Broken Hill Mines – the Story – Chapter 7: The Minerals

We now come to the last chapter of this story, the minerals. Over 300 species have been identified from the Broken Hill lode – as set out in the Minerals of Broken Hill. I am going to mention only 36 of them in this chapter, 21 type minerals and 15 others. According to the Mindat website, 21 type minerals have been identified for Broken Hill as follows:

  • aldridgeite 
  • bernalite 
  • birchite 
  • costibite 
  • edwardsite 
  • hoganite 
  • kintoreite  
  • kolitschite
  • liversidgeite 
  • marshite 
  • mawbyite 
  • miersite
  • nyholmite 
  • paceite 
  • paradocrasite 
  • plimerite
  • raspite 
  • segnitite 
  • vanderheydenite 
  • willyamite
  • yancowinnaite

Another mineral, brokenhillite, was submitted as a type mineral but not approved by the International Mineralogical Association and so we do not as yet have an acknowledged mineral with this name. However, that situation is quite likely to change as research into the minerals of Broken Hill continues by geologists, professional and amateur mineralogists and collectors, particularly of the micromineral kind.

Finally, here is a list of my 15 best minerals of Broken Hill.

  • azurite
  • calcite
  • cerussite (reticulated)
  • bustamite
  • rhodonite
  • pyromorphite (both yellow and brown)
  • silver
  • chlorargyrite
  • linarite
  • pyrosmalite
  • inesite
  • pyrite
  • olivenite
  • and the best of all – smithsonite on coronadite
Smithsonite, Kintore open cut, Broken Hill, New South Wales. Photo width 18mm. Steve Sorrell photo.

Broken Hill Mines – the Story – Chapter 6: The Collectors

Nearly all mineral enthusiasts, particularly those in Australia, will certainly have several, if not many, specimens from the Broken Hill lode in their collections. These specimens range from large museum quality pieces to cabinet, miniature and thumbnail pieces, and of course the very small microspecimens simply because many of the Broken Hill species occur only at this size level.

Several of the prominent collectors are worthy of mention.

Sir Maurice Mawby (Figure 34) was born in Broken Hill, and rose to be Chairman of Conzinc Riotinto of Australia, owner of Zinc Corporation and New Broken Hill Consolidated. He was an avid mineral collector and sympathetic to collectors, having said: “Let the men take minerals home. If you don’t, they will be only dumped into the chute and part of Australia’s mineral heritage will be lost.” If only other mine managers were as benevolent.

Fig. 34 Sir Maurice Mawby.

Albert Chapman (Figure 35) began serious collecting in the 1930s at Prospect Quarry in Western Sydney, in the New England area of NSW, and at Broken Hill. He used Broken Hill specimens for some of his most profitable overseas exchanges, and his Broken Hill collection was reputed to be the best in Australia. It was purchased in 1988 by the NSW Government, and displayed for a while in the Earth Exchange Museum in The Rocks area of Sydney. It is now the centrepiece of the collection of the Australian Museum, College Street, Sydney.

Fig. 35 Albert Chapman.

Milton Lavers (Figure 36) began collecting as a boy growing up in Broken Hill, where he played on the Block 10 and Block 14 mine sites. He worked for New Broken Hill Consolidated in the years of management benevolence, and amassed the best private collection on public display in the city. Milton passed away in 2014, and some of his collection was sold by public auction in December of that year. Much of the rest was sold at the Tucson Mineral Show, USA, in early 2015.

Fig. 36 Milton Lavers.

Howard Worner (Figure 37) was a metallurgist and, at the University of Melbourne, rose to be Dean of Engineering having responsibility for, among other disciplines, Mining and Mining Engineering. Thus, he was able to indulge his passion for mineral collecting sparked when he was growing up near the Lake Boga Granite Quarry in northern Victoria. Over the years he assembled a large excellent collection, the best parts of which he took to Wollongong in the 1980s after retirement. Ultimately, the collection was donated to the University of Wollongong where it is on public display. His Broken Hill minerals are a feature of that display. Howard was Co-Editor of the first edition of Minerals of Broken Hill, testifying to his knowledge of that locality.

Fig. 37 Howard Worner.

There are many other prominent collectors.

Edward Aldridge, proprietor of the Duke Of Cornwall hotel in Broken Hill, who acquired over 5,000 specimens which were later donated to the University of Sydney and various museums. The current location of those specimens is uncertain.

Professor Laurie Lawrence of the University of New South Wales had a superb collection, with many excellent Consols specimens.

Warren Sommerville assembled a huge private collection of minerals and fossils, for many years on display in a corrugated iron shed in Orange, but now housed in an excellent facility in Bathurst, New South Wales.

George ‘Specimen’ Smith, and other individuals, amassed collections that found homes in the Australian Museum, other museums, Schools of Mines, Geology Departments, Geological Survey Departments, mining companies and so on.

And finally there are collectors such as Trevor Dart, a high school teacher in Broken Hill, who every now and then is approached by a student – “Sir, my Dad has these old boxes of rocks under the house and he is gunna throw them out – do you want them?”.

Broken Hill Mines – the Story – Chapter 5: Our Mineral Heritage

Our mineral heritage from the Broken Hill lode is the 300 plus minerals that occurred in the ore, the gangue and the oxidised zone.

First, the major ore minerals were galena and sphalerite, which comprised the bulk of the lenses in the lode. Additionally, the ore contained many minor minerals, including chalcopyrite, arsenopyrite, loellingite, pyrrhotite, cobaltite, tetrahedrite, albandite, stannite, bournonite and many others.

Secondly, the gangue comprised the non-sulphide minerals that were intimately associated with the ore minerals. A few of those minerals were quartz, spessartine, gahnite, rhodonite, fluorite, pyrosmalite, inesite, bustamite, hedenbergite, calcite, feldspar and apatite.

