Gold mining in the Northern Territory, part 2


Gold mining in the Northern Territory

Most diggers would travel to the far corners of South Australia and beyond, just to be among the first on a new field. They had travelled to California in 1849, to Victoria and New South Wales in the early 1850s when they went by the thousands. When in September 1867 James Nash discovered gold at Gympie in Queensland, hundreds of South Australians flocked to the site as they had done during the Snowy River Rush in 1860. Queensland had only become a separate colony in 1859 and was desperate for some solid income. Like the South Australian government of the day it hoped that gold would save it from a crippling economic depression.

During 1872-1873, mining excitement and gold fever in South Australia had reached a level not experienced before. In the Northern Territory, which was part of South Australia at that time, gold was found, and lots of it too, or so it seemed if newspaper reports and the Adelaide Stock Exchange were to be believed. This time though the majority of people interested in gold mining didn't travel to the Northern Territory. They stayed home and invested/gambled their money at the Stock Exchange.

With the increased business, and several members of the Adelaide Stock Exchange closely involved with gold mining, both in South Australia and the Northern Territory, the Exchange even opened at night in the Upper Saloon of the Globe Hotel and the Theatre Saloon.

John McDouall Stuart had suggested possible gold discoveries in the Northern Territory in 1862 when he noted on 11 July the Mary River, which he had named in honour of Mary Chambers, 'as a likely place to find gold'. H Frederick Litchfield, who had worked on the Bendigo goldfields for several years, made the first actual discovery of gold in the Northern Territory. He located it on the south side of the Finniss River near Tumbling Waters in 1865. Four years later, members of Goyder's survey party found more gold there. At Port Adelaide it had been noted for some time that the ballast unloaded from ships returning from the Northern Territory contained specks of gold. In April 1870 gold was positively identified in the ballast that the Kohinoor had discharged.

While the Overland Telegraph line was constructed, posthole diggers made new gold discoveries at Yam Creek in December 1870. No doubt they pocketed whatever they found, but there was no possibility for seriously prospecting or digging for gold. None of the men had, or could obtain, a Miner's Right, a prerequisite to register a claim in Adelaide. These only became available on the Territory goldfields from May 1873 onwards, after the passing of the Northern Territory Gold Mining Regulations.

Somehow though J Darwent's son managed to lodge a reward claim in August 1871 for the discovery of a payable goldfield on the Overland Telegraph line about 150 miles south of Darwin. The South Australian government was only partially successful in discouraging the men prospecting during the building of the line and deterring them from deserting it for the lure of gold. More finds were made just the same, resulting in a speculation boom not seen before. The quest for gold from the Northern Territory or the Stock Exchange proved costly to many hopeful prospectors, speculators, miners and genuine investors alike.

When the first reports reached Adelaide, the South Australian government appointed George McLachlan as surveyor to lead a Northern Territory prospecting party in July 1871. This was rather unusual as Parliamentary debates during these years show a clear preference for private enterprise to be responsible for the search of gold and other minerals, rather than the government. Although still believing the government should only provide the incentive for private mining it was now unanimous in its desire to see the removal of all unnecessary restrictions upon mining.

A month later McLachlan was also appointed Warden of Goldfields for the Northern Territory and suggestions were made that John S Westcott, an experienced man, ex Californian digger, Adelaide Hills prospector and Ulooloo claimholder, 'would be a very good man to send to the Territory for the purpose of prospecting'.

Douglas 1885 (SLSA)

After the report of Captain Bloomfield Douglas, Government Resident in Darwin, that gold had been discovered between Mount McLachlan and Mount Wigley, gold mining mania and speculation became unbridled. Crews deserted ships after unloading stores, equipment and hopeful prospectors from Adelaide. Gold mining companies to mine the Northern Territory's yellow metal, and gullible investors' pockets, were floated immediately.

One of the first was the Northern Territory Gold Prospecting Association. It was floated in 1871 with a capital of 2,500 pounds. It had no mine, as yet, only the hope of finding one. Payment did not cause any hardships on the promoters; they used the risk-free principle and just paid in shares. As many as 500 shares of 1 pound each were issued as payment to the leader, prospectors and other men employed by the association to find gold.

Its provisional directors were EM Bagot, John Chambers, John Hodgkiss, John Bentham Neales, John Robertson and WK Simms, MP with CJ Coates as secretary. They estimated that 1,000 pounds would cover all expenses for the next six months leaving a further 1,000 pounds in reserve to cover any unforeseen contingency.

Bagot and sons 1872 (SLSA)

John S Westcott, assisted by AR Hulbert and JL Noltenius, would lead the prospecting party. They all assembled on board the Alexandra on Monday 7 February 1872. After all had settled in, John Robertson and John Chambers, two of the directors, and the secretary were there to farewell them. When addressing the men, Chambers dwelt upon the necessity of their agreeing together and obeying implicitly the commands of their leader, John Westcott, and expressed himself satisfied as to the existence of payable gold in the Northern Territory.

