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Checklist of the 250 osmiridium diggers in 1922

Osmiridium diggers meeting their wives and receiving their stores at the Nineteen Mile Hut, probably in 1921. JH Robinson photo from the Colin Dennison Collection, University of Tasmania Archives.
Four generations of Waratah’s Thorne family, including osmiridium miner and buyer JH Thorne at right. JH Robinson photo courtesy of the late Nancy Gillard.

The diggers were grizzling. In 1921 Tasmania enjoyed a world monopoly on ‘point metal’ osmiridium, that is, osmiridium grains that were just the right size to fuse onto the nibs of gold fountain pens. The ossie price was generally high. Tasmania’s niche in the market was unchallenged. The diggers on the fields west and south-west of Waratah should have been happy.

They weren’t. Part of the problem was that few had a grasp of economics. They did not understand that they dampened demand by rushing their ore to market. Remotely located diggers working alone felt cut off from the metal market. Some were convinced that they were the victims of collusion between precious metal buyers who were determined to force down the price.

Secretary of the osmiridium pool, Chris Sheedy, is third from left at back. Second from left in the front row is Chris Sheedy senior, onetime foreman of the Brown Face at the Bischoff mine. Photo courtesy of John Turnbull.

Calls for government to intervene in the market were finally answered when Premier Sir Walter Lee agreed to introduce an experimental monopoly. As of 1 January 1922, precious metals dealer Overell & Sampson held the only Tasmanian osmiridium buyer’s licence—so now there could be no collusion. Could the company get the diggers a better price for their metal? Almost 250 men banked on it, selling their osmiridium through the government scheme. The list of sellers compiled on 30 June 1922 is now a handy checklist for historians and genealogists. Here are the men in one long list by rough alphabetical order as set out in the government records.[1] My only addition is some comments in the column at right.

