Dargues Gold Mine – History
History at Majors Creek
New South Wales
Almost all of the gullies and creeks in the Majors Creek-Araluen district were worked to some degree by alluvial miners in the middle to late 19th century. Mining methods included panning, ground sluicing, dredging and hard rock mining. Miners ranged from one or two diggers to gangs of Chinese miners to London listed Companies. Much of the original alluvial diggings have been obliterated by subsequent dredging and erosion however remnant battery footings, tracks, original shafts, water runs and abandoned rusting equipment are still evident today.
Alluvial mining techniques vary from simply washing river or stream sediment with a gold pan to sluicing with cradles or long toms to shallow pothole workings scattered along the creeks banks. Techniques include extracting gravel straight from the river bed to sinking small shafts to bedrock and processing, with the assistance of water and gravity, the fine gold bearing sediment. The rich alluvial pickings of the Majors Creek area encouraged this type of mining in the early years
Reef mining, to a much lesser extent, was also connected with alluvial mining. Colour found in the wash was often followed up stream leading to coarser finds closer to the ‘mother lode’ source. Shafts sunk on quartz reefs or gold bearing ore often encountered sophisticated metallurgy and extraction of the metal, via a battery stamp mill or Huntington mill, was difficult with the know-how of the day.
Gold extraction from crushed ore was achieved by amalgamation (with mercury) or Wilfley tables. When fine gold was present in combination with sulphides, the term mundic was used y the old timers. Using turn of the century technologies mundic ore was very difficult to treat. Mercury had no effect and techniques such as smelting and chlorination were tried with varying degrees of success.
Dargues Reef is one of the many hard rock mines in the district, like most the shaft depth was limited (68m) because of the mundic ore (sulphide rich) and gold processing technologies of the period. Dargues Reef is located on Spring Creek approximately 2.5km from the village of Majors Creek; however at the time of discovery the Creek consisted of a cluster of hundreds of makeshift tent shelters housing a community of working diggers.
Gold was discovered at Majors Creek by local resident Mrs Baxter in 1851 some 6 months after the first official discovery of gold in NSW at Ophir. Within months hundreds of diggers were on the workings extracting ‘a very comfortable living’ often collecting several ounces per day per man from the alluvial workings in the surrounding creeks and gullies. Most men were getting good wages; some were making fortunes, and in one case a party of two men recovered 100oz in a fortnight. The gold rush continued for about a year.
The early gold rush at Majors Creek also coincided with rich gold finds elsewhere in Eastern Australia; it was a time of great excitement, population movement and growth and the chance to ‘make it rich’ on the diggings. In the early years miners operated on private land, paying the land owner a fee, or on Crown land under miners rights.
Between 1857 and 1874, compared to the Forbes and Young Goldfields, Araluen was one of the largest and most consistent gold producing districts of NSW (>1M oz). Diggers that stuck it out eventually made a significant discovery and assisted by the improved Long Tom sluice good gold returns were common. By mid-1858 large numbers of Chinese arrived at the Braidwood diggings and large parties of alluvial miners still worked some areas.
In March 1857, Majors Creek is described as having a steady population with several comfortable huts and dwellings. An industrious mining man could expect £7-£8 per week from mining alluvials at a gold price of £3/oz. In 1858 nearby Long Flat auriferous gravels were discovered and within days 100’s of alluvial miners had set up camp, water flows were insufficient and alluvials were carted from most claims by wheelbarrow to wash zones. In 1860 devastating floods had a renovating effect, washing the tails of former years that were an unworkable distance from water into the creeks. The floods also washed fresh auriferous decomposed gold bearing granite from the dry gullies and surrounding hills into the creeks. The rush was on again, diggers were washing/earning £7-£40 per week when the average weekly wage was 3-4 shillings a week. By June 1860 hundreds of Chinese were active on the goldfield, and most were earning a good living. Floods again later that year had the same renovating affect.
The population grew, grog shops sprung up, the police arrived to maintain law and order, miners protested about the influx of Chinese and the new township of Elrington (nee Majors Creek) was proclaimed.
At Majors Creek a short lived Prospecting Association was formed; churches and a school was established however by mid 1882 alluvial mining was on the decline. Gun battles, lease ownership related violence and bushrangers all contributed to the town’s development. In 1866, Majors Creek boasted a population of 200, a post office, an Oddfellows Lodge and two pubs. Rain was insufficient to wash out the diggings however those with a water source (dams) still produced.
