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Hillgrove and its mines. Part III.

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Monday 24 August 1891, The Sydney Morning Herald

III. – THE BAKER’S CREEK MINE.

(BY OUR SPECIAL REPORTER.)

I think it but fair to warn my readers that this will be a very dull paper. Like those horrid statistics which are the bane of all “speechy” dinners, it must perforce bristle with dry details. It is, for instance, necessary to say something about the geological features of the subject. This will not tire too much if a fair sprinkling of golden veins are mixed with the district rocks. Baker’s Creek being the best gold mine of the north, I may safely hang some dry facts on it. Two years ago I was indebted to Mr. Wilkinson, the Government Geologist, who, I grieve to know, is now dangerously ill, for some notes of Hillgrove. I have also the opinions of many other well informed geologists. The field has been very carefully examined, and I am glad to say that the general impression favours permanency. It is on the edge of the eastern slope or coast lands of the colony. “The Falls” are about the head of the rough country through which the mountain waters turbulently rush to the Macleay River. It is this force of water which has gradually eroded the great rocks and made the immense gulch where the Baker’s Creek crushing plant now so securely stands.

Where are those eastern slopes? Take the map of the colony and glance along its right hand edge from south to north. On the east is the coast line and the broad Pacific, and almost parallel with the coast at a scale distance of from 20 to 100 miles westwards there is stretched what resembles a string of centipedes. This string is the draftsman’s representation of the coast range. The thousands of feet are the mountain spurs, tending both east and west. These spurs are rich with stores of minerals, many of which yet remain to be tapped. Down at the very southern extreme we have Bendoc, Bonang, Pambula, and other goldfields. Near Bega there are gold-bearing reefs, and travelling north we pass Bermague, the Gulf, the rich mines near Moruya, the auriferous parts of the Shoalhaven, the Yalwal ; and when we skip over the rich coal measures of Illawarra and the Hunter and reach the northern coast lands, we find antimony and gold in patches dotted over hundreds of miles of country right up to the extreme northern border point. Tin, silver, gold, antimony, and bismuth are the main attractions with which New England and its eastern slopes tempt prospectors.

The geological formations of the Hillgrove district are slates and granite. These have been disturbed by a later granitic irruption, which Mr Wilkinson, the Government Geologist, states is the origin of the formation of the gold bearing antimony reefs, like the Eleanora, Baker’s Creek, and other reefs which have been opened in places over several miles extent of country. The metals occur not only in the quartz, but also in the irrupted granite dyke stone, which, being of deep seated origin, is an indication that these dyke reefs will extend to great depths. I have a rough sketch before me from the pencil of another well-known geologist which shows a basalt dyke running through the Eleanora, tho oldest mine on the field. This dyke extends southwards, but is but off towards the north, and my friend says where this dyke is not there is no permanency. The slate east and west of dyke bear golden veins; on the north is granite of more recent origin than the dyke. Baker’s Creek is in the slate, so are the Sunlights, and so may be many other good mines. But this northern granite is not without its gold bearing reefs, and may yet overcome the opinion of geologists. The Earl of Hopetoun bids fair to break down the prejudice which I have thus briefly detailed.

Hillgrove has actually been a mining field for more than 10 years, ever since the day that John Bracken, a farmer, when out for a stroll noticed a great outcrop of dark glistening stuff near the edge of “The Falls.” This outcrop soon became the Eleanora mine, and those of my readers who wish for further historical details can obtain them by referring to my description of the field, which appears in the file of the Herald of November, 1889. Mr. Scouller, a clever engineer and mine manager, who had charge of the Eleanora for many years, can supplement the information I then gave, but all notes of the district admit the summary that it was a very small unpretentious spot indeed until about May, 1888, when the Baker’s Creek reefs were discovered. The Eleanora had been worked for years, and a few leases had been taken about the neighbourhood. One of these, over on he opposite side of “The Falls” -the Sunlight- was supposed to have a good show, and Smith, a miner, who was working for wages on the Eleanora, or was prospecting near it, started one fine morning for a clamber down the Eleanora side, and up to the Sunlight. During this trip, when half-way down the steep slope, he discovered an outcropping reef, the quartz of which showed gold freely. He and his three mates lost no time in securing the land, and while Surveyor McKerron was measuring the lease his chainman, Spinks, accidentally chopped a piece of quartz from a rich reef, many yards distant from the original discovery of Smith. The new find gave dolly tests which were astoundingly rich, and “The Falls” were rushed. Smith and party erected a small steam crushing plant. But soon there came from Adelaide men who had Broken Hill capital at their backs, and to these Smith and party sold. A company was formed of 100,000 shares at £1 each, no liability. South Australian capital kept flowing in freely, and many leases changed hands. The Baker’s Creek Company put up a 20-head crushing-plant, and kept driving into the hill at various points, the greater part of the work being done on the second discovery-the narrow rich vein-which was named Smith reef. What was done actually in the 12 months preceding October 1889, pleased the shareholders so much that the shares went up to quadruple their original valuation. There were taken out and crushed 3273 tons of quartz, which yielded 32,926oz. of gold, worth about 71s per oz. nett. Thus gold to the value of £115,500 was obtained. The first dividend was paid in October 1888. Then came a lull. Dead-work had to be done. It was impossible to keep up the high dividends regularly, and down tumbled the shares. It was when forebodings were most gloomy, in November, 1889, that I first visited the mine, and after closely inspecting it this is what I wrote – “The manager of Baker’s Creek has still a good mine to work with. There is at present no prospect of calls being necessary, and there is every reason to hope that there will be half-yearly dividends. The reefs which were so good above the creek level may not bear the test of depth ; but there is no reason why they should not. If a fair proportion of the £72,000 dividends had been spent in advance work and a reserve kept in hand, shares would now be of greater value than they are. And with regard to this fall, which has been so sudden that all Hillgrove is affected, I wish to be understood in the opinion that the field is not of the one-mine order. It has many good mines, all of which are but in their infancy. Work these with judgment, don’t buy nor value them at absurdly high rates, and Hillgrove will prove satisfactory.”

