Robert Malachy Serjeant

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Correspondence from Robert Malachy Serjeant, 1871, Federation University Historical Collection (Cat. No.502-18 )



Robert Malachy Serjeant was born on 21 December 1828 at Callington, Cornwall. He migrated to South Australia in 1848[1] with his mother and two sisters.[2] In January 1854 he moved to Ballarat to work as a miner and enjoyed some success. On 6 March 1855 he was with a group that discovered a 500 ounce nugget. Subsequently Serjeant became the manager of the Chryseis, Isis and Garibaldi claims. He then became the Manager of the Band and Albion Console Company and held that position for thirty years, resigning when the company amalgamated with the Sir Henry Loch.

Robert Malachy Serjeant died on 25 October 1902 and was buried at the Ballaarat Old Cemetery in Ballarat.

Early Life

Serjeant was a Cornishman, son of a surgeon in the Royal Marines. Born in 1828, he came from a family whose movements were dictated by the characteristic nineteenth century Cornish emigration impetus.

Robert Malachy Serjeant, his mother, Eliza Burgh (she remarried John Burgh in 1836, two years after her first husband, Philip Davey Serjeant, died in Canada, and John Burgh then unfortunately died in 1837) and his two sisters, Caroline and Susan, travelled to Port Adelaide on the €œWilliam Moneya departing Plymouth on the 19th September 1848 and arrived in Australia on the 3rd January 1849. Both Robert and his mother paid for their passage to Australia, whereas his two sisters travelled under an assisted scheme.[3]

Early career

Once gold was discovered in Victoria, Serjeant made his way to Forest Creek. In 1853 he and his mate, Mr. Victor, were the first party in Victoria to sink through the basalt in search of a deep lead or a river bed hidden beneath volcanic rock. In 1855, Serjeant and Victor found a very large nugget (about 500ozs.) and with his share of the sale (around five years’ wages), he set himself up with the latest mining equipment, as well as beginning a lifelong interest in the share market, and in investment in local companies. Serjeant’s company was the first, in 1855, to sink through the basalt on the Gravel Pits Lead, opening up the fabulous riches of the Ballarat deep leads. [4]


Serjeant was a member of the inaugaural Ballarat School of Mines (SMB) Council. Ballarat School of Mines (SMB),the first school of mines in Australia. He held a position on the Council until illness forced his resignation in May 1895. He was elected a Life Governor in 1889. R.M. Serjeant was an active and generous supporter of SMB, and lectured and examined in the Principles and Practice of Mining. He was regarded as an authority on alluvial and quartz mining, and had been a member of the Ballarat Local Court and mining board. In 1877 R.M. Sergeant, Joseph Flude and Henry R. Caselli donated the patent rights of a novel pyrites furnace to SMB. The furnace was the forerunner of the furnaces used at the Band and Albion Consols Mines, and later at Edward's famous pyrites works in the White Horse Ranges.

The R.M. Serjeant Scholarship at SMB resulted after a reward was offered for the first to produce a marketable process for the treatment of complicated auriferous ores. A deadline was given, and if not met the money was to go towards a Scholarship in Mining in engineering at SMB. The Scholarship became a reality in 1889, but was first awarded in 1922. The first recipient was Reuben Russell who was entitled to a Mining and Metallurgy diploma course of three years duration and a small annual cash payment.[5] Robert Malachy Serjeant died on 25 October 1902 at Ballarat, aged 74 years.

In 1871 Serjeant showed Prince Albert and Prince George (later King George V) around the Band and Albion Mine. An active freemason and a Life Governor of the Ballarat Hospital, he was prominent in city life. becoming a member of the Legislative Assembly for Ballarat West from 1859 until July 1861.[6]

Robert M. Serjeant represented Ballaarat West in 1859 as a member of the first Legislative Assembly. In 1860, the Ballarat Star reported: "The prominent characteristic of Mr Serjeant is industry. Possessing fewer natural advantages than most members, he has by untiring energy raised himself to an honourable position among his fellow Colonists, and has gained for himself an excellent character for zeal and honesty of purpose."

