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Jack Francis 2: Francis and the Philosopher, or how Mount Bischoff came to Middlesex Station

When it comes to mythology, James ‘Philosopher’ Smith (1827–97), discoverer of the phenomenal tin deposits of Mount Bischoff in north-western Tasmania, has copped the lot. He was a mad hatter who ripped off the real discoverer, didn’t know tin when he saw it, threw away a fortune in shares (didn’t collect a single Mount Bischoff Co dividend) and ended up having to be saved from himself with a government pension.[1] Some of this hot air is still in circulation today—hopefully giving no one Legionnaire’s disease.

James ‘Philosopher’ Smith, wife Mary Jane and children Annie (left) and Leslie (right) at their near the Forth Bridge, 1877 or 1878. Peter Laurie Reid photo courtesy of the late Charles Smith.
Base map courtesy of DPIPWE.

Unbeknownst to Fields’ Middlesex Plains stockman Jack Francis, he has also been mired in Smythology. My favourite version of how Jack Francis rescued—or might have rescued, given the chance—Philosopher Smith during his Mount Bischoff expedition is this published poem by E Slater:

‘How Mount Bischoff was found’

Philosopher Smith was full of go,

He tried lots of times to get through the snow,

With his swag on his back he was not very slow,

And he crawled through the bush when his tucker was low.

So he had to turn back, to Jack Francis he came,

To the stockriders’ hut on Middlesex Plains,

I was in the hut when the old man came in,

And gave him some whisky, I think it saved him.

He told us quite plain that the tin it was there,

So he never gave in, or did not despair,

He got some more tucker and went out again,

This time he found Bischoff (it was teeming with rain).[2]

Not content with having Francis save a teetotaller with a bottle of whisky, this bold author decided to mooch in on the tall tale and make himself the saviour. The poem continues, inexplicably, to describe Smith’s triumphant return from Bischoff to the Middlesex Hut after finding the tin and his exit right via Gads Hill and Chudleigh.

Why would Smith take that circuitous route home? At the time, he owned the property Westwood at Forth, but he was also renting land at Penguin while he was involved in opening up the Penguin Silver Mine.[3] At least one author has claimed that Smith’s definitive prospecting expedition was mounted from Penguin up the Pine Road he had had cut in 1868 to enable piners to exploit the forests at Pencil Pine Creek near Cradle Mountain.[4]

However, in his notes Smith made it clear that he travelled from Forth via Castra, the logical route from Westwood to the gold-bearing streams of the Black Bluff Range and the mineralised country around the Middlesex Plains. His main plan was to test the headwaters of the Arthur River for a gold matrix, in support of which he had had a stash of supplies packed out to the base of the Black Bluff Range.

And so, according to Tasmania’s late-nineteenth-century Book of Genesis, James Smith unearthed hope and prosperity in the form of tin at Mount Bischoff on 4 December 1871. What Smith’s notes tell us is that, after a week of work at Mount Bischoff, he ran out of food and—with apologies to those who have claimed he ate his dog[5]—retreated to the hut of Field’s Surrey Hills stockman-hunter Charlie Drury to beg a feed. Drury, not Francis, was the stockman Smith recalled meeting during his Mount Bischoff expedition.[6]

Action from the
Slaughteryard Gully Face of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mine, c1876, showing the yarding and slaughter of stock reflected in its name. Courtesy of the late Charles Smith.

Regardless of Jack Francis’s non-glorification in the discovery of Bischoff, the tin mine brought a benefit to the denizens of Middlesex Station. The advent of the town of Mount Bischoff (Waratah), from about 1873, brought them closer to civilisation. However, there was no Mount Bischoff Tramway until 1877, and in its early days the town had no resident doctor. This meant that when a kick from a horse broke Jack Francis’s thigh at Middlesex in 1875, the nearest medical help was the unqualified ‘Dr’ Edward Brooke Evans (EBE) Walker of Westbank, Leven River (West Ulverstone). The round trip from the coast to Middlesex Station via the VDL Co Track—about 240 km—must have taken several days each way. ‘I had a nice jaunt to Middlesex’, Walker reported,

