History of Moonta

When Moonta Was a Sheepwalk

SHEPHERD RYAN'S MOMENTOUS DISCOVERY » ? : ? Unique Financial Position of Mines

In this article 'The MaiF' presents facts little known to the present generation in regard to the genesis of one of the greatest copper mines the world has known — a mine which was the first ' in Australia to pay more than £1,000.000 in dividends.

A 'Back to Moonta' movement is in course of being carried out, so it U fitting to turn back the pages of history associated with a copper mine discovery which really put Moonta on the map. . The annals of Australian mining contain no story more romantic.

The famous copper show at the top of Yorke Peninsula gave the rich coiu reefs of Victoria «ome years start in ?working; but it was the first mining company in the whole of Australia to pay more than £1,000,000 in .dividends. It achieved that notable record even before amalgamation with the Wallaroo Company in 1S89. In 1861 Sir Walter Watson Hughes, whose statue has a place in the grounds, of the Adelaide University, hai. three sheepruns on Yorke Peninsula. He had made a study of metallurgy — some of his books on the subject are still in the possession of his descendants— and so convinced was he that copper would some day be discovered on the pastoral leases that he encouraged the shepherds to keep a rsharp lookout for specimens. A mound scratched up by a native rat supplied the first positive proof, and it was the good fortune of James Boor, a shepherd, to alight upon this evidence. That was the start of the Wallaroo mine. Early Morning Call In May, 1861, the community was electrified by the news that a rich copper show had been located at Moonta. The only building at Moonta then was a little wooden store kept by Mr. Robert W. Kail, who also acted as postmaster. About 3 o'clock on the morning of May 21, 1861, Patrick Ryan, a snepherd, knocked up Mr. Hall, announced that he had discovered copper, and asked for some money to take him to town in order to eee n'is employer, Capt. Hughes, as Sir Walter was known then. At first the postmaster thought Ryan was 'rathep groggy,' but the latter flashed his carbonate specimens, and added, 'I have already been to James Hughes (the captain's brother), but he started me off. He thought I was drunk; lie would have nothing to do with me.' This humble shepherd at that moment had the beginnings of the great Moonta cooper mine in his hand. Historical Letter The postmaster was quicker in the uptake than James Hughes had been, and readily advanced a .five-pound note to Ryan, who set out for Adelaide on horseback. Mr. Hall also had the shrewdness to send a letter to Capt. Hughes through the post. This famous letter 'read: — May 23, I861.-Capt. Hughes, Dear Sir, Patiick Ryan called upon me pn Tuesday morning for. money to take him to town -e you— he has found copper down at Tipara; you had better look to him — 3-ou know what he is. It is about there miles in from the Wilkawatt Hut. and about 'two miles and a half to the south of the Bald Hill. Yours very truly, Robert W.HaU., . It was -well! for' the -Hughes interests {hit Mr.. Hail had taken the precaution of 'writing that letter, 'because when Patrick Ryau reached Port' Wakefield he got busy with the liquor, and .-mentioned the discovery to Cant. . Joseph Johnston, a master' mariner* who was then keeping the Travellers' Rest Hotel. The shepherd was nettled by tlie reception he had got active hands of dauies Hughes., and he actually made an 'agreement with Capt. Johnston to reveal the locality of the discovery on the following terms to himself:— £2,000 in cash, one-fifth of the

mine, and £2.000 In casli -from the proceeds of the first ore raised after paying all costs. The agreement .was written out at Ryan's own request by a servant girl at the hotel,, because, she said, the grog he had consumed the night before had made the shepherd's hand very shaky. Subsequently Capt. Johnston became associated with Mr. Samuel Mills, sen., a Rhynie sheepfarmer, and one of the most reputable of South Australia's pioneers. Clashing Claims ?Xeither party lost any time in getting to the Lands Office in order to take out claims. Capt. Hughes, who was associated with some of Adelaide's leading mercantile men of the day, appears to have got in first by only a few minutes, but lie purposely masked his own name, and the exact locality of the find, when taking out his claims, because, he said, he wanted to avoid a rush and waste of speculative money should the find come to nothing. There is no doubt that the Mills interests also put their finger on the right and rich spot, but subsequently Mr. Mills was induced by the Surveyor-General of the day (Mr. G. W. Goyderj to take back his deposit on the ground of the other people's priority -of application. Select Committee A great public controversy followed, and it resulted in the appointment in 1863 of a Select Committee of the House of Assembly to investigate the 'Tipara Mineral Claims.' Sir G. S. Kingston was the chairman, and the other members were Messrs. Glyde, McFarlane, 'N. and A. BIyth, Duffield, and NealesSixty-one witnesses were examined, and more than 7,000 questions were asked and answered. Capt. Hughes declared that when he met Patrick Ryan after the discovery 'on the second sandhill from Wallaroo,' the latter greeted him with the salutation, 'Thank God, your Honor has come to save me from those men, for they have made me drunk for the last seven or eight days, so that I did not know what I was doing.' No names, however, were mentioned. Ryan took Capt. Hughes to the spot, and they picked up copper in all directions. They cut lnaliee pegs, dug a hole, and in 10 or 15 minutes sl.aek the lode. It was all copper together at the bottom of the hole. The P3rt Wakefield publican frankly admitted, in hjs evidence that Eyan had been drinking at Jus expense. There is no doubt that the. Moonta shepherd had Tiimnpif been wonderfully -well shepherded while his wife and little girl looked after his flock. The Select Committee in its report favored the Mills interests and recommended that Mr. Mills should be placed in the same position as before he received back his' deposit, leaving- him to follow up bis application in the usual manner by the deposit of plans, and so on. The committee expressed the opinion that the Surveyor-General had shown 'an extraordinary want of judgment and discretion,' without having tieen in any way influenced by pecuniary or improper motives. Parliament did not go further with the report of the Select Committee, the contention being that the Supreme Court

