Charles Rasp, South Australian History

Charles Rasp

Charles Rasp

Charles Rasp, the Silver King, was born in Saxony, Germany, on 7 October 1846, a descendant of Portuguese aristocracy. His real name was Hieronymous Salvator Lopez von Pereira. His father became a private secretary to a member of the German aristocracy and moved to Saxony, where he married a German woman. When he died he was being pursued by the financier Rothschild. Both Raspís father and grandfather tried to obscure their identity by changing their family name.

Rasp had a first class education in Germany, learning English, French and German as well as economics, chemistry and technology. After completing his education he worked for a while in a chemical manufacturing plant Hamburg before joining the army. During the Franco-Prussian war he left the army and sailed for Australia. By the mid 1870s he was living in Victoria where he worked on several pastoral properties. From here he moved around NSW and Queensland until finally taking work as a boundary rider on Mount Gipps station. During his roaming in the outback several gold and silver discoveries were being made, including the one at nearby Silverton.

Being an observant man, Rasp had a good look at the Hill of Mullock, or the Broken Hill. He always carried his Prospectorís Guide, which he had bought in Adelaide and studied very carefully what he saw at the Broken Hill. Finally after believing he had discovered an outcrop of tin he, and James Poole and David James pegged out a mineral claim on 5 September 1883.

On the suggestion of his boss, George McCulloch, a mining syndicate of seven members was formed, each contributing £70. When the syndicate realised the enormity of their claim they formed a public company it was registered on 10 August 1885 as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited with a capital of 16,000 shares of £20 each. By the end of the year it had produced £42,866 worth of ore. It became the largest single source of lead, silver and zinc in the world, measuring 7.5 km long and 250 metres wide. It would eventually generate more than one hundred billion dollars in wealth.

Being nearly forty years old Rasp decided to get married and in 1886 asked Agnes Marie Louise Kleversahl, an Adelaide waitress in her late twenties, to be his wife. Agnes was born at Woldenburg, Germany on 20 April 1857 and arrived in Adelaide in 1882. They were married in Adelaide on 22 July 1886. For their honeymoon they went to Silverton but in 1887 Rasp bought a house at Medindie which they named Willyama, the Aboriginal name for Broken Hill. It was originally built in 1881 for Dr Oscar Gorger but soon enlarged by Charles with an additional 12 rooms.

By 1890 Raspís shares in BHP were worth well over £1,000,000 and held shares in several other mining companies while being a Member of the Board of other companies. With all this wealth the couple were able to travel extensively, both in Australia and overseas. When at home at Willyama they entertained in a lavish manner. In May 1897 they left for an extended holiday visiting Europe, Africa, China, Japan and India. Three years later the Rasp family, and their servant Anna Paech, left for a two year visit to England and Europe.

On 22 May 1907 Rasp died of a heart attack, aged 60. His estate was valued at £48,000. This would suggest that most of his wealth was held by his wife. Agnes, and her money, soon went to live overseas, 1912, where she tried to improve her social standing. First she became engaged to 76 years old Baron Richard von Eisenstein but he died a few days before their wedding on 4 December 1913. She now married Count von Zedtwitz in London in April 1914 and returned to Germany. The Count was killed during the war but Agnes, now Baroness von Zedtwitz, and Anna Paech remained in Germany until the end of the war. In 1918 both returned to London.

Upon their return to Adelaide in May 1921, Agnes, who had been considered an enemy alien, found that all her property and shares had been confiscated under the Enemy Property Act. It was only through a special Act of Parliament, sponsored by Billy Hughes, that she regained most of her possessions. Agnes died in Adelaide on 26 May 1936, aged 79, leaving an estate of £120,000. She was buried in the same grave as Charles. Anna Paech received a yearly income of £100. In October 2006 Willyama was sold for $6.4 million.


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