Bremer Ranges, South Australian History

The Bremer Ranges.


A new set of rules and regulations for the mining of gold were published in 1866 just as gold discoveries were reported well away from Echunga, creating the feeling that South Australia was on the eve of another gold rush. Alfred Jones had discovered gold at the Bremer Ranges and had random samples of the quartz, in which it was embedded, sent to Sydney for testing.

The initial reports were very pleasing, giving as much as three ounces to the ton. During the first two weeks of January 1866, but ten years after Alexander Tolmer had expressed his belief that gold existed in these ranges, more than two hundred licences were issued and as many as 20 white flags hoisted.

Before long, it was said that the Bremer Ranges were ‘evidently composed of auriferous quartz, and that fact being determined, the probability is that the neighbouring soil is rich in gold. If this is correct, there will be work for the digger as well as the crusher, and the gold era of South Australia will have commenced’. For a while it looked as if it had. On 12 January the Hon. John Morphett and J.T. Bagot, among many others, registered their gold claims in the Hundreds of Monarto and Tungkillo.

John Tuthill Bagot (SLSA)

At the Vintage Shades Inn in Norwood, a meeting was held on 27 January 1866 for those ‘persons being desirous of forming an inexpensive but efficient association to develop the nature of the gold bearing quartz reef and alluvial deposit’ at Tungkillo and ‘arrange the necessary preliminaries for securing claims and placing a working party immediately on the ground’.

Others trying to cash in on the renewed interest in quartz reefing and the quest for gold were Horwood & Ellis from Hindley Street. It advertised that ‘Gentlemen interested in quartz crushing can be supplied with the most improved machinery as supplied by Joel Horwood of Bendigo and Inglewood’. Francis Clark & Sons of Adelaide were prepared ‘to show drawings of Chilian Mills and other machinery necessary for quartz crushing and to quote prices and take orders for such machinery made by Langlands & Co of the Port Phillip Bay Foundry’.

Alfred Jones was still at it and informed the Commissioner of Crown Lands that he had found a payable goldfield at Cocktail Point near Tigers View and would like to claim his reward. Three days later Albert J. Woods of Adelaide claimed to have discovered gold at Salt Creek, about 20 kilometres north of Callington. He was not the only one.

Arthur James Edmunds, Terance A. Woods, Joseph Darwent and Robert Barr Smith, all from Adelaide and Edward Jones of Goolwa, Arthur Joseph Edmunds of Port Adelaide and William Edmunds of Lake Hope, all claimed to have found gold at Tigers View as well. It was also found by Charles W. May and George White, James Rocking, Robert Stuckey and W. Phillis who claimed to have found even more gold in the Hundred of Angas.

With these reported discoveries, a search was started on a large scale for auriferous quartz reefs, some as far away as 20 kilometres from Callington on the eastern boundary of the Bremer Ranges. The extent of the discoveries worried some people, as it was feared that it would have some ‘deranging effects on the labour market’.

On the other hand it was realised that auriferous quartz mining would lead to regular mining and if proven successful there would be many additional consumers of local produce from the farmer, grazier and tradesman. These considerations were very important during a time when South Australia suffered from possibly its worst drought ever and eventually would give rise to the now famous Goyder’s Line.

On 17 January 1866 James Cummings, secretary of the Eureka Quartz Reef Company, wrote to the Commissioner of Crown Lands on behalf of a number of gentlemen interested in the price of a gold quartz crushing machine belonging to the government which had been sitting for some years in the yard of Wentzell’s Mill on East Terrace. He was told that it would be sold by auction. The only problem was that he wasn’t told when this would be. As nothing more was heard of it for some time he inquired if the government would crush and separate the gold from the quartz at Wentzell’s and at what price.

