Bremer Mine Callington South Australian History

The Bremer Mine at
Callington.

During the survey of Callington in 1848 John Kiernan noticed signs of copper when some stones were crushed by a wheel of his dray. After further investigation a copper deposit was established which eventually gave rise to the Bremer mine. Initially the lode was worked by Thomas Lane on the Cornish tribute system for the Paringa Mining Company which operated in the area with W.S. Whitington as secretary. The first commercially successful copper smelter in Australia was completed by Charles and Mauris Thomas in 1848 on the banks of the Bremer river. Many years later they pioneered smelting works at Newcastle, Cobar and Peak Downs.

Map of Callington

Although surveyed, the town was not officially named for some time which is shown by the birth certificate of James Waters. Born on 14 July 1850, his place of birth was listed as Bremer. The Callington Inn opened for business in 1851 when T. Lean was granted his publican's licence. Very little work was done at the mine apart from some tributing and even that came to an end when the miners left for the Victorian gold fields. Some of the Callington miners who left were William and Josiah Odgers and Robert Peters. Before 1851 as many as seventeen mines worked on the Bremer Special Survey, including the Wheal Fortune.

Captain Absalom Tonkin also left and did not return until several years later in 1858 when he opened a store in Callington. At the Bremer mine the work was restarted by following the lode from the top down. However when the water level was reached it became impossible to continue in this way without the injection of major investment funds.

The mine was left idle until 1856 when it was bought by the Worthing Mining Company, which had abandoned its own Worthing mine at Hallett Cove. It too realised that the main problem to be solved was the enormous amount of underground water in the mine. In 1857 a forty inch steam engine was installed and started to dewater the mine at the rate of half a million litres per day.

Once again the Worthing company looked to Alfred Hallett to manage its mine. Once again it started with the expensive building of tall, solid stone buildings, engines, pumps, boilers and a chimney. With most of the miners at Callington and nearby Kanmantoo of Cornish heritage, miners still kept up most of their Cornish customs, including those of wrestling and Midsummer's Eve.

In 1859 the Bremer mine owners chose 24 June as the occasion for christening the arrival of the sixty inch Cornish engine from its old mine at Hallett Cove. This engine could pump at the rate of more than two million litres per day. The celebrations were continued at the Tavistock Hotel with a lavish dinner. In 1865, when the hotel was run by Charles Kingston and his wife, it nearly lost its licence when his wife admitted to having supplied the natives with liquor. Although she had only given the poor man half a glass of beer filled up with water, she was still fined $2.

With the underground water problem solved mining was extended and during 1860-61 more than 150 men and boys were employed at the mine. Still more machinery was installed including an underground stone breaker. Because of Alfred Hallett's skill and management the Bremer mine produced between 250 and 300 tons of ore per month. This was smelted, which reduced the bulky and heavy copper ore to a much smaller and more valuable regulus, before transporting it to the English and Australian Copper Smelting Company at Port Adelaide or to England.

On 16 June 1862 Captain Thomas Lean reported; 'Legg's Engine Shaft - Men have been engaged putting in bearers and securing the shaft below the 43. Lode in the bottom two and a half feet wide, producing occasional stones of yellow ore. Lode 43 south is five feet wide, composed of quartz, mundic, cupal and occasional stones of good ore. Cross cut at 33 - We are daily expecting to cut Bounby's lode. There is a deal more water than usual issuing from the end. Thirty three south end - This lode has much improved during the past week and is yielding three and a half tons of ore per fathom. Lean's stopes in the back of this level are producing seven tons of ore per fathom'.

He went on to mention that stulls were being put in as fast as possible in preparation of new stopes. At Brown's stope in the back of 23 good ore was being mined at the rate of 5 tons per fathom. The smelting department was also progressing favourably and it was hoped that it would produce copper in the very near future.

Hallett also bought the nearby Kanmantoo smelting works at Scotts Creek to refine copper regulus produced at the Bremer mine. During the second half of 1863 the total value of copper produced at the Bremer mine was $15,000. The next year it increased to $58,000 and in the next year it was $48,000. Early in 1865 there was more than six hundred tons of ore waiting for the smelters. Work was progressing at the Hocking's shaft which had reached a depth of almost ninety metres. Tonkin's shaft was also extended and all stopes looked well.

With a steady production at the mine the town of Callington expanded and several new buildings were added in 1864, including the prominent Ising store. Production declined during the next years even though the main shaft had reached a depth of almost two hundred metres. While at work timbering one of the shafts, William Gafney lost his footing and fell to the bottom of the shaft on 24 June 1867. He died instantly. Continuous high inflow of water, low world copper prices and a steady increase in production cost forced the Bremer mine into liquidation in 1870 when it owed more than $100,000. Alfred Hallett now became Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Murninnie Bismuth and Copper Mining and Smelting Company.

The Bremer mine once more was idle, this time until March 1872, when it was bought by the Bremer Mining Company from England. This company needed the remainder of that year just to dewater the mine. It was during this time that Captain Thomas Prisk had to report another fatal accident at the mine. While working underground in the main shaft, John Kavenaugh was struck by a rod of the engine shaft and died from his wounds on 2 November 1872. Another fatal accident happened a year later, on 21 August 1873, when a new bridge was under construction across the Bremer river. On their way to school at Salem, twelve year old Mathilda Gehricke and her friend Louisa Baum decided to walk over a plank to cross the river. Mathilda fell in and drowned.

When all work was completed and the mine dewatered the company sold copper ore to the English and Australian Copper Smelting Company between January 1874 and April 1876 to the value of $40,000. Unfortunately not even Captain Prisk could make the mine pay its way. Although a man of great experience, Prisk could not produce copper when it just wasn't there.

As early as 1860 this Cornishman had been in charge of the Mount Rose mine in the Northern Flinders which he had called 'the most promising mining country in South Australia'. While in the isolated north he was able to travel to Adelaide to attend the wedding of his daughter Constance to John Wellington, smelter at the Strathalbyn mines on 11 August 1860. A few weeks later, on 21 September it was his own turn, when he married Mrs Elizabeth Sexton of Callington. Not long after his wedding he moved south and became Captain at the Wheal Ellen mine at Strathalbyn and after that at Moonta and Wallaroo.

Apart from the many Cornish miners there were also a good number of Germans living at Callington. On 10 October 1869 the Callington Schutzen Gesellshaft held its annual match for the Kingship. This popular event attracted many visitors, some from as far away as Adelaide, Hahndorf, Blumberg and Lobethal.

On 11 May 1874 the residents of Callington celebrated the connection by telegraph with Adelaide. The first message was sent by H. Jackson, JP., Captain T. Prisk of the Bremer mine, A. Tonkin, Dr. Weld and several other influential people to the South Australian Government and Charles Todd to inform and congratulate them with the new connection.

Since the building of the South Eastern Freeway, a hundred years after its connection by Telegraph to Adelaide, Callington has become much more accessible. Even the film makers have found it. They soon realised the perfect backdrop for the filming of the TV Mini series, Golden Fiddles in 1990 and the film The Battlers in 1994. Recently the original Callington Inn has been refurbished and renamed the Dog 'n' Ute Callington Hotel. Apart from the traditional hospitality, good foods and drinks, licensees Susan and Michael have also produced a very informative Heritage Trial Brochure. This makes it possible to go on a self-guided tour of the town. For those who like to know and see still more they also provide guided tours.

Many of the early settlers found their final place of rest at the Callington Cemetery.

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