William Frederick Osborne

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By that time [1853-54] the quartz lodes at the Black Hill had been tested. Dr. Otway, with whom was Mr. Osborne, was the first adventurer there, and he erected a windmill as a motive power for reducing the stone. After that he procured Chilian mills, but neither process was successful. Mr. George Milner Stephen followed Dr. Otway, and with similar results.[1]

In evidence given in court in 1860, William Frederick Osborne is identified as "a miner on Ballarat" who was there from at least 1851 to at least 1854.[Notes 1] The record of his evidence states, in part:

Was a partner of Otway. Erected on the Black Hill, in 1853, a windmill and stampers on the old Cornish principle. Had a second machine in May, 1854, a steam-engine, at the foot of the hill, and fitted it with the same stampers. There was no other machine then in Ballarat, nor afterwards, for a year or so... I worked in 1851, '52, and '53... [and 1854.] I applied for a grant of land to erect machinery upon, but was refused. Sir Charles Hotham came to see our machinery. I never heard of Stormont. No such person lived near me that I know of. It must have been 18 months or two years after ours that any other machine was erected.[Notes 2]
Cross-examined... In 1852 there were no steam-engines in Ballarat. The first was in 1853—Campbell's. Ours was the second. Campbell was only a puddler, not a crusher. It is quite impossible there could have been three or four steam-engines in use in Ballarat without my knowing it—even within three or four miles.[2]

We are now only in the fortieth year of the Victorian gold discovery, and it may be a surprise to a good many people to be informed that it is not very far from forty years ago that quartz crushing was started at Ballarat, the famous alluvial metropolis of the Australian colonies. True, it has taken between thirty and forty years to give to quartz mining an ascendancy over the alluvial in that centre of golden industry, and it is of some interest to hark back and take stock of the first essay in quartz crushing there. That essay was one of the simplest in battery form, and the motive power was that ancient one, the windmill. The venture was started in May, 1854, less than four years after the first rush to Golden Point-some six months before the affair at the Eureka stockade, and with the menacing indignation of ill used diggers growing fast into that hot hate of misrule which so soon led to the licence-burning, the stockade, and all the tragic consequences of that ill starred movement. There were five in the party, namely, Dr. Otway, a medical Yankee; Captain Artrick, a Yankee sailor; William Frederick Osbourne, a Londoner; Lieutenant White, once of the 7th Light Dragoons, and an Irishman named Usher, nephew of Admiral Usher. The adventurers chose a site for their battery and windmill at the top of Two Ton Gully, one of the time worn wrinkles on the eastern face of Black Hill. The little ravine got its name from the prodigious richness of the alluvial deposits there, it being computed that not less than 2 tons weight of gold was taken out there by the diggers who scooped out its sides and bottom during the first year or two after the gold discovery. For their battery tho Otway party obtained six light stampers from Langland's foundry, in Melbourne, whence also they got a small engine very soon after the first experiment had been made with the more primitive driving power. Gold Commissioner Bury saw the party as they were erecting their windmill and he predicted failure, basing his conclusions on alleged experiences of his own in some pastoral pursuits he had either witnessed or actually taken part in. His theory was that the winds were too fitful to be commercially valuable. Anyhow, the Otway crowd soon found that their apparatus did not answer, and hence the resort to steam power. Hardly any work, in fact, was done with the windmill, and the party had only just begun to scratch the reef, and had pounded very little stone when the windmill was abandoned in favor of steam. The first gold the party obtained per favor of the wind driven battery was about ½ an ounce, and it was given to Lady Hotham, who happened at the time to visit the claim, accompanied by Commissioner Bury, Captain (afterwards Sir Andrew) Clarke, C.E., and Colonel Wemyss, of the infantry garrison, then in the long since vanished barracks, which occupied part of the Mair-street frontage of the Camp reserve. On the day following Lady Hotham's visit, Sir Charles Hotham strolled alone, umbrella under arm, to the scene of the windmill battery, and the spokesman of the party told his Excellency that they wished to have a grant of 5 acres to work there. His reply was:— "No, no; that will never do. Why, you would become millionaires, perfect Rothschilds," &c. he promised, however, to see what he could do towards their having a grant of, say, 3 acres. This little episode of gubernatorial intervention in regard to a digging claim shows plainly enough how far we have travelled since then in the direction of constitutionally responsible government. Lord Hopetoun would be a little surprised, no doubt, if any Rip Van Winkle of a digger should ever cut across one of His Excellency's goldfields progresses with such an application as that preferred by Dr. Otway's party to Sir Charles Hotham. It seems that Sir Charles was not so curious as his wife, for she went down the not very deep shaft of the windmill party to see what quartz mining was like, and Sir Charles contented himself with a surface survey. The party could not get the wind to work properly, and they shifted lower down the hill and erected a heavier battery at the base of the hill by the creek side, where the Black Hill Company's large crushing works are now. But other disasters came upon the party there. The riots which accompanied and followed the later ventures of Sir Charles Hotham's administration in the matter of digger hunting, or licence hunting, had helped to loosen the bonds of order, and claim jumping here and there was rife. Otway's party had only just erected their new shed for the new battery when the battery when the place was jumped by alluvial diggers, who sunk several shafts forthwith in the battery house just set up by the quartz party. When the move from Two Ton Gully top to the lower site was made, the party took in one Captain Ackermann, by way of adding both money and muscle to the company's capital. They got their hardwood timber from two sawyers named Rayner [sic] and Collins, who had a pit in Saw-pit Gully in the ranges between Little Bendigo and Dead Horse, 60s. per 100 feet being paid for rougher cut stuff than is now obtainable at the timber yards at 6s. 6d. per 100 feet. On the new site Otway's party added a pair of Chilian mills to their plant, but the concern did not succeed. The jumping disgusted them, too, and what with troubles of one sort and another, including the failure to accomplish what even the quartz miners of to-day have not yet achieved, a perfect treatment of ores always more or less refractory, the party broke up. Some of them went to try fortune at the newer field at Steiglitz, and that venture was scarcely less disastrous. Of the original windmill party only one now remains in Ballarat, namely, W. F. Osbourne, whom fortune has never much favored in any of the years subsequent to the Black Hill and Steiglitz adventures. Of the two sawpit men, Raynor [sic] is still plodding away as a fossicker in the ranges, and his mate, Collins, dissolved the partnership many years ago by hanging himself. Osbourne is one of the smallest of men, but he is brave withal, and has kept up the fight against hard luck. He is now earning a modest living as a collector and news agent.[3]

