Burra, South Australia - Mining

Mining

Burra Burra or 'Monster Mine'


Until 1860 the mine was the largest metals mine in Australia. From 1845 to 1877 the mine produced approximately 50,000 tonnes of copper. The mine was reopened as a modern open cut in 1971, operating for a decade with 24,000 tonnes of copper extracted. The mine's Adelaide operation was run by Henry Ayers, secretary of SAMA, from its opening until the 1890s. The investors had put up a total of £12,320 of which £10,000 was spent purchasing the land. The first dividend was paid on 24 June 1847 and by 1 December 1847 the mine had returned total dividends of £49,280. Over the mine's 32-year life, less than 100 shareholders received £826,586 in mining dividends. All mining dividends stopped after the mine closed in 1877, with the mine area sold in 1902 and the last property of SAMA in Kooringa sold in 1914. A final dividend was paid on 5 May 1916 and SAMA was wound up and closed.

Most of the copper was for sale to India as it was taking over a third of world copper supply in the mid-19th century. Due to the lack of smelting in South Australia, copper ore was initially shipped to Cornwall. The company purchased a Cornish beam engine which was the first in Australia when erected in 1848. Due to the uneconomic state of the mine, in 1868 a decision made to open cut the mine. Mining ceased underground, having reached a depth of 183 metres (600 ft) and open-cut operations starting in 1870 although, over the remaining life of the mine, small underground operations extracted more ore than the expensive open cut.

Over the life of the mine, Henry Ayers jealously preserved shareholder profits by ruthlessly controlling wages and expenses. In October 1846 this caused the first strike, of masons and bricklayers, with the company refusing to pay more than 8 shillings per day. With declining copper prices (from £91 per ton in 1845 to £87 in 1848) the company continually sought to reduce wages. By 1848 the wages reached their lowest level, which precipitated the Burra miners' strike, being the first industrial strike in South Australia and earliest workers' strike of any consequence in Australia. The strike came and went numerous times, with miners not completely returning to work until January 1849.

By April 1848 the mine was employing 567 people and supporting a population of 1,500 in the township of Kooringa. Employment at the mine peaked at 1,208 in 1859 and declined continuously until the mine's closure in 1877. In November 1877 most of the remaining disposable equipment and stores were sold off and mining by SAMA ceased.

Bon Accord Mine

The Bon Accord Mining Company was formed on behalf of Scottish speculators, in the expectation that the Burra lode would extend under the properties boundary. No extension was found and, to recoup money, the townships of Aberdeen (1849) and New Aberdeen (1872) were formed on company land. Stoppage of pumping at the Burra Burra Mine in 1877 caused a rise in the water level in the neighbouring Bon Accord Mine forcing it to also close. Mining activity lasted from 1846 until 1849, was restarted in 1858 and finally ceased four years later with no orebody having been discovered. Many of the mine's buildings remain and are preserved by the National Trust of South Australia as a museum.

Princess Royal Mine

The Princess Royal Mine was never successful, and in June 1859 the Princess Royal Mining Company closed its doors. During its brief life the mine produced 468 long tons (476 t) of copper worth £6,500 from 888 long tons (902 t) of ore. The mine and surrounding 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) of then pastoral land was auctioned on 24 April 1860.

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