was the proper tribunal to settle the dispute. Long and expensive litigation followed, even to the extent of a Privy Council hearing as regards one aspect of the case, but the upshot was that the Moonta Mining Company, which was now in full working order, retained the precious leased . Thoujrh, of course, .Mr. Mills came out of the 'controversy with thoroughly clean hands, it surely will be admitted, now that the old mine has run its course, that the merits of the dispute were, morally at least, on the other side. The discovery had been made on Capt. Hughes own sheeprun. He had long anticipated such an event, and, by promises of liberal rewards, had encouraged his shepherds to look for the evidence of mineral wealtn. Further, had Patrick Ryan gone strait ahead when he loft Moonta with the momentous news the dispute over the leases would not have arisen. Sliepherd's Reward P tritk Ryan, it was suggested in the evidence, died from delirium trcmens before the Select Committee was appointed in 1S83. H's widow said that in the iuitwl period of mining operations he recede £6 a week, and then other terms began to operate, aud up to that date she and ber late husbaud had been paid something in the neighborhood of £5,000 from the earnings of the mine. . . It was a handsome recognition comnared with that given to another shepherd. Piekett, who stumbled across the Buna copper mine, aud is said to have received only £100 for his discovery. Before entering the service of Capt. Huphes Ryan bad been in the employ of Dav-d Ttandall at Glen Para, now Carryton Park. He left Mr. Randall owing him £10. Years afterward the shepherds -son rode to Glen Para on a racehorse ai»d left, a cheque for £10 in settlement of the debt. 'Impenetrable Scrub' The town of Moouta was la;d out in 18C3. and named bv Governor S:r u°n'-nick Daly. Aceordins: to the late F. J Gillen. SAT., 'who had a fiuo Knowled ee «f ^»e native dialects, the full name should be Moonta Moonterra, raping ''Dla*«» of impenetrable s^run. Before the discovery of copper tlie district was covered with d*-n-'? malice associated in some places with a pro.ific growth of creepers. The transformation of the landscape wl»'c'i has since sronc on could not have been more compW' if fairy wands had operated. The railway from Moonta to Wallaroo Bay was opened in Julv. 1S66. the constructional cost of ten miles of Une bein? less than £18.000. It was in the beginning, however, only a liorsp faction affair. Tfcpre rare two pac'e'ger coaches. wh;ch born thp pames 'Prince Albert' and 'Gari-baldi.' The work ws»s undertaken by the Ka-^ina and Wallaroo Railwav and Pier Company, and the line was declared open by Mr. Parkin, senior director of that 'com pan v. Whales, Sheep, Copper S;r 'Walter Watson Hus-bes was a_ seafaring- man who had whalinsc experience in the Arctic, regions' before settlingdown in South Australia., He knew the time when he had had to accept balfa-crown a bead for his surplus slieep. His preat publie-spir^e-lp«»ss led to the foundation of th* Adelaide 'University. SpeaTdnc: at the. iravmliiy* of his statue +he 1a*v» Sir Sanvel Way. Chancellor of the University, declared that , with the exception of Col. Lag-ht's planning of thp Citv of Adelaide no sin?le *«*-tiad had ?=uch momentous s»nd far-rccliingv^esulte f-M- fVwtit ' 'Australia, as bad fifr - Wal+er Hughes' munificence which led to the fou ndafion^of the Noff hi terrace institution. ?;.;-?_-. ?-.-,?? ??'?.'? .-; i-; r. ? .--?. The'Tnaiphthood was'^efitow^d'm W80. but !onjr' before, then Sir Walter had settled' in England: He died at Fan Court. Chertsev. Surrey. ^on New Tear's Day. 1887, at the age of S3 years. 'Perl Hug-lies and Hughes Park were named after him. * 1 Mr. -Samuel' Mills;. \1ii9 greatest rival for possession . of the Moonta leases, had a farm at Goodwood' before becoming a pastoraiist,, and frrew. Wheat on -the site! of the present .Goodwood Railway Sta j tion on the AVIeJaide-Gflenekr line. Ladv \ Verco. wife of Sir Joseph Verco. is n j grand-daughter: - -????— . . \ Among- the .descendants of Sir W. 'W. Hughes -are CaDt._J. -5..r-uncan Husrhps. a meniber of- -the Commonwealth Parliament, and Mr W. G_ Duncan, MX..C. -