Nuccaleena copper mine


On 4 March 1859 a mineral lease was applied for, and granted on 11 June 1860. This lease (no.33) was issued over section 105 of eighty acres in the Northern Flinders Ranges to John and James Chambers for 14 years, starting 6 June 1860. They sold it without much delay to the recently formed Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia. This section 105, which became the Nuccaleena mine, was the twelfth mine sold by Chambers and others to the Great Northern Copper Mining Company.

The birth of this English owned company was really on 23 July 1857 when James Chambers and his friend William Finke applied for a lease (application no.64) over eighty acres, at an annual rent of £40. This section and eleven others for which they applied during the next two years were all in the Northern Flinders Ranges. Not only that, they were also in mountainous and often extremely difficult country, which even today is still more inaccessible than the Mochatoona mine using conventional transport.

Though out of sight, they certainly were not out of mind. These leases caused an enormous amount of trouble and embarrassment for Chambers, Finke, the South Australian Governor and Government, and almost anyone else concerned with them, for many years to come. Even South Australia's reputation was at stake in England. All these sections had been surveyed by licensed surveyor John McDouall Stuart, and by 1858 mining had commenced on three of them, namely Mount Deception, near Beltana and climbed by Edward John Eyre in 1840, Mount McKinlay, named after John McKinlay (1819-1872), and Mount Samuel, named by Frederick Sinnett in 1851.

On 8 January 1858 Captain AH Freeling informed Chambers and Finke that their application, no.64, near Mount McKinlay had been approved, on condition that they surveyed the section and supplied a plan of it within four months. They also had to place pegs in the ground with the letters "C" and "F" painted on them to mark the survey. A similar letter was received by them on 2 February 1858 for application no.70 near Mount Chambers. Other leases were eventually approved during 1858, among them no.71 and 91 of 320 acres at Mount McKinlay, which were for sections 9, 11, 12 and 13 at an annual rent of £160.

Specimens from some of these northern leases were exhibited by Chambers at his premises in Currie Street, Adelaide and some were shown to Henry Ayers, who at that time was the secretary of the South Australian Mining Association and also a member of the Legislative Council. On 19 February 1859, George Strickland Kingston, Chairman of the South Australian Mining Association received a letter from Chambers and Finke informing him that they had claimed one mineral section at Oratunga, one section at Mount Stuart, three sections at Mount Chambers and five sections at Mount Comet.

They also informed Kingston that they were willing to sell these sections for a total of £40,000. The board of the South Australian Mining Association was most certainly interested in the leases, but was only prepared to offer £30,000 for them. Having received their reply, Chambers and Finke withdrew the offer. As neither Chambers nor Finke had any intention of working the leases and opening mines on them, they again tried to find a buyer. This time they looked to England, where capital was more readily available for investment of this magnitude. On 23 May 1859, they wrote accordingly to Major AH Freeling, the Surveyor-General, asking for an extension of time, until 1 May 1860.

John Hart 1865 (SLSA)

Normally they would have had to start work on these claims immediately, even though their sales were yet to be negotiated in England. When this request was granted, they approached Captain John Hart to take the leases to London and find a buyer. After some hurried signing of the required papers by his Excellency the Governor, Captain Hart just managed to catch the boat at Glenelg which took him to London. He most probably was one of the best persons in the colony to be entrusted with this type of mission.

Born in England, he had visited South Australian waters and Kangaroo Island in 1831 as Master of the schooner Elizabeth. He had experience as a whaler and organised whaling stations around the coast even before South Australia was established in 1836. He landed Edward Henty at Portland Bay and overlanded stock in 1838 from that area to Adelaide. In 1851 John Hart became a member of the first elected Legislative Council and started a long and successful career in politics.

The ruins in 1909 SLSA B20210

While a member of parliament he built the largest flour mill in South Australia at Port Adelaide, and became also a successful flour-miller and wheat merchant. During his varied career he was also a ship, mine and land owner, bank director, member of the Adelaide Club, member of the Chamber of Commerce, member of the South Australian Railway Commission, Treasurer, and finally three times Premier of South Australia. During his long career he had shown a never failing interest in mining, agriculture and the general economic development of the colony.

When he arrived in London he was successful almost immediately. The leases were bought by two South Australians, who happened to be in London at that time and were very familiar with the mining and copper mania in South Australia. The buyers were John Baker and William Paxton who bought the leases from Captain Hart for £50,000 in September 1859. Both Baker and Paxton had a great deal of experience with the financial aspects of mining ventures. Baker had previously been director of such companies as the Australian Mining Company at Tungkillo.

Both Baker and Hart had been instrumental in the selection of a special survey of 20,000 acres for this English company at Reedy Creek. Baker had also been a director of the Montacute Mine, the North Kapunda Mining Company and the Paringa Mining Company. William Paxton had been involved with the highly successful Burra mine. Paxton and Baker had known Captain John Hart for several years as he had been a director of the same companies as Baker and of the Princess Royal Mining Company as well.

Baker and Paxton did not keep their newly acquired leases for long. They sold out to the tune of £70,000 to the Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia which was in the process of being formed and incorporated. The company's capital was fixed at £160,000 in 80,000 shares of £2 each, ten shillings on allotment plus three monthly terms of a further ten shillings. The company's London directors were Charles Bonney, Joseph Turnley, Alfred Wilson, Francis Cope, Charles Cleve and George Hay Donaldson. The last three gentlemen were already on the board of the North Rhine Copper Company.

Early in November 1859, a prospectus of the Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia was published in the English Newspapers. Immediately a great rush for their shares followed. In fact the rush was so great that the subscription list had to be closed almost "as soon as it opened." The office of the Great Northern was to be at Mansion House, No.1, Charlotte Row, London. The South Australian management was made up of James Chambers, the Hon. John Morphett, MLC and John Bentham Neales, MP, while William Finke was appointed as the local superintendent, and Thomas Hancock, already manager of the North Rhine Copper Company, as on site manager.

The purpose of the Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia was to buy the eleven leases, which were to run for fourteen years from 23 July 1859 for section one and two and from 17 June 1859 for the remaining sections. The total annual rent to be paid to the South Australian government was £440. Captain John Hart was to receive a payment of £1,700 for his effort and expenses. When the formation of the Great Northern was completed John Hart invested in a thousand shares, which he resold a little later at a profit of £70. Charles Bonney took out 250 shares, which he still held in 1861.

By that time John Baker had acquired 7,125 shares and William Paxton 5,075. A year later William Finke owned eight hundred shares, but Baker and Paxton had sold the majority of theirs and held only 1,000 and 750 respectively. Almost all the remaining shares were sold in England to English capitalists and small investors. Newspapers were proud to report that. "All interested in the progress of South Australia will rejoice to perceive that another step has been made towards the development of her undoubted mineral wealth."

Unfortunately not everyone did rejoice. The Hon. John Morphett made this perfectly clear in the South Australian newspapers when he wrote ‘Whereas a Company formed in London, and styled the Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia, has issued a Prospectus wherein my name appears as one of the Committee of Management in South Australia, I hereby give notice, that my name was so inserted in such advertisement without my authority; and that I am in no way interested in or connected with that Company; and that I decline to act as one of the Committee.

As it turned out, there was a lot more in that prospectus, which, whilst maybe not intended to deceive the general public or investors, certainly caused a lot of people to gain some false impressions. One of these was the suggestion that the South Australian Government would build a railway to these mines. Another was the statement that the country was well watered, with plenty of feed for cattle, and enough timber for mining and smelting. As a matter of fact, the legality of the very leases was found questionable even before Captain Hart had arrived in London.