‘JT Field wrote asking me to go there to see a poor fellow a stock rider who had broken his thigh eight weeks before offering me £10!! to go there … I had to break it as it was 4 inches [9 cm] too short … I wrote and told him [JT Field] that he ought to supplement his offer but have had no answer … ‘[7]

Despite the pain, Jack—and/or his wife Maria Francis—made good use of this ‘down’ time, assembling a 30-shilling possum skin rug. ‘The rivers are not always fordable otherwise you would have the rugs more certain’, Jack told a customer, Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL Co) local agent James Norton Smith.[8] He could ride, but for years the thigh injury still prevented him from walking far. In 1881 he asked the VDL Co to give him free passage to Waratah on the company’s horse-drawn tramway, enabling him to ride there after hitching his horse at the Surrey Hills stop.[9]

The establishment of Waratah also raised the Francis family’s social profile. One-time recipients of Her Majesty’s pleasure (they were both ex-convicts) became vice-regal hosts. In January 1878 Jack, Maria and possibly young George Francis put up Lieutenant Governor Frederick Weld at Middlesex Station. Escorted by a young Deloraine Superintendent of Police, Dan Griffin, and guided by Thomas Field, the vice-regal party negotiated Gads Hill on its way to visit the new mining capital—Weld being the first governor since George Arthur to tackle the VDL Co Track.[10] So it was that Jack Francis scored his moment of glory without even tempting the temperate Philosopher.

[1] For Smith finding the Mount Bischoff tin in the hut of stockman Charles Drury (‘Dicey’), see ‘The story of Bischoff’, Advocate, 24 April 1923, p.4. For Smith failing to identify the tin when he saw it, see, for example, Ferd Kayser, ‘Mount Bischoff’, Proceedings of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science (ed. A Morton), vol.iv, Hobart, 1892, p.342. For Smith squandering a fortune and having to be saved by the Tasmanian Parliament see, for example, ‘Parliamentary notes’, Launceston Examiner, 21 October 1878, p.2. For Smith ‘not making a cent’ out of Mount Bischoff tin and not collecting a single dividend from the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co, see, for example, Carol Bacon, ‘Mount Bischoff’; in (ed. Alison Alexander), The companion to Tasmanian history, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, 2005, p.243.

[2] E Slater, ‘How Mount Bischoff was found’, Waratah Whispers, no.15, March 1982; reprinted there from ‘an old newspaper cutting’.

[3] Application to register the Penguin Silver Mines Company was gazetted on 23 August 1870. The assessment roll for the district of Port Sorell for 1870 lists Smith as the occupant of a hut on 47 acres at Penguin owned by Thomas Giblin of Hobart (Hobart Town Gazette, 22 February 1870, p.298).

[4] See ‘Penguin old and new: record of great development’, Weekly Courier, 17 December 1927, p.35.

[5] See, for example, ‘Nomad’, ’Correspondence: Philosopher Smith’, Circular Head Chronicle, 25 May 1927, p.3.

[6] James Smith notes, ‘Exploring’, NS234/1/14/3 (TAHO).

[7] EBE Walker to James Smith, 8 July 1875, NS234/3/1/4 (TAHO).

[8] Jack Francis to James Norton Smith, 13 October 1875, VDL22/1/5 (TAHO).

[9] Jack Francis to James Norton Smith, 11 April 1881, VDL22/1/9 (TAHO).

[10] ‘Vice-regal’, Tribune, 28 January 1878, p.2; ‘DDG’ (Dan Griffin), ‘Vice-royalty at Mole Creek’, Examiner, 15 March 1918, p.6.

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Wrestler wrangled Tasmanian tigers: the fact or fiction of George Randall

In 1945 one-time wrestler George Randall (1884–1963) recalled catching fifteen thylacines in the space of a month within 25 miles (40 km) of Burnie. He didn’t smother them in a bear hug. Randall reminisced that, upon finding tiger scats, he would lay a scent for half a mile from that point to his snares. The cologne no tiger could resist was actually the smell of bacon rubbed onto the soles of his boots.[1]

Champion wrestler George Randall, from the Weekly Courier, 18 February 1909, p.18.
George Randall in the Mercury, 12 December 1945, p.3.

