Burra’s Early Days

Burra’s Early Days.
(By Frank Treloar.)
A stranger visiting the Burra on a sale day and seeing the many evidences around of thrift and prosperity has little thought of the present town and district’s early history or the many struggles and trying times it has passed through to bring it up to its present state of prosperity, which to-day has every appearance of permanency besides placing it on the list of safe districts of the State.
Burra’s early days go back to the discovery of the Mine in 1845 just 18 years after the proclamation of the Colony was read at Glenelg, but even after the discovery a considerable time elapsed before the required purchase money for the land could be raised to pay the Treasury for the freehold, on account of so little money being available in the Colony and only hard cash was acceptable at the Treasury. At that time it is said there was only £25,000 in the hands of the Banks. When arrangements were finalised a land grant was issued to Mr. William Allen and Mr. Samuel Stock jun. under seal from George Gray Esq., then Governor of South Australia. Having secured their title to the property and forming what afterwards became known as the South Australian Mining Association locally spoken of as ‘Sammy’, the great task of development had to be faced with very little mining requisites in the Colony, also the fact of being 100 miles inland and with only bullock drays as a means of transit. With all these drawbacks the management mastered first one trouble after another and people became attracted to Burra as a place likely to grow into a big centre capable of giving employment to large numbers. Those making the journey had to do so in a bullock dray, the only means of transport available at that time, the journey taking fully eight to ten days. On arrival they made homes temporarily in the banks of the creek (which runs through almost the centre of the town), until time and surroundings allowed of their building homes within the limits of their means. Money being scarce with everybody progress was slow but through all the many troubles neither the management of the Mine or those early residents lost hope but battled on. The first copper ore from the Mine was sent to Port Adelaide by bullock drays, loose, there being no ore bags in the Colony available to bag it properly. This consignment was followed by others which eventually found its way to England by the sailing ships, where on arrival on account of its richness, great excitement was cause amongst the mining world of the Homeland. This led up to the Burra Mine becoming more generally known particularly when the handsome returns filtered back, making more development. Up to this stage of the operations only work of a primitive nature was done owing to want of capital and the ore sent by bullock drays to Port Adelaide. Later, all this was replaced by a more vigorous development backed by capital. In July of 1848, a Mr. Gregory Seal Walters arrived from England as the representative of a Company named the Patent Copper Co., which had been formed specially to take over on an assay basis, all copper ore raised out of the mine by the S.A. Mining Association, to either send home in bulk or smelt it as they considered best. This arrangement gave the mine money returns quickly and so hastened up development. Mr. Walters was a man of energy and blessed with clear business qualifications which did much to give confidence and help to the first and greatest mine the State has ever had. Mr. Walters’ first task was to establish offices in Adelaide and it was on the 13th September, 1848, that he paid his first visit to the Burra Mine when he stayed for a fortnight arranging the Patent Copper Company’s business for the better working of both Companies. This was in effect that arrangements were entered into for assaying all copper ore taken from the mine and on an arranged basis of that assay, that the ore should pass into the possession of the Patent Copper Co. to deal with as they considered best and the Mining Association paid in cash so as to place them in funds to carry on a more rigorous development. In the following November, Mr. Walters again visited Burra and afterwards went across to the Gulf to a place now known as Port Wakefield, looking out a shipping port. From thence onwards all the copper found its way there by bullock teams. It is said that the first two teams sent, missed the only practical crossing over the Wakefield near where the town of Balaklava stands to-day and eventually found themselves at the head of the Gulf where they unloaded and returned disgusted. This occurrene (sic) brought about the blazing of the track and establishing what after wards became known as Gulf road; even then the very bad crossings had to be seen to by the Company and later on a bridge was built at Dunn’s which remained intact until a few years ago when it was burned down. The Gulf Road passed through Mintaro, Auburn, Skilly then on to Dunn’s and into Port Wakefield. Hundreds of teams were employed carting on the Gulf Road taking the copper ore to the port and bringing back coal, etc. It was owing to this that settlements were formed at Mintaro and from Clare to Auburn. Apace with this early progress the original scheme of smelting was not lost sight of and the initial steps towards erecting smelters was being attended to. There is an incident worthy of mention just here as being part of Burra history. On 30th June, 1851, Mr. Walters went to Clare, staying through the election when Mr. Younghusband was returned a member of the Council (first elections in the Colony). He afterwards returned to Burra where he stayed some time. Mr. G. S. Kingston (father of the late Hon. C. C. Kingston) was returned for Burra at that election. In July of 1851 Mr. Ewbanks arrived from England to succeed Mr. Walters who having completed his work of establishing his Company, was returning. Later on I believe, a Mr. Williams took Mr. Ewbank’s work up. About this time news