Burra Mine History & Timeline

1845

August. Shepherds William Streair and Thomas Pickett discover outcrops of copper close to the Burra Burra Creek. Special Survey of 20,000 acres undertaken and divided between South Australian Mining Association and Princess Royal Mining Association

September 29 - South Australian Mining Association (SAMA) begins mining operations at the Burra Burra Mine.

1846

Samuel Stocks jnr. Appointed Resident Director.

Dr Ferdinand Von Sommer and then Captain Ey act as Superintendents.

Governor Robe visits and goes underground.

Bon Accord Mining Company begins mining operations adjoining the Burra Burra Mine.

1847

January. Captain Henry Roach of Cornwall appointed Superintendent of the Burra Burra Mine.

First smelting operations fail. [more]

Powder Magazine constructed. (now the oldest surviving mine building in Australia)

1848

Mine employs 567

Miners strike for a week and then later stage an unsuccessful strike over wages from November to January

1849

Mine pays a dividend of 600%

Foundation stone of Patent Copper Co. Smelters laid in December

The Gulf Road [more] initiated to Port Wakefield.

The Gulf Road as it was known, connected a series of waterholes found at Gum Creek, Kadlunga, Skillogalee Creek, near Clare, Hoyleton, and Dunn’s Bridge at Balaklava for the bullock teams that hauled coal, copper and other materials between Burra and Port Wakefield at the head of the St. Vincent's Gulf.

Apoinga Smelter takes Burra ore

Patent Copper Company (later called the English & Australian Copper Company) begins smelting ore at Burra using Newcastle coal.

Roach's Engine House completed and pumping begins in October.

Dividends affected by 1848-49 strike: 2 of 100%.

1850

Dividends paid reached a staggering 800%.

1851

Workforce at the mine exceeds 1,000 with 378 at the smelting works and other off-site employees of the smelting works brings their total to about 1,000 also.

Peacock's Engine House built.

Discovery of gold in eastern states.

Patent Copper Co. reorganised as English and Australian Copper Co.

November - Death of the discoverer of the Burra Burra Mine, shepherd Thomas Pickett [more] who by now was a timber [more] carter for the smelter.

1852

Miners etc. desert the district for Victoria.

Schneider's Engine transported to Burra and installed

Employees drop to under 100.

Mining company secretary Henry Ayers keeps his officers by substantially raising salaries.

Pumping ceases in October: mine flooded.

1853

Mine virtually at a standstill

Roach's Engine House dismantled

English and Australian Copper Company import mules from South America.

1854

Men slowly return but by April work force still only 191 and only 30 underground.

Decision to restart the mine in December.

1855

Schneider's Engine begins to pump out the mine in January.

1856

South Australian Mining Association establishes a candle factory near the slaughterhouse to satisfy its need for 53 tons of candles per year.

1857

Schneider's pump proves inadequate.

Railway reaches Gawler.

The Gulf Road closes.

1858

Morphett's Engine House built.

William Woollacott leaves Adelaide with the engine for Morphett's Engine House.

1859

This was the peak year for employment with 1208 men and boys at work. The mine paid £178,900 in wages and expenses, but the costs were rising as the mine deepened. At the same time the price of copper was falling. Having peaked at £126 per ton in 1858, it was £112 per ton in 1859 and by 1861 had fallen to £87 per ton in Adelaide. Even more significantly the 1858 profit per ton of £4-8-3 was a mere £1-14-8 the following year.

Ayers reduced the wages of tutworkers to 6/- a day and cut all but essential tutwork. Similar cuts in payments were ordered for tributors. Expenditure of repairs etc. was cut to a minimum.

William Woollacott arrives with the new engine.

Installation of Morphett’s Engine runs all through the year.

The wage bill peaks at £178,900.

Employment at the mine exceeds 1,200

Profits per ton begin to fall

1860

Miners begin to move to the new Yorke Peninsula fields of Wallaroo and Moonta Mines.

