Nillinghoo Goldfield SA

Nillinghoo Goldfield

As early as 1865 the large Nillinghoo pastoral run was established south of Lake Frome by William Cockrum on lease no. 1603. In 1866 Samuel le Brun was there looking for his lost bullocks. It is not known if he found them but nearly thirty years later, station hand Harry Kerkeek found something much more interesting. He found indications of gold at Nillinghoo, nearly forty kilometres north of Waukaringa, during January 1894 when the station was still owned by Cockrum.

He wasted no time and took out three twenty-acre gold mining leases. They eventually became the Kerkeek’s Treasure Gold Mine, which would produce 646 ounces of beautiful gold, as well as the usual rush and applications for claims, or leases, near his site. On 24 February 1894 IJK Bayes of Nillinghoo made it known that he intended to apply for a gold mining lease of 10 acres adjoining the earlier applications of Rose and Threadgold. He wasn’t the only one either.

Among some of the others were JM Mitchell, George Murn and HJ Cars. A week later A Bayes also applied for a lease adjoining Kerkeek’s prospecting area as did B O’Lochlin and G Woods. There was certainly no shortage of hopeful prospectors. Within a short time, Henry Gadd of Waukaringa, WJ Gray of Manoora and W Powell of the Modbury Hotel had applied for business licences at Nillinghoo. They knew that the first businesses on any goldfield did often far better than any of its miners.

Naturally some business people did have their fingers badly burnt after they had invested in a big way just on rumours that a field was bound to be rich and would last forever. Others just stayed too long, hoping that prospects would improve, which in some cases had happened, and found it impossible to sell their business.

On 3 April a shareholders’ meeting of the Nillinghoo Western Proprietary Gold Mining Syndicate was held at Tucker’s Hotel in Waukaringa. After some discussion RW Foster MP, Burkitt and Bayes were appointed directors and Henry Gadd Secretary. It was decided that eight men should start work immediately on its 40-acre lease. Three weeks later the Lookout Hill mine became the first to be floated on the Nillinghoo goldfield. By this time reports of the field had been printed in all other colonies including the Northern Territory, which was part of South Australia at that time. The Ballarat Star reported nearly 100 men to be on the field.

When JV Parkes, the Inspector of Mines, visited the goldfield on 4 April, he reported that Kerkeek’s Treasure, which he had named, consisted of four adjoining reef claims totalling 400 by 600 ft. Three pits had already been dug and very fine gold was found in all of them. According to him it was ‘One of the best shows ever found in this colony’. The next day both H Kerkeek and A Bayes applied for an additional 20-acre gold mining lease.

A new find was reported on 9 April which caused a great stir in nearby Waukaringa resulting in the opening of a store on the field by a local businessman. The good news spread speedily far and wide and prospecting parties from as far away as Carrieton and Bendleby wasted no time in getting to the field. By 17 April shares in the proposed Lookout Hill mining venture sold locally at £200 each and further 20-acre leases were applied for by George Howe, H Chambers and A Miller.

On 24 April, the Look Out Hill Gold Mining Company issued 36,000 shares of £1 each and would be available from brokers in Adelaide and Broken Hill. It was formed to acquire mineral claims, 80 acres in total, at Lookout Hill. Captain George Prout spoke very highly of the property. It was also reported that the four provisional directors, William Cockrum, Henry Gadd, JH Bayes and Hillary Boucaut of Jamestown had all taken up contributing shares.

When Kerkeek’s mine suffered from the lack of water and did not yield as much gold as he had hoped, Kerkeek transferred his claims to Sarah Georgiana Cockburn of Adelaide for £100 on 12 April 1894. Obviously, he should have tried a little harder or longer for eventually after some development this mine produced some excellent results. A week later rich leaders had been struck on Kerkeek’s Reward claim of more than three inches wide.

At an ‘enthusiastic meeting’ at the Nillinghoo homestead it was decided to form a proper company. John Heron, formerly manager of the Dibdin & Iveson Company, was appointed manager and soon reported finding good payable gold. He came from Spring Hill, Creswick and held a first-class mining manager's Certificate from the Ballarat School of Mines. He took charge on 5 May 1894 and reported that there was no machinery on the field and all hauling done by the windlass.

He also noted that there were a lot of wild-cat mines which would never pay for printing the prospectus. When the new company was incorporated on 1 June 1894, with all its 35,000 shares sold, it was called Kerkeek’s Treasure Gold Mining Company. The newly appointed directors were W Cockrum, JH Bayes, WC Burkitt and W Finlayson. Two weeks later the Look Out Hill Nillinghoo Gold Mining Company was also incorporated.

During April 1894 the Nillinghoo field had been declared a provisional goldfield and within weeks applications came in thick and fast from business people intending to set up shop, including Harry Kerkeek, Kate Howe and the Oliver Brothers, who already operated the Alma Store at Waukaringa. By the end of April, a boarding house, butcher’s shop and a bake house had been added.