Thirdly, the secondary minerals in the oxidised zone were those formed by weathering of that part of the ore body exposed by erosion and not themselves washed away by the erosion processes. These minerals were not, of course, present in the original lode. Thus, the secondary minerals include carbonates – cerussite, azurite, smithsonite; sulphates – anglesite, barite; phosphates – pyromorphite; chlorides – embolite; arsenical compounds – mimetite, scorodite; tungstates – stolzite, raspite; metals – copper, silver, lead, antimony; along with hundreds more with various chemistries. All these minerals are listed and described in Minerals of Broken Hill, Editions 1 and 2. They occurred both singly and in stunning associations as many thousands of marvellous specimens. Of course, most of these went straight into crushers and blast furnaces, but many were saved to satisfy, at least partially, the demands of multitudes of collectors. For example, the proprietor of the Duke of Cornwall hotel encouraged miners to bring him good specimens in their tea billies, and he would replace them with draft beer. What is left today can be only a small fraction of the material dug from the mines, but nevertheless, there are many superb specimens in personal and institutional collections.

Broken Hill Mines – the Story – Chapter 4: Mining the Lode

We come now to the most complicated part of the story, as there are really six stories, as shown in Figure 14. The First Decade was followed by the three big ventures – Zinc Corporation, Broken Hill South and North Broken Hill taking the story to about 1980. The events of Recent Times are two parallel stories leading to the current situation.

Fig. 14  The six stories concerning the mining of the lode.

The First Decade

On April 25th 1885, the Syndicate of Fourteen amalgamated the seven leases as the Broken Hill Mining Company, but it was never registered. William Jamieson was appointed Manager of the company, with a salary of £500 per annum, and immediately resigned from his appointment as Government Surveyor. This company had insufficient capital to embark on any serious mining operations and so, very soon after amalgamating the leases and clearly in desperate need of funds, the syndicate floated a new company.

This company was called the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. That company and the Broken Hill Mining Company were combined and registered in Melbourne on 23rd July 1885 as the BHP Co. Ltd. and, by this action, the “Big Australian” had come into existence.

BHP was floated with a capital of 16,000 shares valued at £20 each. Of those shares, 1,000 were awarded, fully paid up, to the holder of each of the 14 syndicate shares. The remaining 2,000 shares were offered to the public at £9 each, and were snapped up.

This sale netted the syndicate £18,000 with another £22,000 on call. £3,000 was immediately used to repay syndicate members for expenditure they had personally funded. The company then had £15,000 to begin mining operations, and development was swift.

In late 1885, BHP commenced operations by open cutting on Blocks 11, 12 and 13 (Figure 15). Workers moved from Silverton to form a settlement near the broken hill. Within months, there was a ramshackle assortment of tents, shacks and huts but there was no water and no sanitation. The settlement was called Willyama. Soon there were shops, boarding houses, entertainment parlours and, of course, pubs – ultimately 55 of them.

According to one report, some of the first mined ore was sent to the Daydream mine (Daydream Silver Mining Company) for processing as, in 1885, the company had built a smelter (Figure 16), on the nearby Hen and Chickens mine (see Figure 1).

Fig. 15  The BHP Open Cut 1891.
Fig. 16  Daydream smelter on the Hen & Chickens mine site.

Originally this smelter only functioned for a short time before closing down due to lack of sufficiently high grade ore. It was reopened to process the BHP ore but in 1886 it closed down for good. As a consequence, BHP then sent 48 tons, 5cwt and 3qtrs of ore to Intercolonial Smelting & Refining Co. at Spotswood in Melbourne. Processing of that ore produced 35,605 ounces of silver – 734 ounces per ton. That result raised eyebrows. Sceptics asserted that the mine management had salted the ore with silver from somewhere else to ramp up share values, but they were, of course, wrong.

Around this time in 1885, William Jamieson visited Sunny Corner in New South Wales, the site of the only other silver mine in Australia. After investigating the on-site smelter there, he returned to Broken Hill and immediately took action to erect BHP smelters on the line of lode. The first smelter became operational in 1886, and expansion of operations was taking place on several fronts. A government railway was built across South Australia to link with the private tramway from Silverton. Workers poured in from South Australia to escape the recession there. Skilled workers came from all over the world, including smeltermen from the United States silver fields.

Eventually, BHP had 15 furnaces (Figure 17), with a weekly capacity of about 4,500 tons of ore, together with the associated ore crushers, ore beneficiation plant and, of necessity, sprawling waste dumps. During the first three years of operation BHP produced 3 million ounces of silver, which was over 30% of the world production. However, a downside of these developments was the noxious fume produced by the smelters.

Smelting of lead ore involved then as it does now, several processing stages. First the ore, together with included gangue, was crushed in ore beneficiation plant of crushers, mills and other machinery. It was then roasted to convert the lead minerals to lead oxide. Depending on the specific minerals present in the ore, various noxious gases were produced and vented to the atmosphere through chimneys or stacks. Ore containing sulphides released sulphur dioxide SO2, a well-known health hazard. The oxidised product of roasting was processed in a blast furnace with fuel and flux. Burning of the fuel provided heat, and a means of reducing the lead oxide to liquid metallic lead.

Fig. 17  BHP Smelters in 1888.

The flux combined with impurities to form a slag, and all of this produced more noxious gases. Finally, the lead and slag were tapped from the bottom (hearth) of the furnace and the silver, present within the lead, was extracted by one of several effective processes.

The flux for smelting was limestone, sourced in about 1889 from Tarrawingee (or Torrowangee) some 60km to the north (Figure 18). Initially the limestone was hauled to the mines, but later a light rail was built to the quarries. In 1898, when smelting was transferred from the mines to Port Pirie in South Australia, the quarries closed and Torrowangee is now a ghost town. The fuel was charcoal obtained from the surrounding forests.

Fig. 18  Map showing the location of the Torrowangee limestone quarries. (HEMA Australia Road Atlas).

By 1888 the population of Willyama had reached about 16 000, according to one authority, enough for it to become a municipality. Possible names for the city were proposed – Silver City and Mulga Town were two, along with what was possibly the first name – Mullinsville. Hugh Mullins had pegged a block of 20 acres on the location of the present central business district, and some of his colleagues thought to honour him in this way. But it was not to be, as Broken Hill was favoured, being an original name for the black rocky outcrop. Evidently, Broken Hill was also the name for one of the Mt Gipps paddocks. Incidentally, on 20th  January 2015, Broken Hill became the first Australian city to be included on the National Heritage List.

