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Consols’ contribution

Monday, 21st February, 2011

By Peter Black

History will long link the Consols Mine with its Assayer/Sub-manager and then General Manager George 'Smith'.

The Consols Mine was located 600m to the east of Block 14. While not a 'Line of Lode' mine, it produced a bonanza in Silver (Ag) in its 16 operating years, 1887-1903, the surface remains of its inclined shaft remains visible not far from Eyre (Otto Holten) Street.

Regretfully, few specimens of the silver minerals have survived, such was their value that the Consols Mine was the only mine in Broken Hill to launch prosecutions against its miners for theft, the major Line of Lode companies including BHP were far more tolerant. The mine was born in class-conscious London in mid 1887, when four 'gentlemen' (residential addresses Covent Garden, Pembroke Villas, the Reform Club and Queens Gate) agreed to form the finance and become directors of the Australian Broken Hill Consols Syndicate (hence the name of the mine, the A.B.H. Consols Mine) one of whom, Edward Power, agreeing to relocate to Melbourne, and subsequently Port Pirie, to become managing director, who employed Zebina Lane as the local general managing director, who employed Zebina Lane as the local general manager, and W.R. Wilson as mine manager.

Importantly, in 1890 George Smith, who was born George Kearn, but who adopted the name Smith after his father died when George was aged two, and his mother marrying a Captain Smith when George was aged seven, was employed as assayer and sub-manager.

George Smith, regarded by many as the last and greatest mineral collector of the 19th Century, hence his nick-name 'Specimen' Smith, commenced his working life with the English and Australian Copper Company in 1879 in Newcastle, NSW, progressing at the age of 27 to become a silver ore buyer for the company in 1888 at Silverton. In January 1894 he became general manager of the Consols, leaving it and Broken Hill at the end of 1898 to become mine manager at Chillagoe, Queensland, but not before he had become secretary of the local Mining Managers Association and a foundation committee member of the Australasian Institute of Mining Engineers, which evolved to become the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

The principal silver and silver bearing minerals mined were Chlorargyrite (Ag chloride), Acanthite (Ag sulphide),Cerussite (Lead Carbonate) and Tetrahedrite (a Copper Sulphide containing iron, zinc, anitimy and silver), veins of which assayed a phenomenal 105 kg/ton. Other veins of argentiferous galena (lead sulphide) and tetrahedrite assayed 83kg Ag/ton.

Native silver and dyscrasite (Ag antimonide) were also common, ane 'slug' of almost pure Ag weighed 68kg.

Another vein, after the extraction of slugs of native silver, assayed 238kg Ag/ton, a figure I believe not surpassed anywhere in the world. The matrix (60cm wide, 30cm thick) consisted of calcite, which enclosed abundant native silver and scanthite. Parcels of this ore peaked at 270kg Ag/ton, one ton consisted only of great slugs of Ag and silver chloride - all up 2282kg was produced in one month from this vein.

Various slugs of native silver and dyscrasite were to be given their own names; one (dyscrasite) was estimated to weigh more than 1500kg, but had to be broken up to get it to the surface, the largest piece being 812kg which became from fanciful associations know as the 'Turtle Slug'.

Another (native Ag) was over one metre long and 5cm thick, at 36kg it became known as the 'Flitch of Bacon'.

One patch which had weathered out of surrounding calcite yielded 150kg of crystallised native Ag.

Another vein containing native Ag, Acanthite, Stephanite (Ag antimony sulphide, first found in Broken Hill in the Consols) and "extraordinary loose granules of Iodyrite (Ag iodide) was worked for more than three months.

The new mineral willyamite, named after 'Willyama' which was mistakenly believed to be the Aboriginal name for Broken Hill, was first recognised as such by George Smith, and confirmed by Edward Pittman, NSW Colonial Geologist, as a new mineral to science.

Another new mineral to science, constilbite (cobalt antimony sulphide) was identified in Consols specimens, but only after 77 years had elapsed after the identification of willyamite.

Again, many year later, in a Consols style vein cross-cutting the main lode a the Junction Mine, native silver in large slugs was encountered. One piece, sadly acid bathed and sand blasted to remove ornamental wire silver in an attempt to disguise its origin, was offered to the late and great Australian mineral collector Albert Chapman for $600, who informed the author at the 1983 Broken Hill Gemboree that he would not touch it "because it was too hot", the 'Silver Nugget', as it was to become known, had been acquired by the late Town Clerk Harry Keelan, who confided to an early 1980's City Council meeting that he thought it may have come from Thackaringa!!

The nugget, for years on display at the Civic Centre, is now deservably on display at the GeoCentre (now the Albert Kersten Mineral and Mining Musum) and continues to attract great interest. The last great slug weight 89kg again from a fanciful resemblance was called 'The Poodle Slug'. It was located in March, 1898, and was extracted in its entirety - and was sent to London - where it was melted down. One can only hazard a guess at what it would be worth today to a collector or museum, suffice to say many times its 80% Ag content. 1898 was a phenomenal year for George Smith and the mine, one slug of dyscrasite went 135kg before it was blasted of matrix, and slugs of chloragyrite up to 18kg were mined.

"19 men working underground kept 21 men on the surface dressing and bagging the ore.", and The Barrier Miner reported one 20 ton parcel to be "the richest parcel in size ever to leave the mine." George Smith chose the announcement of the 1898 phenomenal results as the time to tender his resignation as general manager, and was replaced by Mr T.G. Sweet, who had had 22 years experience in German mines.

George Smith on his departure was encouraged by the London Board to select mineral specimens free of charge; these specimens constitute the bulk of extant Consols' specimens, many of which were obtained by the College St. Sydney Australian Museum.

Acknowlegements: The resources of the City Library and the Geo Centre, and the 1996 Betty Florence Mayne Memorial Lecture given at the Combined Mineralogical Societies' Seminar in Sydney by 'Sir' Howard Smith. TO BE CONTINUED.


1. Great Works, CBH and Perilya. Hats off to Ian Plimer - who proposed and was involved in the extensive drilling of the Western Mineralisation, long considered too low in grade to be profitable. The news concerning CBH and Perilya is especially encouraging, it is reasonable to expect a recovery in the local real estate market, albeit not immediately.

Of concern is the forced intention by both companies to use fly-in labour - we have not trained sufficient plant operators and tradesmen for the envisaged operations for many years.

Too much talk about 'Retention' (years 11 and 12) in our high schools and not enough encouragement for technical training over the past 30 years is one major reason for the current position.

2. Little interest thus far has been generated in the Local Government March 12 by-election - a few however have asked me for my opinion, so:

Dave Gallagher - even money.

Maureen Clark - 6 to 4.

Larry Angel - 5 to 1.

It is always difficult to predict by-elections in local government - outsiders have a local history of winning.

Any one of the candidates if elected are likely to support the current coalition between Labor councillors led by Neville Gasmier, Bob Algate and Tom Kennedy - one of the candidates is a short term Labor Party member, the other two are former members.

Perhaps in time we shall see a 6 - 4 Council, which will provide stability.

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