Name Value of os (£, s & d) Weight of os (oz, dwts & grains) Comments
Anderson, Thomas 35-15-7 2-3-9
Aylett, George 40-11-3 2-7-5
Aylett, William 85-9-8 5-0-12 Later at Adamsfield
Allan, G & W 97-10-7 5-10-1
Allan, BJ 40-10-0 2-0-12
Allan, J 40-0-0 2-0-0 Jim Allan, Nineteen Mile Creek
Baptist, J 50-0-0 3-14-21 John D’Ahren Baptiste, aka Hooky Jack, later at Adamsfield.
Baptist, J (Reserve) 100-5-0 5-0-6
Beale, W 30-6-6 1-14-8
Berryman, E 133-7-10 8-18-17
Berkery, M 27-18-7 1-12-0
Buckingham, H 11-3-3 0-11-20
Betts, WA 46-14-4 3-1-23 Betts Track named after a Betts prospector.
Biggins, Norman 26-5-0 1-15-0
Billinghurst, J 20-11-0 1-3-16
Booth, George 31-18-9 2-2-14
Booth, William 45-2-5 2-17-4
Boyd, H 53-6-0 3-5-11
Brown, G 20-0-0 1-19-21
Bryant, JH 71-8-9 4-13-14 Former Derby shopkeeper. Committee member of the osmiridium pool.
Burness, J 16-15-0 1-2-8
Burness, Charles 18-5-0 1-4-8
Brettoner, JE 18-5-0 1-4-8
Blake, UJ 12-12-3 0-16-3
Bosich, L 13-15-0 0-18-8
Brodie, W 1-11-8 0-1-14
Button, A 47-19-5 2-9-18
Booth, George Jnr 32-9-2 1-12-11
Burge, J 11-14-2 0-11-17
Burke, RH 2-11-0 0-3-0
Bynon, R 42-11-3 2-5-17
Blair, F 8-0-0 0-8-0
Burness, HB 21-5-0
Callaghan, B 75-13-6 4-10-12
Carpenter, T 53-18-4 3-6-18
Carmody, H 37-0-0 4-0-0
Clementson, M 13-3-5 1-3-15 Matty Clementson, ‘the [Mount] Stewart king’.
Coghlan, J 17-0-0 0-17-0
Crawford, T 53-0-7 5-10-5
Casey, W 75-0-7 4-0-13
Casey, W 43-14-11 2-18-8
Cashman, John 39-18-2 2-9-15
Caudry, William 15-0-0 1-0-0 Caudry’s Reward reef mine, Caudrys Hill, the first mine of its kind in the world. Also had a lease at Mount Stewart.
Caudry, William 100-0-0 5-0-0
Caudry, Thomas 62-17-6 3-2-21 Brother of William Caudry.
Cooney, J 45-17-6 2-5-21
Cumming, R 47-19-7 2-9-18
Chellis, WH 128-11-8 6-8-14 Walter Chellis, Castray River, champion axeman & publican.
Cook, Henry 48-13-10 2-18-2
Cady, W 31-7-8 1-16-22
Davidson, J 19-0-7 1-2-3 Jack Davidson, stalwart of the Nineteen Mile.
Devlyn, Fred 73-9-6 4-0-3
Devereaux, H 28-9-7 1-12-3
Dixon, J 49-4-7 2-15-15
Doak, William 5-18-9 0-7-23 Doaks Creek at Adamsfield named after him.
Doran, William 47-14-7 3-0-7
Donovan, D 42-0-0 2-6-0
Dhu, Hugh 47-2-4 2-14-20
Dunn, Steve 34-8-6 2-0-12
Drew, M 21-11-7 1-5-16
Duffy, James & Manion, Thomas 1-2-0
Devlyn, John 6-5-7 0-8-9
Dixon, TF 12-13-2 0-16-8
Dwyer, S 42-11-10 2-13-4 Sammy Dwyer, from NSW, last man at the Nineteen Mile, 1950s
Duffy, J 27-4-2 1-14-23
Dunn, John 23-13-4 1-3-16
Donohue, J 18-16-0 1-0-6
Davies, D 20-6-6 1-2-3
Dickson, C 42-10-7 2-5-16
Davie, A 48-10-0 2-10-0 Probably Arthur Davey, one of the stalwarts of the Nineteen Mile.
Dettoner, AC 11-12-4 0-11-16
Davies, C 25-0-0 1-5-0
East, G 61-16-8 5-5-20
Easther, C & Garrett, T 100-4-2 5-0-5
Easther, C 52-4-7 4-16-8
Eastwood, William 38-16-8 2-13-2
Elmer, William 57-19-1 4-6-9
Ellims, V 79-19-0 4-11-18
Evans, Charles 58-10-7 3-8-3 ‘Chillie’ Evans, a well-known digger.
Eames, G 71-10-7 4-0-15 Jones Creek digger George Eames, whose dealings with osmiridium buyer Robert Krebs in 1923 helped bring down the government monopoly scheme.
Etchell, Thomas 18-16-3 1-4-10 Brother of well-known bushman, Luke Etchell, with whom he lived at Guildford. They were also pulp wood cutters and snarers.
Fenton, S 58-18-1 3-6-23
Ferguson, WJ 18-5-5 3-4-6
Flowers, S 31-17-0 3-5-19
Forbes, A 47-5-0 6-3-0
Finlay, R 50-19-10 2-12-7
Fenton, AW 43-2-6 2-13-13
Ferrari, S 99-3-11 5-5-8
Frazer, JD 10-8-3 0-11-21 John D ‘Scotty’ Frazer, a well-known digger who disappeared in the bush in 1923, thought to have drowned.
Findon, John 14-0-0 0-14-0
Fahey, James 69-8-4 4-0-17
Farquhar, John 27-4-8 1-8-8
Flight, W 12-18-6 0-15-5
