The Copper Hill Story – from 1845

with grateful thanks to Peter Thomas and the Molong Historical Society

Copper HillCopper Hill shares with Lipscombe Pools Creek the distinction of being the first copper mines operating in Australia. Lipscombe Pools mine was about 3 kilometres north of Molong on the eastern side of Molong Creek and the Molong Wellington Road. Both these mines were in operation in 1845.

Copper occurs widely in NSW from Cobar to Cadia, Broken Hill to Blayney, and Sunny Corner to Lake George. In this state practically the whole of the copper deposits are derived from circulating, usually hot waters, the various ores being deposited in fissures, joints, brecciation spaces, or replacing the original country rock. In some places a combination of the several types may be developed in one and the same deposit.

The earliest record of the Copper Hill mine is in a report by Mr James Ranken of Bathurst, which stated that the mine was in operation in 1845 and that reverberatory furnaces were in use. (A reverberatory furnace is one with a shallow hearth and a low arched roof from which the heat contained in the products of combustion is reflected or “reverberated” on to the charge).

In 1852, Geological Surveyor Stutchbury said Copper Hill was deserted. He described it as consisting of elans and decomposed clayslates followed by porphyries, with occasional altered slates. In 1885, Government Geologist C.S Wilkinson described it as a huge mass of felsites, with hornblende porphyry in places, traversed by numerous lodes or dykes of porous ferruginous quartz.

The Molong Mining Company was formed about 1847 and a Government Gazette in that year stated:- “The Molong Mining Co. has commenced operations. The directors of the Company in Sydney are J.B Darvall Esq. MLC, T.H. Hood Esq, F.H Castilla Esq, Henry Rickards Esq., JL Montefiore Esq. The Committee of Management at the Mine Henry Rickards Esq., C.W Finch Esq., A.C. Hood Esq. The present Superintendent of the Mine at Molong is Mr Benjamin White. Managing Director, Mr Saul Samuel.”

Shafts were sunk 70 and 146 feet, and smelters erected. A quantity of ore was converted into regulus, and carted to Sydney, but no records of the amount are available. The following information was derived from Mr Clymo formerly manager of the mine. He first describes “Hood’s” shaft to be 21 ½ fathoms (189 feet) deep; the first vein or bunch of ore was struck at 45 feet; it consisted of green and blue carbonates with red oxides; this shaft was driven 180 feet north. The first shaft was sunk alongside a smooth slickensided wall on which were found strings of native copper. Another level or cross-drift was cut 60 feet east, when a lode of quartz and ore was found 9 feet wide, and dipping to the east at an angle of about 20 degrees.

Some unsuccessful attempts at smelting had been made. The failure of the smelting Mr Stutchbury attributed to probably the unsuitable open-mouthed furnaces adopted.

Capt. Clymo was the manager of the mine 1848-50, and his residence was on the fall of the hill, where also was a row of houses. He had come from Cornwall with a number of other Cornishmen under a one year contract to the Molong Mining Co. They arrived in Sydney on the 15th September 1848 by the ship “Elphinstone” and were taken to Copper Hill by George Wiles (better known as “Beardy Wiles”) teams.

A son of one of the Cornish miners wrote; “With regard to the works at Copper Hill, most of the copper got there was from a quarry between the old whim-shaft and the Molong Creek. There were several tons of copper smelted there in 1849. The smelting works were on the bank of the creek below the road cutting under the hill. The blast was driven in the furnace by a water-wheel in the creek. I was speaking to a man who worked in the mine in ‘49, and he said it was what the Cornish miners call a “blow” – just bits of copper scattered about here and there. I called at Copper Hill when Captain Grundy was in charge, when the last copper fever was on there. They were building furnaces and baling out the old whim-shaft. I told the Captain what way the levels ran from the shaft. He said “we have got the water out now to the 18 level.” I saw one of the miners who cleaned the shaft out, and when he came on top he said to the Captain, “We have cleaned her up, Captain” and the Captain replied “Well how is the lode, Tom?” but Tom said “there is no lode there”. There is a shaft about a mile north-east that we used to call “Ulmarget” – it is up a valley on the right-hand side of the old Wellington Road, where it used to go at the back of Copper Hill. I have heard that there were traces of silver got there, and there is another shaft on Mr Passmore’s Land now Mr Lee’s where the said traces of silver were got also”.

It is interesting to note that the largest mass of native copper known to have found in NSW was obtained at Reedy Springs on Gamboola. It weighed 102 pounds. It was send to the Paris Exhibition in 1855 by John Smith, but, unfortunately it was never returned.

The land on which Copper Hill stand was originally granted to the Rev, Samuel Marsden about 1832. It was leased by A.C.Hood about the time the Molong Mining Company was in operation and in 1850 it was purchased by James Edward Kelly who built the original homestead, and was still owner in 1885. Sometime later it passed into the possession the Union Bank, from which it was leased for 5 years by J. F. Wynne. He then purchased the property. In 1903-04 he conducted a dairy there; he still owned the property in 1907. Copper Hill was later owned by Breiver and then Radnedge. In 1923 it was bought by the late Bruce Webb. In 1970 it was bought by Amax Mining (Aust) Inc. Who sold it in 1973 to Mulwala Station Pty Ltd.

Mining at Copper Hill has continued spasmodically over the years. After the Molong Mining Company ceased in 1851, individuals worked it on tribute for a short time, but most left to seek the gold of Ophir. There was another “boom” in the 1870’s and the Molong Cemetery holds at least one ill-fated miner. A tombstone there reads “V.G.A. Neilsone, who met his death by falling down the shaft at Copper Hill, 29.3.1873. aged 40.” It was in the 1870’s that the district of Cobar was prospected, and in 1841 the Molong Consols Copper-Mining Company was formed on the strength of statements of the large amount of ore available at grass. Three reverberatory furnaces were erected but only one was charged. Little prospecting was done by this Company beyond surface work.

During the time E.J. Kelly owned the property he submitted 14 tons from Copper Hill and neighbouring outcrops to battery treatment for a return of 4 pennyweights (dwts) of gold per ton. J E Carne, F.G.S., selected a sample of copper ore lying at surface, but it yielded under 2 dwt’s of gold per ton by assay.

About 1888 a Newcastle syndicate carried on a little surface prospecting higher up the hill. At the turn of the century the price of copper rose to $150 per ton, against $78 per ton in 1893. This caused a renewed interest in all copper localities and activity at Copper Hill continued through 1907-8-9. In 1907 the Copper Hill Mining Syndicate controlled 70 acres. The Syndicate Secretary was H.E.A. Miller and the mining Manager was Joseph Reilly.

In 1923, when Mr Bruce Webb bought Copper Hill he sent ore to Port Kemble for a while. But as it cost 60 cents per ton to dig, 60 cents per ton to cart it to Molong, and 60 cents per ton rail freight, and returned only $2 per ton it was not a paying proposition and he ceased sending it.

In the Molong Express of 23.7.1932 it states; “A very promising lode, showing good gold has been struck at Copper by Messrs Cartwright and White. A lease of 5 acres has been secured”.

When Amax Mining (Aust) Inc. Purchased the property they did extensive deep drill testing but apparently northing of commercial value was found. Today Copper Hill remains quiet, its scars gradually healing to await another day when perhaps it will be economical to mine the ore.

The Molong Copper Mine, a watercolour by Conrad Martens, c1845.
National Library of Australia

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