Every care and trouble had been taken, he said, in properly equipping the party of which he had had the management. He ended his little speech by proposing the health of the leader and members of the expedition. In response, Westcott stated that he would do his utmost to further the object of the Association and was satisfied with the selection of men and was also convinced that favourable results would be obtained.

The directors were complimented on their enterprise and the warm interest they had shown in the undertaking. If the efforts proved successful, the names of the party would be handed down to posterity as the pioneers of gold discovery in the region. The other members of the party, P Valentine, P Hyland, C Tym, H Roberts, W Boord, Hanschildt and M Littlefield, who had all agreed to serve for a period of one year, were provided with eight horses, tents, plenty of mining tools and a supply of weapons and ammunition for six months.

Just before leaving Port Adelaide the men were paid a graceful tribute by Miss Chambers who presented them with a handsomely worked blue silk and gold fringed flag, bearing the inscription, No.1 Gold Claim, Northern Territory. Miss Chambers expressed the earnest hopes and wishes for the success of the enterprise that the expedition was entering upon and asked that the flag might be used to mark the spot first selected as a claim in the new country.

The Chambers' ladies had some previous experience in flag making. When John McDouall Stuart set out for his final and successful south-north crossing of Australia the sisters had made a flag for him to be planted when he reached the Indian Ocean. This he did on 24 July 1862 and the next day the Union Jack, embroidered by Elizabeth Chambers with Stuart's name, was nailed on a tree, followed by three cheers for the Queen. Stuart had named a large number of geographical features after the Chambers family, but James Chambers added even more names, by renaming many of those not referring to his family, before Stuart's maps were printed.

When news later reached Adelaide that Westcott's party had found gold at Yam Creek, the company's share price almost doubled overnight. By September the price of a single share had reached 5 pounds. It was also during this time that the Trans Australian Railway Scheme was mooted again. The construction of a railway from Adelaide to Port Darwin, through South Australian territory, would be 'largely conducive to the interests of South Australia by giving an intrinsic value to lands which were now valueless'. It would assure a continuous increase in employment in many trades and generally develop the natural resources.

Enthusiasm for the Northern Territory development was such that George McEwin proposed that a canal be constructed from the head of Spencer Gulf to Lake Eyre. It would open up a navigable channel for commercial purposes into the very heart of the continent. The cost, according to him, would be trifling compared with a railway and it would also provide a cheaper means of transit. Still better was the fact that a channel of this length, and a lake filled with water, would cool the atmosphere and cause a more general distribution of rain.

The Hon Thomas Reynolds, Commissioner of Crown Lands went up north too to have a look for himself. His arrival had been awaited anxiously and JS Westcott, Alexander Buchanan and John Lewis lost no time visiting him. Without delay Reynolds, Westcott and two valuable men with five horses and a buggy were on their way to start a tour of inspection. Thanks to the inventor of such bush luxuries as the hammock and mosquito screen, the Commissioner enjoyed his first camping.

Douglas Residence Darwin 1870 (SLSA)

While up north, Reynolds also found that Bloomfield Douglas had ignored most of the mining regulations. However, he did notice that there was sufficient gold to warrant the expenditure of money in testing the claims, but not enough to warrant extravagant prices being paid for shares or the share jobbing, which had been carried on in Adelaide and elsewhere, lately.

He warned South Australian investors that the real value of the reefs remained to be tested and sampled in quantity, 'not just the crushing of picked pieces or specimens from small rich leaders'. Having seen what was going on, and no doubt realizing the financial gains which could be made he returned to Adelaide and reported his findings to the government in detail. Reynolds then resigned his portfolio and seat in parliament and returned to the Northern Territory to pursue his own quest for golden riches.

At the height of the frenzy, during the latter part of 1872 and early 1873, companies were floated almost daily to look for, or mine the Northern Territory's golden wealth. There was the Fiveash Reef Gold Mining Company, with CJ Coates as secretary, which was wound up in April 1874, the Telegraph Prospecting and Gold Mining Company with ML Cullen as one of its directors, Lewis as manager and Fred SC Driffield as secretary.

Driffield, like RA Fiveash, could still find the time to be involved in many other activities. Both were active members of the Horticultural and Floricultural Society. Driffield was also secretary of the Scott's Creek Gold Mining Company and had already a very long association with gold mining and mining in general. As far back as 1861 he had been secretary of the South Wombat Mining Company and the Lipson Cove Mining Company.

In January 1874 the company made a call for two shillings and sixpence per share, but a month later Frederick Phillips telegraphed Driffield that he had crushed 65 tons giving 180 ounces of gold. This was the kind of news shareholders were hoping for and to some extent expecting.

Other companies floated were the Port Darwin Gold Mining Company, with WA Cawthorne as secretary and The Priscilla Reef Gold Mining Company, named after Priscilla Chambers, whose brother John had large amounts of money invested in Northern Territory gold ventures. The company soon ran short of money and secretary Harry Turner had to organize a meeting on 1 August 1873 to increase its capital by a further 5,000 pounds to keep going. In January 1874 Turner made a call for two shillings and sixpence on that issue.