Fifteen tigers—a big boast indeed. I was suspicious of those numbers. Who was Randall, and if he was such an ace tiger killer why had he never claimed a government thylacine bounty? Government bounties of £1 for an adult tiger and 10 shillings for a juvenile were paid in the years 1888 to 1909, after all, plenty of time in which he could leave his mark. The production of a carcass at a police station was the basis for a bounty application.

Randall was born at Burnie to George Ely Randall (1857–1907) and Emily Randall, née Charles (1871–1938).[2] By 1891 his father George Randall senior was a ganger maintaining the Emu Bay Railway (EBR) at Ridgley, south of Burnie. There were some tigers about, and it didn’t take much effort to find some Randalls killing one. In May 1892 Tom Whitton, who was aware of tigers coming about the gangers’ camp at night, set some snares and caught a large male.  Two Randalls, George senior and his brother Charles, plus a fettler named Ted Powell, were at hand to help throttle the beast.

Wellington Times editor Harris added: ‘The tiger’s head was inspected by a large number of persons up to yesterday, many of whom remarked that they had never seen larger from a native animal; but yesterday the head had to be thrown away as it was manifesting signs of decay.’[3]

Thrown away?! So much for the £1 bounty. Perhaps the killers were too bloated on public admission fees to care about the bounty payment.

Another Randall killing came only two months later, when Powell and Charles Randall’s dogs flushed a tiger out of the bush at the 23-Mile on the EBR. Again the body was hauled into Burnie as a trophy.[4] Was a £1 government reward paid?

The government bounty records for the period May–July 1892 show the difficulty of reconciling newspaper reports with official records. There is no evidence of a bounty application having been made for the tiger killed on the EBR on 13 May 1892, but the one destroyed there in the week preceding 12 July 1892 is problematical. Was James Powell, who submitted a bounty application on 8 July, a relation of Ted Powell, the fettler involved in the two killings on the EBR? I could find no record of a James Powell working or residing in the Burnie area at that time, whereas two James Powells in pretty likely tiger-killing professions—manager of a highland grazing run, and bush farmer under the Great Western Tiers—were easily identified through digitised newspaper and genealogical records (see Table 1):

Table 1: Government thylacine bounty payments, May–July 1892, from Register of general accounts passed to the Treasury for payment, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

Name Identification Application date Number
G Atkinson Probably farmer George Elisha Atkinson of Rosevears, West Tamar 13 June 1892 2 adults[5]
A Berry Probably shepherd Alfred James Berry, Great Lake, Central Plateau 21 July 1892 1 adult[6]
John Cahill Farmer/prospector, Stonehurst, Buckland, east coast 8 July 1892 1 adult[7]
WF Calvert Wool-grower/orchardist William Frederick Crace Calvert, Gala, Cranbrook, east coast 21 July 1892 4 adults[8]
J Clifford Probably bush farmer/hunter Joseph Clifford of Ansons Marsh, north-east 12 May 1892 1 adult[9]
Harry Davis Mine manager, Ben Lomond, eastern interior 31 May 1892 2 adults & 1 juvenile[10]
CT Ford Mixed farmer Charles Tasman Ford, Stanley, north-west coast 21 July 1892 1 adult[11]
Thomas Freeman Shepherd at Benham, Avoca, northern Midlands 12 May 1892 1 adult[12]
E Hawkins Shepherd William Edward Hawkins, Cranbrook, east coast 9 July 1892 1 adult[13]
E Hawkins Shepherd William Edward Hawkins, Cranbrook, east coast 21 July 1892 1 adult[14]
Thomas Kaye Labourer at Deddington, northern Midlands 31 May 1892 1 adult[15]
John Marsh John Richard James Marsh of Dee Bridge, Derwent Valley 27 June 1892 1 adult & 1 juvenile[16]
W Moore junior Bush farmer William Moore junior, Sprent, north-western interior 13 June 1892 1 adult[17]
E Parker Probably grazier Erskine James Rainy Parker of Parknook south of Cressy, northern Midlands 27 June 1892 2 adults[18]
James Powell Probably manager, Nags Head Estate, Lake Sorell, Central Plateau, or bush farmer, Blackwood Creek, northern Midlands 8 July 1892 1 adult[19]
Charles Pyke Mail contractor, Spring Vale, Cranbrook, east coast 27 June 1892 1 adult[20]
A Stannard Probably shepherd Alfred Thomas David Stannard, native of Mint Moor, Dee, Derwent Valley but thought to have been in the northern Midlands at this time 21 July 1892 1 adult[21]
D Temple Shepherd David Temple senior, Rocky Marsh, Ouse, Derwent Valley 21 July 1892 1 adult[22]
R Thornbury Farmer Roger Ernest Thornbury, Bicheno, east coast 12 May 1892 1 adult[23]
H Towns Farmer Henry Towns, Auburn, near Oatlands, southern Midlands 20 June 1892 1 adult[24]