Morphett's engine begins pumping on 1 March

Fire in the mine kills two miners

1861

Migration to Wallaroo and Moonta continues and others also head to mines in Queensland and NSW as well as to smaller mines north of Burra in the Flinders Ranges etc.

Port Adelaide Smelting Works begin.

Burra Smelting confined to summer months.

1862

Schneider's Engine is stopped.

Workforce at the mine is cut to 631 and the wages bill is almost halved.

Exodus of miners continues

1863

The Burra ore was still averaging 23% copper compared with Moonta's 18%, but getting it was costing £10-2-1 per ton against £7-15-7 for the latter's.

SAMA was pulling down cottages when their tenants departed.

Kooringa was still all leasehold and there were few businesses in substantial premises.

Trouble looms as Burra ore now cost £10-2-1 per ton to raise compared with £4-15-7 a ton at Moonta.

1864

For a while copper rose to £110 per ton and a major strike at the Yorke Peninsula mines saw some miners return to Burra.

Smelting at Burra further reduced.

The dividend of 300% proves to be the last regular dividend paid.

1865

By July SAMA was losing £800-£I,000 per month. The population of the combined towns was still about 4,000, by which time Moonta had reached 4,000 and the three Yorke Peninsula towns had about 10,000 people in all.

Yorke Peninsula mines continue to grow and outflow of Burra's population continues.

1866

The copper price slumps by £8 per ton. On 19 February Ayers informs Captain Roach that all operations would cease and a letter dismisses all officers from the end of March.

1867

1867 became a year of desperation with mass unemployment in Burra and Adelaide. There was no unemployment relief except for a meager ration for families without an able bodied man in residence. Though wages had been cut to a low 6/- a day, Ayers thought 4/- a day would be adequate. In Burra people left, cottages were demolished and shops and businesses were abandoned. To make matters worse the wool producers were in the grip of a drought, which extended from 1864 to September 1869 on the eastern plains.

In fact, bad as it was, the situation was not quite as bad as the original notice had suggested. By the middle of the year the mine was still employing about 200 to dress low-grade ore previously discarded, but Captain Roach had returned to Adelaide and the accountant Mr. Challoner was running the mine on orders from Ayers. The mine was maintained on standby with the pump at Morphett's Shaft still keeping the mine free of water. Grave's Engine House was under construction with a new pump ordered from Cornwall.

Graves Shaft Burra Mine still employing over 600 and population of town almost 4000.

Underground mining suspended in February with the loss of over 500 jobs.

Captain Roach, William Challoner (Mine Accountant) and William Elphick (Mine assayer) given 1 month's notice.

Parliament approves extension of railway to Burra.

1868

John Darlington, a mining engineer with extensive experience of the then new open-cut mining system, arrived in Adelaide in June and the following month went to Burra to assess its open-cut prospects. He found a mine in soft clayey ground that needed extensive and costly timbering. In September he recommended trying open-cut mining as an economic alternative. Ayers and three directors: G.S. Kingston, John Beck and Archibald Jaffery, went to Burra and accepted the recommendation.

Grave's engine House completed but the engine order was cancelled. The building was never used.

The decision was made to convert to open cut.

Burra Mine Panorama 1869

Panorama of the Burra Mine 1869

This panoramic view of the Burra Burra Mine shows the extent of the workings at a time when the mine lay idle and many workers had been put off. Starting on the far left of the picture is the Crusher with its 12 metre water wheel, run by water pumped from the Morphett’s shaft. In front of that can be seen the shingled roofs of the ore dressing sheds. Up the hill can be seen Morphett’s Pump Engine House with its shears standing above the shaft, its boiler house to its right, and its large flue further to the right. The next engine house to the right, houses Morphett’s Winding engine that lifted kibbles from Hector’s shaft. Just left of centre can be seen the dark remains of Schneider’s Engine house, with its flue on the skyline in the centre of the picture. To its right is Peacock’s Engine house with its winding engine, boiler-house and adjacent flue that hauled ore from several shafts. To the right of this on the rim of the mine are the Mine Captain’s cottages and the Mine Offices. What is significant in the foreground, are the many idle horse whims[more], used to haul ore to the surface, standing close by their unmanned shafts. At the height of the mining operations, a few years previously, this area would have been alive with human activity.