This now brings us to the timeline for the first decade.

  • 1883  The Syndicate of Seven pegged Blocks 10 to 16.
  • 1884  Central Broken Hill Silver Mining Co. Ltd. pegged Block 9 to the south of Block 10. (Block 9 was purchased by the Sulphide Corporation in 1895)
  • 1885  BHP Co. Ltd. began open cutting on Blocks 11, 12 and 13. Broken Hill South Silver Mining Co. Ltd. pegged blocks 5, 6, 7 and 8 adjacent to Block 9. North Broken Hill Silver Mining Co. Ltd. acquired Block 17 adjacent to Block 16 (see later).
  • 1886  Broken Hill Junction Silver Mining Co. pegged Block 39 north of Block 16.
  • 1887  BHP established a satellite company British BHP Co. Ltd. to exploit Blocks 15 and 16, and another satellite company BHP Block 14 Co. Ltd. to mine Block 14,
  • 1888  and a third satellite company BHP Block 10 Co. Ltd. to mine Block 10.
  • 1890  Broken Hill North Silver Mining Co. Ltd. pegged Block 40 adjacent to Block 39 and Australian Broken Hill Consols Co. pegged Blocks 96, 97 and 98.
Fig. 19  Old map showing the Consols leases 96, 97, 98.

The Blocks 96, 97 and 98 (Figure 19), were not on the line of lode but some 600 metres to the south east, covering an erratic silver channel that was worked from 1893 to 1903. Silver occurred as native silver and as the mineral dyscrasite (Ag3Sb, Figure 20), which was very rare worldwide but abundant in the Consols lode. Over 26 tons of silver was obtained during the 13 years of mining, with silver assays of many thousands of ounces per ton of ore, and one slug weighing nearly 1.5 tons. The lode has never been reworked and is currently a bulldozed flat area.

Fig. 20 Dyscrasite from the Consols lode.

The mining leases relevant to the timeline are shown in Figure 21 while Figure 22 shows all the leases pegged up until 1893 – at least according to two maps in the Mitchell Library. The broken hill rocky outcrops at either end of the original leases were inconspicuous, but both areas were pegged and mining gradually extended into these regions. It seems evident that the mining leases along the line of lode were named as Block numbers following the original No 12 pegged and named by Rasp. Most of the others seem to bear no relationship with these, and I have not been able to find any plausible explanation for the numbers.

Fig. 21  Map showing leases relevant to the first decade.
Fig. 22  Map showing all leases pegged up to 1893.

Turning now to briefly consider the seven men who were initially responsible for the wealth that was being generated – the Syndicate of Seven – what happened to them?

  • David James – one of the dam-sinking contractors, and one of the original Syndicate of Three, kept his share long enough to become rich. He dabbled in horse racing, and in 1895 his horse Agraria won the Melbourne Cup.
  • James Poole – the other dam-sinking contractor, and one of the original Syndicate of Three, exchanged half his share with a passing drover for ten rather poor bullocks worth only £40. It transpired that the bullocks had been appropriated from the common by the drover who was none other than Sydney Kidman. Poole sold the other half share for £4,500 – a small fortune in those days but not nearly the fortune that some others made.
  • George Lind – the storekeeper, sold his share to Rasp and McCulloch for little profit, and disappeared into nowhere.
  • George Urquhart – the overseer, sold his share (possibly to Jamieson), died in 1915 and is buried in Broken Hill.
  • Phillip Charley – the jackaroo, was first to recognise silver chlorides, and kept his share to become very rich. In 1907 he purchased a Silver Ghost, and so was the first person to import a Rolls Royce into Australia.
  • George McCulloch – manager and part owner of Mt Gipps, was the mastermind behind the Syndicate of Seven, and kept his share to become very rich. He founded the first hospital in Broken Hill, became an active patron of Broken Hill arts, and helped establish the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery. He imposed the condition that entry to the gallery must be free, and that condition is sustained to the present day. McCulloch retired to London, where he used his wealth to become a major patron of British art.
Fig. 23 Raspite.

Charles Rasp – kept his shares which, at the end of 1885, were worth £40,000, soon rising to £25,000,000 and ultimately to £60,000,000 – at least according to one reference. He was never a BHP Board member, possibly thinking that the notoriety might attract the attention of German authorities over his earlier desertion. He was, however, a director of several smaller companies. Without a doubt he was Australia’s Silver King. The lead tungstate mineral PbWO4 was named raspite in his honour (Figure 23).

To complete this part of the story, Rasp moved to Adelaide and married Agnes Maria Louise Kievesahl on 22nd July 1886 and a year later they bought Willyama, a property in Menindie, a suburb of Adelaide. It was rumoured that Rasp had buried a time capsule in the grounds but, despite many searches, it remains undiscovered. They renovated extensively and turned the house into a mansion where they entertained sufficiently lavishly for Agnes to became a socialite. The couple had no children, and travelled extensively overseas – which is puzzling considering Rasp’s fear of recognition. Rasp died of a coronary on 22nd May 1907 aged 60. He left only a small estate of about £40,000, having transferred assets to Agnes early in their marriage, and possibly having given substantial funds to his brother, Isidor, to help him avoid major troubles in the USA.

According to an account in Minerals of Broken Hill, Edition 2, Agnes and her maid, Anna Paech, left Australia in 1912 for Europe, where she tried to improve her social standing. She became engaged to

76-year-old Baron Richard van Eisenstein but he died a few days before the wedding. Then in 1914, in London, she married Count von Zedtwitz, who was later killed in World War I. The then Baroness and Anna returned to Australia in 1921, only to find that her property and assets had been confiscated under the Enemy Property Act. She appealed to Billy Hughes, the Prime Minister, and he intervened through a special Act of Parliament to enable her to recover her estate. She died in 1936, aged 79, leaving £120,000 and a yearly pension of £100 to Anna Paech. Willyama was sold in 2006 for $6,400,000. This account is not supported by other versions.

Returning now to the mining of the lode.

