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5. The Goldminers

White Horse Reef

The origin of the name of the White Horse Reef near Amherst is uncertain, although it was first discovered by Gottfreid Schmidt in 1854 .

On Tuesday 18 January 1859 the Maryborough and Dunolley Advertiser reported that Patons quartz crushing mill was doing well at White Horse Reef . Theophilus and George Paton had invested £500 in a ten horsepower engine and a Chilean mill worth £1,500. Their lease was 100 by 200 yards and work had commenced on 1 September 1859 with eight men intending to be employed for nine months of the year . The Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser noted that there was

talk of a company of miners from Ballarat forming an association for the purpose of working this reef, but we cannot understand what right they have to interfere with the present occupants .

The Ballarat party was refused permission by the Maryborough Mining Board to take out a lease at White Horse Reef .

The Albion Cowley, owner of the Amherst Hotel, had set up a six horsepower Chilean crushing mill on the reef in late 1858 but in January sold it to William Anderson who then joined with Patons .

The White Horse Reef became a very busy place at times and was in a direct line with the Briseis Reef, about half a mile to the south towards the Avoca Road. The Briseis was about six or seven feet wide and at times gave a yield of four ounces of gold per ton of quartz, which was regarded as being a very good yield for the district. The White Horse was generally much richer than the Briseis and later recorded yields of up to 100 ounces of gold per ton . The reef was described by the local mining surveyor as being “second in importance to none” in the district .

Despite the failure of the Ballarat group to be granted a lease, nother local group was established under the name of the Amherst Gold Mining Company, and purchased an engine and other equipment which had to be delivered from Melbourne, at which time the “working shareholders” would commence operations. The company had been formed on a co-operative basis which the Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser hoped would be followed with other similar ventures .

It would appear that a group of miners, possibly including Henry Cosstick and some of his brothers, had discovered the rich stone at the White Horse Reef , but had not been able to raise the finance to work it privately. They applied to various people with the aim of raising capital but were unsuccessful because those with the money did not want to risk it on speculation. The Amherst field had not yet proven itself as a quartz mining area. Reports in the Talbot Leader do not clearly indicate when the initial exploration by the Cossticks was done , but it seems likely that it was soon after the Cossticks arrived in the area, possibly in 1857 or 1858.

Amherst United Quartz Mining Company

The ground remained unworked until Henry Cosstick applied for a lease on behalf of the Amherst United Quartz Mining Company. The area covered by the ten year lease on the White Horse Reef was 400 yards by 133 yards - some eleven acres. The annual rental value was £55/3/-. Capital of £3,000 had been raised and machinery worth £2,000, including a twelve head stamping battery for crushing the quartz, was installed. A minimum of twenty men was to be employed. The lease application was signed by H.Cosstick, W.Cosstick, J.Smith and W.H.Line .

Operations were to commence immediately the lease was granted and this gave Henry Cosstick the honour of being in charge of the first permanent mine to begin operations in the Amherst district . The earlier operations at the reef by Cowleys and Patons were apparently regarded as being less than permanent.

Henry Cosstick had in fact applied for an extended lease to the Maryborough Mining Board which was unable to consider the request “the Board having no bye-law applicable to the case” . This would not be the last of Henry Cosstick’s dealings with the Maryborough Mining Board.

In March the new company held a preliminary meeting at which deposits of £10 per share were made. The claims were then to be registered in Melbourne after which the remaining £50 per share would be paid .

On Friday 13 May 1859 the Argus reported that

The Amherst Gold Mining Company has nearly completed its works. The machinery, gear, and building are on a very extensive scale, and the undertaking promises to be a very lucrative one.

And a week later…

The auriferous nature of the long-neglected White Horse reef will soon be made known. The company formed to work it are men with both capital and energy, who are determined to surmount the almost inconquerable difficulties and impediments in their way. They have purchased an engine, and that, with all the necessary accessories, are already on the ground. They are sinking a shaft 6 feet by 4 feet, which must be carried down to a depth of 227 feet before the reef is disclosed. When 170 feet is reached, they will have about 1000 gallons of water to pump out per hour, and so on in proportion to the greater depth they attain. The party who abandoned the claim found gold in payable quantity in the stone, and it was roughly estimated to yield four or five ounces to the ton. No crushing was had owing to the small quantity of stone that could be raised. They were subsequently flooded out. The ground has been abandoned for over twelve months.