1869

Work on the waste from the mine in the Burra Creek stopped and a further 200 jobs went. By April all extraction work had ceased. A 363 ton stockpile was sold off and by October the workforce had fallen from 1,200 to 46. (11 mechanics, 19 miners, 7 labourers, 4 boys and 5 officers.) Wages fell from £130,000 per annum to just £1,313-6-8 for the six months to March 1870. The Burra population fell from c.5,480 to 3,400 and occupied houses from 1225 to 877.

The year largely passed in ordering and obtaining the necessary machinery.

In April in its 24th Annual Report SAMA decided to make properties in Kooringa available for freehold sale as their 21 year leases expired.

1870

In January Henry Ayers left with his family for England and his son, 25 year old Harry Lockett Ayers, became Acting Secretary of SAMA. William Challoner continued as chief accountant and superintendent of the mine. (At £32 per month) William Swansborough was retained as supervisor of the open-cut operations. (At £25 per month) By June operations at the open-cut were underway and good results were expected.

By October 10,000 wagons, or 14,000 tons had been excavated and sent to the tip some 100 feet beyond the dressing tower and dressing was expected to begin in six weeks. The arrangements had cost some £25,000.

Open cutting of Burra Burra Mine began, Australia's first open-cut mine. The timber recovered from the old workings during the operations of the open-cut was used to fuel the pump engine and the water was used to separate the ore from the waste after it had been pounded to the consistency of flour.

1871

By the middle of the year friction between Challoner and Swansborough saw Challoner confirmed as the superior officer, but poor results saw him being asked to resign by October. After 25 years service as accountant and two as mine manager SAMA was not even represented at his farewell dinner in Burra in December. As far as getting material out of the open-cut was concerned all was going well.

The Ulooloo goldfield was discovered

1872

The problems that began to worry the directors were multiplying.

(a)Little orey stuff was being discovered by October. The previous six months had produced only 6,974 tons of orey stuff to 37,174 tons of attle (waste).

(b)Morphett's Shaft was producing 96,000 gallons of water per hour, but this was proving inadequate for washing the amount of ore and new 20inch lifts had to be installed.

(c)The new dressing tower proved unsatisfactory and the old stamps had to be reintroduced. A new 15 head battery was ordered.

(d)Dressing machinery tried at Moonta with success was tried, but the Burra ores proved very hard to separate from their waste.

The receipts on ore raised were £10,426

Receipts from rent were £2,024

Giving an Income of £12,450

Expenses were £13,661

The Overall loss was £1,211

The first dividend since 1864 was paid from accumulated funds and proved to be the last before the mine closed.

1873

To assist in the dressing operations a new 24 feet x 4 feet water wheel was constructed. The failure of the dressing machinery to deliver satisfaction saw Captain Robert Sanders take over from Swansborough. As the water level dropped to the 40 fathom (73 metres) and then the 50 fathom (91 metres) level, some underground work was resumed. Small profits made 1873-76 went into capital investment in new machinery.

1876

By this time tutworkers were sinking new shafts, deepening old ones and driving new levels.

39 tributors were at work and they raised 254 tons of good ore. By October the workforce was back to 307 of which 102 were in the traditional categories of tutworkers and tributors. Haulage from the open-cut continued to be satisfactory, but ore separation remained a difficulty. Six months in this year saw the open-cut yield 22,790 tons of deads, 26,382 tons of orey stuff and 1,156 tons of old timber.

Captain Sanders reports remained consistently optimistic, but in fact no new lodes of significance were being discovered.

1877

Morphett's Shaft was being pushed towards 100 fathoms, with drives at different levels in an attempt to find new lodes, but to no avail. The cost of production had risen so that the mine was losing £12-17-0 on each ton of ore. The cost of production had almost doubled since 1868. The price of copper was low and dropped to less than £80 a ton.

