The Ulooloo Goldfield.
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. Part of his report stated that;
The Warden of Goldfields reports, under date of July 5th, 1886, that a private party (Ellis and Carpenter) had obtained 1.5 ozs. of gold from seventeen loads of wash dirt, and that another party (Herbert’s) had obtained 5 ozs. from two and a half loads. The following additional authentic information with regard to the yield of gold per load of wash dirt has been obtained from the prospector in charge of the Government party.
June 1st. Hopkins and party got 11 dwts. of gold from four loads of wash dirt (this included a 9 dwt. nugget). June 8th. Williams and mate got 13 dwts. of gold (including a nugget of 10 dwts.) from one load of wash dirt. June l7th. Williams & Co. got 1 oz. 2 dwts. for the fortnight. June 26th. Williams & Co. got 12 dwts. to 13 dwts. to the load. Bruce & Co. got 4 dwts. to the load. Williams and party in twenty days obtained 2 ozs. of nuggetty gold. July 10th. Williams & Co. prospected wash dirt, giving 0.25 dwt. to 0.5dwt. to the dish. Hopkins and party, 1 dwt. to the dish. Bruce & Co., 2.5 dwts.to the load. July 22nd. Reports twelve of the men as getting from 3 dwts. to 5 dwts. per load, comprising nuggets of from 1 dwt. to 3 dwts; and other men getting from 2 dwts. to 4 dwts. to the load. July 31st Reports that men were getting 6 dwts. to the load of nuggetty gold.
This field has been continuously worked during the last fifteen years. Sometimes there have been but few men at work, but at present there are about 100 men. As already stated, it is impossible to estimate the quantity of gold which has been found here. As £18,000 worth passed through the post office at Hallett, it may reasonably be concluded that considerable quantities have gone through private hands. The local buyers are unable to give information about their transactions, as they have not kept accounts. I have also visited the field. This report is compiled chiefly from Mr. Woodward’s notes, with such additional information as I have. been able to gather. August 14th, 1886. HENRY Y. L. BROWN, Government Geologist.
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.
For most of 1886 major finds were reported from several different areas, but none of them created the same amount of interest and hysteria as the discovery at Teetulpa in October 1886. This one in particular caused a chain reaction. The more gold being discovered, the more people were inclined to look for it in other places as well. Many people looked again at the older fields, which had previously been written off, providing many diggers with profitable returns.
At the same time this renewed interest in gold mining created a vast amount of work for the public servants, in particular those from departments concerned with the administration of mining matters. First of all there were the reports about new discoveries, requests for the Warden to visit the fields and report on them and then the application and processing of a reward claim.
There were the thousands of applications for a copy of the latest mining regulations, Miner’s Rights or business licences, registration of claims, applications for and transfers or amalgamations of ordinary and quartz claims or leases. There was also a need for business or residential permits for those who wanted to live on the field. Then there were the matters about claim jumping and dispute settling or complaints that arose from a particular decision made to get a settlement.
Many letters had to be written and answered about the buying of gold nuggets, inquiries made in connection with assays, disagreements about assays, missing assays or missing samples. Once a claim had been registered and an application for a lease made and a survey carried out, a lease could be issued. After it had been issued, there would be the numerous requests for a suspension, or extension of a suspension previously granted, of the working clauses. Numerous renewal applications for existing Miner’s Rights, claims, leases and numerous other permits had to be dealt with. An added problem here was that not all applications or requests were easy to read.
Applications also had to be made for water races, water rights, dams, machinery sites and puddling claims. After being granted they had to be registered. Often there would be complaints from miners about the lease agreements not being carried out to the letter by other diggers or companies.
A substantial number of syndicates contacted the department about one or more of its members not willing to pay their share of the costs. At the same time there were numerous certificates to be applied for, registered and issued. Some of these were the application for an extended mining area and its registration. Hundreds of letters dealing with the issue of free Miner’s Rights, the requirements for sluicing operations, water rights, free train tickets and government prospecting parties had to be answered. Last, but not least there was the continuous need to revise and update the mining regulations.
The Gold Mining Regulations of 1888 were compiled by Hack from the regulations of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand with the input of a committee of diggers from Teetulpa. There was also the requirement for every holder of a mining claim or lease, other than an alluvial claim, to furnish the Warden in January and July with the true returns, showing the quantity of ore treated and quantity of gold obtained.
