Broken Hill Mines – the Story – Chapter 2: Finding the Lode

This part of the story actually starts in 1846 in Stuttgart, Germany where on the 7th of October a boy was born into an aristocratic family.  His name was Hieronymous Salvator Lopez von Pereira.  Fortunately for the boy he became known to his friends and family as Jerome von Pereira.

 As an aristocrat he was very well educated, particularly in chemistry, but other subjects as well.  In his early twenties he enlisted in the Royal Saxon Army and became an officer in the Franco-Prussian war against Napoleon.  But his health was poorly, as he had developed a hacking cough that just could not be shifted.  The cold and persistently damp conditions did not assist his efforts to clear the cough and, when he could stand that weather no more, he absconded and fled to where he thought the climate would be more conducive to improved health.  He came to Australia in 1869 aged 23.

For 10 years or so he drifted around Victoria, finding work in the vineyards, as a miner, as a station hand, as a labourer, and whatever else he could turn his hand to.  But despite being half a world away from Germany, he was always very afraid that somebody from Europe might recognise him and report his presence in Australia to the authorities.  He thought that he would then be dragged back to Germany to face punishment for desertion.  So he hid behind a lush black beard.  Even that was not enough, so he decided to change his name, and to honour his friend Dr Emanuel Carl Raspe he became Charles Rasp (Figure 3).  Around this time Dr Raspe was killed in the war from which Charles had absconded, although he did not become aware of the death of his friend for quite some time.

Ultimately, Rasp found a job as a boundary rider on the Mt Gipps sheep station to the east of Silverton.  This station was established in the 1860s as a 540 000 acre run, with many miles of fences to be kept intact.  Rasp was not a typical station hand being well educated, intelligent, curious and fluent in five languages, but he lived rough and, just like the others, slept in a very crude hut (Figure 4).

Fig. 3 Charles Rasp.
Fig. 4  Rasp’s hut on Mt Gipps Station.

The manager of Mt Gipps was George McCulloch, a young cousin of the then Premier of Victoria, Sir James McCulloch.  George was a partner in the company McCulloch, Sellar & Co. with the head office in Melbourne, and owner of the Mt Gipps station.  Although the station was essentially a pastureland, there were a number of mines on it– tin, lead, silver, zinc, Freyers Wolfram Mine and Hores Scheelite Mine.  But even so, McCulloch had ordered all station hands not to even think of prospecting anywhere on the property. 

Not to be deterred, Rasp’s curiosity got the better of him, and it was the black broken hill (Figure 5) that interested him the most.  While riding the boundaries he saw the hill frequently, was familiar with it from one end to the other and knew that the rocks of the outcrop were hard and unusually heavy.  Rasp had been working on the upper Murray at the time of the 1872 Jingellic tin rush and, because of the similarities in the rocks, thought the outcrop could indicate a tin deposit.  On the other hand, the rocks reminded him of those around the silver-lead mines in Saxony where he had sometimes played in his childhood.  So on two counts he was hopeful that there might be valuable minerals beneath the jagged black outcrop.

Fig. 5  The black broken hill.

Then on September 3, 1883, when he could be denied no longer, Rasp and two Mt Gipps dam-sinking contractors rode out from their camp and hacked their way through mulga scrub to the highest and blackest part of the outcrop.  There they pegged a mining claim of 40 acres – 20 chains by 20 chains (420 metres by 420 metres).  A subsequent survey showed they got it just about right.  The two dam-sinkers were David James, who drove the first peg, and James Poole.  Rasp, James and Poole formed a Syndicate of Three with each contributing £70 to establish a syndicate fund.  How three station hands could amass £70 each at such times is an unanswered question.  The diagram in Figure 6 shows the broken hill and the mining lease pegged by them.