In August the five SAMA directors: Sir George Strickland Kingston, John Beck, Henry Rymill, The Hon. William Morgan MLC, and James Francis Wigley, visited the mine. After this Sir Henry Ayers, secretary, wrote to Captain Sanders instructing extreme economy or the closure of the mine would be considered. Economies had no answer in the face of rising production costs and a falling copper price.

In September the miners were finally given a week's notice and work ceased on 29 September 1877 with the loss of 300 jobs.

The exploratory work in Morphett's Shaft had just reached 100 fathoms. The mine officers received one month's notice, Captain Sanders being dismissed with all the others.

About the 10 October there was a final inspection at the bottom of Morphett's Shaft by Captain Osborne, Manager of Kapunda Mine, Captain Samuel Higgs, Manager of Wallaroo Mine and Captain Hancock, Superintendent of Moonta Mine. Their reports were non-committal.

The pump at Morphett's Shaft was stopped in the last week of October and the waters began to rise in the mine.

The mine was put into mothballs to be reopened when copper prices rose, but the sale of plant and equipment in November made it clear that the directors did not expect this to be any time soon.

September 29 - Burra Burra Mine closed after 32 years.

1880

The lode found when St. Mary's Church of England foundations were dug is briefly searched for.

1881

News that the Mine had been sold in England for £100,000 proved to be false.

1882

Captain Killicoat and John Drew unsuccessfully negotiate to buy the Mine.

1884

Negotiations with a Sydney syndicate are reported.

1886

Two tributors are working a surface pitch.

1887

Two tributors are making wages.

1888

A local syndicate involving C. Drew, J. Dunstan Jun., E.C. Lockyer, W.R. Ridgway & F.W. Holder negotiate to buy the Mine. They are told nothing can be done as the mine is under offer in London. Tributors now number 34 men and boys and rising. In December Sir Henry Ayers advises the mine has been sold in London to the Copper Syndicate.

1889

The Copper Syndicate fails, copper falls to £40 per ton, settlement of the sale on 13 March fails to take place.

Numbers working on tribute fall to "several".

1890

About 9 tributors work surface material.

1891

Mr Paynter installs equipment to treat the slagheap. Work begins in October.

1892

Copper prices fall and in February Mr. Paynter stops crushing and by April his plant is for sale.

SAMA launches litigation related to the failed sale of 1889.

1897

SAMA decides on some exploratory boring which begins in November under Mr. Leahy.

1898

Boring at Morphett's shaft exceeds 1000 feet.

1899

Tributors continue to work at the mine. Mr Leahy sinks a second shaft but boring ceases in November.

Joe Ford secures a portion of the site and sinks a shaft.

Copper at £75 per ton. Hon. J. Martin MLC of Gawler backs the Burra Slag Extraction Co which take an 8 year lease to treat the slag. Trial crushings are unde way by November.

1900

An Adelaide based syndicate begins negotiations to buy the mine.

In January the Burra Slag Extraction Co. Installs electric arc lights and works three shifts.

1901

The Adelaide syndicate leads to floating of the Burra Burra Copper Co., which buys the Mine. In March the Premier, F. W. Holder, and other politicians visit the works.

1902

Burra Slag Extraction Co. closes for a month due to low copper prices. Work resumes in February, ceases briefly in May but then goes on till all the slag is treated by the end of October.

Burra Burra Copper Co. lacks developmental capital. It hopes to accumulate capital from royalties from Elder, Smith and F. H. Snow's Electro-magnetic, Separation Co. which would treat tailings at the Mine.

1903

Burra Burra Copper Co. doing very little: employing about 7 miners. Electro Magnetic Separation Co. begins work in July after many problems.

In December Burra Burra Copper Co. calls tenders for a shaft at Bunce's.

1904

By February the Electro-Magnetic process has failed. By May the plant was being demolished and so was the Burra Slag Extraction Co. plant.

