Endeavour Inlet and the Antimony Mine

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Endeavour Inlet was so named by Captain James Cook after his ship Endeavour, which anchored in Queen Charlotte Sound in 1770.  At the time this, and other bays near the entrance to the Sound, were populated seasonally by Māori groups, probably of Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Kuia and Rangitāne. After European settlement, much of the bush in Endeavour Inlet was cleared and farms were established.

Ant mine 179103Antimony Mine, Endeavour Inlet, No 1 Paddock and Dam. Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 179103
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At one time there was a significant antimony mine in the Inlet. The metallic element is usually found in a compound with sulphur, stibnite being the most common. Antimony was known in ancient times and was used by women in Egypt as eye makeup (a dangerous practice as the mineral is hazardous to human health). It was also used in making coloured glazes and glassware and, in the Middle Ages, alchemists used it in attempts to turn lead into gold.  In the modern world antimony is used to strengthen alloys, in ceramics and glass, plastics and flame retardant materials.

Ant mine 179104Antimony Mine, Endeavour Inlet, No 1 Paddock and Dam. Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 179104
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Ant mine 181917Antimony Mine, Endeavour Inlet. Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 181917
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In 1873 ore containing 60% antimony was discovered in a landslide near the saddle between Endeavour Inlet and Port Gore. It was found during prospecting of the Queen Charlotte Sound Goldfield, proclaimed in October 1872, and within a line of mineralisation running from Titirangi Bay through Endeavour Inlet to Resolution Bay. The discoverer may have been John Ashworth, who had settled at Endeavour Inlet. There had been some mining activity at Resolution Bay and on the east side of Endeavour Inlet; however, the only significant stibnite production came from mines associated with the lode at Endeavour Inlet.

John Ashworth and a local syndicate formed the Marlborough Antimony Company Ltd. Mining started in 1874, almost two km from the coast, and a smelter started in 1875. A small amount of gold was also obtained from the site during the early mining days.

Within a few years, however, the smelter failed and the mine was closed. Ashworth unsuccessfully attempted to resurrect the mine in 1877. In 1883 a small syndicate, headed by Houston Logan of Wellington, established the Endeavour Inlet Antimony Company. The high price of antimony allowed capital to be raised to find the main ore body. This syndicate mined the number 1 level at the saddle and two lower levels. An extensive processing works, including a smelter, was established 500m inland from the inlet. A fall in the price of antimony, low-grade ore and smelting problems forced the syndicate to seek English capital, and the New Zealand Antimony Company was registered in London in 1888. This company developed levels 4-7 but found no source of high-grade ore.

New Zealand Antimony was forced into voluntary liquidation in 1892. A smaller New Zealand syndicate then took over the mine and formed the Star Antimony Company in 1892. This operation survived until July 1901, when it too foundered. Several groups then attempted to revive the mine up until 1908 but failed. Jaketh Wearne, the mine manager from 1888 until 1891, remained in the district and was involved in the attempts to reestablish the mine. In 1907, having recently lost a court case over the mine, he committed suicide at the mine's assay room by swallowing concentrated hydro-chloric acid.

Ant mine 179109Stibnite Sheds, Endeavour Inlet. Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 179109
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Ant.mine from aboveAntimony Mine from above. Picton Museum
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At one stage the mine was one of the largest industries in Marlborough, and employed and housed more than 100 men, some of whom were imported from England.  There was a manager’s house, and a jetty was built allowing good-sized steamers to berth.  There was a post office and even an antimony mines band.  A school was started in 1887 and seems to have opened and closed as the mine was stopped and re-started, finally closing in 1895.  Over the years many tons of ore and smelted mineral were exported, and several times medals were won in Europe for the quality of the antimony.  More efforts were made in 1927 and 1933 to re-open the mine, and a new prospector’s licence was granted in 1951, apparently without result. 

Today little of the mine can be seen. It can be approached from the Queen Charlotte Sound track at Endeavour Inlet. The initially flat track from the beach soon becomes quite steep. The most prominent features on the site today are the remains of the treatment works and smelter adjacent to the waste rock pile, drives (mine tunnels, shafts or levels) that can be seen from the track and, finally, the number one drive in the cut on the saddle between Endeavour Inlet and Port Gor.

This story was originally published in the Picton Seaport News, with additional information supplied by Department of Conservation, 2009

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Further sources - Endeavour Inlet and the Antimony Mine

Books

Articles

  • Packer, A. (Mar, 2000) Metal detecting. North and South, 168. p.33 (a visit to the antimony mine)

From Papers Past (some of a number of relevant articles)

Web Resources