In the first years of mining, BHP owned the lease on the main arch of the boomerang shaped lode where the oxidised ore was very rich in silver, very easy to remove by open cutting, and very easy to smelt. As a consequence, BHP paid millions of pounds in dividends, and continued to do so until the company closed all leases in 1939.

Times were tough for the other mining companies. Those to the north and to the south did not have access to oxidised ore and had to go deep underground with shafts to extract (mostly) sulphide ore. This ore was not rich in silver, and was difficult to smelt. Then, in the mid-1890s, when BHP had extracted most of the oxidised material, that company too had to go underground for sulphide ore.

Sulphide ore presented the mining companies with a major metallurgical problem, because it was a mixture of galena and sphalerite. It was soon recognised that ore beneficiation was necessary to try to separate the two minerals, and ore dressing was commenced as early as 1894. The ore was crushed and gravity separation attempted using Wilfley tables and other such devices. Separation was partly effective and the galena, still containing significant amounts of sphalerite, was smelted leaving massive dumps of zinc ore concentrates contaminated with lead.

The real problem occurred in the lead blast furnaces. The roasted ore, fuel and flux were charged into the furnaces from the top and progressively moved down the furnace shaft. In the lower, higher temperature regions, zinc vapour was produced. The vapour rose and, in the cooler top regions, condensed to a solid, which partly blocked the gas passages, slowing all reactions. Lead recovery was reduced to only about 50%, and silver recovery was only about 65%. Collectively this was known as the SULPHIDE PROBLEM. All mines struggled through the effects of the problem, and the struggle was exacerbated by declining metal prices and lower grade ore. It was acknowledged that the galena and sphalerite must be separated, and that gravity-based processes were not the answer.

A process called Froth Flotation was suggested as a possible solution. This process, known since 1781, was tried but, being very crude, was not effective, initially. Figure 24 shows a basic froth flotation cell. The vessel contains water with added chemicals, into which air is bubbled through an agitator. Finely crushed lead/zinc ore is fed into the vessel at the top to form a slurry with the water. Depending on the particular chemicals in the water, the galena particles or the sphalerite particles attach preferentially to the surface of the bubbles and float to the top, where they are scraped into a concentrate launder. The other sulphide sinks to the bottom and is removed as tailings.

Fig. 24  Representation of a froth flotation cell and process.

The requirement at the time was for a cell design and slurry chemistry that could effect a highly efficient separation of the two minerals. The Sulphide Corporation had experimented with the process at Cockle Creek near Newcastle in New South Wales, but apparently with little success. Around that time, an American consulting mining engineer was in Melbourne acting for a group known as the “Hills Syndicate”. He was Herbert Hoover, later to become the 31st President of the United States and, evidently, it was this Syndicate that developed a workable froth flotation process that became available to the mines. The process was crude, and several mines were nearly bankrupted, but they survived, and froth flotation was progressively improved until it is now a very widely used sophisticated chemical engineering process.

The story of the first decade is now complete and, although we have gone beyond 1895, the setting for emergence of the three major companies is in place.

The Zinc Corporation

Upon development of the workable froth flotation process, the Hills Syndicate bought the rights to treat the 6 million tons of contaminated zinc concentrates on leases 33, 92, 5, 6, 88 and 87 (see Figure 25). Around this time, the Syndicate morphed into the Zinc Corporation which, in 1911, purchased the leases to Broken Hill South Ltd Blocks 5, 6, 87 and 88 to guarantee availability of ore when processing of all dumps was completed. In 1936 the Corporation set up a London based company, New Broken Hill Consolidated, specifically to explore and exploit the southern mining leases pegged in the 1880s, and held by the Corporation and Barrier South Ltd. Thirteen years later the company name was changed to Consolidated Zinc Corporation which, in 1962, merged with Rio Tinto Co. to form Rio Tinto Zinc Corporation (RTZ). The main subsidiary of RTZ was Conzinc Riotinto of Australia (CRA). Then, in 1971, New Broken Hill Consolidated joined the CRA consortium to become the Australian Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd. Seventeen years later this company merged with North Broken Hill Ltd. to form a new company called Pasminco Ltd., which we will come back to soon.

It is worth noting that in 1995 RTZ became the Riotinto Group which now owns the Western Australian ventures Hamersley Iron and the Argyle Diamond Mine.

Fig. 25  Leases relevant to the Zinc Corporation.

Here is the timeline for the Zinc Corporation.

  • 1905 Zinc Corporation formed to process dumps on Blocks 5, 6, 33, 92, 87, 88
  • 1911 then acquired mines on Blocks 5, 6, 87, 88 to maintain sources of ore
  • 1936 formed New Broken Hill Consolidated (NBHC)
  • 1949 Zinc Corp. became Consolidated Zinc Corporation
  • 1962 merged with Rio Tinto Co. to form Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ) with the main subsidiary of Conzinc Riotinto of Australia (CRA)
  • 1971 NBHC joined with CRA to form Australian Mining & Smelting Co Ltd
  • 1988 AM&S Co Ltd and North Broken Hill Peko Ltd (see later) combined to form Pasminco Ltd   and incidentally:
  • 1995 Rio Tinto Zinc became the Riotinto Group

North Broken Hill

In December 1883, Block 17 was pegged as the Cosmopolitan Mine but, soon after, the lease was sold on to a Melbourne based syndicate for £15,000 and renamed the North Broken Hill Silver Mining Company Ltd. In 1904 it purchased the Victoria Cross Mine on the adjacent lease to the north east and, in 1912, it became North Broken Hill Ltd. Then followed 30 years of acquisitions of leases. The first acquisition was British BHP Co. Ltd. on Blocks 15 and 16 in 1923, then Broken Hill Junction Silver Mining Co. Ltd. on Block 39 in 1929 (bought from the Sulphide Corporation which had acquired it in 1923), and then Broken Hill Junction North Silver Mining Co. Ltd. on Block 40 in 1931. Finally it acquired BHP Block 14 Co. Ltd. together with several leases to the north east in 1942. The relevant Blocks are shown in Figure 26. Running into financial difficulties, the leases on Blocks 14, 15, 16 and 39 were sold to Broken Hill South in 1962.