Burra Burra Copper Co. was employing about 22 men at various sites but most work was at a shaft near Peacocks air shaft. Several tributors continue to work pitches but with little success.

1905

Burra Burra Copper Company lacks the funds to dewater the mine A public meeting urges Government aid. The Government agrees to send a pump from Sliding Rock. In May the Directors advises the mine was under offer to a London Company.

In November C.A. Smith & Co. contract to lower the water 25 to 50ft.

1906

Pumping finally begins in May and the pool level drops 8 to 10 feet but falling share prices for Burra Burra Copper Company show a public lack of confidence. Copper reaches £90 per ton and then £100+.

1907

In January the negotiations with an Adelaide-Melbourne syndicate fail. Pumping ceases. Some tributors continue.

The Burra Copper Slag Smelting Co. bring in a smelter from Leigh Creek in January to re-smelt the slag from the Burra Slag Extraction Co. It begins in April, has problems in May and is abandoned in June.

Mr Horn takes an option on the Mine to run to 13 May and later he takes a one sixth interest in Great Fingall Consolidated and a five sixth interest in a 9 month option.

As a consequence more exploratory boring is undertaken but copper prices began to fall to about £66 per ton in September.

1908

The Kooringa Prospecting Syndicate (Great Fingall and Horn etc) decide by February that the 4 bores produced little suggestion of success and with copper at £61 per ton decide not to produce.

1909-1911

Tributors in small numbers operate in the mine and some along the creek working tailings and waste.

1912

The old mine owners, South Australian Mining Association in liquidation, sell off about 20 lots of the remaining properties in and around Kooringa and Graham.

1913

A further SAMA sale of all remaining properties in and around the town.

1916

Burra Burra Copper Company in January sells its Burra Mine properties. After the auction the Mine block itself is sold to A. J. McBride for £3000 for 262 cares. It is expected the tailings will be treated. Experiments to treat tailings by the du Faur process are undertaken.

1917

English and Australian Copper Co. sells its holdings in Burra in six lots in April.

1921

Chimney stack for Morphett's Engine House blown up for building stone.

1922

Further tests by du Faur on treatment of tailings.

1925

Morphett's Engine House, shaft etc. destroyed by fire by young boys smoking out rabbits.

Burra Mine 1901

At the turn of the 20th Century the Burra Mine stood idle with the scars of the open-cut mining clearly visible. The water had risen to its natural level, creating a deep pool that was used by the locals as a swimming pool. The waterwheel on the left no longer supplied with water, its launder having been dismantled long ago. The piled up waste near what had been the dressing tower with its flue on the hill. The abandoned engine-houses, silent sentinels, looking down upon an alien landscape

This photograph of the open-cut mining operation in the 1870s shows a truck being hauled up the steep inclined railway from the workings below. Peacock’s engine performed this operation initially but it was later replaced with another hauling engine.

Morphett’s Pumping Engine-house in about 1900,

well after the closure of the mine. There are three other engine-houses in this picture; Morphett’s Winding Engine-house on the far left, Peacock’s Engine-house with its flue and to the far right Graves’ Engine-house. Note all the roofs are still intact, even the roof of the boiler-house abutting its engine-house. The small building immediately to the right of Morphett’s engine-house is an engineer’s workshop with a forge. The stone wall of Morphett’s engine pool is seen on the hillside to the right of Morphett’s Winding Engine-house.

Burra Mine Site c1900

In the centre foreground lies the cylinder of Schneider’s engine. It had been removed from its engine-house in 1863 and left to rust away within sight of Morphett’s Engine-houses, the engines that had replaced it. For two years prior it had shared the pumping duties with Morphett’s engine, but its stone was needed for building Graves’ Engine-house.

A capstan used by miners to haul kibbles filled with ore to the surface.
Peacock’s Engine-house and chimney are in the background with Graves’ Engine-house on the right.

Morphett’s Engine-houses in 2007 with stone wall of Morphett’s engine pool in the foreground .

Morphett’s Pumping Engine House, 2009
The timber balconies and the slate roof had been restored and the building reopened to the public.