When I wrote these predictions Baker’s Creek had paid dividends which amounted to £72,000, and as I find since then paid £28 000, it appears pleasingly plain that the Herald of November, 1889, contained what sporting men would term the “straight tip” for investors.

The mine for the last ten months has been under the able management of Mr. W. T. Hill, who, when I last visited Hillgrove, was in charge of the Eleanora, a position in which he was giving, as he is doing now, unbounded satisfaction to his employers. During my recent visit I spent half a day, most of which was underground, with Mr. Hill. The mine is quite as good as I found it in 1889. The two parallel reefs, 170ft apart, are still being worked, and are going in and down in a way which leads one to suppose they may never stop. There is plenty of good quartz in sight. Smith’s Reef averages 4oz. to the ton, and varies in width from 2in. to 14in., while the Big Reef, which averages over 1½oz. per ton, is from 6in. to 24in. wide. The lease is of 15 acres. The crushing plant is in excellent order, and consists of 30 head of 6cwt. stamps, two boilers, five shaking tables, two amalgamating barrels, and two berdans. It crushed during the last 10 months 3500 tons of quartz. An air- compressing plant works three rock drills, very useful machines for such a mine as Baker’s Creek. There is a new winding engine which does a lot of lifting from a shaft which cuts the upper tunnels. The tramline from the top to the bottom of “The Falls” is 2660ft., the vertical height being 1470ft.

This, from the start, has been a good mine for the wages men. There are now employed about 150, and the wage-sheet averages about £750 per fortnight. The gold is worth £3 12s 3d per oz. There is very little antimony in the veins, but as much of the country rock comes out with the good quartz it is necessary to have a sorting platform, where much washing and picking are done. The crushing battery is ever going and should be added to by at least 10 head. Wood, of which 22 cords are used every week for the boilers, costs 16s 6d per cord, at least that is the contract price just accepted for 1000 cords. The legal manager, Mr. V. Lawrance has his headquarters in Adelaide.

The reefs run N.W. and S.W., underlying 1 in 7 to the east, and on Smith’s the work done now extends from 42ft below the creeks level to a vertical height of 410ft., which is in itself a very pleasing proof of the extraordinary worth of the vein. From the outside of the slope to the boundary is a considerable distance, perhaps 800ft, from any of the present workings, yet Pleitnor’s tunnel, the uppermost one is in 200ft. ; Cornish’s (80ft. below Pleitner’s) is in 350ft., Smith’s (80ft below Cornish’s) 500ft. ; Barnfield’s, still lower, 740ft., and from the latter the reef is sunk upon in a shaft 90ft. Then there is on almost the lowest worked level a drive going in to connect the two reefs. The Big Reef is worked from three tunnels. Went’s is in 200ft. while 80ft. below is Miller’s, in 310ft., and 100ft below is Murray’s, in 480ft., and from the last a shaft is down 30ft., and will be sunk 140ft. more. If the Big Reef can be carried down with the last mentioned piece of work, Baker’s Creek mine may yield gold for a longer period than even its most sanguine admirers prognosticate. Further than this, there are other gold-bearing veins in the lease besides those now so successfully worked. Nearly all this work of which I have given an account is on the course of and with the reefs. The latter now and then slide out or jump but they invariantly remain within reach, as Mr. Hill puts it, “somewhere close handy” to the ordinary course.

And now the 4 p.m. whistle has gone and I close my notebook with the old exclamation, “bother details,” as with Mr. Hill I go to the machine shed to take passage by the tram. The shift of miners have been before us and we wait and see them a score at a time being wafted heavenwards. It is not all for Jack, for now and then there are Gills who trust themselves to the Baker’s Creek line. In this they are less cautious than the male sex, for be it known that all workers who use the tram pay 4d in the £ in wages earned to some insurance company, so that in the event of accident half wages can be received for 26 weeks, and £100 paid in case of death. I take my position on the wood-truck ready for elevation, and just before the wire rope commences to jerk one of the energetic workers places so directly under my chin the collection box of the local hospital that I have to dispense with some of my pocket ballast. The jerk then comes and upwards we go, passing the down train bearing as passengers three little maids from school, who sit as coolly and complacently on the pile of wood as if fractured drawbars or overstrained wire ropes were things unknown.

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Written by macalba

April 16, 2011 at 8:01 pm

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