Three days later on September 6, 1883, Rasp rode to the Police Station on Mt Gipps to register the claim and pay the appropriate fee of £10.  The Station was a stone cottage on a hillside about half a mile from the homestead and manned at the time by Constable Richard O’Connell, Deputy Mining Registrar and Warden’s Clerk.  Why there should be a Police Station on Mt Gipps is another unanswered question.

When Rasp registered the claim he called it Block 12.  I have asked many people why Block 12 and received only one plausible answer.  According to Trevor Dart, a Broken Hill identity and serious mineral collector, Rasp had closely studied the length of the outcrop and estimated that it could accommodate some 20 blocks of 40 acres each.  Then, counting from the south east end, his block was the twelfth.  So Block 12, and that explanation will need to suffice until something better is offered.

After registering the claim, Rasp rode to the homestead and told McCulloch what he had done.  Evidently McCulloch was sanguine about the matter, and said something along the lines that he didn’t want hordes of prospectors traipsing across the station looking for a piece of the action so “We’ll go in and peg the whole bloody hill”.  He immediately joined the syndicate, along with three other station hands – George Lind (storekeeper), George Urquhart (overseer) and Phillip Charley (jackaroo).  They all put in the required first call of £70 to syndicate funds, which then stood at  £480.

Then on September 8, 1883, they rode out to the hill and pegged Blocks 11, 13, 14 and 15.  A couple of weeks later, on September 21, they pegged two more blocks – 10 and 16.  These additional 6 blocks were registered with names following on from the original Block 12 as shown in Figure 7.  The Syndicate of Seven then had seven blocks totalling 297 acres over about 2 miles (3km) of the hill.

Fig. 6  The broken hill and pegged lease named Block 12.
Fig. 7  The broken hill and pegged leases for Blocks 10, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 16 adjacent to Block 12.

The leasing arrangements are worth mentioning.  Each of the blocks was leased from the NSW Government for 20 years at 5/- an acre per year.  As they had 297 acres under lease, it cost 297 x 5/- or £74/5/- annually, and this had to be paid each year until 1903.  For £3 an acre, or £594, they could have purchased freehold title for the 7 blocks and saved the subsequent mine owners hundreds of millions of pounds paid as Royalties to the NSW Government.  If only they had known, but of course none of the syndicate members had that kind of money.  In any case, purchasing the freehold title would have had monumental consequences that we will return to later.  The selling of freehold title by the Government ceased in 1884 so, in effect, the Syndicate had only one opportunity to go down that path.

The syndicate sank several shafts (see Figure 8), in attempts to find what actually was hidden by the broken hill, but all assays were discouraging.  Some syndicate members wanted to sell part of their share to help alleviate precarious financial positions.  Consequently, it was decided that each of the seven shares would become two shares so that those who wanted to, could offload one and keep the other.  By this action the Syndicate of Seven became the Syndicate of Fourteen. 

At this time William Jamieson, a Government surveyor of mines and town sites appeared on the scene and bought into the Syndicate by purchasing several shares for £320.  At one time Rasp held three shares but sold one to Jamieson for £104.  Later, when there was still so sign of any promising assays, some shareholders would have gladly sold their share for as little as £30 but, as there were no takers, they were forced to keep them – lucky men.

Times continued to be tough.  There was a drought, and plague rabbits were eating everything green, leaving the sheep to starve.  The plains were hot and dry, becoming wastelands.  Assays continued to be poor, but the owner of each of the 14 shares had to keep paying 10/- every week and costs were mounting.

Then, in January 1885, came a storm and a wash-out.  Phillip Charley claimed to have found silver chlorides, (Figure 9), in white kaolin on part of the broken hill leases that had not been prospected.  He was ridiculed. What would a jackaroo know?  But Charley had seen silver chlorides and he had a brain.  Samples were assayed – 800 ounces of silver per ton!!  The Knox shaft was sunk through the kaolin and the world’s largest lead-silver-zinc lode had been discovered.

Fig. 8 Early drilling on the broken hill.
Fig. 9 Silver chloride, AgCl, Chlorargyrite.