Although gold mining in South Australia never played a major part in its economic development, it directly stimulated excitement, and short and long term population movements both within the colony, and also between colonies. This was particularly the case with Victoria in the 1850s and to Western Australia in the 1890s. Indirectly gold mining contributed greatly towards the development of the local agricultural and manufacturing industries. During its heyday between 1881 and 1892 more than seventeen thousand gold licences were granted in South Australia.
The first authentic discovery of gold in South Australia was near Castambul in January 1846. Here the Victoria Gold Mining Company held 147 acres from which it produced some very rich specimens, resulting in a fifteen fold increase in the value of its shares. Another find was reported in 1849 near the South Para River where more than fifty years later the Gordon Reward Gold Mine operated producing both gold and precious stones. As a result of the dramatic effects of the Victorian goldrushes on South Australia's infant copper mining industry, and its economy in general, the government offered a reward in 1851 for the discovery of a payable goldfield in the colony.
This was badly needed as 'Thousands are now on the wing for the purpose of trying their luck at the new wheel of fortune. In fact the working classes have gone mad and there seems nothing left for us but to yield for the moment to the storm, as sober argument is on all hands set at naught and trampled under foot'. Although the gold rushes siphoned off most of the male work force and coin from South Australia, the influx of overseas migrants increased the local market for wheat, meat and wool. Rising prices also provided an extra income for pastoralists and farmers.
Very few of the men who left the colony found their wheel of fortune. Most returned eventually to restart the flooded copper mines of South Australia. It did not take long however before several gold discoveries were made, including those at Echunga, by William Chapman in 1852, which attracted hundreds of miners. None was big enough though to qualify for the reward offered by the government. In 1856 the South Australian government voted a sum of money to help in the search for gold. W. Babbage was to travel the Flinders Ranges from south to north and search for gold. Charles Bonney went with him as far as Mount Serle. Neither of them found a payable goldfield. Not even any alluvial gold was discovered.
Two years later the House of Assembly requested that more and better inducements be provided for the discovery of gold. This was granted and on 11 November 1858, William Younghusband, the Chief Secretary had them published in the Government Gazette. To make it even more attractive it was decided six weeks later to reduce the Gold Licence fee from ten shillings to one shilling per month. No matter how attractive it was made very few miners found gold.
In 1859 the government asked A.R.C. Selwyn to "examine into and report on", among other things, the occurrence of gold, coal and water. He travelled the Flinders Ranges as far north as the Vulkathunha Gammon Ranges and arrived at Angepena Police Station on 15 June 1859. He too had to return to Adelaide and inform the government that he had been unable to give value for money. There just did not seem to be any gold in the Northern Flinders Ranges, nor very much in other parts of the colony. The total value of all gold produced in South Australia during 1859 was only about $20,000.
By 1864 still nothing worth mentioning had been found, certainly not in the Northern Flinders Ranges. After the unsuccessful trips of both Babbage and Selwyn the government tried its luck with George Woodroffe Goyder. When he was also unsuccessful the government decided to bring in a real "expert". This time it invited Edward Hammond Hargraves who was to look all over the Northern Flinders Ranges and find what nobody had found yet. New gold finds were badly needed. Production from existing gold deposits had declined from $16,000 in 1861 to $8,000 in 1864. Hargraves' result was the same as that of his predecessors, and that of his own expedition two years earlier in Western Australia. Nothing was found, although he did say that one day someone would find gold in the ranges.
So did many other eternal optimists who continued to believe, and say, that South Australia was "only at the commencement of its mining career," and that "when its mineral riches are fully developed it will be one of the greatest mining countries on the face of the earth." Most likely it referred to copper mining only, which at that time had a record production. However, slowly but surely there was an increase during the next few years in the value of gold production in South Australia.
Once again the government wanted an official investigation of the mineral resources of the north. This time it was Professor Ulrich who was to take on the job. On 17 April 1872 his report was presented to the House of Assembly. Referring to the Warrioota mine he said 'It lies on the northern slope of a low range, one and a quarter miles west of the point where the track to Sliding Rock Mine crosses the Warrioota Creek. The ore deposit on which several shafts have been sunk... is a lode one to two feet wide...with regard to the future prospects of the mine, should working ever be resumed, they do not appear very favourable, judging by the rather poor kind of ore apparently last raised and left on the ground. If however, crushing and gold saving machinery were at hand, I should certainly recommend the trial of a few tons of the lode-stone for gold, and the prospecting for this metal generally in the gullies'.
His advice was taken to heart, and before the end of the year prospectors were, or had been combing, the Northern Flinders Ranges. One such party had passed the Blinman in the beginning of August and examined the neighbourhood of Mount Samuel, where they found some fine-looking quartz reefs. At least they did better than Hargraves in 1864. Enough was found to attract prospectors to the area for nearly three years. Even so it was not at all very encouraging. Gold production kept declining once more and in 1873 the total value of gold produced in South Australia reached a rock-bottom level.
Gold mining in the Northern Flinders Ranges had to wait another ten years. It was not until August 1882 that a gold rush was predicted in the Yudanamutana area, after 15dwts had been obtained there. Several parties of men were working and getting good results and at the same time hoping that 'the rush may lead to good gold discoveries'. Two years later gold was obtained by Henry Brown at Cutaway Hill near Copley. It was also found at Billy Springs, near Mount Fitton. However it was not until mid 1886 that South Australia experienced a gold rush not seen since the 1850s. This time it was at Teetulpa and for nearly a year the Adelaide newspapers kept their readers informed daily of the progress of that field and those in Queensland and Western Australia.
Gold was now obtained from "Hindmarsh to the Adelaide Hills and far beyond, but little came from the Northern Flinders Ranges. Still many mineral claims were made even during the hot summer of 1888. During the last week of January as many as fifty claims were approved covering an area from Mount Babbage and Yudanamutana to Blinman and Nuccaleena. By July though, it was reported from Beltana that no payable gold had been found, but that some good reefs had been taken up. More than forty men were obtaining gold from the Beltana Gold field, where Corporal Richards was stationed to keep order. Business was brisk enough for John Moses to provide a regular transport service from the Beltana railway station to the goldfields. Apparently alluvial gold had also been discovered at Bunyaroo Spring, near Copley. Very little is known about the circumstances, but the Inspector of Mines reported that in 1889 a storekeeper at Copley had bought $400 worth of gold said to have been found at Bunyaroo Spring.
During the latter part of 1889 the people of the Northern Flinders Ranges were convinced that they had finally struck the jackpot when gold was discovered at Mount Ogilvie, about six kilometres from Tower Gap on Mount Lyndhurst station. Other finds were made at Mount Nor'West, where reef gold had been located, and at the Angepena goldfields, discovered in 1892. This last discovery caused such a rush that by the end of the year two stores and a police station had been built.
It also led to a somewhat different kind of goldrush at Sliding Rock. It was from here that Mounted Constable Donegan reported to Inspector Besley at Port Augusta on 19 September 1892, Sir, I have the honour to report that there has been good Alluvial gold discovered at Sliding Rock by Mr Davies. I was out there on 17th and there were only 4 or 5 men on the field pegging out. I saw Mr Davies take dirt from the surface and from the bottom of a small creek and wash good rough gold out of it. On the surface there are lots of small loose quartz which apparently were washed down from the eastern ranges in years gone by. Many of which show gold freely, but as there has been no work done yet except the washing of a few dishes of dirt, I cannot say whether it's going to be a rich field or not, but my private opinion is that it will be very rich. I have already issued about 40 miner's rights and I expect there will be over 100 men on the field before the end of the week, and in all probability, I will have to ask for police assistance shortly.
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