Black Hill - the White Cliffs of Ballarat

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This is a transcript of 'Black Hill - the White Cliffs of Ballarat' by Barbara Cooper (Ballarat Historian, v4 n1, 1990).


Black Hill - the White Cliffs of Ballarat

The white cliffs of Black Hill are a distinctive feature rising above the city of Ballarat. Their present appearance is due to extensive mining for more than sixty years. When Europeans first came to the region, the hill was densely covered in forest and Urquhart, the Government Surveyor, called it Bowdun on the first official map in 1851 with a subtitle name of Black Hill.

Thomas Dunn panned for gold on Black Hill on 24 August 1851 but moved onto Golden Point after only finding a few specks. By 1853, the hill had shallow holes all over where diggers tried to find alluvial gold. However it was the discovery of the potential wealth of quartz reef mining that really started the serious exploitation of Black Hill.

In early 1854 Dr. Otway installed a four head battery driven by a windmill on the summit of the hill and began to process quartz. The battery was moved to the bottom of the hill in 1855 and enlarged as well as adding a Chilean mill. The battery was changed to steam power. Dr. Otway's battery was probably the first to be operated in Australia and started quartz reef mining in Ballarat.

The Port Phillip Company took over the site from Dr. Otway and then the Penrose Company but neither were particularly successful. In 1859 the Black Hill Quartz Crushing Company purchased the plant and claims. This small company had 6 shareholders who invested to increase the battery power to twenty-four heads. This new venture soon struck payable gold and were treating about 240 tons of ore a week to extract about an average 6 dwt of gold per ton. There were 6 companies operating on Black Hill during 1860 including the Crocodile, Independent, Chisholm's and two private companies as well as Black Hill Quartz.

In 1861 the Black Hill Quartz Crushing Co. changed to Black Hill Company Limited with 240 shares sold at £100 each. A new battery was installed with sixty heads which significantly reduced crushing costs while being able to process 1000 tons of quartz a week. The company bought out surrounding claims and held about 40 acres. The venture was very profitable and the company paid high wages. Men received 9 shillings, boys earned 5 shillings and shovellers were paid 8 shillings and four pence a day.

With the purchase of the surrounding claims, the Black Hill Co. began to mine the hill with open cuts and a network of tunnels over 2 miles long. The distinctive white cliffs appear about 1863. This period showed good profits for the company. The half yearly returns for 1864 noted the production of 14,455 oz. of gold. However the late 1860s saw a decline in profits.

By 1870, the mine had been let on tribute which included the start of a new shaft called No. 1 which found payable gold. The Queen Company leased the No. 1 Shaft in 1879 when it was down to 600 feet. There were 12 other tributing parties on the hill at this time. The Queen Company continued to deepen the shaft to 750 feet but most profit came from the 400 foot 1evel.

In the late 1890s several other companies moved into the Black Hill area with the Suleiman Pasha Consols Company working on the Devil's Point shaft from 1887 to 1892. The battery was purchased by the Victoria United Company in 1899. The leases were sold on to the New Zealand Trust Co. who in turn sold them to the Kia Ora Co. By 1907 the deeper levels had been flooded and tributers concentrated on the shallower levels and near the open cut.

Mining ceased soon after this period. The white cliffs remained until blackberries and pine trees started to hide some of the surface. The Black Hill Company is significant because it is one of the early quartz mining areas in Ballarat but also one of the best. Withers described the mine with praise, commenting,

"...its large works and its fine battery of 60 heads made it for years the model as well as show quartz mine of this centre." (Withers 1887:346)

It was also on the Black Hill flat that the significance of the slate beds, or the Indicator, was first recognised.

Huge amounts of gold were taken out of the hill but little was given back to restore Black Hill to forest.



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