Rumours of Copper

The discovery of copper at Kapunda, in South Australia, caused much excitement in the colony. Everyone who possessed land , examined it carefully for the trace of any minerals it might contain ; and soon it was rumoured that, at a place about 100 miles north of Adelaide, a shepherd had found exceedingly rich specimens of copper ore.

The Nobs and the Snobs

The land on which these were discovered had not yet been sold by the Government, and, in great haste, a company was formed to purchase it. This company consisted of the merchants, professional men and officials of Adelaide; but a rival company was immediately started, consisting of shopkeepers nd tradesmen, together with the farmers of the country districts. The former always maintained a haughty air, and soon became known throughout the colony as the “nobs” while, they in turn, gave their rivals the nickname of the “snobs”.

For a week or two the jealousies of the companies ran high, but they were soon forces to make a temporary union; for, according to the land-laws of the colony, if any one wished to buy a piece of land, he had to apply for it and have it advertised for a month; it was then put up for auction, and he who offered the highest price became the owner. But a month was a long time to wait, and it was rumoured that a number of speculators were on their way from Sydney to offer a large sum for the land, as soon as it was put up for auction. There was another regulation in the land-laws , according to which, if a person applied for 20,000 acres, and paid down £20,000 in cash, he became at once the owner of the land.

The “nobs” determined to avail themselves of this arrangement; but when they put their money together, they discovered that they didn’t have enough to pay the large sum. They therefore asked the “snobs” to join them, on the understanding that, after the land had been purchased, the two companies would make a fair division. By uniting their funds, they raised the required amount and proceed with great excitement to lodge the money. But part of it was in the form of bills on the Adelaide banks; and as the Governor refused to accept anything but cash, the companies were almost in despair, until a few active members hunted down their friends in Adelaide and succeeded in borrowing the number of sovereigns required to make up the deficiency. they money was paid into the treasury, the two companies were the possessors of the land and the Sydney speculators arrived a few days too late.

Division of Land

Now came the time to divide the twenty thousand acres between the “nobs” and the “snobs”. A line was drawn across the middle; a coin was tossed up to decide which of the two should have the first choice, and the fortune favoured the “snobs”, who selected the northern half, called by the native, Burra Burra. To the southern part the “nobs” gave the name “Princess Royal”. The companies soon began operations; but though the two districts appeared on the surface to be almost equal riches, yet, on being laid open, Princess Royal was soon found to be in reality poor, while Burra Burra mines provided fortunes for each of the fortunate “snobs”. During the three years following the discovery, they yielded copper to the value of £700,000. Miners were brought from England and a town of about 5,000 inhabitants rapidly sprang into existence.

The houses of the Cornish miners were of a peculiar kind. A creek runs through the district, with high and precipitous banks of solid rock ; and into the face of these cliffs the miners cut large chambers to serve for dwellings; holes bored through the rock, and emerging from the surface of the ground above, formed the chimneys which were capped by small beer barrels instead of chimney pots. The fronts of the houses were of weatherboard, in which doors were left; and for two miles along each side of these primitive dwellings looked out upon the almost dry bed of the creek, which formed the main street of the village. It isn’t hard to predict what eventually happened…Here the miners dwelled for years , until the waters rose one night into a foaming flood which destroyed the houses and swept away several of their occupants.

In 1845 Burra Burra was a lonely moor; in 1850 it was bustling with men, and noisy with the sounds of engines, and pumps and forges. Acres of land were covered with the company’s warehouses and offices; behind these, there rose great mounds of blue, green and dark red ore of copper, worth enormous sums of money. Along the roads eight hundred teams, each consisting of eight bullocks passed constantly to and fro, whilst scores of ships were employed in shipping the ore to England. From this grat activity the whole community could not but gain the utmost benefit, and for a time South Australia had every prospect of taking the foremost place among the colonies.