Cornish Battery with the Argus Mine in the background, 1865. SOURCE: Daylesford & District Historical Society

Buried seams of gold lay hidden beneath Cornish Hill

Buried seams of gold lay hidden beneath Cornish Hill

On this Cornish Hill Reserve of 38 hectares were dozens of stand-alone mines. Gold in the Daylesford area was found as alluvial gold in the streams and gullies on the creek flats below. When this source was exhausted, the miners realised that underneath the basalt rocks from the Wombat Hill volcano were buried stream beds containing the same gold. This was extracted by open-cut methods or by mining horizontally into the hill following the route of the ancient stream beds. Then as mining knowledge advanced, they found the sources of the gold in reefs underground.

Until this time, it was possible for a miner or groups of miners to work cooperatively to extract the precious metal, but for deep quartz mining, as it came to be called, big money was required. Money was raised in local mining exchanges where individuals could buy a share in a mine and reap the rewards, if any. Then capital was sourced from stock exchanges in the big cities and especially from London. The money poured in and mines were sunk, sometimes the shareholders became rich, often the mines went bust. This happened all through the last decades of the nineteenth century, but near the turn into the 20th century most mining ceased. It was a boom and bust cycle with the mines opening then closing and opening again as fresh capital was raised.

Along came a local entrepreneur by name McLeod. He bought up the remaining mining leases and consolidated them into three shafts. On the highest point, the Argus Mine, a double shafted mine, was worked in conjunction with Mitchells and Bonnards shafts, although they were not connected underground. The valuable gold-bearing ore was transported by a small tramway to the main processing plant of Freeman’s Battery, which crushed the quartz to separate the gold at the site of the current skate park. Before then, the Argus mine had developed independently and the gold bearing ore was treated at a battery just to the north of this site.

Near the Mitchells and Bonnards shafts are the massive brick and concrete footings that anchor the winch that lifted the miners’ cages and ore. At the 2018 gold price, $250 million worth of gold was extracted from the Cornish Hill reserve between 1850 until 1925 when all activity stopped.

Near to the lookout and Bonnards shaft is a memorial to the miners that gave the reserve its name, miners from Cornwall in the west of England. The short, tough miners had a long history of mining in the tin mines of Cornwall and as tin mining reached its end at the same time as the Australian gold rushes began, many came to Australia and to Daylesford as well as the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.