In 1860 Dargues Reef was discovered by Mr James Dargues. The story goes that Dargues, an alluvial miner, discovered an ant nest near his alluvial washing operation, he washed the nest
which yielded £20 worth of gold. He was convinced that a good reef lay underneath. He eventually succeeded in getting a group of mates to invest capital in the mining venture. Shafts, to 10m, were sunk on both sides of Spring Creek and twenty miners employed; ore was carried by horse and cart to the Crushing Battery on the Main Creek, the remnants of which can still be seen today.
Mining commenced in September 1869 with one hundred and eighty (180) tons of material crushed, round the clock every week, the plant yielded an average return of 60 oz/week. Each shareholder received a dividend of between £10 and £15 per week. Over one month, crushings from Dargues returned 70 oz, 86 oz 83 oz and 73 oz per week.
In February 1870 Snobs crushed 59 tons for 144oz and the Homeward Bound (nee Dargues Reef) was ‘doing splendidly’ and would make a ‘fortune for shareholders’. Later that year payable stone had run out in some shafts and others had reached the water table, many mines had ore stockpiled on the surface but no crushing machinery was available.
Other underground mines in the district including Young Australian and United Miners yielded in excess of 100 oz/week. By 1871 the recovery dropped and Dargues crushing’s returned about 40 oz/week, still profitable, but reflecting the mundic ore. Grades continued to diminish and various treatment processes tested however the technology of the day could not adequately process the sulphide rich ore and by the early 1870’s the short lived hard rock mining phase of the goldfield had ended.
By 1875 the gold rush was well and truly over, drought set in over most of southern NSW and only minor gold production was still evident in isolated sections of the goldfield, particularly from Araluen.
During 1876-79 alluvial miners still operated during periods of interment rainfall as long as they had a supply of water and access to dams or water runs. Dargues Reef was eventually acquired by a Victorian Mining Company, dams were constructed and a ten stamp battery erected, again extraction processes failed and the project was abandoned, Dargues was at a standstill. During the early 1880’s a few tons from Dargues were crushed but quartz or reef mining was now viewed as a thing of the past.
By 1886 things improved and a battery was erected at Spring Creek. Plums and Dargues ore was treated for a minimal return. 1888 was again a very dry year although there was some revived activity in the hard rock mining front. Tonnages from Plums, Thompsons and Dargues were treated at the local battery. The chlorination plant was commissioned and Mr. Dargue and Company, once again, took over the operation; local ore from nearby United Miners was also treated for a minor profit.
At the turn of last century a dredging boom hit the goldfield, particularly in Araluen; unlike the boom of the 1860’s dredging was a capital intensive venture. The majority of mining/dredging Companies were listed on the Stock Exchange. Over the next seven years the district prospered as did Majors Creek with the revived interest in gold and the age of capitalism.
Reef mining continued in 1899 with the Eureka Gold Mining Company sinking the Big Hill shaft to 91m, no crushing results are available but small parcels of ore were sent as far away as Melbourne for treatment. 1900 was a wet year however rainfall was insufficient to maintain the flow of water in the races. By 1901 the number of alluvial miners had fallen dramatically, Majors Creek boasted a population of 611 and reef mining was the mainstay of the district.
Good returns, averaging 4.5oz/t, were received from United Miners, Stuarts & Mertons and Eureka crushing’s despite a constant breaking down of crushing facilities. Alluvial mining was viewed as a thing of the past and reef mining was regarded as the only means of livelihood. Following the rejection of a proposed smelting site by the Government Geologist in September 1902 several experiments were conducted to ascertain if the tailings from the chlorination works at Dargues could be treated with cyanide. Alluvial mining was at a stand-still due to water shortages.
During 1903-04 several parties continued hard rock mining raising payable ore from United Miners, Mt Hope and Stuarts & Mertons, the winding plant at Dargues was removed to United Miners. Dargues remained dormant over the next few years but underground mining continued in the district, ore was treated at the Cockle Creek smelting works, near Newcastle, for good +oz returns, some as high as 8oz/ton.
By 1906 constant equipment breakdowns, a rise in transport and smelting costs and primitive mining methods lead to mine closures. By mid-1908 the mines were in serious difficulty and grades were diminishing. By 1910 most mines were closed, a few were still operated by syndicates of local men. Alluvial mining was at a stand-still and many miners left the district to seek employment elsewhere.
By 1913 only 11 men were involved in hard rock mining and the industry was entering its final decline. Dredging continued with limited success, during this time Dargues was worked intermittently, usually by tribute; in 1914 a new shaft was sunk with returns of about ½ oz/ton. World War I, insufficient rainfall, worked out alluvial fields and the lack of local faith in mining eventually took its toll and mining in the goldfield dwindled to a halt.