A Cape Town District Six Museum tagged image from photographer – denisbin as published on Flickr.
Beautiful fern pattern wrought iron lacework on old cottage in Main Street of Moonta South Australia. The old copper mining town.
Image by denisbin
The original occupants of the land around Moonta were the Narrunga people who lived across Yorke Peninsula. Once white settlements appeared in the Copper Triangle towns a group of interdenominational zealots formed a committee in 1867 to set up a mission for Aboriginal people. A year later the group was granted 600 acres of land by the government for the establishment of Point Pearce Aboriginal Mission near Port Victoria. The first superintendent of the Mission was the Reverend Julius Kuhn. White settlement really began in the district in 1861 when Walter Watson Hughes of the Wallaroo run began mining operations at Wallaroo Mines. Patrick Ryan, one of his shepherds had discovered copper ore in a wombat burrow the year before. At that time in the 1860s copper was binging as much as £87 per ton so Walter Hughes became a wealthy man quickly. He developed the mine with capital from Elder Smith and Company and his fellow company directors. The first miners in the Copper Triangle were Cornish miners moving down from Burra. The majority of settlers though came directly as sponsored immigrants from Cornwall. In 1865 some 43% of all immigrants to SA came from Cornwall. This direct migration continued especially after the closure of some big mines in Cornwall in 1866. Mining began at Moonta about the same time as mining at Wallaroo Mines (1861.) Hughes was the major investor in both the Wallaroo Mining Company and the Moonta Mining Company. The smelters for the district were located at Wallaroo. The Moonta Mines were the richest in the whole district and in its first year of operations the Moonta Mines made a profit of £101,000.
One of the first shafts sunk at Moonta was the Ryan shaft, after Watson’s shepherd. From 1864 the mine superintendent was Henry Hancock and consequently the second shaft was named the Hancock shaft. Hancock was the one who made sure the mines operated efficiently. His “reign” lasted until 1898. He also had advanced social welfare ideas for the times and he established a school of mines for the boys and a library for the miners. By 1876 under Hancock’s expert management the mine had produced £1,000,000 in dividends. Upon his retirement in 1898 Hancock’s son took over management of the Moonta mines which had been amalgamated with the Wallaroo mines into one company in 1890. Mining operations at Moonta were complex and some shafts exceeded 700 metres in depth. This created problems with water (and heat for the miners) so large pump houses were required such as the Hughes Engine House which still stands, albeit in ruins. The Moonta mine lasted for over sixty years and Cornish miners influenced the style of buildings in the town and the design of pump and engines houses as they were all the same as those in Cornwall. Some engines were made in Cornish foundries but others were made by James Martin‘s large foundry in Gawler. After World War One the price of copper fell dramatically and the mines became financially unviable and closed in 1923. Their heyday had been between 1900 and 1910 when much of the mining equipment had been replaced and modernised and prices were good, but a disastrous underground fire in 1904 in Taylor’s shaft began a slow decline in returns for the mine investors.
The Copper Triangle towns of Moonta-Wallaroo- Kadina had 12,000 people by 1890, representing about 10% of Adelaide’s population which was only 130,000. Consequently government services for the area were given priority and by 1878 the Triangle had a daily rail connecting service to Adelaide via Port Wakefield, Balaklava and Hamley Bridge. Apart from their mining skills the Cornish brought with them their religious faith hence the numerous Methodist chapels and churches in the area. All three branches of Methodism were well represented- Bible Christian Methodists, Primitive Methodists and Wesleyan Methodists. The 1891 census showed that 80% of the residents of the Moonta district were Methodists. Not surprisingly the Moonta Methodist Circuit (like a synod) had more church members than the big circuits in Adelaide such as Pirie Street, Norwood or Kent Town. The old Methodist Church at Moonta Mines was built in 1865 and with its gallery it can hold 1,250 worshippers. It seldom gets 50 worshippers these days! At one stage there were 14 Methodist churches in Moonta with a further 10 in Wallaroo/Kadina. As the Cornish used to say “Methodist churches are as common as currents in a cake.” The pulpits of the churches provided good training ground for public speaking as lay preachers were often used in these churches. One such trainee was John Verran who was Premier of SA between 1910-12. He once remarked “he was a MP because he was a PM” i.e Primitive Methodist!