The two EBR slayings are not the only known tiger killings missing from the bounty payment record: two young men reportedly snared a live tiger near Waratah at the beginning of May 1892, but the detained animal accidentally hanged itself on its chain in a blacksmith’s shop; while on 22 July 1892 well-known prospector/sometime postman and seaman Axel Tengdahl shot a tiger that broke a springer snare on the Mount Housetop tinfield.[25] (Another July 1892 killing by ‘Bill the Sailor’ Casey at Boomers Bottom, Connorville, Great Western Tiers, was not rewarded until 5 August 1892, a lag of almost a month.[26]) The reasons for the Waratah and Housetop killings going unrewarded are not clear. While Tengdahl was in an inconvenient place to submit a tiger carcass to a police station, he was probably also snaring for cash as well as meat, so would have needed to leave the bush anyway in order to sell his skins to a registered buyer.

Anyway, back to Randall the tiger tamer. We know that young George Randall junior, eight years old in 1892, grew up with his elders hunting and chasing tigers. Then he went out on his own. He claimed that he trapped within a 40-km radius of Burnie for thirteen years, and that sometime during that period, in the space of a month, he killed fifteen tigers. It should be easy enough to figure out when this was. The ten-year-old would have been still living along the EBR with his family and presumably at school in 1894 when his mother was judged to be of unsound mind and committed to the New Norfolk Asylum.[27] In the years 1897–1901 (from the age of thirteen to seventeen) he was an apprentice blacksmith while living with his father at the 14-Mile (Oonah).[28] [29] He was still in the Burnie area in 1902 when he was cutting wood for James Smillie and driving a float for JW Smithies, but in 1903, as a nineteen-year-old, he was an insolvent fettler at Rouses Camp near Waratah.[30]

Emu Bay Railway south of Burnie, showing sites that George Randall may have hunted from. Base map courtesy of DPIPWE/

By 1907 Randall was a married man working at Dundas.[31] He did not return to the Burnie region after that, doing the rounds of Tasmania’s mining fields and rural districts for two decades with intermissions at Devonport, Hobart and Hokitika, the little mining port on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island.[32] At Zeehan he was described as ‘the champion [wrestler] of Tasmania’, and he was noted not as a hunter but as a weightlifter and athlete.[33] More importantly, the blacksmith qualified as an engine driver and a winding engine driver, making him eminently employable in resource industries.[34] Randall finally settled at Hobart in 1929 at the age of 45.[35]

If we consider his Rouses Camp fettling a short aberration, the thirteen-year period in which Randall hunted around Burnie could have been approximately 1894 to 1906, that is, between the ages of ten and 22. The government bounty was available for the whole of this time, so why is there no record of George Randall’s prowess as a tiger tamer?

There are two possibilities. One is that Randall, a born showman, simply lied. The other possibility is that he killed or captured (he doesn’t say which) a lot of tigers but the evidence of same is hard to find.[36] There are few surviving records of the sale of live thylacines to zoos or animal dealers, or of bounty applications made through an intermediary like a hawker or shopkeeper. In some cases suspicion of acting as an intermediary even attaches to farmers—such as Charles Tasman (CT) Ford.

William Bennett (WB) Collins (standing at back) in a family photo. Courtesy of Judy Hick.

For a time I believed that Ford was a shopkeeper, because his large tally of bounty payments seemed to dovetail with that of Stanley shopkeeper William Bennett (WB) Collins. In the years 1891–99 Ford, a mixed farmer (sheep cattle, pigs, poultry, potatoes, corn, barley, oats) based at Forest near Stanley, claimed 25 bounties (23 adults and two juveniles),[37] placing him at number seven on the tiger killer top 40. He died in September 1899. Collins claimed bounties for 40 adults and four juveniles 1900–06,[38] possibly without ever seeing a live thylacine. Were they buying thylacine carcasses from the same source and collecting the bounties at the Stanley Police Station?