Finlay, JH 1-18-4 0-1-22 Jack Finlay, remembered by osmiridium fields poet Mulga Mick O’Reilly as ‘Jack Fennelly’.
Garratt, T 52-4-7 4-16-8 Probably Tyson Garrett of Savage River.
Grant, William 19-9-1 1-3-6
Grant, Charles 43-10-6 2-8-12
Grills, H 51-15-8 3-19-4
Grosser, PA 79-11-0 4-15-0 Magnet’s Phil Grosser, of Mount Stewart and the Nineteen Mile, later at Adamsfield.
Grubb, John 18-16-4 1-0-9
Gould, J 21-1-2 1-2-17
Gatehouse, H 79-11-8 3-19-14
Gurney, C 3-3-0 0-3-17
Harper, Thomas 25-8-8 1-9-3
Hamilton, William 21-7-6 1-11-17
Harrison, J 25-0-0 4-16-3 Is this Wynyard’s James ‘Tiger Cat’ Harrison, real estate agent, ‘human cork’ and prospector, who dealt in live marsupials, including thylacines?
Henderson, C 14-11-10 0-18-18
Hines, William J 0-12-7
Hodson, H 17-3-3 1-1-5
Hughes, Victor 24-14-9 3-8-5
Humphries, Albert 43-12-3 2-11-16
Humphries, Albert 36-6-10 1-19-12
Humphries, R 52-0-10 3-6-1 Probably Magnet resident Robert Humphries, of the Mount Stewart field.
Hancock, J 31-13-10 2-0-5 Probably Jos Hancock, of Flea Flat, Nineteen Mile Creek, whose hut was used as a location in the movie Jewelled Nights in 1925.
Hanlon, T 93-8-3 5-5-22
Harvey, Joseph 72-17-7 4-9-0
Humphries, HH 34-18-4 1-14-22
Harrison, M 32-0-0 1-12-0
Hope, A 22-1-8 1-2-2
Hollow, J 43-4-2 2-3-5
Hill, Kenneth 19-8-0 1-3-10
Inglis, AL 33-6-8 1-13-8
Inglis, AL 208-0-0 10-0-0
Jones, RW 100-0-0 10-0-0 Probably Robert Walter Jones, aka Wally Jones, who later went to Adamsfield and was osmiridium buyer HB Selby & Co’s agent there.
Jones, CH 22-14-4 1-10-7
Jans, FC 77-6-5 4-6-0 Fred Jans, later at Adamsfield, where he died in 1944.
Johnston, L 31-15-0 1-11-18
Jones, TH 60-0-0 3-0-0 Possibly Tom Jones, after whom Jones Creek was named.
Jones, John 16-0-1 0-17-16
Jenner, H 8-5-6 0-8-12 Harry Jenner, later at Adamsfield.
Keltie, William 18-3-11 1-2-23
Kenny, J 57-17-6 4-7-9
Kinsella, A 39-2-8 2-8-21 Possibly related to Bill Kinsella of Wilson River.
Kelcher, John 38-9-11 2-10-2
Knight, W 16-18-7 0-19-22
Kelly, James 16-18-5 1-2-13
Keenan, C 22-16-8 1-2-20
Kershaw, F 11-19-5 0-14-2
Lane, R 31-14-4 1-15-15 Roger Lane, who worked with the Maywood brothers at the Nineteen Mile.
Leary, M 34-6-3 2-11-14
Long, Thomas 32-3-11 2-0-7
Long, Thomas 27-3-10 1-8-7
Leach, George 10-1-10 0-11-21
Loughnan, E Jnr 50-15-7 3-6-17 ‘Peg Leg Ted’, one of the discoverers of payable osmiridium at Mount Stewart. Had a prosthetic leg. Loughnan Creek is named after him.
Loughnan, James 54-3-5 3-8-10
Lyons, T 3-15-0 0-5-0
Loughnan, E Snr 42-16-3 2-17-2
Llewellyn, John 47-0-0 2-15-0
Loughnan, George 51-5-11 2-14-18
Mackersey, L 24-1-8 1-18-0
Maywood, A 32-14-2 2-9-13 Brother of Ted Maywood, with whom he worked at the Nineteen Mile, along with Roger Lane.
Maywood, E 16-10-0 1-10-11 Ted Maywood, who worked at the Nineteen Mile with his brother and Roger Lane.
Mills, James & Jenner, H 1-3-4
Mills, J 57-16-3 4-15-18
Mills, J 19-2-6 1-2-12
Moore, A 28-16-8 3-14-5 Probably Savage River digger Albert Moore, brother of Reuben Moore.
Morgan, William 87-8-0 5-11-12
Moore, RR 74-3-9 4-3-17 Probably osmiridium digger and buyer Reuben Moore, who died at Savage River in 1925.
Moffitt, LJ 53-15-10 2-13-19
Martin, J 6-0-0 0-6-0
Manion, Thomas 26-4-2 1-12-23 From the Beaconsfield family of Manions?
Mallinson, RD 17-0-0 0-17-0
Meares, RK 11-11-7 0-13-15
Matthews, T 15-0-4 0-17-16 Possibly ‘Winger’ Matthews, who appeared in Marie Bjelke Petersen’s novel Jewelled nights as ‘Wingy’ Matthews.
Major, J 85-2-10 5-0-4
McAvoy, D 82-1-11 5-19-1
McAidell & Hill Probably CL McArdell and Harry Hill, the latter being a well-known digger who was later at Adamsfield.
McCaughey, LB 37-3-1 2-4-20