As early as 12 June 1860 the House of Assembly in South Australia appointed a Select Committee to "inquire how far the public credit of this Colony is implicated in the prospectus of the Great Northern Copper Mining Company." John Baker refused to give evidence to the committee, William Finke had left Adelaide for the Northern Flinders Ranges, and could not be contacted and John Chambers refused to answer certain questions. Long before the inquiry John B Neales had felt it necessary to tender his resignation as Commissioner of Crown Lands.

During the inquiry many witnesses were called and finally on 15 October 1862 Neville Blyth, Chairman of the Committee tabled his report. The two most important findings were that Captain Hart's conduct had been no other than "that of a strictly honourable and upright man; and that there is not the slightest ground for suspecting that he ever had a desire to defraud either the Colonial Government or any intending purchasers." The second finding was an admission that they were unable to decide whether the leases were legal and valid. Two years later the Great Northern Copper Mining Company of South Australia started a fight lasting almost as long to cancel these leases.

No sooner had the Great Northern been incorporated than it dispatched the ship New Margaret with 10,000 ore bags, 160 barrels of gunpowder and a large quantity of mining implements for their mines in the Northern Flinders Ranges. The ship left Gravesend on 19 January 1860. At Nuccaleena mining was started, and by June, William Finke and sixteen miners had raised about a hundred tons of copper ore from the regular and well-defined load, which was expected to produce 30% of copper.

William Finke was not exactly a novice at mining. He had already been manager and large shareholder of the Port Lincoln Mine. Now he tried to make a success of the Nuccaleena. Before long it was decided to appoint Captain JB Pascoe, a Cornishman who had previously worked at Glen Osmond and at the Strathalbyn Mining Company, in charge of that mine. With transport cost high and troublesome, the Great Northern commissioned the survey of a railway line from Port Augusta to Nuccaleena.

In October 1860 Pascoe cut the lode, the appearance of which was most satisfactory, with one sample giving 51% copper. During that time 38 tons of copper ore was shipped to England and 60 tons were being loaded on the Austral at Port Augusta. One of the teamsters who carted copper for the mine was WW Clapton. Soon it was said that the mine had multiplied in value. However transport costs were astronomical. Charles Bonney even tried to form a tramway company.

Early in 1861 some new appointments were made to the local management. They were John Bentham Neales, Richard Bowen Colley and Francis Corbet Singleton. WS Whitington, who had been secretary since 1860, was reappointed. With the initial success of the Nuccaleena mine, many people believed that its copper deposits extended far beyond the limits covered by section 105. In fact many miners left the Burra mine hoping to find more remunerative employment in the Northern mines.

Between June 1861 and July 1863 many additional mineral applications were made for sections around the Nuccaleena. Most of these applications were made by John Chambers, William Finke, WS Whitington, and by Bull, Rodda and J Cornish, involving an area of well over seven hundred acres. In number and area they were very small compared to the total number of claims made in the Northern Flinders Ranges. During 1860 more than 4,000 claims were made. In 1861 only 1,800 were registered whereas in 1862 more than 5,000 claims were applied for.

Most of these were forfeited because no survey was made or a plan supplied to proceed to the next step which was the drawing up of a lease. At Nuccaleena mining and building went ahead. Underground, experienced miners such as Henry S Hemming, who would later become superintendent at Sliding Rock, were removing the rich copper ore. At the surface of the mine the building of offices, workshops and engine houses was commenced as were living quarters for the miners.

During September 1861 John McDouall Stuart, on his way to Moolooloo was welcomed by the miners’ Band at Nuccaleena. During the festivities subscriptions for a Miners’ Institute reached £50. On 12 September it was reported that; A traveller visiting Nuccaleena will be surprised to find the rapid strides that science and civilization are making in these parts, where but a short time back was seen but the native denizens of the soil now the head-quarters of the Great Northern Mining Company.

