AMONG THE COPPER MINERS.
By a Travelling Sketches
Getting up inconveniently early in the morning, dressing by candlelight, drinking coffee made by somebody who has been up even earlier than yourself, shivering in King William-street while the coach-roof is being packed with boxes and parcels and mailbags, are among the reminiscences of every traveller who has performed the journey to Yorke's Peninsula. A model driver, a spanking team, a jolly fellow-passenger sharing the box-seat with you, and fine weather, and the trip is as delightful as it is invigorating. The one alloy to your pleasure is the severe shaking up you get on the bad patches of road. An 18-mile trot to Virginia, with breakfast to increase your good humour; 20 minutes at Port Wakeneld, to admire the little toy-town and inhale the fresh sea-breeze ; a walk up the Hummocks, and a glance at the glorious panorama of plain, forest, and ocean; a frightful jolting over a stony, deep-rutted scrub road, and the coach is at Green's Plains, where there meets ua a little yellow vehicle, built to hold six, and with three horses attached. Throw in your carpet-bag, jam the mails under the seats, and hold fast to the railing of the seat, for we are going to do the 16 miles into Moonta in an hour and a half. This is the road of ruts and stumps, of quagmires and pitfalls ; but the horses fly along, scattering the dust (if it is dry weather), or the mud (in wet weather) in a never-ceasing shower-bath over the inmates of the vehicle. But when darkness has bidden our dirty faces, and we have more bumps upon our anatomy than a phrenologist could name, lights appear, and drawing up in the centre of a crowd we. deliver the mails at the Mines Post-Office. Then another start, and we are at Moonta before the clock strikes seven. And if it should be Saturday night, and moreover 'big pay-day,' we seem suddenly to have come upon one of the old ' diggers' townships' of Victoria or New Zealand in their palmy days. Here are crowds of people walking up and down the streets looking in at the numerous shops, lighted up as well as circumstances will permit, and glancing inside the stores we see them full of customers. Here and there some enterprising tradesman has fixed rows of. lamps with the most brilliant of all reflectors, that light up the groups of men and women who stand admiring the tempting shows of drapery. And the mention of women reminds me that aa the old digging townships were thronged nearly altogether by males, here instead the female interest is largely represented, the ladies apparently outnumbering the mea. Standing at the end of George-street the [scene appears animated in the extreme; one only regies that the Peninsula Gas Company is not already in full swing, aud that the streets are so inefficiently lighted. The public-houses, of which there are only five for a population estimated at 10,000 souls, are crowded with people, and ever and again you will hear sounds of singing from convivial Uornishmen, who congregate together over a social glass, pass the evening hours in singing hymns and carols in faultless time and perfect harmony. Strange that hymn-singing is the only vocalization popular among the majority. Whenever evening comes, no matter what part of the town we visit, the sound of the harmonium or piano, or perhaps the concertina, is heard discoursing hymnal music. The father of a family instructs the teacher of his girls to give them music lessons for a quarter— just enough to learn afew.hymns— and then Paterfamilias can sit by his fireside and doze peacefully in his chair, while Jane or Mary Ann drone forth the melodies in their book from beginning to end. Moonta is developing into a large town. Since six months ago several new stores have been built in George-street, several by storekeepers who it is presumed have so profited by trade as to be able to build larger and handsomer places of business, and upon their own freeholds. In Ellen - street, where seven months ago a small fruit-shop was the sole representative mart of commerce in the thoroughfare, there are now two or three shops, a printing office, a stationery warehouse, and Council Chambers, and opposite a terrace of large stores extending half the length of the block, which in a short time will be ready for occupation. In Ryanstreet several stores have been built during the period mentioned, and private, houses seem to have sprung up like mushrooms ; first dotting the sandhills, built at short distances one from another like , plums in a school pudding, but now closing in and forming the walls of streets until it seems probable that shortly there will be no more land available for building purposes. Even no w the sums asked for allotments seem enormous — a fact which has resulted from the pardonable short-sightedness of the Govomment when1 first the town was laid but. It is by one-half at least too small for the district, and being bounded by mineral claims on three sides out of four, there is little chance of being able to extend its size. Yet, though so many places have been built lately, it is extremely difficult for new-comers to .get houses, and the