Mount Rose copper mine in the Flinders Ranges

Mount Rose

The most promising mine in the North.

Very little remains of this once more than promising copper mine and its nearby smelter. All that is left is its square chimney, a few caved-in shafts and some mining gear littering an otherwise near pristine landscape. The mine itself was about three kilometres north west of Mount Rose, on the western banks of the Mount Rose Creek and just south of the Gammon Creek.

The mine was started in 1859, the deposit being named the Mount Rose mine, after the nearby mountain. It was soon realised that there was very little timber in the area for use as fuel for boilers or smelters. Several men were engaged to open the mine. Ore from this effort was sent to Liverpool in England and proved to contain a high percentage of copper.

Early in 1860 prospects looked promising enough to expand the workings at Mount Rose and Captain Thomas Prisk, an experienced Cornishman, was approached to take charge of the mine. He soon had enough copper ore dug up to start advertising for teamsters. The ore had to be transported south along the bed of a torturously winding creek to Mount Serle, and from there another three hundred kilometres to Port Augusta over almost equally torturous roads.

Teamsters were badly needed in the north, not only by the mining companies but also by the many pastoralists who had, or were, in the process of establishing their runs. Unfortunately teamsters and their bullocks were few and far between. They could obtain enough work from mining companies and station owners in the more settled parts of the colony.

Even so, Captain Prisk was able to report that the mine was increasing in value and that he had driven four metres north in the fifteen metre level. The lode was estimated to be between four to six metres wide, with nearly three metres of solid rich grey ore. Later that month Mr McFarlane paid a visit to the mine and found about twelve miners at work. A large quantity of ore had been mined and Captain Prisk told him that the ore held about seventy percent copper. No wonder that this mine was soon "considered the most promising mine in the Far North".

The transport problems were not solved though. Captain Prisk and his men, together with the other mine owners in the Northern Flinders Ranges were in desperate need of teamsters. Without them no supplies could arrive at the mine, nor could the ore be delivered to the smelters. This meant that they could not sell any copper either. Without the income from the sale of copper it was impossible for the mine owners to keep paying their men. Therefore good reliable transport was of the utmost importance to the development of the Mount Rose and other mineral properties.

A Select Committee, appointed by the South Australian Parliament in 1860 to inquire into the mineral wealth of the Northern Flinders Ranges, came to the conclusion that until a mineral tramroad of iron, of an economical character, can be laid down all the way from Port Augusta into the centre of the mineral district, the full development and permanent working of the important discoveries which have been and still continue to be made, cannot be achieved. It also found that the natural features of the country were most favourable for the construction of such a tramroad. It also pointed out though that such a project should be undertaken by private enterprise and not by the Government.

Unfortunately, apart from Charles Bonney, and the London directors of the Great Northern Mining Company, no private companies came forward to undertake the work. It was not until 1869 that in England the Great Northern Railway Company of South Australia Ltd. was formed to "enter into an agreement or agreements with the Government of South Australia for the construction of a railway from Port Augusta".

Despite all the problems associated with distance and the high transport costs, many prospectors kept combing the area for more and possibly greater mineral discoveries. By July 1860 more than two hundred applications had been made for mineral leases in the Northern Flinders Ranges. As each application was for an area of eighty acres it meant that 16,000 acres were supposed to contain copper, in an area of about 7,500 square miles. This was five times the size of Cornwall from where so many miners had come to Australia and South Australia in particular.

The Cornish influence in South Australian mining was very extensive at that time. In 1865 for instance, one half of all assisted migrants arriving in South Australia came from Cornwall. Among these migrants were many miners and Captains who had left their worked-out mines at home for the mountains of minerals and mines of the Northern Flinders Ranges. Captain Prisk was a Cornishman who would later become a Captain of the Wheal Ellen mine at Strathalbyn and after that at the famous Moonta and Wallaroo mines.

Another problem faced by the mine owners of the Northern Flinders Ranges was the lack of suitable timber. The Select Committee of 1860, previously mentioned, also found that it saw no probability in smelters being established in the Northern Flinders Ranges owing to the small amount of suitable timber, and the long distance over which it had to be carted, where it did exist, to the different smelters.

When finally two drays came up with supplies for the mine and the men, Captain Prisk had them immediately re-loaded with ore to be taken down south. Three other drays loaded with supplies had left Adelaide in March but four months later still had not reached the mine. Unfortunately the two drays containing some extraordinarily fine specimens from the mine never made it to Adelaide either.

With problems like these, plus the further risk of the load being lost at sea on its way to Swansea, it is easy to understand that mining had come to a standstill at Mount Rose in 1862. Prospecting, on the other hand, had not stopped. The second half of the 1860s were the lean years not only for mining, but also for the pastoral industry. The drought stopped almost all the mining in the north, including that at the Mount Rose mine, ruining many investors and forcing miners and Captains to look for mining jobs around Adelaide.

Economic viability for re-opening the northern mines did not return until well after the severe drought. By 1870 almost everyone in the colony was convinced that the only way to make the north prosperous was to build a railway. Referring to the Mount Rose mine, Captain Absolom Tonkin said "I believe this mine would be a very productive mine if properly worked, were it not for the long transit". The local newspapers were in full support of this railway and pointed out that a northern railway would make great mines such as the Daly, Stanley, Yudanamutana, Mount Burr, Mount Lyndhurst and the Mount Rose payable.


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