McDiamid, William 0-10-0
McGuiness, A 32-2-9 1-18-19
McGuire, J 44-18-9 3-14-12
McCormack, Charles 33-5-0 2-4-8
McGuiness, F 28-4-1 1-10-21
McCaughey, M 43-14-4 2-8-6
McCaughey, William 15-14-9 0-16-14
McQueeny, F 11-14-2 0-11-17
McArdell, CL 30-19-9 1-16-11
McDonald, Alex 8-10-0 0-10-0 Of Flea Flat, Nineteen Mile Creek, where he shared a hut with Jim McGinty until the latter’s death in 1920.
Newman, M 21-15-9 1-5-9
Newman, M 37-18-7 2-4-15
Nelson, H 40-0-0 2-0-0
Osborn, WH 44-4-3 2-13-10
Oakley, H 21-16-4 1-8-1
Oakley, J 38-5-11 2-12-4
Oakley, H & Loughnan, J 7-10-0 0-10-0
Oakley, RP 9-18-1 0-13-5
Papworth, S 40-0-0 4-0-0 Later of Adamsfield.
Pearson, Robert 103-15-8 6-0-6
Prouse, Charles A 141-8-0 8-9-10 Charles Arthur Prouse, son of Tom Prouse. Together in 1922 they were pictured with two large nuggets found on the upper Nineteen Mile, the one found on the dump by his father being a record 4.5 oz. Charlie Prouse later went on to Adamsfield, where he was the first bride groom on the field, marrying the bush nurse, Constance Brownfield, in 1928. Also an osmiridium buyer at Adamsfield.
Prouse, William 67-9-5 3-12-10
Parsons, Norman 35-12-6 2-7-12 From Caveside, was part of the syndicate trying to work a hydraulic show at the Little Wilson River.
Prouse, J 78-16-7 4-5-8
Paine, Hy 16-18-5 1-2-14 Possibly Harry Reginald Paine, later the author of a book about Waratah, Taking you back down the track …
Paine, W 18-8-4 0-18-10
Power, T 18-10-0 0-18-12
Prouse, H 20-4-0 1-2-14
Paine, Thomas 51-7-6 2-11-9
Reimers, J 36-5-0 3-3-6
Richardson, A 47-15-0 4-2-3
Richards, J 48-10-10 4-12-22
Ruggeri, R 27-12-8 1-12-13
Russell, J & Casey, W 2-6-12
Russell, J 67-5-7 3-12-19 Osmiridium pool committee member.
Russell, J 43-14-4 2-18-7
Ramsay, James 62-17-6 3-2-21
Ruffin, H 36-10-0 1-16-12
Rearden, S 6-18-1 0-8-3 Syd Reardon, from Lorinna, alcoholic prospector.
Schill, F 1-7-0
Shea, M 79-16-8 4-9-20
Sheedy, Chris 39-15-9 4-7-4 Secretary of the osmiridium pool.
Sims, W 12-14-7 1-6-1
Simpson, PC 34-5-6 1-17-21
Stanley, H 58-11-1 3-13-20
Smith, WH 34-0-0 2-0-0
Smith, R 70-0-5 4-17-22
Spencer, T 81-2-6 7-1-3
Sutton, WH 7-17-6 0-10-12
Stanton, JM 65-10-11 3-16-19 Reward lease holder (with Edward Loughnan jnr) at Mount Stewart.
Symons, GC 15-0-0 1-0-0
Spencer, John 88-8-1 5-6-18
Stebbings, A 74-6-8 4-6-13
Shady, William 30-5-0 2-0-8 William Antonio Shady, son of Syrian hawker and shopkeeper Antonio Shady, osmiridium buyer. Became a Waratah storekeeper.
Smith, Martin 38-7-11 2-6-1
Sullivan, J 36-1-4 2-1-11
Symons, James B 45-18-4 2-11-22
Symons, James B 105-0-0 7-0-0
Shaw, Thomas 114-2-2 6-13-17
Sewell, J 8-2-6 0-8-3
Spencer, James 25-7-6 1-5-9
Symons, Charles & George 154-10-0 7-14-12
Scoles, J 6-8-11 0-7-14
Symons, Charles 81-5-7 4-15-15
Thomas, T 15-7-5 0-18-2
Thurstans, F 61-14-3 4-10-15
Thorne, A 66-7-9 5-6-4
Thorne, Charles 95-4-11 5-10-20
Thorne, W 33-6-9 2-3-4
Tudor, Lionel 91-4-8 6-18-3
Tudor, Lionel 110-5-0 7-7-0
Tunbridge, E 39-3-9 2-17-6
Turner, H 1-12-11
Taylor, James 18-5-0 1-4-8
Tudor, Henry 111-2-2 6-2-8
Thorne, Harold 12-12-8 0-14-13
Thorne, H & W 44-5-0 2-8-12
Venville, D 36-19-2 2-7-12
Watkins, J 24-15-7 1-8-6
Wilson, R 54-0-0 4-0-12
Wilson, W 37-17-6 2-10-12
Whyman, Victor 59-12-1 3-14-22 Driver for his brother Ray Whyman, storesman and packer on the osmiridium fields. Claimed to be the model for the singing driver in Marie Bjelke Petersen’s novel Jewelled nights.
Whyman, Arthur 30-11-3 2-0-18
Whyman, Phillip 52-6-8 2-17-8 Proprietor of the Bischoff Hotel.
Wilson, J 35-8-3 2-1-12
Wilson, Percy W 34-18-1 2-3-21
Woolley, James 4-12-1 0-5-9
Walters, WA 25-8-4 1-5-10
Wragg, H 12-10-0 0-12-12