The miners built their own cottages on the mining lands so many were poorly built and did not last but some still remain. In 1878 the very large Moonta Mines School opened as a model school. It soon had an enrolment of 1,000 children, although it was built to accommodate 800. Today the old school is the town museum. The biggest problem facing the Cornish miners was a lack of water. There are no rivers on Yorke Peninsula. Rainwater was gathered from puddles in roads and from roofs and in 1863, in just one week, 110 deaths were registered during a typhoid outbreak. The Moonta cemetery has many sad tales to tell and it is well worth a visit. Reticulated water was not piped to the town until 1890 when the pipeline from Beetaloo Reservoir reached the town and ended the summer typhoid outbreaks. Moonta was declared a town in 1863; the local Council was instituted in 1872; and by 1873 the town had 80 businesses, five hotels, numerous churches, its own newspaper, four banks and an Institute. A horse tramway connected the suburbs of Moonta Mines, Moonta and Moonta Bay. Other “suburban” areas of Moonta were Yelta, North Yelta, Cross Roads and Hamley Flat. When the mines closed in 1923 many left the town and it had a population of just over 1,000 people in 1980. Today it has a population of just over 4,000 people.
Moonta Historical Walk. See map on previous page.
1. Moonta Area School, Blanche Terrace. Selina Hancock first started a licensed school on this site, with 41 children, in 1865. After the passing of the compulsory school act of 1875, a school building was erected by the Colonial Architect in 1877, at a cost of £6,400– a large sum for those days. The local builders were Rossiter and Davies and almost immediately the school had an enrolment of 800 – a solid number of students! The school was extended further in 1903. The original school had six classrooms plus three other large rooms (65’ by 24’), one for boys and one for girls and another for infants. Until 1978 this was the Moonta Primary School.
2. St Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, Blanche Terrace. This simple Gothic style limestone building was completed in 1869. Priests from Kadina serviced this church. Four buttresses support each side. The modern additions on the sides of the building unfortunately detract from its general appearance.
3. The Masonic Temple, Blanche Terrace. This magnificent Italian style building was completed in 1875. It has cement dressings and fine fretwork quoins. It is believed to be the oldest purpose built Masonic Temple still used for that purpose in Australia. The first lodge meetings were held in Moonta in July 1868 as lodges were strongly supported by the Cornish miners. The interior was especially fine and described in 1899 as having ornate ceilings, with chocolate, gold and salmon coloured scrolls painted on the walls. It has a fine tile floor and wooden benches and fittings. The building was fitted out in 1899 with gas hanging lamps. Like most Masonic Temples it has half windows only. The side and rear parts of the building are like a medieval crenulated castle. A good limestone garden wall surrounds the whole complex.
4. All Saints Anglican Church, corner of Blanche Terrace & Milne Terrace. This limestone church with brick quoins has a fine hammer and beam ceiling inside. The bell was made of local copper in 1874, whilst the church itself dates from 1873. The bell was donated by the Wallaroo Smelter Company. It stands in a separate wooden bell structure on the west side of the church. Unfortunately the original slate roof was replaced with asbestos imitation slate in 1973. The stone is local and the bricks were made at the Woods Brickyard at Moonta Mines. It is commonly regarded as the Anglican “cathedral” church of Yorke Peninsula. Note the fine triangular stone windows above the larger Gothic windows. Stone was left near the doorway for the addition of a stone porch that has not happened yet! The adjoining church hall was built in 1903.
5. School of Mines, Ellen Street on cnr of Robert Street. This important building was built in two stages, the southern half being built in 1866 as a Baptist Chapel (with a manse next door). In 1891 it became the School of Mines, the first school outside Adelaide for the training of adults and youths in trades and bookwork. The northern half of the School of Mines was built in 1903 to match the southern half. It is a fine limestone building in the Gothic style with a pediment to the roofline. When the School of Mines opened in 1891 it started with 33 students and a government grant of £200 per annum. The first subjects taught were Mine Surveying, Mechanical Drawing and Mathematics. By 1896 there were 100 students enrolled and by 1898 this had grown to 275 students. New subjects were added to the curriculum such as Sheet Metalwork, Plumbing, Carpentry, Bookkeeping and Metallurgy. Scholarships were made available to underground mine workers and early in the 20th century the government grant increased to £1000 per annum. There is a stable block next to the building.