In 1976 the company became North Broken Hill Holdings Ltd., which took over the company Peko Wallsend in 1988 to become North Broken Hill Peko Ltd. This is the company that later merged with the Australian Mining & Smelting Co. Ltd. to form Pasminco Ltd.

Fig. 26  Leases relevant to North Broken Hill Ltd.

Here is the timeline for North Broken Hill Ltd

  • 1883 Block 17 pegged by the Cosmopolitan Mine
  • 1885 North Broken Hill Silver Mining Co Ltd. acquired Block 17
  • 1904 then purchased Victoria Cross Mine on Block 43
  • 1912 became North Broken Hill Ltd.
  • 1923 acquired British BHP Co Ltd. on Blocks 15, 16
  • 1929 acquired Broken Hill Junction Silver Mining Co Ltd. on Block 39 from Sulphide Corporation which had acquired it in 1923
  • 1931 acquired Broken Hill Junction North Silver Mining Co Ltd. – on Block 40
  • 1942 acquired BHP Block 14 Co. Ltd. & additional leases to the east
  • 1962 Blocks 14,15, 16, 39 sold to Broken Hill South Ltd.
  • 1976 became North Broken Hill Holdings Ltd.
  • 1988 took over Peko Wallsend to become North Broken Hill Peko Ltd. merged with Australian Mining & Smelting Co. Ltd. to form Pasminco Ltd.

Broken Hill South

This company started off as Broken Hill South Silver Mining Co. Ltd. by pegging the Blocks 5, 6, 7 and 8 in 1884. In 1911, as we have seen, it sold Blocks 5 and 6 to the Zinc Corporation then, in 1918, changed its name to Broken Hill South Ltd. The years from 1940 to 1962 was a period of acquisition of additional leases.

First, the Central Mine on Block 9 in 1940 then, after BHP closed down all its leases in 1939, the leases on Blocks 10, 11, 12 and 13 in 1943, followed by the leases on Blocks 14, 15, 16 and 39 from North Broken Hill in 1962. At this time Broken Hill South held the leases to the entire line of lode (Figure 27), but financial problems in 1972 led the company to close down all those leases.

Fig. 27 Leases relevant to Broken Hill South Ltd.

Here is the timeline for Broken Hill South Ltd

  • 1884 Broken Hill South Silver Mining Co. Ltd. pegged Blocks 5, 6, 7, 8
  • 1911 sold blocks 5, 6 to Zinc Corporation
  • 1918 became Broken Hill South Ltd.
  • 1940 acquired Central Mine on Block 9
  • 1943 acquired BHP leases on Blocks 10, 11, 12, 13
  • 1962 acquired British BHP on Blocks 15, 16, acquired Block 14, and Junction Mine on Block 39
  • 1972 closed; leases transferred to Minerals, Mining & Metallurgy Ltd. (see later)

Turning now to all the mines, it is well known that in the early years the miners were seriously exploited by the mine owners, and 360 lives were lost between 1894 and 1913. An unsuccessful strike erupted in 1909 in an attempt to improve working conditions but, 10 years later, a second and prolonged strike that lasted 18 months had a positive outcome for the workers. Their rights became recognised, safety conditions were improved, and the working hours became acceptable.

In between these actions, all contracts with German smelters were cancelled at the outbreak of World War I, leading to decreased production and increased unemployment. But the mines survived.

Most of those mining operations were underground through numerous shafts such as shown in Figure 28. Nevertheless, the first operation in 1885 was development of the BHP open cut into the oxidised zone, see Figure 15. This mine was variously called “the Proprietary”, “the Prop” and “The Big Mine”, by the locals and somebody once said or wrote about digging into that zone: “the excitement of seeing vughs lit up like a fairyland by the miner’s lamps can only be imagined today”. As far as I am aware, there are no photographs or artist’s impressions to show what that might have looked like. What a shame.

Fig. 28   Diagram showing the locations of some of the mining shafts.
MineNo.Shaft Name
New Broken Hill Consolidated Ltd1Service Shaft
 2Haulage Shaft
 3Main Shaft
 4Block 5 Shaft
 5Old Main Shaft
South Mine6No 5 Shaft
 7No 4 Shaft
 8No 7 Shaft
 9No 3 Shaft
 10No 1 Shaft
 11No 2 Shaft
Central12Old Kintore Shaft
 13Old Main Shaft
 14Kintore Shaft
Block 1015Campbell Shaft
 16Harvey Shaft
 17Kelly Shaft
Proprietary18Weatherly Shaft
 19Macgregor Shaft
 20New Macgregor Shaft
 21Drew Shaft
 22McBryde Shaft
 23Wigg Shaft
 24Dickenson Shaft
 25Knox Shaft
 26Jamieson Shaft
 27Stewart Shaft
 28Delprat Shaft
 29Patterson Shaft
 30Darling Shaft
 31McCulloch Shaft
 32Rasp Shaft
 33Wilson Shaft
Block 1434South Shaft
 35Main Shaft
 36North Shaft
British37Blackwood Shaft
 38Howell Shaft
 39Eyre Shaft
 40Thompson Shaft
 41King Shaft
Junction42Browne Shaft
 43McIntyre Shaft
 44Marsh Shaft
Junction North45Main Shaft
North46Main Shaft
 47New Main Shaft. North Mine No 1 Shaft
 48Victoria Cross Shaft. North Mine No 2 Shaft
 49North Mine No 3 Shaft
Key to the shafts in each of the mines in Figure 28.

Our story of mining the lode has now taken us to around 1970–1980, and we turn to the two stories of the events of recent times.

Recent Times – the North and South operations

You will remember that in 1988 the Australian Mining & Smelting Co. Ltd. combined with North Broken Hill Peko Ltd. to form a new company they called Pasminco Ltd. This company continued to operate the South mine as Pasminco Southern Operations, and the North mine as Pasminco Northern operations until 1993, when the north mine was closed down. In 2002 Pasminco collapsed, and the leases were acquired for $90 million by Perilya Ltd, a Perth based company. In 2003, and under new management, the South mine was operated as Perilya Southern Operations, and the North mine was reopened as Perilya Northern Operations. Additional reserves were announced, and production immediately increased with 450,000 tonnes of lead and 800,000 tonnes of zinc being produced over the next eight years. Then came the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, resulting in closure of the North mine. The current situation is that the South mine continues to operate, and the North mine is under care and maintenance.