The biggest source of dead thylacines in the far north-west at this time was Woolnorth. Twenty-six adult tigers were taken at Woolnorth in the years 1891–99, and 43 adults in the years 1900–06, suggesting that Ford and Collins were go-betweens for Woolnorth carcasses.[39] Ford had grazing land at Marrawah and the South Downs, south of Woolnorth, and probably travelled via Woolnorth to get there. It would have been a simple thing for him on his way home to collect native animal skins and tiger carcasses/heads from the homestead at Woolnorth, presumably taking a commission for himself in his role as intermediary. After Ford shot himself in September 1899, Collins established an on-going relationship with Woolnorth, being paid for three bounties in February 1900 before his store even opened for business.

In later life Guildford’s Edward Brown assumed respectability as a breeder of race horses and hotelier. From the Examiner, 1 March 1932, p.6.

Randall may have been rewarded for fifteen thylacine carcasses through intermediaries such as shopkeepers, hawkers, skin buyers or some regular traveller to Burnie. Hunter/skin buyers such as Thomas Allen (15 adults and a juvenile, 1899–03)[40] and Edward Brown (7 adults, 1904–05)[41] operated in the Ridgley-Guildford area along the railway line, possibly accounting for some bounty payments for the likes of Randall, ‘Black Harry’ Williams, ‘Five-fingered Tom’ Jeffries and Bill Todd.

However, it does seem extraordinary that fifteen tiger captures or kills within the space of a month escaped public attention. We can assume that Randall never anticipated the scrutiny of his life that digitisation of records now allows us, let alone that someone who read his 1945 letter in the next century would try to dissect his life in order to verify his words. It is likely that Randall guessed that he had hunted in the Burnie region for thirteen years. Perhaps it was ten years, and perhaps his tigers took a lot longer to secure. Perhaps in a trunk in an attic somewhere is a mouldering trophy photo of the wrestler who wrangled tigers—dead or alive.

[1] GE Randall, ‘Native tigers’, Mercury, 12 December 1945, p.3.

[2] Born 1 July 1884, birth record no.1298/1884, registered at Emu Bay; died 14 July 1963, will no.44135, AD960/1/95, p.911 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=george&qu=edward&qu=randall#, accessed 28 March 2020.

[3] ‘Capture of a native tiger’, Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, 12 May 1892, p.2.

[4] ‘A big tiger’, Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, 12 July 1892, p.2.

[5] Bounty no.147, 13 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[6] Bounty no.207, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[7] Bounty no.190, 8 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[8] Bounty no.203, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[9] Bounty no.118, 12 May 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[10] Bounty no.136, 31 May 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[11] Bounty no.204, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[12] Bounty no.119, 12 May 1892; LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[13] Bounty no.188, 9 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[14] Bounty no.210, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[15] Bounty no.135, 31 May 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[16] Bounty no.173, 27 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[17] Bounty no.148, 13 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[18] Bounty no.172, 27 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[19] Bounty no.189, 8 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[20] Bounty no.171, 27 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[21] Bounty no.206, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[22] Bounty no.208, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[23] Bounty no.117, 12 May 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[24] Bounty no.151, 20 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[25] ‘Waratah notes’, Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, 10 May 1892, p.3; ‘Housetop notes’, Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, 28 July 1892, p.2.

[26] ‘Longford notes’, Launceston Examiner, 14 July 1892, p.2; bounty no.236, 5 August 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[27] ‘Burnie: Police Court’, Daily Telegraph, 7 February 1894, p.1.

[28] ‘Wanted’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 11 July 1901, p.3.

[29] ‘For sale’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 31 January 1902, p.3.

[30] ‘Arson: case at Burnie’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 20 March 1902, p.3; ‘New insolvent’, Examiner, 29 April 1903, p.4.

[31] He married Ethel May Jones on 22 May 1907 at North Hobart (‘Silver wedding’, Mercury, 23 May 1932, p.1). Dundas: ‘To-night at the Gaiety’, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 7 September 1907, p.3.

[32] Zeehan: Editorial, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 31 August 1908, p.2; ‘Macquarie district’, Police Gazette Tasmania, vol.48, no.2595, 16 April 1909, p.81; Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Darwin, Subdivision of Zeehan, 1914, p.2. Devonport: Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Wilmot, Subdivision of Devonport, 1914, p.36. Waratah: ‘Waratah’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 17 October 1918, p.2; Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Darwin, Subdivision of Waratah, 1919, p.14. Hobart: Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Denison, Subdivision of Hobart East, 1922, p.30. Mathinna: ‘Personal’, Daily Telegraph, 30 September 1924, p.5. Cygnet: ‘Shooting at electric lines’, Mercury, 28 June 1926, p.4. Taranna: ‘Centralisation of school teaching’, Mercury, 12 May 1927, p.6. Hokitika: ‘Macquarie district’.

[33] Editorial, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 31 August 1908, p.2; ‘Macquarie district’.

[34] Certificate of competency as second class engine drive, 1916, AA80/1/1, p.424, image 63 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=george&qu=edward&qu=randall; Certificate of competency as mining engine driver, 1926, LID24/1/4, pp.109 and 109b (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=george&qu=edward&qu=randall#, accessed 28 March 2020.

[35] ‘Motor cycle registrations’, Police Gazette Tasmania, vol.68, no.3629, 8 February 1929, p.33.

[36] Randall mentioned using springers, the supple saplings used to ‘spring’ the snare, generally employed in footer snares, which caught the animal by the paw, not being designed to kill it. Many thylacines sent to zoos were captured in footer snares.

[37] Bounties no.365, 31 July 1891 (2 adults); no.204, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1; no.402, 9 January 1893; no.71, 27 April 1893 (2 adults); no.91, 5 May 1893; no.125, 19 June 1893; no.183, 24 July 1893, no.4, 23 January 1894 (2 adults); no.239, 22 September 1897 (3 adults, ‘August 2’); no.276, 4 November 1897 (2 adults, ’27 October’); no.379, 1 February 1898 (‘4 December’); no.191, 2 August 1898 (2 adults, ‘7 July’); no.158, 30 May 1899 (’26 May’); no.253, 30 August 1899 (3 adults, ’24 August’); no.254, 30 August 1899 (2 juveniles, ‘24 August’), LSD247/1/2 (TAHO).

[38] Bounties no.43, 27 February 1900 (3 adults, ’22 February’); no.250, 16 August 1900 (5 adults, ’26 July’); no.316, 3 October 1900 (4 adults, ’27 September’); no.398, 15 November 1900 (4 adults and 4 juveniles, ’28 October’); no.79, 13 March 1901 (2 adults, ’28 February’); no.340, 31 July 1901 (7 adults, ’25 July’); no.393, 28 August 1901 (6 adults, ‘2/3 August’); no.448, 3 October 1901 (’26 September’); no.509, 5 November 1901 (’24 October 1901’); no.218, 7 May 1903 (2 adults, ’24 April’); no.724, 17 November 1903 (4 adults); no.581, 21 June 1906, LSD247/1/2 (TAHO).

[39] Woolnorth farm journals, VDL277/1/1–33 (TAHO). The Woolnorth figure for 1900–06 excludes one adult and one juvenile killed by Ernest Warde and for which he claimed the government bounty payment himself (bounty no.190, 20 October 1904, LSD247/1/2 [TAHO]).

[40] Bounty no.374, 12 January 1899 (3 adults, ‘3 December’); no.401, 15 November 1900 (3 adults, ’15 June’); no.482, 21 January 1901 (3 adults, ’17 December’); no.22, 4 February 1901 (3 adults, ‘4 January’); no.985, 25 July 1902 (‘July’); no.1057, 27 August 1902 (’15 August’); no.1091, 17 September 1902 (‘4 September 1902’); no.462, 6 August 1903, (1 juvenile, ’24 July’), LSD247/1/ 2 (TAHO). See ‘Burnie’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 15 December 1900, p.2.

[41] Bounty no.233, 16 June 1904 (5 adults); no.125, 28 September 1905 (2 adults, ’31 August and 8 September’), LSD247/1/2 (TAHO).