There was The Larrakeeyah GMC promoted by W Tuxford and John Allingham and the Palmerston Gold Prospecting Company, with Benjamin Butters as mining captain. This company also ran out of money soon after its formation. William Townsend, MP and Chairman of the Board proposed to increase its working capital by a further 16,000 pounds. It struggled on and at its second half yearly shareholders' meeting, John Clark and Thomas Johnson retired as directors, but both were eligible to be elected again. A few weeks later the company made another call followed by a further call a month after that date.

There was also the Adelaide Northern Territory Gold Prospecting Company, with Coates as secretary, who made a call for additional money in February 1874 and the Yam Creek Gold Mining Company with JS Scott as secretary who also called in extra money. The Prince of Wales Gold Mining Company, the Thanet Gold Prospecting Company, the North Australian Gold Prospecting and Mining Company, with GHE Gee as secretary and the Princess Louise Gold Mining Company with JS Scott as secretary were all floated to prospect and mine the golden riches of the Northern Territory. All hoped that their enterprise would be a financial success.

Very few were, and as early as January 1874 it was suggested to work the Princess Louise on tribute. Most companies after having been floated did little more than calling in money from the shareholders. There were the Imperial Gold Prospecting Company, the Great Eastern Gold Prospecting Company and the Bismarck Gold Prospecting Company. W Von Trotha, secretary of all three, made a call for ten shillings on the Bismarck shares and another of 1 pound on the Great Eastern shares as early as January 1874.

Krichauff 1870 (SLSA)

Early in January Von Trotha also gave notice that the capital of the Imperial would be increased by the issue of a further 250 shares of 5 pounds each. In February the Bismarck had its yearly meeting to receive the directors' reports and elect two new directors in place of A Von Treuer and FEHW Krichauff, who retired but were both eligible for another term. At this meeting shareholders learnt that B Straubel had secured four gold claims. However, whereas in South Australia work was often retarded or had to be stopped completely due to a lack of rain, in the Northern Territory work had to be suspended for months due to too much rain.

Krichauff, who had applied for a mineral lease at Waitpinga before June 1864, seems to have been a relatively new convert to gold mining. During the 1868 elections he offered himself as a candidate for the Onkaparinga District. While giving his political views on many topics at the Woodside Inn on 23 March, he did not mention gold mining once. Maybe that was one of the reasons why he was not elected. However, by 1869 he had applied for two mineral leases at Randell's Look Out.

The United Tradesmen's Gold Prospecting Company with GT Clarkson as secretary already had trouble collecting the latest calls of one shilling per share. It had a rather short life. As early as February 1874 it was decided to voluntarily wind up this company. The Governor Musgrave Gold Prospecting Company with Osmond H Gilles as secretary was also a short-lived affair. Secretaries and directors were often the only ones to make money. They were paid out of the money invested by the shareholders.

Like so many other secretaries, Gilles too started to make calls for shareholders' money in a desperate, but unsuccessful attempt, to stay afloat. Gilles also held the same position with the Emmeline Gold Prospecting Company and the Boomerang Gold Prospecting Company. The Southport Gold Prospecting Company, which had John V Lloyd as secretary did not do any better either. The Jungle Reef Gold Mining Company published its prospectus in July 1873, proposing a capital of 10,000 pounds in 5,000 shares of 2 pounds. A fully 1,000 of these shares would be issued to the promoters, free of charge, naturally, plus a cash amount of 1,100 pounds.

The three promoters, P Levi, RH Crittenden and Ross T Reid had every confidence in the value of the discovery. Was it misplaced confidence or another example of trying to make some fast money without taking any risks? Whatever the case may have been, six months later the company was wound up! Henry Strype Anthony, its secretary was appointed liquidator and got 25 pounds for his effort.

That same month the prospectus of Deane's Northern Territory Prospecting Company was also issued. The promoter of this venture was Edward Meade Bagot who was at this time also promoting the Royal Standard Gold Mining Company in which he held 1,000 free, but fully paid up, shares. Bagot had acquired the claim for Deane's Northern Territory Prospecting Company from George Price Deane for 300 one pound shares. Deane would also be kept on to search for gold for the next 12 months at a salary of 7 pounds a week plus rations.

Still more companies were formed such as the Adelaide Prospecting Venture, the Tumbling Waters Freehold Gold Mining Company, with M Kingsborough, JB Sheridan, JS Turner, GW Sillifant and R Rees as directors, the Pine Creek Gold Mining Company with GW Cotton as secretary, Radford's Kapunda Company, Kapunda Yam Creek Gold Mining Company and Winn's Kapunda Yam Company. An assay of 36 pounds of stone from Winn's, by G Francis, had given over an ounce of pure gold making it an average of 90 ounces per ton.

When put on display at H Turner's office in Currie Street, Adelaide, it produced the expected results, which was an increase in the number of shares sold and its price. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now say that most of the gold mining in the Northern territory at that time came from the pockets of Adelaideans, many of them well known, including members of parliament. Maybe it was the same as today's drive for gold, or even toilet paper, the chance to make money, by hook or by crook.

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