 

[1] From AB948/1/98 (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office).

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Lily Gresson’s Adamsfield Airbnb

Main Street Adamsfield, 1926, with Ida Smithies and Florence Perrin. Fred Smithies photo courtesy of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

 

In November 1926 a Mrs Gresson advertised tourist accommodation at the Tasmanian mining settlement of Adamsfield: ‘See Tasmania’s Wild West, the “osie” diggers, Adams Falls, Gordon Gorge’.[1] What extraordinary enterprise for a simple digger’s wife 120 km west of Hobart! However, when you learn what an extraordinary woman Lily Gresson actually was, this visionary behaviour comes as no surprise at all.

A water race and the village of Adamsfield, 1926, Fred Smithies photo courtesy of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

Her old school Airbnb advert was probably shaped by two events: meeting the one-man promotional band Fred Smithies; and a memorable outing she made to the nearby Gordon River Gorge. Visiting Adamsfield by horseback and pack-horse in February and March 1926, Smithies, an amateur tourism promoter, had snapped the town and its jagged skyline for his travelling lantern-slide lecture ‘A trip through the wilds of the west coast and the osmiridium fields’. ‘Gorges of inspiring grandeur’ and ‘magnificent mountain scenes’ also transfixed Gresson. Decades later she recalled that

‘the scenery to the Gordon River was indescribable. Peak after peak of snow-capped mountains and the Gordon Gorge was so precipitous we would scarcely see the bottom … [it] … was like so many battlements’.

Her party ‘cheerfully stalked along the ten miles of wonderful scenery singing bits of popular songs. This was the first time I had heard [‘]Waltzing Matilda[’], she recalled, ‘and it certainly cheered and helped us along, and home again, when we’—Lily and her husband Arthur Gresson, a veteran of the Siege of Mafeking during the South African War— ‘were beginning to flag’.[2]

 

Certainly the outing would have come as welcome relief from the routine of life on the Adamsfield diggings. The Gressons had rushed to Adams River in the spring of 1925, after the Staceys from the Tasman Peninsula and their mates struck payable osmiridium. Lily was a woman of great conviction. At a time when few women dared venture among the thousand or so men on the ossie field, she secured her own miner’s right, put together a side of bacon and other requisites, bundled her twelve-year-old son Wrixon onto the train and off they went to Fitzgerald, the western terminus of the Derwent Valley Line, to join Arthur.

Fitzgerald was still 42 km from Adamsfield. Meeting his family there, Arthur hired five horses, including one for Wrixon, who had never ridden a horse before, one for the packer and another to carry the three months’ supply of food and equipment. It was snowing. In parts of the Florentine Valley the mud was up to the horses’ girths, Lily recalled,

‘and they slithered, slipped and plunged into the side track to keep themselves steady. The track was narrow, hastily prepared in very thick scrub, corduroyed also hurriedly—the edges not even adzed. I pitied the poor ‘gees’ [horses] slipping and floundering to try and gain firm footing. I thought I would soon be slipping over their heads and called out to my husband, “Shall I dismount?” “Certainly not”, was the reply, “or you will never get up again.” So I stayed on as best I could following the packer’s lead, for I was behind him. Presently, just around the corner, he shouted, “Look out, the down packs are coming!”’[3]

A packer leading a pack-horse team out of Fitzgerald, taking supplies into Adamsfield, 1925. Alf Clark photo courtesy of Don Clark.

This was pack horses returning unsupervised from Adamsfield. When the osmiridium field was reached, the horses were simply released to find their own way back down the track to Fitzgerald. Given that there was no feed between the two centres, the hungry animals galloped wherever they could, a nasty surprise for the uninitiated coming the other way. How the horses survived the return trip without a broken leg is hard to imagine.

The Gresson party stopped for the night at Chrisp’s Hut, a leftover from the 1907 Great Western Railway Survey.[4] It took a further day to reach Adamsfield over the ranges. The mining settlement was ‘a busy seething mass of men and horses, to say nothing of a vast morass of mud, with short stumps sticking up everywhere, quite enough to topple us over’. Arthur Gresson was living in the sort of tent-hut typical of a temporary miner’s quarters. Wrixon slept on a bench in a bark humpy with only a hessian curtain to keep out the cold, while his parents bunked down under a tent fly.