Naturally these had to be checked and recorded by the public servants. If there was a breach of mining regulations or payments had fallen in arrears, then suspension notices for each claim had to be issued. As if all this was not enough already, there were still the weekly reports to be written and returns made of the total number of all licences and permits issued each week or month by the Wardens of each field to the Senior Warden in town.
During 1887, when South Australia recorded its highest gold production made in the nineteenth century, thousands of Miner’s Rights were issued, eight stream claims were processed, 2,736 quartz claims granted, 632 amalgamation requests dealt with, 381 transfers applied for, 27 publicans and 414 business licences issued and 1,792 suspensions of work allowed.
Several officers were kept busy writing reports for the government and newspapers and dealing with correspondence from Universities in Australia and overseas. Last, but by no means least, there were the job applications and requests for information from other departments in South Australia, Australia and even overseas. Although there were at times complaints about not receiving a reply to a letter or request or information, or the issue of leases well after the companies had been wound up, somehow the different departments managed, even without typewriters, photocopiers, computers and emails!
Naturally among all the letters and requests were some from the Ulooloo diggings. Henry Herbert, a miner since 1854, applied on 4 August 1887 for a position to take charge of a government prospecting party. He had managed several mines in Victoria and New England and had been on South Australian goldfields for the last two years.
Unfortunately for him, the government had decided that no more parties would be going out for the time being. A few years later, during an official inquiry, it was stated that ‘a good deal of loafing’ had been going on at some of these parties. Although the government had paid out £1,595 during 1886 on wages and equipment for prospecting parties there was really very little to show for it even though many diggers were 'finding some nice nuggets of gold'.
Another problem with these government funded prospecting parties was that other miners who had to pay their own expenses did not look upon them very favourably. Once employed by the government, prospectors were paid 12 shillings a week and could keep all the gold they found. According to some Ulooloo was impregnated with gold but it required capital to find it'. Because of the lack of finance working conditions at Ulooloo were primitive and caused often accidents. In April 1886 WH Hardy fell down one of the holes and sprained his ankle severely. He was one of the lucky ones. Many did not live to tell the tale.
Apart from collecting fees and rents, and now and then financing some small prospecting parties, very little else was done by the government that pleased the digging population. Many complained that the government had done precious little to further the mining, and particularly the gold mining industry. The Treasury swallowed up the rents from mineral leases, miner’s rights and other fees collected without giving any practical aid ‘in causing the earth to disgorge its treasures’.
Although subsidies, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds, had recently been granted to some companies there was still no Minister of Mines, no Department of Mines and no organization to give the general public any information on mineral matters. The only thing of merit the government had done so far was to appoint a Government Geologist in 1882. However, most people also wanted a Mines Department and a School of Mines.
The position of Government Geologist was finally created as a result of many public petitions and representations made by Professor Ralph Tate through the Royal Society of South Australia. The first person appointed to this most important position was Henry Yorke Lyell Brown. Born in Nova Scotia in 1844 he was educated at the Royal School of Mines in London. He had been general manager for five years of, and interested in, a gold and antimony mine, where special processes had been necessary to extract the gold from its host rock. He also had practical experience as a manager of antimony smelting works and manager of alluvial tin mines.
His contributions to the mining industry and achievements have been numerous. At the age of 21 he was appointed to the Geological Survey of Victoria. This was followed by a similar appointment in 1870 in Western Australia and three years later in Canada. New South Wales gained his services in 1881 before his appointment on 1 December 1882 as South Australia’s Government Geologist.
Some of his first work undertaken after his appointment was an inspection tour of the Woodside mines in January 1883. During July a portion of the Mount Lofty Ranges was mapped and a map produced of the gold reserves in the Hundreds of Kuitpo and Noarlunga. By December Brown had produced, almost single-handed, the first and long awaited Geological map of South Australia. In 1885 a map of the Ulooloo goldfield was produced giving at least some information about this field. Brown was often disliked for his careful, guarded and cautious statements but they had in numerous instances prevented the wasteful expenditure of large sums of money.