Entries in Ballarat directories[4]

1857 No entries for William Osborne.

1862 No entries for William Osborne.

1865-1866 Osborne, William, agent, Peel-st. This is the mostly likely listing among two other William Osbornes in Ballarat city and Ballarat East, listed as a contractor in Bond Street and a carter in Ascot Street.

1869 Osborne, William, miner, Black hill. This is the mostly likely listing among four other William Osbornes in Ballarat East, including two miners (one at Mt Pleasant and one off Eureka Street), a produce dealer and a contractor. In Ballarat city there is also one, a miner and carter in Ascot Street.

1882 Osborne, William F., news agent, Sherrard-st., Bal. E.

1888 Osborne, W. F., agent, Sherrard-st. In Ballarat East. However, in the trade index, there are no news agents (or any other type of agent) in Ballarat East with Osborne's name, suggesting he did not own his own business. [Note to self: check agents in Ballarat city]

1890-1891 Osborne, W. F., agent, Wills-st.

1896-1897 The entry Osborne, Wm. F., agent, 9 Albert-st., B.; p. r. Sherrard-st., B. E. together with Osborne, Wm. F. jun, Sherrard-st., B. E. suggest Osborne may have moved, leaving the Sherrard Street residence to his son.


See also

Early steam engines at Ballarat

William Beauclerc Otway

Black Hill Chronology


  1. See Stevens' patent rotating stamper head – court challenge for the complete transcript.
  2. Stormont's evidence suggests he was at Black Hill before Osborne.


  1. Withers, William Bramwell (1887). The History of Ballarat : from the first pastoral settlement to the present time (2nd ed). F.W. Niven & Co, Ballarat Vic
  2. LAW REPORT. (1860, May 31). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 6. Retrieved October 10, 2015, from [1]
  3. FIRST QUARTZ BATTERY AT BALLARAT. (1891, January 17). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918), p. 38. Retrieved August 9, 2015, from [2]
  4. Held at the Australiana Collection, Ballarat City Library.

Further Reading

External links

--Neil Huybregts 17:17, 16 October 2015 (AEDT)

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