared very weak and only shovelled the dirt into the buckets. Left him at work, and did not see him again alive'.
Saw him on Monday in the tent dead, and helped to bring him to Hallett in the afternoon. Deceased appeared to be used to drink, and as though he could not stand much work. W Mahnke, gold digger, residing at Ulooloo, said 'Deceased had been a mate of mine for seven weeks. He had been able to work all the time to the last hour. He had a cold and complained of rheumatism in his legs, and his breath was very short. He had been spitting blood many times. He worked on Saturday, August 4, until 5 p.m'.
August Pepperkorn, also a gold digger residing at Ulooloo deposed, 'I knew deceased, who had been my mate for about six weeks. Was working with deceased on Saturday last up to a little before sundown. We went home then and had supper together in the tent. Deceased had bread and butter and tea. Talked together and smoked by the fire until about 9 o'clock, when we went to bed. About 10 minutes afterwards Schmidt got unwell, and got out of bed.
He asked me to fetch some water. He drank some, and then walked about outside. He got worse and worse, and I made him some tea. He got worse still, and could not drink the tea. He said he thought he should die. I took him in my arms, and deceased tried to give me an address to write, but he was unable and died in my arms'. The Jury returned the verdict 'That the deceased died from natural causes'.
Excessive consumption of alcohol was a problem on all the goldfields. The South Australian Total Abstinence League and Band of Hope Union were also established at Ulooloo. They worked hard to get the men off the drink by holding regular meetings. By the middle of 1876 they had 58 members on the books and a total of 72 abstainers. A year later the numbers were 50 and 70 but by 1878 both had declined to 35 and 55 respectively. Some reasons for the sharp decline could have been fewer diggers and a more settled population, which included many farmers.
None of the few diggers still left on the field had been able to make ‘tucker’. Although the successes and failures of so many gold mines in both the Northern Territory and South Australia had made headlines for some years, the need for a Geological Survey had not been forgotten. On 30 January 1877, the Adelaide Philosophical Society passed a motion, proposed by Professor Ralph Tate, calling for an official geological survey.
With very few new gold or other mineral discoveries during the latter part of the 1870s, and an increase in the general level of unemployment in South Australia, several concerned diggers wrote to the editors of city and country newspapers giving their thoughts on what should be done to alleviate some of the problems. All of them saw gold mining as a panacea for all economic problems. ‘Old North’ wrote, ‘Now that the Colony seems on the point of being flooded with labour I think the government could not go far wrong if at present they would encourage the development of the colonial goldfields. If they should feel so inclined, I am willing to point out to them two or three places where I have prospected and found gold, but had to leave on account of the drought’.
Though total gold production in South Australia in 1879 was less than half of what some diggers had found individually in one day during better times, enough encouraging reports circulated for the nearby town of Hallett to finance a small party of men to give the Ulooloo goldfield another try.
No sooner had they arrived on the field than a start was made sinking for a reef. They went as far down as 10 feet but were prepared to go 100 feet hoping to cut the reef and find enough wash, or pay dirt to cover their expenses and efforts. After short lived excitement, which broke the peace and quiet of the field, the Hallett party returned home empty handed.
With a government experienced in passing motions, but failing to act on them and a continuation of the drought, more and more people voiced their opinion and tendered advice. William J Thompson was convinced that more attention should be given to the northeast of South Australia ‘where there was a second Ballarat and millions of pounds’ worth of gold.
In November 1880, ‘Advance’ wrote ‘In the face of a probable bad harvest and consequent general depression, with scarcity of work and money, would it not be wise to give some practical attention to the matter of gold mining in this colony? There is a general impression that rich deposits of gold exist in the hills region east of Adelaide and that what is wanted is a series of really adequate tests. The government might expend a few thousands of Pounds in maintaining a few parties of good practical miners’.
A few months later it was John Richards who accused the government of not doing enough. Although it had now bought a diamond drill in America, it had not been used yet in the search for gold or even base metals, which if discovered, would support ever so many people.
Another disgruntled writer wanted to know why in these exceedingly dull times, which would get worse as a result of the last harvest, the known valuable mineral deposits, especially the gold producing districts, of this colony were not worked? The editor of the Register too said that the government should do something. He pointed out that there still had not been a systematic geological survey made of South Australia. William Lawes Ware stated that during 1880 the gold mining industry of Victoria had paid out more dividends than all other companies together, including banks, gas and insurance companies. He wondered if it really could be true that a mere boundary line on a map had cut off South Australia from participating in these good things.
Not everyone agreed that the government should do everything or anything at all as far as gold mining was concerned. Kenneth G Lomax from Farina was convinced that the large reward for the discovery of a goldfield should be enough. John Baptist Austin didn’t think so either and did something about it. In March he convened a meeting at the Prince Alfred Hotel of about 50 people interested in developing South Australia’s gold deposits. It resulted in the formation of the South Australian Gold Mining Association.
Soon after, it was reported that a party of prospectors from Clare had left for Ulooloo with the intention of thoroughly prospecting the field. There was no doubt that if this were done properly a payable goldfield would be discovered. A few weeks later, a number of politicians, including the Minister of Education, floated the Diamond Drill Company. It would import one or more diamond drills, with all the necessary appliances, for the development of South Australia’s resources.
After some new discoveries on old fields and new fields in New South Wales and Queensland, public perception about the role of government in relation to the promotion of gold mining changed rapidly. Increasingly, a revival of gold mining and gold mining speculation became apparent.
Once more new gold mining companies were floated almost weekly, most of them heavily promoted by politicians, for their own benefits naturally! Before long, hopes were expressed that South Australia had taken a lesson from the Victorians and would avoid overestimating the value of its reefs. By the end of 1881 warnings had also been sounded and become much more specific, pointing out the dangers of uncontrolled speculation. Once again people were reminded of the earlier Northern Territory scandals.
They were warned about the absurdly high brokerage fees, which were out of all proportions in relation to the capital raised by the latest floats. They were also warned again and again about the shadowy information given in prospectuses such as ‘There is known to be a reef half a mile or a mile away, which it is thought contains gold and it is confidently believed this reef passes through the property’. Upon statements like this, plus the names of a few politicians, investors were expected, and did, invest £10,000 or even £40,000.
Regardless of several good gold discoveries across the South Australian border, creating new hope, excitement and work for South Australian engineering firms and individuals, there were still enough locals who believed that South Australian goldfields, and Ulooloo in particular, were the answer to all economic problems and an assured road to financial independence, especially after Charles Boult found a six ounce nugget.
Early in 1882 Patrick Murphy tried to float Patrick Murphy’s Gold Mining Company. Being an optimist, Murphy was convinced that he had ‘the flow or boil with gold-bearing stone that will lead down to the reef. When that reef is struck’, he said, ‘it will make Ulooloo the best gold producing field in South Australia’.
He wasn’t the only optimist either, as a few months later the Ulooloo Gold Mining Company was floated with a proposed capital of £40,000. It wanted to buy gold claim 498 near Coglin’s Creek, owned by John Atkinson. He would be paid £500 in cash and 10,000 half paid up £1 shares. The promoters would receive 1,000 shares each. The prospectus contained a report by mining surveyor Jonathan Seaver. He stated that anyone with a comparatively fair knowledge of mining could see for himself ‘the genuineness of mining on this property and the good prospects it holds out of being a valuable investment’.
Many promoters, prospectors and miners were still convinced that gold mining in South Australia suffered from a number of impediments. Most of them had no doubt that gold did exist in payable quantities, with certain breaks, in the country from Yankalilla to the Northern Territory and a geological survey would prove this once and for all. Unfortunately as time went by more and more land was owned by private people or companies and some charged as much as £2,000 or five per cent to work an area of 20 acres.
It was on occasions like these that people looked to the government to do something about this and the fact that very often bona fide investors, after having paid for their shares, seldom saw something in return. Often the money was only used for the payment of the lease, brokerage, and the usual expenses attached to the formation of a company, which included the payment to the owners and promoters of a particular property.
No wonder that during 1882 South Australia again lost a number of miners who were eager to try their luck at the latest gold rush at Temora in New South Wales. As was usually the case, good reports resulted in the formation of several South Australian companies to exploit the new riches there, as had been the case in the Northern Territory.
One of the first was the South Australian Puddling and Mining Company with William B Neales as Secretary. It made a good start and was able to pay its shareholders a dividend of threepence a share in June 1882. The South Australian Quartz Company bought Deutcher’s crushing machine, including its dam and water shaft for £1,500. They also crushed ore for the Adelaide Agnes Company. By the end of June the South Australian Puddling and Mining Company had to apply for a suspension of work, ‘owing to the want of drays to cart the dirt.
With the continuation of the drought in South Australia and the utter failure of the harvest in the mid north, many farmers and labourers who were wholly dependent on the farm income went prospecting. In August 1885, Royston Roberts of Manoora and John Fisher of Saddleworth found a nugget of more than two ounces near Ulooloo and a month later it was reported that some diggers ‘were finding nice nuggets of gold’.
In February 1886 one of the local papers reported that Ulooloo was attracting some little attention again and it stated that they knew of one party of two men who returned there when out of work, were satisfied with what they get. Why do not others go and do likewise, instead of hanging about street corners it asked. If they did, in all probability some important discoveries would be made, as not taking the alluvial into account, there must be some rich reefs somewhere in the locality. In fact, quartz crops out of the surface all over the Ulooloo country, and it extends in reefs towards Waukaringa. It does certainly seem strange that this promising field has not been thoroughly tested ere now.