After fifteen years, the goldfield at Ulooloo had seen many ups and downs, but no fabulous riches had been unearthed yet like the fields around Beechworth in Victoria, which had produced four million ounces of gold, worth more than $1.5 billion in today’s money, during its first ten years. Admittedly Ulooloo had suffered from some stiff competition from the Barossa, Humbug Scrub and other goldfields in the 1870s that had all been clamouring for finance and diggers. It too had been severely hampered by the get rich quick schemes and outright swindles of the Northern Territory.
A further problem had been the lack of prospectors because of the excellent seasons for farmers and pastoralists, which provided paid and secure employment until the late 1870s. Regardless of all these setbacks and problems many people kept on looking and hoping that one day they too would strike it lucky and find at Ulooloo, which once had been called the best gold producing field in South Australia, that one big nugget which would reward their unmitigated quest for gold and make them financially independent for the rest of their lives.
Although increased practical and scientific knowledge had reduced the risks of opening up newly discovered deposits to some extent, many companies and individuals failed to be successful in the earth’s great lottery and continued drawing blanks. Charles G Tiver of Aberdeen applied for a quartz claim at Ulooloo on 3 October 1887.
During that time PE, JG and JD Kelly of Ulooloo staked a number of claims and had them accepted on Coglin’s Gully after paying the customary fees. T Doolan after working 7 weeks had obtained a nugget of 14 dwt and averaged L2 per week. In March 1888 the Broken Hill Argus reported the discovery of Silver at Ulooloo and would not be surprised at any moment to hear that a grand discovery had been made. No such luck!
Charles G. Tiver of Aberdeen applied for a quartz claim at Ulooloo on 3 October 1887 whereas P.E., J.G. and J.D. Kelly of Ulooloo staked a number of claims and had them accepted on Coglin’s Gully after paying the customary fees. The Ulooloo field remained quiet until The Ulooloo Gold Mining and Crushing Company accepted a tender for the sinking of a shaft in the hope of finding a reef. Failing to find any gold, Captain Treloar recommenced to start operations again of the silver and copper mine in April 1889.
Newspapers too started talking about the importance of gold mining once again. One editorial admitted that ‘gold mining in South Australia had proved a laggard’ and stated that the question was not ‘where is there gold, but where is there not gold?’ A casual glance, it said, at our gold mining industry and a survey of mining operations will convince the most sceptical that there is a golden future before South Australia. There is scarcely a gully, flat or river which has not contributed to the history of South Australia.
When Morrison wrote his Aldine History of South Australia in 1890 he echoed a different view about gold mining when he stated that, ‘Thousands have come to this country with all they possess, and have, in their eager thirst for gold, put every penny in some half-matured scheme or bogus mining firm, and after losing all, they have returned to the land whence they came from with a dark picture of the misery endured by the average miner’.
The Ulooloo field remained quiet until June 1888 when the Ulooloo Gold Mining and Crushing Company accepted a tender for the sinking of a shaft in the hope of finding a reef. Once again there were enough children around for the locals to petition the government to appoint a teacher. They were successful and E Halbert was appointed in October 1888. A few months later, on 31 January 1889, William Henry Knapman of Ulooloo married Clara Alice, youngest daughter of William Gubbins of Yongala. Unfortunately for him there was no work at the Ulooloo Gold Mining Company as no gold was located.
On 26 December 1890 the Quiz and the Lantern published this poem which clearly gave an impression of the Ulooloo goldfield; A CHATTER NEAR ULOOLOO.
And a kingfisher laughs as a digger he sees,
Like a hermit at prayers, devout on his knees,
Washing gold in the Ulooloo.
The jackass will prospect the peppermints old
With a gobble and laugh from the peppermint tree
My merry old bird, this stuff that I find
'Twill a bright sparkle give to beauty's soft eye,
Tis the stuff that will make me a K.C.M.G.
I'll hobnob with Governors and various
Then Jackey looked down from the peppermint tree
J. R. Ulooloo Creek, 1890.
In January 1891 John Melrose was doing just fine, and wanted a general servant who had to be a good plain cook. As his family was expanding rapidly he also advertised for a nurse girl to care for his small children. By the end of the year it was still believed that Ulooloo would give good results - if properly worked.