There is quite a township where the mechanics and miners of the Company reside. On the Sabbath-day you may hear the chapel bell tolling, inviting all to offer up prayer to the Great Architect of the Universe. During the week the lively music played by the miners' band, and generally finishing with God save the Queen,' shows that there are some loyal subjects in these remote parts.

A public meeting was held at Nuccaleena, now the head-quarters of the Great Northern Mining Company, for the purpose of forming a Miners Institute. Shortly after the time appointed Mr Brenton, the Purser, accompanied by WF Pascoe, Dr McGee, and about 40 of the miners assembled. One of the miners having been chosen as Chairman commenced the business by reading the notice calling the meeting.

He pointed out the great want of literary recreation in these parts, and hoped that they would respond to a call that would be made upon them for a voluntary subscription, and he had not the slightest doubt that the Managing Committee of the Great Northern Mining Company would assist in carrying such a desirable object. He hoped that before long the Institute would be opened, and a series of lectures be given, he was sorry that Captain Pascoe was unavoidably absent, but no doubt they would be glad to hear him give them a lecture.

Mr Bassett, in proposing the first resolution, said he hoped all would join together to carry out such a laudable object, and that as they had laid a good foundation they must set to work and build on it. The following were the resolutions: 'That we do now proceed to elect officers for the purpose of forming an Institute, which shall be called 'The Nuccaleena Miners' Institute.

''That Captain JB Pascoe be requested to act as Treasurer, and that the Chairman wait upon him on his return soliciting his acceptance of office. That a Committee of five be appointed to frame laws to form this Institute. That Messrs. Mitchell, Pellett, Bassett, Campbell, and Barclay be members of aforesaid Committee. That a letter be written to the Managing Committee of the Great Northern Mining Company, soliciting their assistance to aid us in carrying out our object, and also a copy of the minutes of this meeting, with a list of subscriptions”.

“That the aforesaid letter and minutes be forwarded through Mr Brenton, the purser. That subscription lists be opened in order to raise funds to carry out the object of this meeting in forming a Miners' Institute and that the Secretary provides each member of the Committee with a list, and shall hand such collections from time to time to the Treasurer. That the Secretary put himself in communication with the Secretary of the Adelaide Institute, and also obtain catalogues of books from Messrs. Platts and Rigby”.

Four months later the building was completed and opened on 18 December 1861. At the ceremony the Chairman made a few remarks congratulatory of the success of their efforts in having erected such a building. He hoped ‘that it would be the means of accomplishing a great deal of good to those for whom it was intended’. After the Secretary had read the rules and regulations, Mr Waterhouse rose and said he was quite taken by surprise to find such an Institution so well established in the far and almost unknown North.

He proceeded to mention a few of the benefits derivable from Institutions of that description, and said at the same time they must not expect a long speech from him, as he was quite unprepared, but would, if he could, on his return, give them a look in, and bring them a shell from the Gulf of Carpentaria (cheers) and perhaps be able to give them a short lecture upon what he might have seen on his route. He regretted the absence of his leader (JM Stuart), but would convey to him their kind wishes.

Captain Mackay, in a short speech, wished every kind of prosperity to the Institution. He could well appreciate the advantages the workingman would derive from it, as Nuccaleena would be the rallying-point for all labour. Mr McCoull said he was happy to find upon his return to Nuccaleena everybody so comfortable, and he had brought some pledges with him this time to prove that he meant to stop among them. Dr Magee, in a neat speech, hoped that the Nuccaleena Miners' Institute would prosper.

He had no doubt it would assist to cure the ailments of the mind, and he would endeavour to cure those of the body, though they must not grumble at him should he at any time give them an overdose of salts. Mr Barclay proposed a vote of thanks to Mr Waterhouse for his attendance, at the same time wishing him every success upon his long and arduous journey. (Cheers.) The band here struck up 'For he's a jolly good fellow. 'Mr Waterhouse returned thanks in a few words. A vote of thanks to the Chairman was carried unanimously. The meeting, which consisted of about 80 persons, then adjourned.


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