Having obtained the miner’s right, Lily was entitled to peg her own claim measuring 50 yards by 50 years (that is, about 45 metres square), and she set out next morning suitably attired in her lace-up mining boots, riding breeches, short coat and emerald-green rain hat. After she had dug a hole almost two metres deep and obtaining osmiridium-bearing earth, a man ‘jumped’ her claim, taking all the valuable ‘wash’ before she even knew it had happened. Arthur Gresson sent the intruder packing, but the damage was done, and Lily had to start again on a new claim. Soon she was winning tiny nuggets of coarse ‘metal’ by sluicing the ‘wash-dirt’.[5]

The Gressons remained at Adamsfield through the tough winter of 1926, when the diggers tried to counteract a reduced osmiridium price by selling their metal directly to London. It was tough going through that winter. Many left the field, while others stayed and suffered. Lily recalled the time nineteen-year-old digger Maxwell Godfrey went missing on an icy-cold night. He curled up under a log in the bush, but his legs were frostbitten. Nurse Elsie Bessell, who had only a tent for a hospital, could do little for him, and the news got no better after he was stretchered out to Fitzgerald, slung between two horses. Both his legs were amputated below the knee.[6] A public subscription raised about £500 to help him, and soon he was walking again with the aid of prosthetics.[7]

Maxwell Godfrey walks again, from the Mercury, 24 May 1928, p.5.

Lily Gresson, who had had some nursing experience in London, again showed her versatility by looking after the two patients in the hospital while Nurse Bessell accompanied the incapacitated man out to the railway station. Perhaps Lily also home schooled thirteen-year-old Wrixon. There were few children and no school at Adamsfield at this time, so otherwise he would have lost a year of his education.

And the Gressons’ Air B’n’B house? Well, while it was hardly the Adamsfield Hilton, it was comfortable enough by mining frontier standards—a paling hut with a big fireplace and a real glass window.[8] Lily Gresson might have been just a little ahead of her time. Hikers would soon be on their way to Adamsfield and the glorious south-west beyond. Ernie Bond would be besieged with them at times on his Gordon River farm, Gordon Vale, during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1952 the Launceston and Hobart Walking Clubs would even inherit Gordon Vale. Lily Gresson , pioneer of the Adamsfield diggings, was onto something!

With thanks to Dale Matheson, who showed me this story.

[1] ‘Board and residence’, Mercury, 23 November 1926, p.1.

[2] Lily Gresson; quoted by Fred A Murfet, in Sherwood reflections, the author, 1987, p.194.

[3] Lily Gresson; quoted by Fred A Murfet, in Sherwood reflections, p.190.

[4] In her account, Lily Gresson did not mention the notorious ‘Digger’s Delight’, the sly-grog shop and accommodation house that accompanied Chrisp’s Hut soon after the Adams River rush began. Perhaps Ralph Langdon and Bernie Symmons had already moved on into down-town Adamsfield, building Symmons Hall with its accompanying illegal boozer.

[5] Lily Gresson; quoted by Fred A Murfet, in Sherwood reflections, p.192.

[6] ‘Bush nursing’, Mercury, 22 July 1926, p.11; Elsie G Bessell, quoted by Marita Bardenhagen, Adamsfield bush nursing paper, presented at the Australian Mining History Association conference at Queenstown, 2008; ‘Sufferer in bush’, Mercury, 24 May 1928, p.5.

[7] ‘Maxwell Godfrey Fund’, Mercury, 27 July 1927, p.3; ‘Maxwell Godfrey walks again’, and ‘Sufferer in bush’; both Mercury, 24 May 1928, p.5.

[8] Lily Gresson; quoted by Fred A Murfet, in Sherwood reflections, p.192.

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A tale of two Staceys: Jim and Tom Stacey and the Adamsfield rush

Jim Stacey, with beard and hat, peering into the camera, at a public function late in life. Photo courtesy of Maria Stacey.

It was Tasmania’s biggest rush since the Lisle gold craze of 1879. The year was 1925, the commodity was osmiridium, the place was the Adams River, 120 km west of Hobart—and the name on everybody’s lips was Stacey.

Two generations of Staceys, a Tasman Peninsula family, drove the discovery and development of what became Adamsfield. Yet the story of the brothers Jim and Tom Stacey shows how capriciously fortune was apportioned to mineral prospectors. Perhaps Jim Stacey somehow offended St Barbara, patron saint of miners. For all his initiative and enterprise in the field, he made no money. His brother, on the other hand, turned up when the work was done and made a killing.