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‘The Broken Hill of Tasmania’: the rise and fall of the Godkin Silver Mine, western Tasmania. Part 2: Collapse of the Godkin.

In 1891 the Godkin Silver Mining Company (GSM Co) spent about £7000 building a horse-drawn tramway to service its mine before the value of the property was even established. Its mine manager, Arthur Richard (AR) Browne, was more interested in installing machinery at the property 13 miles (21 km) south-west of Waratah.  He wanted the Godkin to not only control the mining field’s transport but to be its custom smelter.[i] The GSM Co’s early half yearly reports are a litany of grand installation plans fed by Browne’s delusional ore values: £10,000 worth of ore were said to be on the claim in September 1890; £70,000-£80,000 worth in March 1891.[ii]

The mines on the 13-Mile silver field west of Waratah, Tasmania. The site of the village of Heazlewood on this map is the original site on the Heazlewood River. The village was later re-established further east. Base map drawn by the late Glyn Roberts.

However, the September 1891 report, tabled when Browne was on sick leave, painted a sobering picture of the mine. Only 27 tons of silver and lead ore from the southern section had been sold, for a profit of £218—not much of a return on the £7000 tramway.[iii] Directors were nervous.[iv] Notably, no banquet was called to celebrate completion of the second, 4-km-long stage of the Godkin Tramway to the Arthur River, which was tipped to occur in October 1891. No announcement of the achievement was ever made. Since the tramway never reached Waratah, it is safe to say that none of the construction costs were defrayed by hauling freight for other mining companies.

Remains of the headframe and flywheel at the South Godkin Shaft. Nic Haygarth photo.

Browne never returned to the Godkin, reportedly resigning in protest at directorial preference for tramway construction. His preference remained not proving the mine, but smelter building.[v] His last hurrah, delivered vicariously by Chairman of Directors TC Smart at the February 1892 half yearly meeting, was to compare the Godkin with Broken Hill mines and to continue to press for a smelter. Smart kept up the rhetoric, declaring in September 1892 that no Broken Hill mine had produced such rich ore at such a shallow level.[vi] When Browne returned to Tasmania in January 1893, it was as the Burnie agent for the Queensland Smelting Company, which envisaged buying ores from the new Tasmanian silver fields at the 13-Mile and Zeehan.[vii] Browne must have died an optimist in 1900 when, at the age of only 34, after stints at mines in Western Australia and British Columbia, he succumbed to asphyxia at the London home of his father, Lord Richard Browne.[viii]

The North Godkin Shaft today: pumps and windlass. Worthington pumps and a collapsed horse whim also help tell the story of the mine’s development and de-evolution. Nic Haygarth photo.

Despite securing another Broken Hill mining manager, Nathaniel Hawke, the GSM Co was already doomed.[ix] It had spent about £26,000 for a return of less than £300 when in 1892 government geologist Alexander Montgomery reported that it was no closer to success than when it started, having no payable ore on hand and needing to conduct deep sinking to prove its claim.

Montgomery also offered a cheaper alternative to deep sinking, but it was one which could never be definitive: driving a 1200-metre-long drainage tunnel from the Whyte River through both southern and northern leases to meet the engine shaft in the northern lease. While still working the upper, oxidised zone, this would test the entire property at a deeper level as well as drain it. The estimated cost of £2500–£3000 was well beyond the means of the GSM Co during tough economic times, and it succumbed to creditors in May 1894.[x] The surveyed township reserve of Stafford near the South Godkin site was never needed. 

Paul Darby brown water rafting in Godkin Adit no.5. Nic Haygarth photo.
Gour pools in the Washington Mine Main Adit. A mixture of limestone and other minerals gives the 13-Mile mine workings rich calcite formations. Nic Haygarth.

