Mining at Kanmantoo

Mining at Kanmantoo

During 1845, a large block of land near Kanmantoo was sold by the South Australian Government to the South Australian Company and the Paringa Mining Company. Both companies were interested in the copper which had been discovered on it. The land was divided into narrow strips and lots were drawn to determine who was to have first choice.

The mines, farms and later the town were all established on land belonging to the South Australian Company. The Kanmantoo mine was discovered by Joseph Lean, who had arrived in South Australia during 1840 at the age of forty-nine. His son John later became mining agent at Moonta and married Abagail Rowe, daughter of John Rowe of the Government Survey stables, who arrived in South Australia with his family aboard the ship Orrasa on 10 March 1840. The Kanmantoo mine was started in January 1846. A tunnel was driven into the hill to intersect the copper load which had been located and opened at the top of the hill. When this was completed the adit was fitted with a railway track to move the ore outside.

Map of Kanmantoo

The mine's owner, William Giles, employed twenty-five Cornish miners on tribute and another six boys to sort and bag the ore ready for transport to Port Adelaide. It were these men, and their families, who formed the nucleus of the first town of Kanmantoo.

Finding teamsters, to transport the handpicked ore to Port Adelaide for smelting at Swansea, proved a major problem. Most had taken to the north carting for the Kapunda and Burra mines which offered regular and continuous work. Instead the Kanmantoo mine had to rely on the local farmers who were only too willing to earn an additional income after they were finished harvesting.

By the end of 1846 Captain Richard Rodda, originally from Penrice Cornwall, took charge of the mine and its workforce which now numbered sixty-five and produced about six hundred tons of copper. Later Rodda managed the nearby Wheal Maria and other mines such as the Wheal Friendship and the North Rhine. When a new road was constructed between Adelaide and Wellington on the River Murray it bypassed Kanmantoo, necessitating the relocation of the town.

A new town of thirty-eight blocks was surveyed in 1849 and some of the first buyers were Captains William Tonkin and Thomas Prisk. Captain Tonkin had started his mining career at the age of six in Cornwall. He arrived in South Australia in 1847 and started work at the Preamimma mine near Callington. Later he was involved with the Wheal Ellen at Strathalbyn, Lipson's Cove, Cumberland and the Kanyaka. In 1870 he became Captain of the Sliding Rock mine in the northern Flinders Ranges.

With the influx of miners and farmers the eight-roomed Britannia Hotel was built and licenced from 1857 to William Cornelius. In September 1860 Cornelius was declared insolvent and all his property put up for auction. It remained unsold and in December 1860 the licence was transferred to Hermann Appelkamp. In 1866 he renamed it and it became the Kanmantoo Hotel. In 1870 W. Humphries became the new publican. There had been other hotels in Kanmantoo. The Black Dog Inn was opened in June 1856 but only traded for a very short time. C. Bradley opened his Miner's Arms Hotel in 1870 this too had a short life.

The Britannia building was made of local stone and timber with walls some two feet thick. Red Gum slabs were used as support beams and Huon pine for the windows and floors. After its closure as a hotel the building was used by John Dally who extended it and traded from it for many years as boot maker, storekeeper and postmaster. By 1896, when the town had a population of 120 in 38 houses, his son John had become the postmaster. The building survived all its occupants and is still in use today.

Captain Prisk took a job at the Bremer mine and was later also involved with the Wheal Ellen, Mount Rose and Moonta mines. While at the Mount Rose mine he still managed to be home to attend the wedding of his daughter, Constance, to John Wellington on 11 August 1860. A few weeks later, on 21 September, it was his own turn when he married Mrs Elisabeth Sexton of Callington.

At the Kanmantoo mine Captain Renfrey had taken charge in 1851 and during his time and most of the 1860s the mine produced some of its best results, often about 1500 tons a year. Although the majority of the early miners were Cornish there were also a good number of Irish and Germans living in the town. The Irish had completed their St. Thomas Catholic Church in 1858 followed by the Wesleyan Methodists in 1865.

Several of the German families had moved from Hahndorf in their search for better farming land. Their numbers were not large enough to warrant the building of their own church and therefore held services at the Lutheran school. Even though the mine provided the reason for the town's existence and most of its income, it was farming, started in 1846, which saw the town and its people through most of the bad times when the surrounding mines reduced their output or closed down altogether.

At first farmers only produced enough for their own families and to supply the miners. Any surplus was sold by their women on the Adelaide market, which involved a walking trip of about hundred kilometres, much like that undertaken by the women of Hahndorf.

A completely different form of income was added by Charles Burney Young who arrived in South Australia in 1854. Although a surveyor he bought large sections of land at Kanmantoo and planted vines. Often, the harvesting of the grapes on his forty acre property was performed by the local school children, who had no objections about missing school. Charles Ellis, the expert appointed to examine the wines at the International Exhibition reported very favourable on wines sent in from Young's vineyard.

The mine closed in 1874. By that time there were about sixty houses in the town. The town survived and was still there during the 1930s when intermittent prospecting came to a halt and in 1970 when the mine was restarted.

During the early 1960s there was a renewed interest in the mine and extensive drilling proved a major new orebody. The newly formed Kanmantoo Mines Ltd. started with the removal of overburden for its open cut operations in 1970 and also built a concentrating plant. Because of low copper prices the mine finally closed in 1976, one hundred and thirty years after it was first mined by underground method. During the last six years the open cut had reached a depth of two hundred metres and produced four million tons of ore giving 36,000 tons of copper.

During its long history Kanmantoo has seen many changes. Many of its original buildings have disappeared but the building first used as the Britannia Hotel has been refurbished by Tony and Zeny Sanso, who arrived in Australia from Italy in 1964. Since 2001 they have used it as the Osteria Sanso licenced restaurant together with two 4-star-rated cottages.


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