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Captain Bagot's Mine

A compelling new book reveals Kapunda’s copper mining history.

ST Gill, Australia, 1818–1880. Kapunda Mine 1845, Adelaide. Watercolour on paper, 27.6 x 40 cm. Gift of the South Australian Company, 1931. Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. At centre below the shelter is Bagot Shaft, with the first horse whim on the right and the mine office at left. [fig. 34]
ST Gill, Australia, 1818–1880. Kapunda Mine 1845, Adelaide. Watercolour on paper, 27.6 x 40 cm. Gift of the South Australian Company, 1931. Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. At centre below the shelter is Bagot Shaft, with the first horse whim on the right and the mine office at left. [fig. 34]

The Kapunda Mine commenced operations in January 1844, just seven years after the British colony of South Australia was proclaimed. It was the first successful mine in Australia, predating the much larger Burra Mine by almost two years. It was owned by Captain Charles Bagot, formerly of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who had decided to migrate to South Australia due to social unrest in Ireland in the 1830s. He was subsequently contracted to organise a ship to bring more than 200 Irish emigrants to South Australia and on arrival, in late 1840, he was to select a survey (parcels of land) of 4,000 acres; in return he received 1,000 acres. His aim was to become a sheep farmer, but within three years of arrival he was a well-known mine owner and manager.

Bagot took possession of his survey in 1841 and began establishing a pastoral property where, in late 1842, his youngest son made a chance discovery of brightly coloured copper carbonate mineralisation. The land was subsequently purchased at auction, giving Bagot the mineral rights. The mine was rich from the outset, which enabled the development of the mine to be funded from the sale of ore.

View looking west from Cameron Street to the mine enginehouses, Kapunda, c.1875. State Library of South Australia, B 7347 (detail). [fig. 116]
View looking west from Cameron Street to the mine enginehouses, Kapunda, c.1875. State Library of South Australia, B 7347 (detail). [fig. 116]

At an international level, the mining settlements which developed around the mine played an important role in the Cornish transnational identity. It was the first mine in Australia to employ Cornish miners and Cornish mining technology on a significant scale. The first Cornish beam engine in Australia was erected at Kapunda in 1848 and the majority of its managers, engineers and miners were Cornish. Bagot also recognised the benefits of smelting the ore at the mine and erected one of the earliest copper smelters in Australia.

The mine was run as a private partnership until the formation of the Kapunda Mining Company in 1851. The company operated the mine until 1866 when falling ore grades and copper prices forced it to lease the mine to the Kapunda Copper Company. This Scottish company constructed a treatment plant based on the Henderson process to leach concentrated carbonate ore using sulfuric acid made on site, and precipitate the copper using micaceous hematite. However, the process was an economic failure and the mine eventually closed in 1878.

ST Gill, Australia, 1818–1880. Kapunda Copper Mine, sectional sketch no. 1, enginehouse 1849, Kapunda, South Australia. Pencil, black and grey watercolour wash on paper, 20.2 x 26.5 cm. AR Ragless Bequest Fund 1971. Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. [front endpaper]
ST Gill, Australia, 1818–1880. Kapunda Copper Mine, sectional sketch no. 1, enginehouse 1849, Kapunda, South Australia. Pencil, black and grey watercolour wash on paper, 20.2 x 26.5 cm. AR Ragless Bequest Fund 1971. Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. [front endpaper]

Although considerable attention has been afforded to the mines and mining communities at Burra and Moonta–Wallaroo, in comparison Kapunda has been largely neglected by historians. Given the significance of Kapunda in the early history of this state, this book will fill what has been a glaring gap. Only four brief accounts have been published prior to the present work.

Captain Bagot's Mine also presents a fascinating case study of the development of a mining enterprise in a distant new land, attracting from afar the technical specialists and skilled workers essential to success. More than 40 personal stories are recorded including the families of Bob Hawke (prime minister of Australia, 1983–91) who came to Kapunda from Cornwall in 1851 and remained for several generations, and Alex Blood (Executive Director, Mineral Resources Division) whose ancestor was the first mine doctor.

The book, authored by Greg Drew, captures every turn in the legal, technical, financial, and social aspects of this piece of South Australian history. It is well documented and lavishly illustrated, featuring exquisite paintings of the colonial artist ST Gill.

Copies can be purchased ($49.95) from Customer Services at Level 7, 101 Grenfell Street, Adelaide. Alternatively, order by phone +61 8 8463 3000 or email Resources.CustomerServices@sa.gov.au (postage and handling fee will apply).

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