A month later a government prospecting party of 20 men was busy sinking a number of shafts. By March the number of miners had increased to over 50 and most were digging in areas well away from the creek. Several specks of gold were seen but nothing really to speak of.
Without any water and no grass for the diggers’ horses, most of them worked about two kilometres away from the old Ulooloo goldfield. Although there was no water, E Kalleske, hoping for good winter rains, applied for a water race licence in April 1886. Most of the men, including those of a government prospecting party, were in good spirits and believed they would soon find something. Some did indeed. Two private parties got nearly three ounces between them. Word did get out though and within a few days there were men arriving from Orroroo, Saddleworth and Yongala.
In June 1886 it was rumoured that a sizable gold find had been made at Ulooloo. Information was hard to come by and it was thought that some of the diggers on the field were doing much better then they let on. To be on the safe side many nearby residents made their way to the field to stake out a claim. Better be safe than sorry!
Inspector Sanders of Clare sent a telegram to the Commissioner of Crown Lands that Carpenter of Mintaro and his mate Ellis got 11 ounces. T Wright of Terowie, an ex-Mount Browne digger, had found two ounces. William Dare and his son William had enough faith in the field to apply for a quartz claim on section 674. John Steele reported finding a rich reef and H Phillips, storekeeper at Whyte-Yarcowie, purchased several fine nuggets.
Another government prospecting party, made up of unemployed Adelaide men, at 12 shillings a week plus keep, under overseer HG Norton, who had mined in the Northern Territory, were making good progress near the junction of the Ulooloo and Coglin’s Creeks. Many people now started to refer to the Ulooloo field as the best on this side of the Northern Territory. Within two weeks the field had 150 hopeful diggers who were eagerly supplied three times a week by the Hallett storekeepers, who had done very well over the years supplying the men with their daily needs, accepting payment in cash or gold dust.
According to some sources, diggers had sent gold, worth as much as £18,000, away through the Hallett post office since the original 1869 discovery was made. Additional amounts had also found their way into the pockets of storekeepers and banks in Burra, Hallett and Adelaide.
It was not just gold that was sent to Hallett. Most people who died at Ulooloo were also sent to Hallett for burial. Ten months old Charles James Wall, was buried there on 11 October 1881 and Mary Schaars, 22 months, on 21 June 1882. Emma Delamare, a stillborn baby, was buried at Hallett on 22 June 1897 while nine months old Byron Melrose Scholz was buried there on 30 September 1925.
General interest in gold mining during the 1880s had been great as the majority of people hoped, and expected, that gold would solve all their economic problems. Therefore it was logical that the government should help the gold mining industry. However, as most people were disappointed with the extent of government assistance, a meeting of the Mining Encouragement Association of South Australia was held in Adelaide in February 1886 to consider the new gold mining regulations.
William Henry Beaglehole, MP was all for government assistance, in particular in connection with deep sinking and crushers. He was born on 6 May 1834 at Helston, Cornwall and arrived in South Australia in 1849. After his experience on the Victorian goldfields he became a builder. He and his workmen erected many of the houses at Moonta, Kadina and Wallaroo.
He bought the Lion Brewery and became its chairman and managing director. Beaglehole later started brewing at Oakbank and established a brewery at Broken Hill where he became a director of the Broken Hill Junction mine. He served as a member of the House of Assembly during the 1880s. He died on 2 June 1917.
Others argued that if assistance was given to this industry why not give it to brewers or lawyers as well. Why should gold miners be helped at the cost of the state? If the government were to start smelting or crushing works, why not carry goods free of charge on the railways or why not start a baby farm? No agreement was reached except on the last point where everyone agreed to leave that to private energy! Finally A Belcher pointed out that the only possible means of bringing prosperity to South Australia speedily was the finding of a large goldfield. Only systematic prospecting would do this and there was every opportunity now of this being done.
As it turned out, 1886 proved to be an excellent year for gold mining in South Australia after all, even to some extent for Ulooloo. During 1886 there was much debate about mining on private property and mining by private enterprise. Mainly driven by unemployment, about 40 to 50 men were once more at work at Ulooloo sinking shafts and battling the water shortage. Some were lucky and found ‘nice little lots’. Goldfields Warden Hack took 20 unemployed men from Burra for a Government prospecting party to Ulooloo in the hope that they would find new deposits. In May Assistant Geologist P Woodward visited the field and counted as many as 100 men searching for gold.
After a month of indifferent results most of these men had returned to Burra again including WH Hardy. Some of them must have found more than they let on as JH Tiver, storekeeper of nearby Hallett, bought a nice parcel from one digger containing about ten ounces.
To be continued