Chapter 2 Weldborough - Mining

I left school when I was 14 and when I was 15 I spent ten months with my father mining at Crystal Hill, between Weldborough and Lottah. For six weeks, while the mine was being investigated, we camped beside a log with some palings tacked against it for shelter and then built a little camp - which, incidentally, was only recently burnt down.

One wintry night, before the camp was built, we were huddled over the fire beside the log. Feeling we deserved a really good feed for tea, we cut up steak and onions for billy stew. After waiting in the cold for it to cook, at 9.30 p.m. we lifted the lid for our wonderful stew, only to see a box of matches floating on top. Apparently, the last time the lid was removed to test the meat for tenderness it was put down over the matches, which stuck to the lid. Dad and I were both so hungry we almost chanced phosphorous poisoning, but better judgement prevailed and we sat down to cold bread, butter and cheese.

It was lode tin we were working, so we had to install a five-head battery at the bottom of the gully and erect a pipe column down the steep bank from an existing water race to work a pelton wheel at the bottom.

This drove the battery for crushing the rock and extracting the tin. The pipe column started at 30 inches in diameter and finished up at a one and a half inch nozzle, where the force of water turned the pelton wheel and the belt then turned the cam shaft of the stamper.

The next job was to build a rail track down the steep hill from the mine above. Three rails were used, with a passing bay in the centre, where the full truck going down pulled the empty truck up to the top. A big wheel with a brake at the top of the hill controlled the trucks.

During the best five weeks Dad and I produced a ton of tin. The rock had to be drilled by hand, for there were no jack hammers in those days. It was just hammer and tap and then jumper (a piece of steel sharpened at each end) which a man lifted up and down in the hole, on the end of a long stick.

A twenty-foot hole could be drilled in a day, but it was very hard work. The drill hole was 'bulled' by dropping down a half-plug of gelignite, and the resulting hole was then filled with several packets of gelignite. Sometimes a good shot would bring down hundreds of tons of good rock, hopefully some bearing tin. The boulders showing tin would then be broken up further, put into a steel truck and sent down to the stamper battery. From here a wooden tail race caught all the slurry; the heavy tin stayed in the bottom and the rubbish flowed away. However, it was necessary to keep lifting the tin, coarser tin and heavier minerals with a fork. One stood facing up-stream working along the race and the rubbish kept flowing behind.

At this time the Anchor Mine at Lottah was working, and producing a lot of tin for Howard Dobson, the owner. We visited two miners at Lottah who claimed they had a very good private tin mine which produced from two to three bags of tin each weekend. They worked at the Anchor during the week. We were really impressed and couldn't understand why they did not work full time on their own show.

We realised why when we learned that a few weeks later Howard Dobson caught them taking samples home and sacked them. Their own mine ceased to produce tin!

Mick White worked with us on the mine for a while. A very colourful character, he had had a trip around the world (in those days a rare feat), and some people claimed it was from fat cattle missing in the area. Whether this was true or not, Mick was a wonderful companion with a great Irish humour. He may or may not have stolen cattle from wealthy grazing properties in the vicinity, but while he worked with us tin left unattended in the mining races was perfectly safe.

Mick said that he and his companions never seriously thought of becoming outlaws! They did start to manufacture armour for themselves, he added with a twinkle, but they never went into business properly! Apparently at one time the police from Launceston were going to arrest them for shooting out of season, but on the advice of some locals they did not venture into the bush in case they were accidentally shot!

When we first began our operation I walked into Weldborough for our food supplies - a 12-mile round trip - but when we began to produce tin I bought a push bike and was able to do the trip much more quickly.

*The Anchor Mine, on the Blue Tier about 22 kilometres inland from St. Helens was reputedly discovered by Richard Apted. The mine opened in 1880 on the banks of the Groom River. The Anchor Mine was one of the largest lode mines in the southern hemisphere. The main building in the photograph housed a set of 30 stamp heads that crushed the tin-bearing granite. This was later increased to 100 stamp heads housed in two adjacent sheds. It was said that on a calm night the roar of the stampers could be heard in St. Helens. The lower parts of the buildings housed tin-dressing tables.

The ore grade in this whole area is very patchy and many innovations were tried to improve profitability including aerial haulage lines, a thirty mile water race from the George River and a 66 foot diameter water-wheel. The crushing plant was even connected to other mines on the Blue Tier such as the Australian. The mine operated into the 1940's and crushed over one and a half million tons of stone and recovered more than 3000 tons of tin but to no avail. When the last stampers ceased their roar and the Tier returned to nature's harmony, the towns of Poimena, Gould's Country and Iottah vanished.

From History of North Eastern Tasmania Souvenir Calendar, 1983.

When my father Bob opened up the old Liberator mine near the Anchor, there were still 60 men working on the Anchor Mine. I was 15 years old, had just left school and helped myfather build tram lines, install a stamper battery, water column etc. to get their mine into production. Bob Farquhar and George Austin had 50/50 interest in this mine. After installation costs it only paid wages.

The tin in these areas of the Anchor, Liberator and Blue Tier Mines was very patchy with extremely rich pockets, but also areas of barren rock which makes the overall ore grade low, if operating on a large scale. It is pleasing that the Anchor Mine recommenced production in 1989 after a lapse of approximately 50 years.

The Anchor Mine, Lottah

The Anchor Mine, Lottah - 1890

The Anchor Mine played a major part in my young life. I spent some days going around with Dr. Stone, an English geologist, before his company bought the Anchor Mine. We inspected mineral sites on various areas of the Blue Tier, and I seemed to have a natural ability to pick mineral-bearing country., Dr. Stone was very impressed, as I was only 15 years old. However, over the years I seem to have lost this natural ability to see and know instinctively which areas of mineralised rock had the best potential - but at that time I was a very enthusiastic miner.

Dad also was a mineral diviner, but he had to be in the best of health to be really successful. For example, if he had a very big heavy cooked lunch, his body became sluggish and he seemed to make mistakes. He used actually to divine what metal was in a big rock boulder and whether it was worthwhile blasting it apart for crushing. Generally he was very successful, except for the odd times I mentioned.

My father's family were very interested in mining. His Uncle Albert discovered and managed some big mines in the North-East and his Uncle Jack was at Adamsfield even before Dad.