Worturpa Goldfield

The Worturpa

While the excitement at Angepena was replaced by disappointment, despair and poverty, a new and even bigger (naturally!) discovery was made at Worturpa. This area had been known to contain gold as long ago as 1864, when Captain Samuel Terrell, who was then in charge of the Yudanamutana mine had found alluvial gold. As he had about a hundred men working at the Yudanamutana, he had no desire whatsoever to talk about it. His men would not have stayed a minute longer had they known that gold was obtainable from the surface without the need for digging.

Twenty years later three Aboriginal men, Tom Coffin, Claypan George and Benny Boy, worked the alluvial deposit for quite some time and with success. In March 1899 a good lode which was discovered by Ben and Harry Stubbs, averaged as much as twenty-seven ounces of gold per ton, according to the School of Mines in Adelaide. The deposit was in the Illiawortina Pound, about three kilometres south of Worturpa Spring (Aboriginal for shady water).

Considerable excitement was created when the Stubbs' brothers worked their claim with the help of some Aborigines. Ben and Harry Stubbs, two elderly men, originally from Macclesfield, had previously been working on Mount Lyndhurst station. When they reported their discovery at Mount Lyndhurst on 1 June nothing happened at all. Nobody took any notice. This however changed dramatically when Goyder, the government assayer, published his results in the Adelaide Advertiser on 29 June.

This time the rush was on, and within the shortest possible time hundreds of men were panning, digging or prospecting. On 6 July 1899 the Worturpa district was officially declared a goldfield. T.S. Backhouse was the first investor to arrive on the field, coming from Copley where he owned and worked an eighty acre lease adjoining the Mountain of Light. Soon he was followed by many other hopeful diggers, businessmen and investors.

Many companies took up claims and leases and the Stubbs brothers sold their claim to the Worturpa Reward Syndicate. On 28 July Goldfield Warden L.C.E. Gee arrived on the field to select a site for a town. Miner's rights for the goldfield were issued at Copley by old Sliding Rock identity J.W. Duck. Prospects looked so inviting that Mr Napier of Farina and Dobson and Reed from Hawker were putting up their stores.

There was often more money to be made from supplying the diggers than being a digger! Even Mr Downs had loaded his hotel on wagons and hoped to have it on the road, which was already littered with numerous broken down vehicles, and have it erected at Worturpa in the shortest possible time. Mr Gee did not waste his time. No sooner had he arrived on the field than he went to visit the Worturpa Reward where they were in the process of blasting. Later that day he supervised the dispatch of two cases of specimens to the Minister of Mines.

Apart from the hundreds of claims pegged out by individual diggers, there were several claims being worked in earnest by companies. At the Reward Mr Backhouse was in charge and pushing on with the work, and progress was also made by the North Company and the Exploration Company. Gee also decided to enforce the rules and regulations set out by the Department of Mines. Many of the claim holders had no intention of working them. All they had done was mark off their claims with pegs while waiting for buyers. They got a rude awakening when Gee told them that they actually had to work them or if they failed to do so, would forfeit their claims.

By the end of July the Worturpa field had also acquired a resident butcher. He was watched by a crowd of onlookers when on the first day of business he slaughtered some sheep. He would have had a busy night as already more than a hundred diggers were on the field. By September their number had increased to several hundred. The South Australian Brewing Company seriously considered a hotel for the field.

New companies such as the North Worturpa and Worturpa South added to the already dozens of companies. The Worturpa Exploration and Mining Company Ltd. was formed to work thirty-one gold claims. Two days after its formation, the Worturpa South Gold Mining Company N.L. was formed to buy seven gold reef claims owned by William Henry Fenwick, and the Worturpa Prospecting Syndicate Ltd. was incorporated a few days after that. This was only a small syndicate made up of two hundred shares. It remains to be seen however how much all these companies contributed to the total gold production in South Australia which in 1899 was valued at $31,000 Most probably it was not very much.

The Worturpa South was wound up two months after it was registered. This was followed in March 1900 by the Worturpa Prospecting Syndicate, and in April of that year by the North Worturpa Gold Mining Company N.L. Finally on 29 January 1901 the Worturpa Exploration and Mining Company Ltd. also ceased to exist when at its third half-yearly meeting it was decided that the company be wound up voluntarily, and Walter E. Dalton be appointed liquidator. One disappointed gentleman was Eurelia storeowner Patrick J. Ryan who arrived at Worturpa in 1901. Having convinced himself that he had been too late he followed some of the other diggers on their way to Boulder in Western Australia.


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