At the center of the town of Moonta are the remains of a once great copper mine, the Moonta Mine, one that despite being on the other side of the planet was worked by a great number of Cornish men.
Copper was first discovered here in 1861 when local shepherd Patrick Ryan found copper in an old wombat hole. A race began between himself and local land owner Sir Walter Hughes to formally peg the lease. Hughes won the new mining lease and named his company Tipara Mining Association (later changed to Moonta Mining Co).
The pegging of this lease led to a huge influx of other hopefuls to the area, but none were as successful as Moonta which produced 5,000 tons (5,080,235 kg) of copper in its first year alone, totally £67,350 (worth $7,178,940 today).
In 1864 Henry Hancock took over the role of captain. He championed the expansion of the mine, purchasing a multitude of new machinery to replace either human or horse driven items like pumps and winders. Hancock also designed and patented his own air compressor drill to reduce the labour of drilling and hammering and a specialised jig to separate ore. By the following year 1,200 men and boys were employed at the mine, the number increasing to over 5,000 over the next five years.
1873 saw the introduction of a minimum wage for the mine workers, guaranteeing them £2 a week ($213 now). Hancock also enforced the miners being members of the medical club and compulsory evening classes for the employed boys.
The mine remained successful up until the 1880’s, being the first mine in Australia to pay £1 million in dividends in 1876 ($148,392,156 now). Copper prices began to dip in the 70’s and over the next ten years production decreased significantly. In 1890 it was amalgamated with neighbouring Wallaroo Mine.
From 1900 work below ground was limited to the 300 fathom level. The following year a leaching plant was set up on site to rework the tailings for more copper. World War I saw another drop in copper prices and despite the companies efforts to reduce costs, it was liquidated in 1923. For ten years between 1933 and 1943 leaching continued on the tailings, but this eventually came to an end.
All that’s left of Elder’s engine house, the mines first engine.
Moonta Mine had a number of engine houses over its life, two of which stand complete today. The most prominent belongs to Hughes 60″ pumping engine house; build in 1865 on Elder’s Lode this contained an engine made by Harvey & Co of Hayle, Cornwall that worked until 1923. The other is Richmonds 32″ engine. Built in 1869 out of stone from nearby Port Hughes, the engine came second hand from Kurilla Mine and cost £2,100. Used for running crushing and dressing machinery, as the mine increased in size new boilers needed to be added; starting with just two, another five were added by 1901 and a further four six year later. The steam engine was replaced with a gas one in 1917.
Prankerds 30″ (22″ in other texts) whim was erected in 1867 and came from Tavistock along with a crusher and two boilers, costing £2,518. This engine house was later dismantled and replaced by Taylor’s horizontal whim engine. This was first built in 1901, but had to be rebuilt twice due to subsidence and later for a larger engine.
Hancock’s 35″ winding and crushing engine was a second hand beam rotative engine originally from Melbourne and was installed here in 1874 on Bower’s Lode. Ryan’s 32″ horizontal steam engine was erected in 1864 and started work the year after; it was demolished in 1906. On Truer’s shaft was an engine of the same name; this was a whim of unknown size that was built in 1906.
A view into Taylor’s shaft.
Elder’s 18″ pumping engine was installed in 1863 after a brief stint at the New Cornwall Mine in Kadina. Once Hughes engine started work, its only function was as a winder for six of the nearby shafts. From the 1870’s, Elder’s operated double decker man skips in Hughes shaft.
The last three engines have very little information associated with them, and minimal remains. Bedommes and Bower’s were both erected at some point in the 1870’s, with the former working as a whim. There may also have been an engine on Young’s shaft.
McCoulls (40 fathoms/73m), Stuckey’s (100 fathoms/ 183m), Warmington’s (320 fathoms/585m), Stirling (70 fathoms/128m), Taylor’s (420 fathoms/768m), Waterhouse (115 fathoms/210m), Hughes (200 fathoms/366m), Smiths (70 fathoms/128m), Milnes (40 fathoms/73m), Young’s (165 fathoms/302m), McDonnells (130 fathoms/238m), Dominicks (145 fathoms/265m), Taylor’s North, Truers (120 fathoms/220m), Truers North, Truers South, Truers New, Bennetts, Lloyds, Lloyds South, Beddomes, Simpson (85 fathoms/155m), Bowers (71 fathoms/131m), Greens (205 fathoms/375m), Prince Alfreds (165 fathoms/301m), Hoggs, Buchans, Ryans (20 fathoms/37m), Fergussons (204 fathoms/373m), Duncan and Musgraves.
Access to the entire mine site is free. The remaining engine houses have been consolidated and the shafts made safe to walk near.