Mr Murphy of Kapunda had selected a site for a hotel and several other allotments had been take up for various businesses. A hotel was badly needed as often more than 30 visitors were in town or on the field. In May as many as 100 men were on the field looking for work. There was even a party from Blinman. When they returned, they were instrumental in forming a syndicate which would pay for a prospector to try out the field. By the end of the month a party from Blinman had arrived to work on the Come Along claim.

The Nillinghoo Goldfield was officially proclaimed on 17 May and its borders fixed one mile due south from Mount Victor, from there four miles west, six miles north, ten miles east, six miles south again and finally from there six miles west. This gave a nice rectangular shape of ten miles by six miles, or sixty square miles of surface area, an enormous expanse in anyone’s language. On the same day the Nillinghoo Gold Mining Company was incorporated.

Meanwhile the exodus from Waukaringa to Nillinghoo continued unabated but conditions on the field deteriorated by the day as no rain had fallen for a long time. The place was very dry and clouds of dust were everywhere. There was little or no feed for horses or cattle, which were both in very poor condition and the rabbits were dying by the hundreds. Still the prospectors and miners were determined and kept going regardless. New claims were taken up and some even worked, among them claims by JW Sudholz and SG Cockrum.

In May a petition was organized requesting the government to do something about the water supply. The present supply had come from Nillinghoo station but this had become insufficient, both for drinking and mining purposes. The answer to the miners was that ‘the matter would receive consideration’. There was also much dissatisfaction with the government refusing to grant mail facilities.

Business people, water and wood carters, timber cutters, prospectors and miners all depended on the generosity of Mr Bayes in allowing the mail to come in his private bag, for which he had to go six miles to get it and then another five to bring it to the field. He had also dispatched over a hundred letters during the last week.

Regardless of the problems and hardships there was a marked improvement reported, especially at the Treasure mine, which employed 28 miners, while at the Lookout Hill three shifts were at work to cut the lode. Naturally it induced more businesses to open and by the end of May the town had 3 stores, operated by Gadd, Oliver and Grey, a half-completed hotel for which T Davies of the Carrieton Hotel had been granted a licence, 3 butchers, a barber, a bakehouse, a builder and 2 agents and share brokers, reminding one of the early days of Teetulpa.

According to an old Burra resident who had visited the field it was a scene of much activity in respect of building operations and presented the usual embryotic appearance of a mining town. The mines were developed with skill and much energy and gave a promise of permanency. However, he did point out that Lookout Hill was not a new discovery. Apparently, a shaft had been dug there several years ago and was later abandoned.

A newspaper reporter stated that the place, once the abode of rabbits and scorpions, was fast becoming inhabited by a civilized population. This may have been the case but the mines’ offices were mostly in Adelaide were shareholders’ and other meetings were conducted. Kerkeek’s Treasure Gold Mining Company had its meetings at 30 Waymouth Street while the Nillinghoo Proprietary Gold Mining Syndicate meeting were held at the offices of Wilkinson and Harrison at the Broken Hill Chambers.

This last company had a meeting of shareholders on 29 May when William Finlayson was voted to the chair. After much talk about the Lookout Hill blocks which they had acquired, the Hon JH Howie, Finlayson, RW Ragless, William Cockrum, and JH Bayes of Nillinghoo Station were elected as new directors. To get the blocks the syndicate, formed with 360 shares of £5 each, allotted 140 fully paid up shares to the vendors.

On the field conditions had been deteriorating still further. There had been no rain and wash dirt had to be carried four to six miles to water, a very time consuming and laborious business. The lack of water on the field and town made it also hard for the men to do their own washing. It was soon suggested that a few washer women should do very well if they could only bring some rain water with them.

On 10 June a meeting was organized at Howe’s Boarding House in Yadd Street, attended by as many as 70 men, to get at least two mail deliveries a week. The town though kept expanding with additional buildings and services. A cricket club and a dramatic club had been established and T Oliver & Co. storekeepers of Waukaringa had opened a store at Nillinghoo which was managed by Mr Giles.

SW Pearce of Adelaide was also looking for business and advertised that he would be leaving for the goldfield and was happy to report on any claim – at a price. The Look Out Hill Nillinghoo Gold Mining Company was incorporated on 22 June. Its office was at Nicolas Schroeder Gunnersen of Austral Chambers in Currie Street Adelaide. The solicitors appointed for the company were Fleming, Boucaut and Ashton. It soon had the distinction of being the largest property on the field.

The Barrier Miner reported on 27 June that phenomenal specimens from Kerkeek's Treasure, taken from a depth of 30 feet, were going 50 ounces to the ton. Other mines which reported fairly good results were N Sullivan's claim and the Victor Mining Syndicate. According to the Mount Barker Courier there could be hardly a reasonable doubt entertained as to South Australia being about to take a good position among the gold producing countries of the world. Within the first half of this year what splendid discoveries have been made, some of the best having come to light within the past month or six weeks.

In its next issue the paper lamented that it was to be regretted that reports on our own goldfields were not more frequently published. Even the Adelaide papers seem to give more prominence to West Australian discoveries than to those of South Australia. Despite all this the Nillinghoo Birthday Mining Company was floated in July 1894 in 200 £5 shares


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