consequence is that several among 'the business men of the place leave their families in town, and wait for somebody, to build. As there is a scarcity of private boarding-houses in the place it is esteemed a sort of favour to be allowed to take up your lodging at one; and then in consequence ef the number of lodgers exceeding the accommodation, sofas and tables and other articles of furniture are impressed to do service as beds. Sometimes— and this very often— the hotels are crowded, and unfortunate travellers may be seen walking the streets at night, carpetbag in hand, seeking rest and finding none. I once was acquainted with an individual who, commencing business in Moonta, brought his own mattress and slept under the table in his office until the mosquitoes drove him away ; and another who used to repair to the Railway Station every evening, and stretching his 'possum rug on one of the benches pass the night in that draughty retreat. And mentioning railways, I am reminded that there is a very neat stone station, at Moonta, which is one of the termini of- the K. and W. R. and P. Company's tramways, and just opposite is- the Court-House, where at certain timss during the month — though it requires a patent law calendar to find out when the Court sits— most peculiar cases of assault are sometimes adjudicated upon. But the community is a very law-abiding one, and it is but seldom the magistrates are called on to exercise their functions. In a population of the number mentioned only two constables and a sergeant are required to keep the peace, and their offices may be considered almost as sinecures. With the exception of the Post-Office, the Court-House is the only public building in the town. For purposes of amusement the Institute is available, but it is far too undersized for the needs of the public. When a popular concert or other entertainment is given the hall is crowded to such a degree that the unhappy audience experience all the disagreeable sensations of the Turkish bath without its refreshing results ; but it is said a new and . far more commodious building is about to be erected. Of churches and chapels there are five in the town for the benefit of the townspeople alone. There are also several 'good schools. But above all Moonta possesses a Town Council, which is the model of all Councils — a Council one would like to abuse for fashion's sake; but the Councillors are such practical, business-like, respectable citizens, and display such well* judged economy, and at the same time have so thoroughly improved and beautified the streets, that instead of censuring them it is impossible to praise them too highly. Close to the township — the width of a street being only between the western workings on the Moonta Mine and the town— are the dwellings of the miners and mechanics employed by the Moonta Company. Cabs ply for hire between the township and the mine offices, at the rear of which the majority of the workmen are located. There is no attempt to form streets here, but houses have been built in every direction, each on its little plot of ground, with tank and fence, and often with a vine growing by the side or a cluster of fruit-trees in front. To the stranger this all presents a novel and pleasing appearance. The noise of engines and gear, the clink of the black* smiths' hammers on the anvils in the shops, the hoarse rattle of chains and the escapement of steam, the sight of immense chimneys and tall engine-houses, crushing machinery and pumping machinery, and machinery for saving labour in a thousand simple things ; tramroads and skipways at your feet, overhead, and in tunnels under your feet, huge piles of ore glittering in the rays of the sun, and others again dull and to an in* experienced eye of lesser value, but richer than the rest — all combine to impress the least observant of spectators with an idea of the magnitude and extensive resources of this great mine, And to see the cottages all around, with the trimhousewife waiting for her husband to come home after morning core, the glimpses of snugness and comfort within, the chapels rising up above the other buildings as if it was a great city, forma a picture as beautiful to the artiat as it must be gratifying to the lucky shareholder who is a part proprietor of all around him. Wherever one turns there is something new to be pointed out— shafts with whips, with windlasses, with hauling apparatus connected with some distant engine; the main engine shafts, which go down into the bowels of the earth, with drives penetrating in all directions, cutting through and through the rich ground, and undermining it in a thousand different places. Here we see the most powerful engines, yet of the most delicate construction, performing their work calmly and unceasingly, and attended by the cleverest and politest of engineers. The work on the mine is never ceasing. Relays of men, or 'cores'— a term probably derived from ' corps,' the orthoepy being the same in both — are constantly at work, day and night, breaking ore and sending it to the surface. From 7 o'clock on Monday morning until 1 o'clock on Saturday afternoon this