Recent Times – the Central Operations

It has been established that in 1972, Broken Hill South Ltd. closed all operations on Blocks 7 to 16 and Block 39. Those leases, together with several others collectively, became Consolidated Mining Lease 7 (CML 7) which was subsequently worked by four companies.

First, CML 7 was acquired by Minerals, Mining & Metallurgy Ltd. (MMM), a subsidiary of Poseidon Ltd., the company involved in the nickel bubble in the 1970s. In 1973 MMM commenced mining low-grade ore in the Blackwood open cut on Block 15 and in the Block 14 open cut (Figure 29), on Blocks 14 and 15. Two years later, the Kintore open cut (Figure 30), on Blocks 9, 10 and 11 was started. These three open cuts, and a fourth on Blocks 17 and 40, that was prepared but evidently not operated, are shown in Figure 31.

Fig. 29  Block 14 Open Cut.
Fig. 30  Kintore Open Cut.
Fig. 31  Diagram showing the locations of the Kintore (K), Block 14 (B), Blackwood (Bl) and North (N) open cuts.

The mines on Block 14 were very rich in cerussite which formed attractive associations with minerals such as smithsonite, malachite, azurite and silver halides. Possibly the best cerussite specimen in the world, a stunning 32cm reticulated piece shown in Figure 32, came from this Block and is displayed at the Australian Museum in Sydney. At one time it was thought to have been found in the open cut, but as the provenance predates the beginning of that mine the specimen must have been found underground.

In 1991, MMM ceased operations with the leases reverting to Poseidon Ltd. which, by that time, had merged with Normandy Mining Investments Ltd., a subsidiary of Normandy Mining Ltd., the largest gold mining company in Australia. Although Normandy Mining Ltd. was nominally the second company to mine CML 7, the actual mining operations were carried out by Mr Ted Williams and his sons. This family owned Pinnacles Mines Pty. Ltd. located some 10km south west of Broken Hill. Mining there began in 1959, and to 1986 had produced about 200,000 tonnes of lead and zinc ore.

Fig. 32  32cm Reticulated cerussite from Block 14.

The family sub-leased the Kintore and Block 14 open cuts from Normandy and trucked ore to the Pinnacles Mine for processing, but the high cerussite content of the Block 14 product presented considerable difficulties. In 1996, it was estimated that the reserves were about 28 million tonnes, with better than 6% lead, 9% zinc and 55g of silver per tonne. During this phase of mining, mineral collectors may remember having access to the Kintore and Block 14 dumps at the Pinnacles Mine for a daily fee of $20. The sub-lease was terminated when Normandy Mining Ltd. ceased operations in 2000, having been taken over by the multinational Newmont Mining Corporation, the world’s largest gold producer.

Redfire Resources, a general mining company formed in 1989, then acquired the leases and became the third company to mine CML 7. One year later, in 2001, the name was changed to Consolidated Broken Hill (CBH).

In 2008, when commodity prices collapsed due to the Global Financial Crisis, mining was halted. At that time of inactivity, a new mining proposal for CML 7 was being planned, and was approved by the New South Wales Government in 2011. In 2012 the Rasp Mine was officially opened on CML 7 to become the fourth to mine the site.

This venture was possible simply because there is a substantial amount of acceptable grade ore remaining in, and in the vicinity of, the lode.

This material comprises the following (see Figure 33).

  • The Western Zone or Western Mineralization, of 2.2 million tonnes of better than 10% lead plus zinc, discovered in 1913, then extensively drilled but remaining un-mined. It is 40m wide, to the west of, and parallel with, the main lode.
  • The Centenary Lode of more than 5 million tonnes discovered at considerable depth in 1975 by structural geologist Tim Hopwood.
  • The Fitzpatrick and 2K lodes, at considerable depth, off the north-east end of the main lode.
  • The many part-lenses and remnants containing less that the 15 to 20% lead plus zinc cut off remaining from earlier mining operations.
  • The large regions between known ore lenses and also the outside of those lenses.
  • The high-grade zinc lenses in the south west part of the lode (CML 8)
  • The remnants after mining of only the lead lodes on CML 7.
Fig. 33 Some of the remaining parts of the Broken Hill deposit as viewed from the south.

The objective of the Rasp mine is to remove the Western Mineralisation, the Centenary Lode and the pillars of high-grade ore remaining in the main lode. A new decline, from a portal at the northeast end of the Kintore open cut, is under construction to provide access to the ore bodies.

Tailings are being dumped into the Block 14 and Blackwood open cuts. Mining is mechanised, with a cut-off of 6% lead plus zinc, and ore beneficiation by heavy media separation has been designed to remove the gangue. It is expected that 650,000 tonnes will be mined annually, with concentrates produced by plant located in the Kintore pit. These are railed to Newcastle for shipping to smelters in Australia and overseas.

We now turn to the current situation. As of the late second decade of the 21st century, only two mines are active – Perilya Southern Operations and the Rasp Mine. Perilya is now 100% owned by Shenzhen Zhongjin Lingnan Nonfemet Co. Ltd., the third largest zinc producer in China. In earlier years, that company held 53% of the shares and was working to acquire the remaining 47% to give stability of the future and employment in the mine. Those shares were acquired on 19 December 2013. In 2015 the Rasp Mine was reported as owned by Toho Zinc Co. Ltd., the third largest zinc company in Japan, and which took over CBH Resources in 2010 as a wholly owned subsidiary. In a report on the mine, dated April 2017, current ownership is stated to be Broken Hill Operations Pty. Ltd. (BHOP) – a wholly owned subsidiary of CBH Resources Limited. It appears that these two listings are the same.

The bottom line for the mining of the Broken Hill lode is that nearly 30,000 tonnes of silver have been produced, and over $300,000,000,000 of wealth have been generated. Had the original Syndicate of Seven had the funds to take freehold title of the leases, all that wealth would have gone to the mine owners. However, the Syndicate had only the funds to cover leasehold, and the owners have had to pay Royalties to the NSW Government since mining began. Among other things, those Royalties funded the change in the Australian economy from rural to industrial and led to the formation of the world’s two largest mining companies – BHP Billiton and the Riotinto Group. Had the Royalty money not been available to the NSW Government, the history of Australian development would most likely have been vastly different as would world mining operations – the monumental consequences alluded to in Chapter 2.

Broken Hill Mines – the Story – Chapter 3: The Lode

When it was discovered, the size and shape of the lode was unknown of course, but extensive drilling progressively revealed that shape, and the dimensions. Originally, the lode was shaped like a boomerang (Figure 10), thought to be 7.3km long, over 1.6km deep and about 250m wide. We now know it to have been somewhat larger than this, and comprising six ore lenses. Four of the lenses were sphalerite (zinc sulphide, ZnS) located mostly at the bigger south-west end, and two were galena (lead sulphide, PbS) extending the full length of the lode.

The lenses, surrounded by gangue minerals, were located within country rock of the Willyama beds, some of the oldest rocks in New South Wales. These beds were laid down mostly as sandstones and shales that subsequently went through several phases of folding and metamorphism to become gneiss, sillimanite gneiss and schist, containing hundreds of small deposits similar to the main lode. It is possible that these small deposits were the rich outcrops that attracted attention at Thackaringa and Silverton in the 1870s.

Fig. 10  Artists impression of the original boomerang shaped lode, as viewed from the north.

It was estimated that the lode contained about 185 million tonnes of high-grade ore, and a further 100 million tonnes of lower grade ore, principally comprising lead and zinc sulphides together with silver. Again, we now know that those estimates were low.

There has been much speculation about the origin of the lode, and the numerous theories that have been expounded mostly agree that the origin was submarine. One theory is presented in considerable detail by Ian Plimer in Minerals and rocks of the Broken Hill, White Cliffs and Tibooburra districts, and another is in Minerals of Broken Hill, Editions 1 and 2. The latter source sets out the proposition that the several thousand metre thick Willyama beds were deposited about 1,800 million years ago, then 50 million years later the ore body of over 300 million tonnes was deposited chemically from submarine hot springs, as depicted in Figure 11.

Fig. 11  Diagram illustrating one hypothesis for the origin of the lode.

It is further proposed that within the Willyama beds, a heat source, possibly a pluton, heated circulating water to several hundred degrees Celsius. This water, at that temperature and retained in the vicinity of the heat source by an overlying highly impermeable layer, was extremely corrosive and capable of dissolving large amounts of quartz, sulphides and other minerals.

Ultimately the mineral-laden fluid burst through weaknesses in the impermeable layer, rose through other rock to the surface where it erupted from the sea floor as a hot spring. The decrease in temperature and pressure, resulted in precipitation of the dissolved solids which, under gravity, flowed to a depression in the floor where they accumulated, ultimately to become the sulphide ore body.

Subsequently, the sea receded and about 1,600 million years ago there followed some 50 million years of multiphase deformation by folding, faulting and metamorphism. These geological processes changed the minerals in the ore, the gangue and the surrounding rocks by reactions such as:

clay + quartz + iron oxide -> garnet

About 1,000 million years ago, the whole area was flattened by glaciation.

During the last 65 million years, the metasediments overlying the ore body were subjected to severe erosive processes. Ultimately the progressive erosion exposed the ore body, which was then itself subjected to erosion and weathering. Simplistically, in falling, rainwater absorbed small amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, to form dilute carbonic acid (H2CO3). Over long periods this acid turned the sulphides in the exposed part of the ore body into carbonates, thereby liberating sulphur dioxide and/or trioxide that dissolved in water to form sulphurous/sulphuric acid which in turn acted on the exposed ore minerals to form sulphates.

The products of such weathering processes were progressively subjected to further weathering, became dissolved in ground waters, and washed away. And so it has been estimated that during those 65 million years of erosion and weathering, some 80 million tonnes were lost from the ore body.

But that is not all that happened during the prolonged period of chemical action. As ore and gangue minerals were slowly dissolved, impurity elements were released into the so-called oxidised zone. Dissolution of galena released lead and sulphur with silver, bismuth, antimony and many other elements. Zinc and sulphur, copper, cadmium, selenium, tellurium, gold and others were released from sphalerite, together with elements such as calcium, magnesium, barium, silicon, chromium, boron, nickel, mercury, arsenic, iodine, fluorine and uranium from minerals associated with the two primary sulphides. Much of this material was washed away by the weathering and erosion processes, but that which remained was available to form new minerals.

Consequently, there was a progressive build-up of minerals in the oxidised zone, which extended 150 to 200 metres into the exposed part of the ore body. These so-called secondary minerals comprised many carbonates, sulphates and oxides, as well as hundreds of other simple and complex mineral species. A few of these were type minerals that we will come to later.

Fig. 12  Remnant of gossan beside the Menindee Road.

A further effect of the 65 million years of erosion was the build up of a mass of iron and manganese oxides over the exposed part of the ore body. All sulphide ore bodies contain iron and manganese as impurities, and all such outcropping ore bodies are capped by oxides of those elements.

The cap is called a gossan, and at Broken Hill the gossan was the broken hill that so interested Charles Rasp. A small part of the original gossan remains at Broken Hill on the line of lode by the side of the Menindee Road (Figure 12). It is probably protected, but can still be seen there.

A second pillar of gossan was evident on Block 15 or 16 two decades or so ago, but has been mined to recover the 900g per tonne of silver it contained. The locations of these two remnants are shown in Figure 13.

Fig. 13 Map showing the locations of two remnants of the gossan (cross hatched) on either side of the Menindee road.

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.

Broken Hill Mines – the Story – Chapter 1: The Early Days

The area in Australia that this story concerns is the central west of what is now known as the state of New South Wales and as shown in Figure 1.

Fig. 1 The central west area showing Silverton, Thackaringa and the locality where Broken Hill was later established.

The earliest people to live in this area were the Bulali, a subgroup of the Wiljakali aboriginals, (although that is contentious), and they were only intermittent as there was no permanent water.  They were there for at least 40 000 years, perhaps even as long as 50 000 years, until the white settlers came and drove them from their lands.  The advent of white men had two devastating effects.  First, they brought disease (as they did in many places), and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they built fences that interfered with animal runs and so diminished the availability of bush tucker.