6. Bible Christian Church, Cnr Henry and Robert Streets. This imposing and distinctive old church dating from 1873 was built for the Bible Christians. It was built by Nettle and Thor. In 1913 it was sold to the Church of Christ but it has been unused for religious services for many years and is now almost derelict. It is a Romanesque style church with a grand arched central doorway with three small Romanesque arched windows above. It is one of the most distinctive buildings in Moonta. Made of local stone, it has a fine finial on top of the gable façade. As with most Romanesque style buildings it has relatively small windows and this gives an impression of mass and solidness. Note the fretwork dividing the windows. The triple arched rounded windows above the doors are typical of this style of building.
7. The Uniting Church, Robert Street facing Queen’s Square. This former Wesleyan Methodist Church is a grand building reflecting the prominence of Methodism amongst the Cornish miners of Moonta. £4,000 was raised to build this church in 1873. Its Gothic style is offset with some fine Mintaro slate steps and a slate roof. The pulpit, large enough to hold four speakers, is a decorative example made of imported Bath stone from England. Delabole Slate Yards in Willunga carved it. The main window facing the street and square displays stone tracery dividing the stained glass panels. The church has seven buttresses and the symmetry of the façade is emphasised by four stone spires. It is a fine example of a Gothic style church designed by architect Roland Rees. The church was placed alongside the town square to indicate its importance to the town. Mining company officials and the first Mayor of Moonta, Mr Drew worshipped here. He laid the foundation stone on October 6th 1873. The adjoining hall was built in 1866.
8. Polly Bennet’s Shop, Robert Street facing Queen’s Square. This interesting little shop was a fashionable milliner’s shop. The wealthiest of the Methodist ladies purchased their hats here to wear to the Sunday services. The shop was built between 1864 and 1874. It is a nondescript little building only of historical interest because of its links to the premier Moonta Methodist congregation.
9. Queen’s Square. This attractive town square was named after Queen Victoria. It was planted and laid out in 1897 – (the 25th anniversary of the town) and in the centre a fountain commemorates the work of Charles Drew. The pretty cast iron three tiered fountain was erected in 1893. A rotunda for bands and concerts was also erected in 1893, but pulled down in 1947. However a modern replica was later erected. Some of the trees planted in 1897 include Moreton Bay Figs, Tamarisks and Norfolk Island Pines. Until 1945 the square was fenced.
10. Moonta Town Hall, George Street facing the Square. This prominent structure was built in 1885 as the fourth local institute, using volunteer labour. Mrs Corpe, wife of the then chairman of the Institute committee and a major Moonta mines investor, laid the foundation stone and the Governor of South Australia, Sir W. C. F. Robinson opened the building. Thomas Smeaton of Adelaide designed it. The grand design reflects the prosperity of the times for Moonta. It has a three storey clock tower with French metal roof, classical half round windows, and the ground level window sills have the original metal spikes on them to stop loitering! The clock tower was added in 1907 and the new clock faces were fitted in 1963. Around 1907 the Institute became the Town Hall. In 1928 some internal remodelling saw the introduction of a cinema room and Art Deco entrance leadlight doors. Outside the Town Hall is a cast iron drinking fountain erected in 1890 to commemorate the arrival of reservoir water from Beetaloo Dam.
11. Shop – formerly an Institute Building at 55 George Street. This quaint building was the third Institute erected in Moonta. It dates from 1870. The land was donated by David Bowers for the Institute. It is a classical designed building with Greek triangular pediments above the two doors and a rounded arch over the central window. It has had many uses in latter years. The current veranda ruins the classical appearance of the building and it must be seen from across the street to appreciate its architecture. Note the round louvred roof vent.
12. Former Bank of South Australia, 46 George Street. Built in 1864, this was the first bank in Moonta. It later became the Union Bank. The arched porch is very distinctive and the quoins around the windows and corners give the building an attractive frontage. The Moonta Mining Company banked here.