Jim Stacey was born at Port Sorell on 28 October 1856 to Robert Stacey and Kara Stacey, née Eaton.[1] As a young man, tin commanded his attention. By the age of 20 he was at Weldborough, on the north-eastern tin fields, with two of his brothers, one of whom died there from suspected exposure.[2] Jim Stacey then went to the Mount Bischoff tin mine at Waratah, where his mining education continued. He recalled meeting the mine’s discoverer James ‘Philosopher’ Smith, and learning from him the importance of testing river sands for minerals. Stacey benefited from meeting some of the best prospectors on the west coast—WR Bell (discoverer of the Magnet mine), George Renison Bell (Renison), the McDonough brothers (Mount Lyell), Frank Long (Zeehan) and others. The independence of these men impressed him. He was probably at Mount Lyell in 1886 during the excitement over the Iron Blow, and he later recalled testing the Franklin River for gold.[3]

The Mount Bischoff Co and Don Co plants at Waratah, c1890, courtesy of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

While at Waratah, Jim Stacey had also married Henrietta Davis.[4] Perhaps the couple had put away some money, because they established a farm at Nubeena on the Tasman Peninsula, where the Stacey family were now settled. By 1907, when he was 51 years old, Jim Stacey was a respectable member of Peninsula society, being an inaugural member of the Tasman Municipal Council.

Jim Stacey’s much younger brother Thomas Arthur Stacey was also a mineral prospector, but there the similarities end. Tom was also born at Port Sorell, but in 1877, 21 years after Jim.[5] Little is known of his early years until in 1906 he married Edith Grace Wright at Koonya on the Tasman Peninsula.[6] To say the marriage was an unhappy one would be an understatement.

During World War One (1914–18), Jim Stacey was the model of patriotism, ‘sending’ five sons to the battlefields and being active in recruitment.[7] Two of those sons were killed, another two were wounded.[8] Other people sought an escape in the war. So it was for Tom Stacey, who must have owned the most peculiar war record in his family. He enlisted at Claremont, Tasmania, under the alias John West to avoid maintenance payments to his estranged wife and children.[9] When the police tracked him down, he deserted, eventually re-enlisting, under his real name, at Cloncurry in outback Queensland. Stacey reached Cape Town on the troop ship Wyeema in 1918, just as the Armistice was being signed. Returned to Sydney with the rest of the 7th General Reinforcements, he was arrested as soon as he was discharged.[10]

In his sixties, Jim Stacey was reborn as a prospector. The catalyst for it was the discovery of belts of serpentine, the host rock of osmiridium, in south-western Tasmania. In 1924 he led a party which included Fred Robinson, Edward Noye, and his sons Sydney and Stanley Stacey to Rocky Boat Harbour (Rocky Plains Bay) near New River Lagoon. Announcing the discovery of osmiridium there, the old Bischoff man proudly asserted his independence, stating that he took no aid from the government, having first found the metal while prospecting on his own account months earlier.[11] The first sale of osmiridium from southern Tasmania was in January 1925 when Arthur (AH) Ashbolt of AG Webster & Son in Hobart bought a 25-3-13-oz parcel worth £780-10-0 from Nubeena men Robinson, Noye, Jim Stacey and C Clark.[12]

In November 1924 Arthur, Sydney and Charles (‘Brady’) Stacey, plus ‘Archie’ Wright and Edward Bowden of Hobart retraced Government Geologist Alexander McIntosh Reid’s steps by working their way along the South Gordon Track to the Gordon River, then back along the Marriott Track to the Adams River Valley, discovering osmiridium on the western side of the Thumbs.[13] Wanting confirmation of their find from the experienced Jim Stacey, they arranged to meet him at the Florentine River in February 1925. Jim Stacey and party made their own osmiridium discovery independently on a different site near the head of Sawback Creek, the eastern branch of the Adams River, 120 km west of Hobart by railway, road and sodden, steep mountain track.[14]

From July to September 1925, a quarterly record 1078 miner’s rights were issued in Tasmania, as diggers rushed the field.[15] Jim Stacey was reported to have chosen his reward claim hastily, and won little from it, whereas, ironically, his brother Tom, who had had no part in the early expeditions, ended up with the best claim on the field.[16] In the December quarter for 1925 alone, Tom Stacey pocketed £1186—the equivalent of a six-figure sum today.[17]

Adamsfield diggers in the snow, autumn 1926. Alf Clark photo courtesy of Don Clark.

Adamsfield ‘new chum’ Horace ‘Jimmy’ Lane recalled turning down Tom Stacey’s invitation to join him as a partner in that rich claim. Lane disliked and feared the unshaven, unkempt ‘Old Tom’, attributing his manner and habits to over-indulgence in rum. Old Tom was well known for the ‘boom and bust’ lifestyle that must have been little comfort to his long-suffering family.[18] North-eastern identity Bert Farquhar may have been exaggerating when he alluded to Tom leaving the field with £12,000 and returning two years later unable to afford a horse to carry him, but the lesson was obvious.[19] Lane told the tale that

‘on one occasion Old Tom had crossed Liverpool Street [Hobart] to test the quality of the liquor at the Alabama Hotel. A naval vessel was in port and there were quite a few sailors in the bar of the Alabama and Tom was getting somewhat more inebriated than usual. He finally reached the point of no return: he offered to fight anyone in the bar for £10 and threw a tenner on the bar to back himself. One of the naval chaps agreed to fight him so Tom demanded that his tenner be covered. However when he turned around there was no money on the counter and no one present would admit having touched it. Tom staggered back to the Brunswick [Hotel, on the opposite side of Liverpool Street] quite convinced that he had lost £20 not £10’.[20]

