Old news from Armidale and New England

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Hillgrove and its mines. Part I.

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Wednesday 19 August 1891, The Sydney Morning Herald



Nearly two years have passed since I first visited Hillgrove, and described its mines in the Herald’s columns. The town was then almost brand new, and fevered with mining excitement. Its two hotels were overstocked with visitors, South Australians, Victorians, Queenslanders, and New South Welshmen, all anxious for some of the many good things which were ready for floating. Two miles square of country was leased. Baker’s Creek Mme was regularly turning out immense stores of gold. The old Eleanora, under new management, was yielding its tons of antimony. Sunlight’s were dazzling many eyes. Norths, Primroses, Enterprises, Cosmopolitans, Lady Carringtons, Garibaldis, Roothogs, and Comets were blaring triumphantly. Machinery was ever on the way to the field. The great gulch known as the Falls was being perforated on every side. Dynamite charges kept up what was like the constant roar of artillery. Prospecting parties were out in various directions. Each evening brought crowds to the town. Specimens were in every hand, share quotations in every mouth. It was a jolly hopeful time. There was no such word as fail. Such was Hillgrove then. What is it now? Candidly, much better and much healthier than I expected to find it. The greater the fever the more enervating the reaction, is the rule with nearly all the mining fields. Hillgrove is the exception. It has undergone its reaction, and is speedily gaining strength. It is almost quite sound, and is likely to be ranked with the few permanent mining fields of this colony.

What are the signs of this convalescence? One, I take it, is the notice which I saw on Saturday last, the day after my arrival, stuck inside a broker’s office, “Fortnight’s output Baker’s Creek, 1050oz. ; Sunlight, 395oz.” Another is the fact the population of the field, which was never more than 3000, is now about 2200 persons. Several of the “good things” which did not meet expectations are being reformed. Work is proceeding steadily. There are six hotels in the town, and stores to match. Business people seem satisfied. Buildings are being erected. The cottages are being adorned with gardens. Up on the hill there is the hospital, with its accommodation for 10 patients. In the main street there is the new post and telegraph office. Close to the centre there are two branch banks, the City and the A.J.S. As I stroll I pass the 10-acre, closely-fenced block known as the recreation reserve. Each denomination has its church. The new convent school is just completed. The Salvation Army is building a huge barracks. Strolling further I find myself on the water reserve – 160 acres. I chat awhile with Mr H. J. Handley, an engineer from the Water Conservation Department, who is superintending the town’s water supply scheme, which will cost £8000. Messrs. Barrie and Spouncer, the contractors are at work and doing well. The reserve, a mile E.N.E. of the town, is securely fenced. The main reservoir, which will hold 25,000,000 gallons, is formed, with an embankment 450 yards in length, giving a depth of 22½ft of water. The inner face will have a coating of 6in. of blue metal, covered by 9in. of granite pitchers. Other parts will be turfed. The base of the bank is 150ft. wide, the top 10ft. A puddle trench, 5ft. to 8½ft. wide goes all along the bank’s centre. The greatest depth of the bank is 29½ft. The bye-wash is a cutting 50ft. wide, through rock. From this huge reservoir water will be pumped up through 6in. iron pipes 1600 yards, by a Worthinton pump, worked from a 10-h.p. steam steel boiler, to a service reservoir cut out of the solid rock, one mile north of and about 70ft. above the town. The service reservoir, which is about 200ft. above the level of the main one, will hold 200,000 gallons. It is about 62ft. square on top and 43 x 38ft. below ; depth, 10ft. It will be lined from the top about 5ft. down to the rock with 6in. of concrete. A 4in. iron pipe will be led from this down the centre of Hillgrove’s main sheet. Stand pipes and hydrants will be provided, but here the Government work ceases, and the townspeople must lay their own cross-mains. The work is now well forward. Pumps and boilers are on the ground. The main reservoir, which has an admirable watershed, is now fairly well stocked, so Hillgrove should have its water supply complete in less than three months.

Are these not signs of progress? And as I stand on the height from which the pure stream will gravitate, and glance over the gentle slope on which the town is built, I cannot help but think that the site is admirable in every respect. The streets are wide and clean, the opportunities for drainage perfect. At the lower end of the town the huge poppetheads of the Eleanora mine, its big smelting works, and ever-clattering battery give the place an air of solid industry. On the right, West Hillgrove and the Hopetoun plant are plainly discernible. Looking coastward the great extent of the Falls is made apparent, until one can almost fancy that the broad Macleay country is visible. All around the town are substantial proofs of industry, the Garibaldi-buildings being a prominent feature. Across the Falls, amid the fringe of heavy timber, the wattle is in full bloom. Tiny tracks are on each steep hillside. Half-a-mile down on the creek bed are the crushing works of the Baker’s Creek, Sunlight, and other mines in full operation. Hillgrove is alive and well.

How much bettor it would be if – ah ! even in the best fields there is that dread if – antimony were at its old value ? Two years ago this metal sold at £45 per ton. Its market price now is not more than £20 per ton ; and thus I am led from the luxury of the town to the hard work of my present mission. Mining inspection at Hillgrove is no easy task. Hawkins’ Hill or Hill End was a hard road to travel, but the clambering incidental to Hillgrove is more difficult than any adventures on the Turon. True, there are now the Baker’s Creek and Lady Carrington tramlines available. The track grades in some instances are somewhat easier than they were, but still the work is tiresome and tedious.

Mr E. A. Davies, the obliging, courteous warden’s clerk and mining registrar of the field, informs me that his receipts to the end of last month for this year were £1302. There were 57 applications for gold leases which averaged about 10 acres each, and 27 mineral leases about 25 acres each. This is not bad business. But Hillgrove has not a decent office for the registrar, nor has it a court-house. The business of both is conducted in a big ugly structure known as the Centennial Hall. This serves many purposes. On Sunday it has Salvation services. On Monday the judicial table and forms are placed in front of the stage, on which the gay drama sometimes holds sway. On Saturday nights the justice seat is removed, so that a ring may be formed and glove fights to a finish satisfactorily conducted. This is why people wish to know why Hillgrove has not a proper temple of justice with lockup, &c., attached, and they say that such was promised and the sums necessary for the building provided a long while ago, eye, even before antimony sustained a fall.

Armidale is 358 miles north by rail from Sydney, and Hillgrove about 23 miles by road east of Armidale. The road distance would be shorter by some miles if the Government would build “that” bridge across the upper part of the Falls. There is what in rainy seasons is a difficult creek to cross. One of our greatest statesmen was nearly sacrificed at this crossing; but still the bridge has not reached even the plan stage. I arrived on Friday morning last, about 8 o’clock, at Armidale. I should have been there at 6.30, the scheduled express time, if the very axle over which I was sleeping had not run hot. A great contrast indeed was it from heat to crisp frostness when we had all to turn out before 6 a.m. at McDonald River. A good breakfast at Armidale, however, made amends for all such suffering, and at 11 a.m. the Hillgrove coach bore me eastwards. At 2 p.m. I was at dinner in my old lodgings at Wade’s, Hillgrove. At 3 p.m. Mr. Wade had his buggy ready, and we started to visit the grand crushing plant recently erected at West Hillgrove for the Earl of Hopetoun mine. Hopetoun shares are at present a favourable stock in Melbourne. £100,000 capital in £1 shares. This company has spent £12,000 on machinery and about £8000 on mine and other developments, has 126a., and is expected to make a start with crushing in about a fortnight from the present date. Much is expected from it, perhaps too much. Speculators will be so very sanguine. For instance, the stone of which 350 tons are ready for the mill, may not go 4oz. to the ton, because it is not picked stone, and had to be got out under difficulties which will not occur when the stuff, instead of being stowed in out of the way places, can go direct to the machine. The plant is of the very best kind, and the mine, so far as my observation goes, admirably managed. A full description of both will form the subject of my second paper.

Written by macalba

April 2, 2011 at 8:03 pm

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