13. Prince of Wales Hotel, George and Ellen Streets. This pug, limestone and plaster building is one of the oldest in Moonta, dating from 1863, which was the year the town was laid out. The first meetings of the Moonta Council were held here and the first licensee of the hotel was Mr Weekes. The hotel lost its licence in 1911. It has been an antique shop for many years. It is one of the few partly pug buildings left in Moonta as opposed to Moonta Mines which has many pug buildings. Its large 160,000 gallon rain water tank was used by many townspeople in times of drought.
14. Old Union Bank, Ellen Street. This grand façade dates from 1865 when it was opened as the Bank of South Australia, later becoming the Union Bank in 1892 and trading as a bank until 1943. The façade is noted for its classical arches, symmetry and balustrades along the parapet roof. This is the finest commercial building in Moonta. A fine photograph of the building and Ellen Street in 1874 appears on the cover of Philip Payton’s, Pictorial History of Australia’s Little Cornwall, Rigby, Adelaide, 1978. Note the wooden louvred rounded window on the southern wall, the bricked up one, and the five half rounded windows of grand proportions and two half rounded doors on the front. Note the fine scrollwork around the windows. You can still faintly see “Union Bank” on the front parapet.
15. Cornwall Hotel, Cnr Ellen and Ryan Streets. This old public house was licensed and erected in 1865 with the upper storey added in 1890. The wood worked veranda clearly dates the upstairs to this time. There are four stables for coaches at the rear. It is a solid limestone building with cement rendered quoins.
16. Post Office, Ryan Street opposite Cornwall Hotel. This typical Georgian style Post Office was built in 1866, one of the early buildings of Moonta. The bull-nosed veranda was added in 1909 destroying the Georgian appearance of the building. Note the fine semi-circular small paned windows – half rounded and rectangular. This complex included the postmaster’s residence. A similar style police station next door was demolished in the 1960’s.
17. Druid’s Hall, Ryan Street. This small gothic building was erected as an Anglican schoolroom in 1866 and taken over by the Druids in 1902. Its simple façade with a gable, scrolls and Gothic arched windows is quite pleasing.
18. Royal Hotel, Cnr Ryan Street and Blanche Terrace. Dating from 1865 this is one of the three original hotels of Moonta. Originally it was called the Globe. After fire damage it was extensively rebuilt in 1885. The upper storey is an unusual mixture of half rounded windows with rectangular doors! The Ryan Street façade has a beautiful Art Nouveau style leadlight semi-circular window.
19. Moonta Railway Station and Information Centre. A display of old photographs and a number of books are available for reading here etc. The building is a typical Art Nouveau style station that was built in a number of South Australian country towns. Although there was a horse tramway between Wallaroo and Moonta as early as 1866 the government did not acquire the line until 1878. It was then converted to a 3’6” rail gauge track in 1891 with the first train arriving from Wallaroo in 1892. This line was converted to the usual South Australian 5’3’’ gauge at the time when the station was built in 1914. The building cost £2,000. The last passenger train to Adelaide ran in 1969 and the line closed in 1979.
20. Moonta Cemetery. Just 5 minutes’ walk from the Anglican Church is the cemetery established in 1866 just 5 years after mining began. The first recorded burial was for the infant son of the licensee of the Cornwall Hotel (then known as the Globe). There is a fine Gothic style gatehouse and a limestone wall complete with broken glass atop, surrounding the cemetery which was completed in 1874. The cemetery bell was erected in 1896 from local copper and cast in Adelaide by Horwood and Company. The bell called mourners to funerals. A small area of the cemetery was allocated for Jewish burials in 1875. It is located along the eastern wall (ie on your left when standing at the gatehouse) opposite the old original toilet block, which is on the right hand wall of the cemetery. The “new” section of the cemetery begins immediately beyond the Jewish section. The “new” section was opened in 1897! The area to the left of the main entrance is for unmarked children’s graves. There is a small memorial to them all. As noted previously typhoid and other epidemics caused by lack of freshwater caused many childhood deaths. This area also has an unusual wooden “headstone” dating from 1865 for Samuel Jones, which predates the opening of the cemetery! The cemetery has about 9,000 burials in it. In the 19th century over a quarter of all deaths recorded were of people 21 years or younger.
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