Band and Albion Gold Mine

Serjeant’s career in Ballarat is most particularly associated with the fascinating and wildly successful story of the famous ‘Band and Albion' Mine. Originally formed in 1857 by 120 men - most of them Cornishmen - the mine suffered, as did most Ballarat mines, from water problems.

After battling for four and a half years, they hit the bedrock (at 260ft) and, continuing to seek the deep lead, sank the shaft still further, before driving horizontally on to the deep lead channel. With almost total predictability, sand and water immediately rushed in to the workings: the nightmare of deep lead mining recurred once more. Time thus far elapsed was five years. Two years later, the hapless miners were still battling the sand and water, until, after much trial and error, and repairing and adapting of over-taxed machinery, the shaft was sunk a further sixty feet, reaching a total depth of four hundred feet. It was a little over eight years since they had begun. Driving began, and further (similar) difficulties were encountered. New and more advanced machinery was purchased , and the deep lead was approached via a new shaft. Success at last crowned their efforts, the deep lead was opened up, and work began on the wash dirt, which was found to be five to seven feet thick. [7]

The long drive [to the Band of Hope lease] was made into a double tramway, with twelve horses pulling the rakes of trucks. The drive was illuminated by gas lamps from the town supply. A steam driven fan forced fresh air into the mine, the first mechanical ventilation system on a large Ballarat mine. An extensive treatment plant was built. [8]

Robert Serjeant became involved with the Band and Albion in 1868, and his rise to prominence on this board was marked by fairly inauspicious circumstances. Serjeant and his associates forced an election to facilitate a merger between the ‘Band and Albion' and the ‘St. Andrew’ company, of which Serjeant was a director. The original St. Andrew board opposed the merger, so Serjeant and his cronies pursed the somewhat dubious path of breaking into the company office at night and removing the company seals and cheque books. The Mining Register condemned such underhanded action:

All true friends of Ballarat condemn such presumptuous and tyrannical usurpation of power in the middle of the night. If offences of this kind can be committed with impunity, neither life nor property will be safe in Ballarat.[9]

Despite such publicly expressed distaste, Serjeant’s actions were vindicated, and subsequent legal action confirmed him onto the Band and Albion Board. In December 1868, he was elected manager of the company, a position he retained until his retirement thirty years later.[10]


Serjeant’s enterprise and industry was generally thought to be one of the main reasons for the success of the Band and Albion Mine, which, indeed, became Ballarat’s largest and richest. In both mining and social matters he seemed to be ahead of his time - innovative, generous, diligent, and resourceful. He organised timbering experiments to try to improve working conditions, especially in the quartz mines, where he believed Ballarat’s future lay. He continued to agitate against protectionism into the seventies, whilst all around him, quartz mines were closing down. He supported innovation, and publicly called for young men to design a reaper and binder to win a £1000 government prize. When times got tough even for the Band and Albion, in 1879, he supported operations from his own resources for several months until a reef was struck.[11] Serjeant built his original house facing Campbells Crescent in Darling Street, Redan. As his wealth increased the house was enlarged and enhanced to face Darling St (circa 1880). The house Yarrowee Hall still stands today with the original house forming part of the rear.[12] (The location [1] is -37.576762, 143.846319) The original house which effectively still stands faced Campbells Crescent and still forms the rear part of Yarrowee Hall. As his wealth increased the house was enlarged and enhanced to face Darling Street c.1880.

