Gold Point Mining
In 1872, Charles Greenlaw was prospecting in the Queen Charlotte Sound when he found “auriferous (gold bearing) quartz” on the western side near Picton. This led to the declaration of the Queen Charlotte Goldfield. This goldfield extended as far as Port Gore and took in the antimony mine in Endeavour Inlet as well.
In 1873 Greenlaw formed a syndicate and applied for a two hectare lease on Price’s Point. It was disputed by a settler from Endeavour Inlet, but the warden ruled in Greenlaw’s favour.
During the winter of 1873 a drive was put in following the quartz leaders and samples taken for testing. These contained visible gold and assayed at over 3oz gold per ton of quartz, very rich paydirt indeed. A number of other leases on adjoining land were taken up by competing syndicates around this time hoping to cash in on the find.
The mine was closed for a time, but in early 1878 a company was formed and floated in Wellington. Many Marlburians were put out by this, but still a sprinkling of Picton residents subscribed.
With capital now assured, work pressed ahead on opening up the mine. Late in 1878 a contract was let to E W Mills’ Lion foundry in Wellington for a 25-horsepower horizontal engine, pumping and winding gear. The equipment was shipped on the schooner Herald from Wellington, and a poppet head was erected over the main shaft in 1879 so work could continue.
When the pumping and winding gear was installed the shaft was used in two parts, men and equipment went down one side, quartz and waste rock, or mullock, was hauled up the other. It also provided much needed ventilation for the men in the mine. Prior to the shaft connecting to the drive, working conditions were pretty unpleasant and the men could work only for short periods due to lack of ventilation.
This shaft was extended several times, as was the main drive. In 1881 it reached a depth of 69 metres, about 49 of which are below sea level. Quartz was lifted out of the mine using the winding gear and brought via a tramway to the stamping battery where it was crushed. The 10 stamp battery was obtained second hand from Golden Bay along with two berdans, and installed about 40 metres down the hill from the main shaft.
In its heyday about 12-13 men worked the mine and processed the ore. The “paydirt” was then further processed in the two berdans. These look a little like a mortar and pestle, except a lot bigger. They consist of a large pan, with a steel ball inside. A berdan pan was a grinding pan. The circular pan was set at an angle, and as the pan revolved, the heavy iron ball rotated in the lowest point of the pan, grinding the mineralised quartz to a fine powder. They were often used with mercury to form an amalgam from which the gold could be extracted on a table lined with copper plates.
When the mine closed for good in 1881 the stamping battery and berdans were dismantled and taken to the northbank. They remain there and are visible today, but were never re-assembled.
After processing in the berdans, the pulverised rock was passed over a riffle (or gold concentrating) table, with the mercury covered copper plates, to recover the gold. This was called “washing up”. In later years a more efficient process was developed using cyanide to recover up to 96% of the gold, but neither process was safe.
This first crushing proved disappointing however, and the directors, by now cash strapped had hard decisions to make. Much of the company’s assets and lease were sold, but it wasn’t enough to cover the debts. The mine lay silent and abandoned for a while, but not forgotten. Eventually, on 24th August 1880 the Golden Eagle Mining Company was formed and registered.
Work continued on the main shaft, and the miners' families, with up to eight children between them, lived in the settlement. About 20 tons of quartz was mined and crushed, this yielded about 10 oz. of gold, and optimism was high for the future of the mine but was unfounded as this was just an isolated pocket of gold.
Sources used in this story
- Information sourced from Dr Mike Johnston
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Further sources - Gold Point Mining
- Baldwin, A, (2017, June 24) Adventure into the past in Queen Charlotte Sound. Marlborough Express on Stuff: