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The Alma and Victoria Mine

The first gold finds in the Waukaringa area, in 1873, were alluvial, as at Teetulpa, but by 1875 it was realised that Waukaringa's real wealth lay in the gold-bearing ironstone reefs that striated the saltbush plains. The difference between alluvial and reef mining, as it affected the miners themselves, is reflected in The Silent Sea (e.g. 221:3-6), and was spelt out in William Lane's The Workingman's Paradise in 1892:

An alluvial field is where you can dig out gold with a pick and shovel and wash it out with a pannikin. You don't want any machines, and everybody digs for himself, or mates with other fellows. Reefing fields employ men.... It takes so much capital for sinking and pumping and crushing ... that companies have to be formed outside, and the miners mostly work just for wages.note

In 1888 the Register described Waukaringa, in a lengthy report, as "the most developed and best mine" in SA and predicted that it would become "a mining centre of the utmost importance" (29 February 1888, pp. 5-6). Four years later the Observer reported that, in SA, "Waukaringa, alone, has proved a success" (2 January 1892, p. 18). Most of the gold at Waukaringa came from the Alma and Victoria Mine, which, in the opinion of the Register, had "made the place". This mine


  ― 495 ―
had several changes in operating companies and directors, but was operated 1886-95 by the New Alma and Victoria Gold Mining Company, which, in the three years to December 1891, paid Out £24,000 in a series of twelve dividends. In developments reflected in the novel a stone chimneystack (cf. 113:2 1) was erected on top of the reef in 1881 and raised 9 m. higher in 1887, and a weighbridge (cf. 151:24) was installed at the mine in March 1889.note In 1890, 65o men were working at the mine and it was yielding gold valued at £4. 2s. 8d. per oz. (see note 4 for p. 240).note

The Alma and Victoria Mine was not only the largest single gold mine in SA; it had, according to the Register, also experienced "more vicissitudes than any other in the colony" and had at times "been in very low water ... through bad machinery and bad management" (p. 5). There were in fact management problems from the start: a succession of managers on yearly contracts came into conflict with the directors of the successive operating companies, mainly over whether the general manager or the board of directors was to manage the mine, with one director declaring in 1882 that "a barrel of dynamite should be placed on top of the machinery, the Manager placed on top and the whole lot blown up".note Miners' strikes, frequently replaced machinery, the scarcity of water, and the high cost of cartage were additional problems.

The changes in the mining industry in the 1880s included the introduction of American and English machinery for crushing quartz, and of younger, scientifically-trained mining engineers and metallurgists, many of them American, like the novel's Joseph S. Dunning (115:5), who supplanted the predominantly Cornish managers whose skills had been learned on the job–hence William Trevaskis' curt dismissal of Victor's qualifications in metallurgy (129:20). The general manager of the Alma and Victoria Mine 1887-80, Thomas Denny, was the co-inventor of several items of improved mining machinery, and was given carte blanche by the Company to develop new mining methods (South Australian Weekly Chronicle, 25 February 1888, pp. 7-8). In its 1888 report, the Register noted "a sense of actual work, an absence of idle men, and general satisfaction" at the mine; however, three months later, in a letter to the same paper (11 May 1888, p. 7), Denny had to defend himself against claims of apparent inconsistencies in the amounts of amalgam reported as monthly yields at the mine under his management (cf 138:1-2). The mine manager 1889-94 was William Hosking (cf. the novel's "William Trevaskis" and "Rehoboam Hosking"). He appears to have been unpopular and short-tempered (cf. 233:8): on 14 March 1890, after some miners had, in Hosking's opinion, spoken of him insultingly, the Terowie Enterprise and North Eastern Advertiser reported that there was "another labour trouble" at the Alma and Victoria Mine, "owing to the Manager of the mine, Mr.


  ― 496 ―
Hosking, unjustly locking out five of the leading committee men of the Amalgamated Miners' Association ... public sympathy is with the men" (p. 3).

After a period of poor results and the dwindling of the ore-bearing lode, crushing at the mine ceased in 1894.

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