The 13-Mile field today

The subsequent history of the 13-Mile mines is a typical one of de-evolution, both financial and technological. In the case of the Godkin, under-capitalised companies forced to revert to basic technology sought to exploit a lode that a heavily capitalised company had failed to even prove. The Victorian Magnet Company, which in 1912 completed the 1200-metre-long drainage tunnel, worked the North Godkin shaft using not a steam engine but a horse whim for motive power.[xi] By 1923 this company still used the Godkin Tramway to access the mine from the Corinna Road at Whyte River, but had converted it into a sledge track, the wooden rails having been torn up decades before in order to help build the nearby Whyte River Hotel.[xii] None of the 13-Mile mines was tested at depth until Electrolytic Zinc drilled the North Godkin site, Bell’s Reward, Discoverer and Godkin Extended in 1949—and the South Godkin Mine site remains undrilled to this day.[xiii] The likely presence of zinc in the Godkin’s pre-1917 finger dumps (that is, mullock that pre-dates the separation of zinc in Tasmania by the electrolytic process) and the possible presence of tin threaten to disturb what can now be seen as a fine historical mining interpretation site.

Hickmania troglodytes, Tasmanian cave spider with egg sac, Washington Hay Lower Adit. Nic Haygarth photo.
Well-rooted bottle, Godkin Mine. The tree root has grown around this discarded bottle over the course of nearly 130 years. Nic Haygarth photo.
End of a calcite straw in one of the Godkin adits. Nic Haygarth photo.
Calcite shawl in one of the Godkin adits. Nic Haygarth photo.

Aside from pilfering by visitors, the 13-Mile field has remained largely undisturbed for almost a century. With so many artifacts still in place and with more than 50 adits, shafts and other workings, this is one Tasmania’s most impressive mining heritage sites. The expenditure demonstrated by the Godkin and Godkin Extended Tramways (1889–92), Cornish boiler (1891), blacksmith’s shop, ship’s tank, steam pumps, windlass, flywheel and head frame tell the tale of a fanatical response to the Broken Hill silver boom of 1888, while the horse whim at the North Godkin shaft recalls the technological reversal of later years. Similarly, the main tramway, with its in places corduroyed formation, bridge ruins, discarded iron wheels, axles, sledge artifacts and branch tramways to other mines, demonstrates not only the GSM Co’s efforts to capitalise on the mining field’s transport needs, but the de-evolution of the Godkin.[xiv]

[i] ‘Meeting of the company’, Mercury, 8 January 1891, p.3.

[ii] ‘Meeting: Godkin SM Co’, Mercury, 26 September 1890, p.3; ‘Godkin SM Co’, Mercury, 26 March 1891, p. 3.

[iii] The company would sell only seven more tons of ore, to Kennedy and Sons and the Clyde Works in Sydney, in 1892.

[iv] ‘Godkin Silver Mining Co’, Mercury, 29 September 1891, p.4.

[v] ‘The Godkin Mine’, Launceston Examiner, 5 November 1891, p.4.

[vi] ‘Meetings: Godkin SM Co’, Mercury, 1 October 1892, supplement, p.1.

[vii] GVS Dunn to JW Norton Smith, Van Diemen’s Land Company, 31 May and 10 June 1892, VDL22/1/23; Arthur R Browne to JW Norton Smith, Van Diemen’s Land Company, 24 January 1893, VDL 22/1/23 (TAHO).

[viii] ‘Queenstown notes’, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 12 May 1900, p.4; ‘Sudden death of Lord Richard Browne’s son at Reigate’, Sussex Agricultural Express, 28 April 1900, p.10.

[ix] Little is known of Hawke’s performance, but his ability to defend himself with a gun prompted a conviction for assaulting the mine’s dismissed engineer in August 1892 (editorial, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 12 August 1892, p.2).

[x] Alexander Montgomery, Report on the Godkin Silver Mine, Geological Surveyor’s Office, Launceston, 1892, p.3; advert, Launceston Examiner, 14 May 1894, p.2.

[xi] Secretary of Mines Annual report for 1912, 1913, p.37.

[xii] Nye, The silver-lead deposits of the Waratah district, p.118.

[xiii] DI Groves, The geology of the Heazlewood–Godkin area, Department of Mines, Hobart, 1966, pp.37–39; Allegiance Mining, EL 14/2001 Heazlewood Area, Tasmania: partial relinquishment report, 2002, p.20.

[xiv] See also Parry Kostoglou, An archaeological survey of the historic Godkin Silver Lead Mine, Archaeological Survey Report, 1999/03, Mineral Resources Tasmania, Hobart, 1999.