Undoubtedly, the first white man to visit the area was Major Thomas Mitchell in 1841 as Surveyor-General for the Colony of New South Wales.  He was followed in 1844 by Charles Sturt, who came through from Adelaide to look for the great inland sea thought to lie to the north.  Sturt found his progress in that direction was impeded by a range of hills he appropriately named the Barrier Ranges.  In the 1850s pastoralists came and settled on the trade route to the Darling River in the south-east and then, in 1860-61, Burke and Wills passed through and camped at nearby Menindee.

In the mid 1870s, small but incredibly rich silver-lead deposits were discovered at two locations in the area.  These were Thackaringa, (Figure 2), near Cockburn and Umberumberka near Silverton, (see Figure 1).  Mining of these deposits commenced in 1876.  The population of Thackaringa soon rose to about 300, and of Silverton to about 3 000.  Silverton was big enough to be nearly self-sufficient with banks, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, a library, priests, pastors, a photo studio, a stock and station agent, a policeman (who had been involved in the hunt for Ned Kelly in Victoria), and a butcher (brother of Sydney Kidman) all setting up shop.  Of course, there were many pubs, and Mr. Resch, (probably Emil), established a brewery and made a small fortune.

By the early 1880s mining camps had sprung up in the vicinity of Silverton to enable miners to exploit the silver-lead shows in that region.  Their many mines had highly original and mostly appropriate names – Daydream, Hen & Chickens, Silver King, Purnamoota, Black Prince, Apollyon, Big Blow, Nil Desperandum, The Lubra, Terrible Dick, and many others.

Fig. 2 Mining claims at Thackaringa, circa 1883.

Twenty miles to the south-east of Silverton was a black rocky outcrop on a sheep station named Mt Gipps.  This outcrop was several miles long and sometimes known as the ‘black broken hill’.  The original name was Wilyu-Wilyu-von but the Silverton miners, who had had a good look at it, called it ‘the hill of mullock’  They were generally convinced that it was devoid of minerals, and by that they meant silver, for that was all that interested them.

Well, we know differently, and that leads to the discovery.

Broken Hill Mines – The Story – Introduction

Article by Noel F. Kennon


This is the first part of the story of Broken Hill. It was published earlier in 2020 in the Monthly Mineral Chronicles.

The beginning

The Story of Broken Hill was first prepared in 2012, in PowerPoint form, for presentation as the Annual Club Lecture to the Illawarra Lapidary Club Inc. in February 2013.  Subsequently it was picked up by the Mineralogical Society of New South Wales Inc. and delivered as the Betty Mayne & Edna Walker Memorial Lecture for 2015.  Those two ladies were major benefactors of the Society, and are remembered for their contributions with a memorial lecture following the Annual General Meeting in August each year.


Over 2013, 2014 and the first part of 2015, the original PowerPoint was developed, expanded and extended to be more comprehensive, particularly with respect to the mines and how the lode was exploited.  Initially, this involved searching the internet for relevant web sites, but then I found reference to the Broken Hill Historical Society Inc.

I contacted the Co-ordinator, Mrs. Margaret Price, to see whether there was anybody working for the Society who might be able to provide answers to the many questions I had relating to the mines, particularly questions concerning the early days.  In response, she asked me to send the questions and the staff there would do what they could.  Well, they were brilliant.  Members of the Mineralogical Society of New South Wales Inc. and others provided some information, but it was Margaret Price, her Dad, Malcolm Buttery, and colleague Bill Keenan who were assiduous in digging into the Historical Society resources to help fill in some of the missing pieces in what I was trying to write. 

I am greatly in their debt and acknowledge their contribution to this story.  Margaret claims the work that was done is in masters degree territory and, as a one-time academic, I am inclined to agree with her!  

Finally, I must share part of her response to my final three questions.  Her email reads in part: “It is a huge jigsaw and I wish I paid more attention as I was growing up and listened more carefully to my Dad.  He has recently turned 99 and tried to pass on his knowledge.  If I ask him a question now he refers to the year he told me and is reluctant to tell me again!”.

I must emphasise that this story was first prepared for oral presentation using material from many sources, and I saw no need, (or was unable), to keep detailed records of the origins of the hundreds of individual scraps of that material in the PowerPoint slides.  Consequently, I cannot provide references or even a bibliography to fully acknowledge the large number of authors from whom I must have taken material as it would be a task of near impossibility to recover those origins. 

I therefore claim no originality for the material in this work, and hereby gratefully acknowledge all of those authors whose material I have used.  For some figures, I am able to acknowledge the origin as follows, but the others must remain unidentified.   Some are my own work.

  1. Minerals of Broken Hill, Edition 2
  2. Minerals of Broken Hill, Edition 1
  3. HEMA Australian Road Atlas


In researching the early days I found some old maps showing the mining leases in and around Broken Hill in the Mitchell Library, Sydney but, unfortunately, the information they provide is inconsistent.  Additionally, old papers, books and manuscripts, literature of other kinds, web sites and so on, tell different stories – some radically so.  It certainly is a huge jigsaw and, with pieces seemingly missing, it may possibly never be solved with a reasonable degree of satisfaction.  So where does the truth of the matter lie?  Who knows?  Certainly not me, and so I cannot guarantee the accuracy of some of the things in this story.  Which things – I don’t know.  All I could do was to give the interpretations my best shot and that’s what I have done.

This Story

After having given the presentation to the New South Wales Mineralogical Society Inc., it seemed appropriate to convert the PowerPoint slides into a hard copy document (in black & white), that could be published on the Society’s website, passed on to anybody who wanted it and, especially, presented to Margaret Price for her and her colleagues to see what their efforts have led to, and for inclusion in the records of the Historical Society should she so wish. 

It is that hard copy that is the basis for this Broken Hill Mines – the Story told in seven chapters. 1. The Early Days 2. Finding the Lode 3. The Lode 4. Mining the Lode 5. Our Mineral Heritage 6. The Collectors 7. The Minerals