After an overseas trip to alleviate his bad health problems, Serjeant returned to Ballarat in 1884 as the No. 10 Shaft on the Band and Albion reached one thousand feet. Good yields and big dividends continued: Serjeant was a wealthy man. Throughout the decade, he collected exhibition medals and continued to promote and encourage innovation in and enthusiasm for Victorian mining: he had also been asking himself what inducement there existed for anybody to take this matter up with a view to effecting an improvement, and then he inquired were there no gold medals offered for award to inventors? If there were not, then he thought it would not be at all out of place if the Institute asked some of the more prosperous gold mining companies to give the Institute gold medals for distribution this way. [13]

Serjeant was also on the board of the newly-formed and ground-breaking School of Mines in Ballarat, and in April 1887 deposited £256 in the bank to establish an award for research into the treatment of complex auriferous ores. The award went unclaimed, and the fund was converted to the Serjeant scholarship in Mining Engineering which continued for nearly a century. [14]

One of his most significant achievements was to become involved, in the early 1890s, with the formation of the Australasian Institute of Mining Engineers. This institute was formed in Broken Hill, and had its inaugural meeting in Adelaide, in 1893. Serjeant who had been elected chairman of the Ballarat committee, chaired the first annual meeting, of the Institute which was held in Ballarat. [15]

Serjeant’s energy, his willingness to stand alone if need be, his dogged determination to succeed in spite of what seemed like often impossible odds, and his courage and perseverance, all point to his Cornish background, where adaptability, mining expertise and community solidarity were acknowledged Cornish traits. Pride in the old ways, and faith in the old timers, were combined in Serjeant with a resolve to conquer the future with the weapons of the past: Mr. Serjeant … stated that he was proud that his efforts had met with the approval of the company. He had been connected twenty four years with the company, and was pleased that day to see around him so many of his old associates of the days gone by when the old Band of Hope was in the zenith of its prosperity. The engine driver who had years ago been in the company’s service, was there beside them at the engine of the new plant, and the old blacksmith of the company was still in the company’s service. The workmen were a fine body of men, and took as much interest in the company’s affairs as the shareholders themselves. … He had great faith in the company, and was of opinion that it would yield gold and pay good dividends when their children’s children were old men and women. (Immense applause) [16]

The Band of Hope and Albion Mine was Ballarat’s greatest and richest - “probably the best gold mine in the world” . Robert Malachy Serjeant, its manager, was a unique personality, and a Cornishman; as Peter McCarthy summarises, his life was a testimony to the idea of success from modest beginnings: From humble origins Serjeant gained a breadth of mining experience, engineering competence, community service, educational and political involvement. [17]

McCarthy also suggests that such a success story is probably no longer possible - a point which Hamilton Jenkins recognised in a different, broader context, in his famous The Cornish Miner. Jenkins commented that men of this type, who prefer the independence, together with the risks, of working on their own to the usual wage-earning conditions of the modern industrial system, are the last of a fine tradition of miners, and they themselves stand upon the threshold of disappearance. But in Ballarat in the nineteenth century, the time was ripe for such as Serjeant, and the many other successful mining Cousin Jacks.[18]

See also

Robert M. Serjeant Jnr

Band of Hope & Albion Consols Gold Mining Co.



  1. Information from David Stevens, great great grandson of R.M. Serjeant emailed to Clare Gervasoni on 28 September 2012.
  2. Information from David Stevens, great great grandson of R.M. Serjeant emailed to Clare Gervasoni on 28 September 2012.
  3. Information from David Stevens, great great grandson of R.M. Serjeant emailed to Clare Gervasoni on 01 October 2012.
  4. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  5. Warren Perry, The School of Mines and Industries Ballarat, 1984, pp. 81, 182.
  6. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  7. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  8. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  9. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  10. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  11. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  12. Research communicated to Clare Gervasoni via email on 21 February 2014.
  13. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  14. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  15. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  16. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  17. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002
  18. Croggon, Jan, Strangers in a Strange Land, PhD Thesis, February 2002

Further Reading

Corfield,Justin, Wickham, Dorothy, & Gervasoni, Clare (2004). The Eureka Encyclopaedia. Ballarat Heritage Services: Ballarat, Victoria

External links,R.M.shtml

S.Singaram 14:51, 23 December 2011 (EST), Jcroggon 16:29, 15 May 2012 (EST)
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