work is continued, the engineers and those who are employed, forking water from shafts with buckets instead of pumps remaining on duty throughout Saturday and Sunday. Often on a calm night, when all else is still, the sound of the engines may be heard in the township, while the glare of the furnace fires shines brightly across the plain between town and mines. Eight hours is the daily labour, and none too short a period when we consider the nature and situation of the work. To climb down a shaft many fathoms deep and return to the surface is, to those unaccustomed to it, productive of much fatigue and subsequent soreness of limbs; but when in addition to this the miner has to work, and work hard, too, with drill or pick and shovel in a confined space, often badly ventilated, always hot and oppressive, it requires a strong constitution and iron frame to combat the ill effects which are likely to result. Sup* pose we go below andpayavisitto these toilers underground. But first of all it is necessary to provide ourselves with suitable costume for our journey into the earth, and accordingly we borrow some white caps, which are drawn over our heads, and give us all the appearance of a party of journeymen pastrycooks; over the caps are placed hats . made of some hard composition intended to protect our heads from falling stones — a very necessary precaution when it is remembered that the smallest of stones falling from a great height descends with the velocity of a bullet from a gun. We next enrobe ourselves in flannel^ shirts, white coats, and duck trousers, and thus accoutred proceed on the first conr3e of ladders, with strict injunctions from the captain to holdfast by our hands, which advice is supplemented by the comforting assurance that if we neglect that precaution we shall assuredly be dashed into small fragments on falling to the bottom. Not being desirous of accomplishing our descent with the celerity necessary to produce such unpleasant consequences, we cling to the rungs of the ladders with tenacious grasp and go gently down. Almost too gently, indeed, as we presently perceive by the performances of an impetuous gentleman overhead, whose boots will persist in treading on our knuckles, aud wave about with alarming frequency in close proximity to our nose. But the first stage of 10 fathoms is reached, and the captain having produced candles ia engaged in the manufacture of clay candlesticks, with which he ornaments our hate, and, finally lighting us up like a lot of tapers on a Christmas tree, precedes us down the second range of ladders. And now we descend amid walls of rock, with water, green and slimy, trickling over- the surface, and falling with gentle splash on the jutting portions of the stone beneath. Everything is wet and muddy. The steps of the ladders are clayey and slippery from the constant passage of dirty boots ; our white clothing changes to the colour of burnt sienna, and our hands are as those of negroes. But still we go down, slowly and steadily, the only sounds reaching us being the plashing of water and the stamp of the pursuing boots overhead. We have passed the water-level and are now among dry rock again; in consequence of which, slippery mud on the ladders has given placs to dry dirt, pasty and clammy, which comes off upon our hands like uncooked suet pudding, though perhaps not quite so white. Now we stop upon a platform to have our candlesticks remodelled and the candle wicks snuffed by the ever-ready fingers of our guardian captain. That operation accomplished, again we descend pitpat, pit-pat, the implacable boots still trampling upon our knuckles in spite of angry remonstrance, until we reach: the bottom of the abaft, 80 fathoms from the surface, safe and sound, and wondering where we got the courage to undertake so hazardous an enterprise. We now alter our mode of progression, and follow our guide along the drive, which is only five feet wide at its highest, aud considerably less at its lowest, bending our bodies as we walk, till heads and knees are iu close juxtaposition. We notice that above and on each side of ua the rock 13 flecked with yellow metal, which glistens in the candlelight like virgin gold. We see heaps of dirty rubbish— so we suppo3e it to be— which our obliging conductor informs us is of greater value than the brighter ore we admired. Our candlesticks are removed from our heads to our hand3 now, and we wave our lights about cautiously to avoid falling between, planks and crevices over which the tramway is laid '. that transports the ore from the shoots to the
bottom of the shaft. And now looking over I the side of out pathway, we notice a party of men working away at a distance beneath our feet. A perfect cave of enchantment ia this, where the dim yellow lights, showing red through wreaths of powder Bmoke, show the lusty miners at their arduous work. This is the bottom of the level, and here the men have juBt completed boring a hole in the solid rock, and have charged it with blasting-powder to tear away the coppery treasures which resist the feeble action of the pick. Here they come, up a ladder hanging by a chain from where we stand ; the last man lights the safety, gives- a warning shout, aud scrambles up after his companions. We pass on along the drive, when there is a sudden shock, a loud report, and a gust of wind which rushes along the passages blowing out our candles as it passes by. Then comes a sound of rock falling, and rolling over and over with a crash and a rattle, and after this an overpowering volume of smoke mounting up and enveloping us all in a dark, malodorous cloud. Again we pass on and encounter more men, this time at rest from, work, and seated on fragments of rock enjoying 'crib' — said crib consisting of cold meat pie, with a flavour more peculiar than pleasant of powder smoke and muddy fingers. We rest likewise, but not having had the forethought to bring lunch are reduced to the necessity of foregoing that luxury until we return to the world above. We sit down, however, and ex-, change opinions with these denizens of the lower regions, who are conversational, tolerant of our ignorance, and ready to impart for our benefit the mysteries of their occupation. One of the most important items of information that we treasure up for future use is that our friends suffer much from extreme thirst ; they complain that the atmosphere at this level is remarkably dry ; and furthermore remark that the debilitating nature ef the work requires to be counteracted by frequent moisture applied Internally to the workmen. We accept the hint, and.promise unlimited beer on our return. We now proceed to examine some stopes in the back of the level, to effect which we clamber up a chain, crawl through a hole, creep over a heap of ore which has just been^'tore away' from the main rock, and after grazing our hands, bruising our knees, and tearing our garments, we are gratified with a sight of some splendid ore in No. something pitch. At least we should be gratified; but as the only practicable method of catching a glimpse of the spectacle is to coil up into a position which an acrobat would find it difficult to attain, and rest the cheek on a pillow composed of jagged pieces of rock, we deem it expedient to express ourselves satisfied after a moment's .inspection. Accordingly, a return was at once made to oar starting ? place, and we travel onwards to the foot of another shaft a few hundred yards away from that which we descended. Travelling along these dark and narrow paths, with pitfalls and chasms on either side, in a dense gloom, and with but a faint knowledge of where or how far distant the end may be, we compare our road with the journey of life, and would indulge in meditation on the subject if frequent Btumbles or more frequent bumpings of the head against the top of the drive did not interfere to banish onr moralism to a more convenient season. But the shaft is reached, and the dull thunderings which have been constantly saluting our ears now merge into one grand triumphant salvo of victory, as if, instead of blasting rock, the miners had united to discharge a whole park of artillery to celebrate our departure from their regions. Our candles having been once more adjustedby the attentive captain, we commence the toilsome ascent, pausing here and there to recover breath and rest oar tired limbs. At length welcome rays of daylight stream down upon us, and, extinguishing our candles, we gladly climb the last ladder, and walk upon terra firma once again, looking very hot, smeared with mud about the face, hands, and clothes, and with appetites that an alderman might envy. Of the process of breaking and raising the ore; of carting it to the crushing-machines, where rocks— large, medium-sized, and small — are broken up like nuts between a monkey's teeth; of its subsequent transfer to the jigging-machines, which with the aid of running water detach the ore from the dredge or rubbish; of the skimpins or tailings being transported in trucks to skimpin mountains hard by ; of the ore also being carried away to be sampled, weighed, and bagged; and of the other numerous operations connected with copper getting and dressing, so much has been already written by those better able to explain the process than the present writer that there is no necessity for my attempting a long description therdof. But there is so much on the Moonta Mine to attract and interest the observant visitor — much more indeed than can be recorded within the brief limits of this sketch — that all who care to note how the ingenuity and labour of man have triumphed over obstacles neither slight nor few should spend a few dayB in examining its prominent features. Everything is conducted systematically with a viewto economy, completeness, and extension. All new buildings are being constructed iu such a manner that they may exist for generations to come. Machines have been introduced for saving labour and other expenses, so that ore of the lowest percentage may be dressed to return a profit. Even the great mountains of Bkimpins, long ago discarded as refuse, are being disturbed. The stuff is to be recrushed beneath stampers, pulverized to dust, and put through other processes, so that it may yield whatever riches it still possess.