Meanwhile still more gold discoveries were reported. On 18 January, M. Phillipson, E.R. Misford, William S. Whitington and John Penberthy reported to have found it near Cocktail Reef in the Bremer Ranges while a few days later J. Robert Hunt and Alfred Von Doussa had found gold at the intersection of the boundaries of the Hundreds of Tungkillo, Monarto and Mobilong. Finally Crown Land Ranger R.H. Moulden was dispatched to investigate all the alleged discoveries and activity. His report was short and to the point. ‘There is not a speck of gold to be seen. There is no water for washing or even drinking’.

It proved a quick end for the much anticipated Bremer Ranges goldfield. It made no difference to most eager South Australians who kept on believing that gold existed and would soon be discovered no matter what officials, or experts from Victoria, had to say about it. Regardless of the disappointing report more claims were staked in the area.

On the last day of January R.A. Fiveash, another keen prospector, miner, manager and investor took out some claims on behalf of himself and others. In 1867 Fiveash became Superintendent of the Yudanamutana and Blinman mines. A year later he added the position of Attorney for the Yudanamutana Company to his already busy work schedule. In 1869 Fiveash became a Justice of the Peace at Blinman.

On 2 February 1866 William S. Whitington wrote a letter to the Commissioner officially claiming his reward for the discovery of gold in what he believed would ‘prove to be in payable quantities, and would lead to the establishment of alluvial gold diggings’. The exact location of his discovery was given as being on the ‘Murray Flats, where the Reedy Creek, Sandy Creek, Blackheath or Stony Creek and Salt Creek empty themselves near the 39 Sections up to the sources of the said creeks at the foot of the Bremer Ranges’.

The Preamimma mine

On the same day F.H. Sonnemann and G. Jaensch registered a claim next to those of Hunt and Von Doussa. Francis Price and F. Faulkner, both of Nairne, discovered gold near the Preamimma mine, as did John Ryder, and specimens could be admired at the office of the Hon. John Morphett.

Meanwhile at the Cocktail Reef, John Morphett, Charles H. Goode, W.S. Whitington and J.T. Bagot requested, and were granted, a suspension of the labour conditions, which required them to work the claim for six days a week, to obtain machinery from Melbourne. Last, but by no means least, Alfred Von Doussa junior and senior, Louis Von Doussa and John Morphett applied for their California Reef claim on the western bank of Salt Creek.

Several of these claims resulted in the formation of companies. One of these claims, discovered by Alfred Jones and T.A. Woods, gave rise to the South Australian Auriferous Quartz Crushing Company. This company was heavily promoted by John Morphett, John Tuthill Bagot, C.H. Goode, MP, Alfred Jones and Thomas Goode. After appointing P. Whitington as secretary, they proposed selling 2,000 shares at £5 each, which would raise a capital of £10,000. It was not very successful to say the least.

At its first half yearly shareholders’ meeting, John Morphett, Chairman of the Board, had to adjourn the meeting, as not enough shareholders attended to have the required quorum. The directors, among them W.B.T. Andrews and W.A. Hughes, had bought crushing machinery from Melbourne and had it erected at the Preamimma mine, about seven kilometres from the reef. To use its steam engine and water supply, Alfred Hallett charged them £2 per week.

Six months later there had been very little improvement in the gold reefs and the South Australian Auriferous Quartz Crushing Company decided to sell its own machinery and make a final call to cover the debts before winding up the company. Needless to say that there were some very disappointed shareholders at the meeting, including W.B.T. Andrews, A.J. Baker, J. Sanderson, U.N. Bagot, W. Murray, Joseph Elliott and J.S. Whitington.

Despite the numerous claims and the formation of a number of companies, the Bremer Ranges proved very disappointing but it did not stop gold miners, capitalists and speculators of South Australia losing heart. Nor was it likely that the search for the yellow metal would be abandoned. There were still many people, including politicians and newspaper editors, who believed that something profitable would result from it. For a while it looked as if they were correct after all, but not in the Bremer Ranges. Instead a new discovery was made on the other side of the ranges at Sixth Creek at the foot of Montacute.

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