The South Australian Chronicle of Saturday 1 October 1892 carried this letter from E White of Hallett; Sir, Now that the Government Mines Inspector is visiting the mineral localities in the colony, perhaps you will kindly allow me to state what I know about Ulooloo goldfield. Although experienced miners have been trying for 20 years to find the main reef where the gold found must have come from they have not as yet succeeded. Diggers have often shown me some nice gold, varying in weight from a few pennyweights to an ounce. This gold was matrix.
They say a nugget weighing a pound was obtained once at the head of the Ulooloo Creek nearest Hallett. Nearly all the old diggers say that the reefs and blows at Ulooloo are not permanent. I was told of one ferruginous quartz reef which contained a little gold and silver being permanent, but the party, which was small, could not get down more than 30 ft as the influx of water was very strong. It appears to me that the gold found at Ulooloo could not have come from any of the reefs at Ulooloo.
The source of the Ulooloo Creek is in the Mount Bryan Ranges, and the creek runs through Hallett township but my opinion is that the gold is not washed out of the reef at Hallett or at Ulooloo. t the surface, as the reefs, at the surface at both places contain very little gold when assayed. Quartz reefs run through the bald hills close to the Hallett township on the east side and in the Mount Bryan Range, northward out to Ulooloo Creek.
These quartz reefs make much iron as they are sunk on. This iron has for the most part decomposed and washed out, leaving the quartz very porous, so that the gold it contains could have washed down to water level, and then through the reefs to the Ulooloo Creek, which is 5 or 6 miles northward. Gold can be picked up in this creek after every flood. They say that the quartz reefs about the head of Ulooloo Creek contain a little gold at the surface, and I believe if they were sunk on to the depth of 50 or 60 ft. they would contain payable gold. Where I mean is on the railway side of Ulooloo Creek, on the stock road between Hallett and Yarcowie, where there are big blows of iron and quartz. I am sure there is a permanent reef running through this place. I hope if the Inspector of Mines comes to Ulooloo he will have a look at the reef in my paddock.
In June 1892 the Commissioner of Crown Lands, the Hon T. Playford, said that it was the government’s intention to introduce a new mining bill. This was drafted in August and passed the next year. That same year also saw the establishment of the long awaited School of Mines and Industry in Adelaide. Its first Council members were John Alexander Cockburn, Henry Allerdale Grainger, Joseph Colin Francis Johnson and Ralph Tate.
At Ulooloo the school was still going in 1892 and Isabella C Matheson was trying to teach a small group of children who attended very irregularly. During October 1893 there was a small influx of people as several men left the Angepena goldfield to try their luck at Ulooloo. In 1898 it was Rose M Raftery and in 1900 Laura Cowan. During most of the 1800s and for the early part of the 1900s it were mainly women who were willing to go bush and take on the responsibility of educating a highly mobile group of children.
A year later many diggers were still convinced that 'Ulooloo was the best alluvial field, but that very few knew anything about it'. JB Bull of Second Valley stated that he had shown Burra people where to get the gold and was prepared to go there once again if the government would give him 'one man and a blackboy'. Several farmers from Terowie were going to try their luck after they had finished harvesting and hoped to get more than 2/1 per bushel.
In 1894 the Ulooloo goldfield was once more in the news. Early in the New Year the field was visited by Parkes, accompanied by the Chairman of the Terowie Council. Both talked with several groups of diggers to gain some first-hand information. One group of diggers claimed that they, and a hundred others, could make a good living at Ulooloo if the government would put a line of water pipes, about a mile long, to the creek with a few two hundred gallon water tanks along the track.
Another group would like to see three or four government prospecting parties to really check out the field. As usual, nothing eventuated and not one of the sixty diggers was on payable gold. However James Tregilgas had more luck. He arrived at Burra with about half a pound weight of gold.
In an effort to get at least some small amount of government assistance, a meeting was organised on 7 May. A large group of diggers attended and F.J. McKeown was voted to the chair. W Bennett moved, ‘that this meeting of diggers requests the government to provide ten shillings per week per man for two months to four men for the purpose of prospecting new ground. The amount so provided to be refunded when the party are able to do so’. It was seconded by A. Horsfall and carried unanimously. While their request was read by the government, and put aside, some gold was found.