Hobart General Hospital records show that in 1926 Tom Stacey had sutures inserted in a cut in his face sustained while fighting at Adamsfield.[21] His alcohol-fuelled lifestyle is easily traced today through digitised newspapers. Whatever money he made was soon spent, and he became the epitome of the old diehard prospector. In 1950 Tom Stacey was described as a 73-year-old ‘hermit’ living in a one-room shanty in the bush near Coles Bay, with only a dog for company. That dog hunted kangaroo meat, Old Tom had apple and cherry trees and grew vegetables to sell to guests at the nearby Coles Bay guesthouse. His bed was ‘a piece of sacking spread with fern’, and his ancient trousers were held together only by pieces of wire.[22] He was killed when hit by a car on the Tasman Highway near Sorell in 1954.[23]

Jim Stacey continued to prospect almost until his death in 1937.[24] In 1935, for example, when he was 78 years old, he and two of his sons were paid by the government to spend ten weeks prospecting the Hastings–Picton River area.[25] He died in the company of family and was remembered for his public service, not the least of which was leading the way to Adamsfield, where some gained a start in life and others scraped a living through the Great Depression. Stacey Street, Adamsfield, is overgrown by bracken fern, and Staceys Lookout on the Sawback Range, unvisited, but the twisted landscape of the mining field still recalls his skills, perseverance and vision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Birth record no.1518/1886.

[2] ‘Sudden death at Thomas Plains’, Launceston Examiner, 29 May 1878, p.2.

[3] RJ Stacey, ‘Exploring for minerals’, Mercury, 8 December 1907, p.6.

[4] The marriage on 18 February 1886 was registered at Emu Bay, no. 1266/1886.

[5] Birth record no.1687/1877.

[6] ‘Family notices’, Mercury, 2 June 1906, p.1.

[7] ‘The recruiting scheme’, Daily Post (Hobart), 17 February 1917, p.7; ‘Workers’ Political League’, Mercury, 21 December 1916, p.5.

[8] For the death of John Stacey, see ‘Tasmania: Nubeena’s avenue of honour’, Mercury, 5 November 1918, p.6. William Stacey joined E Company, in the New Zealand Army (see Nominal Roll, no.62, p.19, 1917). For his death see ‘Roll of honour: Tasmanian casualties’, Examiner, 12 November 1918, p.7. Thomas Albert Stacey and Robert Stacey were both wounded twice in France. Robert was also shell shocked.

[9] John Hutton to Sergeant Ward, 2 September 1916, SWD1/1/713 (TAHO).

[10] Note added to Police Gazette (Hobart), 12 January 1917, p.10.

[11] ‘Osmiridium: reported discovery’, Advocate, 8 September 1924, p.2.

[12] ‘Register of osmiridium buyers’ returns of purchases, September 1922–October 1925’, MIN150/1/1 (TAHO).

[13] ‘Mining reward: discovery of osmiridium’, Examiner, 20 December 1934, p.7.

[14] PB Nye, The osmiridium deposits of the Adamsfield district, Geological Survey Bulletin, no.39, Department of Mines, Hobart, 1929, p.3.

[15] ‘Osmiridium: Tasmania’s unique position’, Mercury, 29 September 1925, p.9.

[16] ‘Romance of Adams River’, Examiner, 25 December 1925, p.5.

[17] ‘Register of osmiridium buyers’ return of purchases’.

[18] For the trials and tribulations of Edith Stacey and her four children, see file SWD1/1/713 (TAHO). For Tom Stacey’s battles with liquor laws, see, for example, ‘Police Court news’, Mercury, 13 August 1927, p.3. Convicted of sending a child to buy alcohol for him, Stacey took six years to pay the small resulting fine (Police Gazette, 6 October 1933, p.204).

[19] Bert Farquhar, Bert’s story, Regal, Launceston, 1990, p.3.

[20] Horace Arnold ‘Jimmy’ Lane, I had a quid to get, the author, Stanley, 1976, p.63.

[21] ‘Register of applications for treatment, Outpatients Department’, Hobart General Hospital, 11 September 1926, HSD130/1/3 (TAHO).

[22] ‘A solitary bushman’, Examiner, 16 September 1950, p.7.

[23] ‘New clue found to hit-run motorist’, Mercury, 25 August 1954, p.5.

[24] Nubeena’, Mercury, 5 January 1938, p.9.

[25] See file AB964/1/1 (TAHO).