began to filter through of gold being found in Victoria, and by September it was all excitement in Burra. Every able-bodied man left for the goldfields and work in connection with the mine and smelting works was stopped. Some good fireside stories have been told of the happenings in Burra whilst most of the men were away at the Diggings, leaving their wives and sweethearts be hind, but most of the stories can be summed up by saying, the few men left behind passed through a very strenuous time. With the return of the men from the diggings and with miners coming from the old country, it was to make provision for these that Paxton’s Square at Kooringa was built, three sides of this is still standing and in good order. This large square was named after one of the Directors of the Company. With such an influx of men, work at the Mine was resumed with energy and hundreds found ready employment and the Gulf Roard (sic) quickly became a highway with its hundreds of teams carting to and from the Gulf. As the years passed Burra stood out as an important place and miners’ houses went up in all directions. Later on when the railway reached Kapunda, sending copper to the Gulf was stopped and Kapunda took its place as being nearer and more practicable. It was in January of 1852, that Mr. G. S. Walters returned to England taking with him Mr. G. K. Horn, who was also going to Valparaiso for mules. The Patent Copper Company had decided to use mules for carting and packing at Burra. On the 17th July, 1853, Captain Coleman arrived with mules shipped at Montevideo. Only seventy animals arrived out of 180 shipped after an exceedingly rough passage. Other importations followed this unfortunate one and mules eventually to a great extent replaced bullocks, and generally used by the Patent Copper Co. At Mintaro a farm was established known as the Company’s farm, where hay was grown to supply the horses used at the Smelting Works. This place was also made use of as a spelling ground for both horses and mules. To-day this property is known as ‘Kadlunga’ now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Alex Melrose, who have built their pretty homestead in this, one of nature’s beauty spots. With passing years settlement thickened up from Auburn to Clare and it was mainly from these districts that vegetables, fruit and dairy produce were obtained to supply Burra and prosperity reigned on all sides. In 1860 copper was found at Wallaroo by a shepherd, Jimmy Boer, in the employ of Captain Hughes, afterwards Sir Walter Watson Hughes. Not long afterwards the Moonta Mine was discovered by another shepherd of Sir Walter Hughes’, Paddy Ryan. Attention was soon directed towards Wallaroo where within, a short distance of the sea-board these two mines had every opportunity of an easy and cheap development as compared with the Burra Mine, which was always at a great disadvantage as to transport. ‘In 1867, Mr. Treloar says, he had an opportunity with a gentleman visiting Burra of visiting and seeing the Burra Mine under ground and in full working order and well remembers its great activity. Coming on the scene near Morphett’s Shaft they saw the then largest engine in S.A. pumping immense volumes of water which was conveyed to overhead launders or flowing to a reservoir on the hill or down the works where it fed several ‘water-wheels’ on the way and these in turn worked jiggers, samplers, crushers, and many other necessaries which otherwise would have required steam power had it not been for the water-wheels. Wherever one looked it was a hum of activity, horses and drays, wood teams and men and boys in all directions within and without the mine hollow, most of whom were covered with the yellow soil peculiar to the mine. Coming down afterwards into what to-day is the town, one viewed the same busy surroundings. Mule teams were passing along loaded for Kapunda, whilst others were going to the Smelting Works for loading, all were boarded up waggons and branded P.C.C. All this activity, with the immense volume of water being pumped with such regular precision, was to the mind the charm of the whole scene. As time passed the impression gained ground that the Burra Mine was going down hill whilst at Wallaroo the mines were improving consequently large numbers of skilled miners and others left the Burra for Wallaroo where better money could be made. Despite the not too cheery outlook the Burra Mine struggled on until 1877, when it closed down for good. Naturally this came as a great blow to those left in the town and who realised that dark days were now ahead of them. Out of the mines during the years of its activity some, 29 years, £2,241,167 was paid in general expenses whilst the output was 234, 648 tons of ore, yielding 51,622 tons of pure copper. From start to finish it is said the average was 22 to 23 per cent, of copper per ton, a return never beaten by another mine in Sth. Aus. With the closing down of the mine those that could get away left for fresh fields. There was also little sale for property, etc., and things generally drifted into a bad state. Some having the means, pushed out farming or took up pastoral country east of Burra but land development was slow. With the discovery of the Broken Hill Mines new life was later given to Burra and district. The question has often been asked the writer during the 28 years he has lived in Burra, ‘Do you think the old mine will ever go to work again?’ The reply to that—no man knows what may be under the surface, but any thoughtful persons noticing the many indications around, feel that at some time some wonderful action must have taken place which caused the BLOW which gave such results. Where that ‘blow’ came from there should be more but the rub is ‘Where is it?’ A friend one day remarked ‘that it may have dropped off Mars,’ perhaps so, and if true, it goes to prove there are certainly no Scotch-men dwelling thereon; because they would never have been so foolish as to allow such wealth to slip through their fingers.