In May C. Schneider telegraphed James Villiers Parkes that he had discovered ‘a new and unworked reef on the Ulooloo goldfield from which he had crushed good prospects’. He had pegged out a reef claim and Thomas Markey and Thomas S. Smith had done the same. Unfortunately their excitement was short lived. The very next day Schneider sent off another telegram cancelling his previous day’s applications and those of his two mates. To save money he explained by letter that ‘The colour I crushed out of the new reef I now fancy must have been in the mortar and pestle as I have since crushed a great deal and cannot raise the colour’.
John Melrose sent several specimens to the South Australian Schools of Mines for testing but was told that they only contained quartz and ironstone. However after sending his third lot of stones he was lucky, they did contain a little gold. By July there were still about sixty men on the field and most were on gold. Six months later there was enough confidence about the field for the Burra & Hallett Mining and Prospecting Association to be formed. It would be directed by John Melrose, E.C. Lockeyer and William Pearce, jnr. The paper work would be handled by George Parks and R.M. Harvey would look after the finances. Work was started in January 1895.
Naturally other men took notice and one of them, James Whiting, applied for a gold reef claim on 17 July 1895. James Tregilgas, who was still working a claim had some rocks tested from Ulooloo but was told they contained no gold. A year later, Thomas Smith of Ulooloo had some samples tested in July but no gold. Although nothing spectacular was found at Ulooloo that year, the Laura Standard was convinced that South Australia was ‘destined to become a great mining country, not only for copper, but of gold and silver, whose presence we are certain of, but of whose extent we can only surmise from the wide distribution which we have unquestionable evidence of.
From north to south and from east to west the precious metals have been found, their presence ranging from mere traces to quantities that give every indication of being payable if the necessary capital and requisite appliances were at our command’. It went then on to say that ‘from time to time, Parliament, and the Government on its own responsibility, has sought to stimulate our inclination towards the recovery of the precious stones and coveted metals, but the result has been more of an unfortunate experience than anything else’.
By the middle of June 1896 there remained only about 40 men on the field actively searching for gold. Most of them old hands but even they found it hard to keep going. A year later a government prospecting party once more worked the field, giving it a total population of about thirty men, and James Hosking applied for a lease. The Quiz and the Lantern said ‘A mining population is what is needed to make South Australia go ahead. When Kalgoorlie and Klondike have ceased to excite and have settled down as steady gold producers, South Australia’s turn will come, and north, east and south will she pour forth her golden treasures. See that your boys are ready for that period’.
It went on to say; Some were ready as a general meeting of the Hallett and Ulooloo Gold Mining Syndicate reported a most satisfactory balance sheet and had five tons of ore crushed at Petersburg. Henry Price of Hallett requested a visit of the Inspector of Mines to have a look at his White Lead mine which proved to be gold and copper bearing.
J.T. Tregilgas also from Hallett sent a specimen of thirteen ounces from Ulooloo to be assayed. George Arthur Goyder, analyst at the School of Mines and Industry, calculated more than eight ounces and informed Tregilgas that the Minister of Mines would love to buy it. No more gold was found and by the turn of the century the Ulooloo goldfield had become a very quiet place indeed.
More than 2500 Miner’s Rights were issued in South Australia between the first day in July and 16 August 1899 but with an increase in the price of copper there was also a decrease in gold prospecting, especially in out of the way places. Consequently none were issued to miners at the Ulooloo goldfield.
At the turn of the century there were still a few men digging and an 8oz nugget was found at Coglin's Gully in 1901 and a 7 oz. nugget in 'stuff which had been thrown out from an old shaft. A little copper was dug up and the ore sent to the Port Augusta smelters. In May 1903 WH Hardy, who had been at Ulooloo in 1880 and 1881, returned from Arltunga and Winnecke's district to give Ulooloo a final try.
From then on things went from bad to worse and during the winter of 1904 the Benevolent Society of Adelaide sent up blankets to some of the old destitute diggers. Very little gold has been found during since and the field was almost forgotten until a new discovery was made in 1929 by Butler, Harris and Rawlings resulting in a small rush. It turned out a fizzer and resulted in much disappointment.
Most of the men who were unemployed and had been given a one-way ticket from Adelaide. They had also received a ration ticket and a government handout consisting of a pick, shovel, wheelbarrow, a camp oven, rope and a pan. Very little gold has been found since.