By Monday 16 May 1859 the machinery had arrived and a meeting of the company was held at 8 pm at Hackett’s Store in Amherst . On Wednesday advertisements appeared in the papers.

For Sale. One share in Amherst United Quartz Reef Company, Daisy Hill. None but men qualified to fix pit work need apply. For details apply at the works of the company .

Work soon began and the Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser followed the company’s progress enthusiastically. By January 1860 White Horse Reef was “turning out excellently for those parties who are at work. The Amherst United Company was about to sink its second shaft with the machinery being “excellently arranged and the work going on merrily” . A week later the White Horse Reef was reported as being the only one on which systematic operations were being carried out. A major rush to Lamplough had taken many of the miners away and drought was severely curtailing other work in the district .

By mid March 1860 the lack of water had become serious with continued calls for a reservoir to be built. Surface mining was becoming more difficult and reef mining was now the mainstay of the district. The Amherst United Quartz Mining Company at White Horse Reef being regarded as the most important .

In mid April it was reported that the company had struck a good reef in “Peter Burke’s shaft” and prospects continued to look good throughout May . But, despite the encouraging reports the major operations of the company did not centre upon the richest part of the reef and the ground being worked, though containing gold, proved very difficult with the result that the available capital was quickly used up.
A meeting of shareholders was called and it was decided to raise the number of shares from the original twenty at no definite price to six thousand at at £1 each . A meeting to make the company public was called for Monday 2 July 1860 . A meeting on Tuesday 3 July decided to increase the number to 12,000 with half that number being retained by the company . In August 1860 mining operations came to a standstill .

There had been the intention to publish a prospectus but news of the richness of the reef spread rapidly and even before the prospectus could be printed the full number of 3600 public shares had been taken up. The original twenty shareholders purchased 2000 shares and another four hundred were reserved for contingencies. The eagerness of people in Melbourne to invest in the company was welcomed by the Talbot Leader as a sign of hope for the future of the district, the fortunes of which had fluctuated considerably since the days of the giant rushes in the late 1850s. The editor of the Talbot Leader praised Henry Cosstick for the system of good management which had been manifested in the past, and to whom the success of the company could be ascribed . It is clear that Henry Cosstick had already established a good name for himself, and his family, in the few years that he had been at Amherst.

The newly reformed company, with greatly increased capital, set about improving its equipment to cope with the difficult mining conditions mainly hard quartz and ground water. During November 1860 Henry Cosstick, as secretary of the company, advertised for tenders to sink the engine and whim shafts at the mine an extra sixty feet, and for tenders to provide an extra 200 cords of firewood for the steam engine . The closing date for tenders was Wednesday, 14 November 1860, at 10 am.

By December the sinking was underway and the two shafts were to be taken to an equal depth then joined by a cross shaft . A number of men had been set to work obtaining stone from the western reef, although the nature of the quartz meant the work was somewhat difficult .

The Melbourne shareholders became very optimistic about the prospects for the new mine and issued a “copious and high flowing prospectus” which resulted in an advance of ten shillings on the Melbourne Share Market . The gold had not even been brought to the surface and the Melbourne shareholders commissioned Carpenter of Mandurang to visit the site and report on the best method of working it. Carpenter visited Henry Cosstick and decided that the “western reef” would be the most profitable, even though local opinion was that it contained almost no gold at all. The Talbot Leader described Henry Cosstick as “a man whose chief failings appear to have been, that he was a practical miner of several years standing and that he knew more of the practical part of quartz mining than fifty Carpenters moulded into one” .

Henry Cosstick had tried the eastern lode and found it to be almost three feet wide with a yield of one ounce of gold per ton of stone, but the Directors of the company believed otherwise and so the men were set to work on the western reef . By early December 1860 there were twenty four men on the site, but they were achieving little success and after some eight thousand pounds had been spent on working this reef the shareholders decided to give up on the venture without trying the more profitable eastern lode .

By April 1861 the White Horse Reef had been almost abandoned with only a few fossickers left at the south end , and a few searching through the dried up puddlers' dams. The dispute worsened and in May 1861 the matter was referred to the Court of Mines . The country shareholders gave up their claim to a share of the plant and machinery purchased by the company and by August 1862 most of the equipment had been purchased by the Victoria Gold Mining Company which had begun operations nearby. The price paid was £280 .

The Melbourne shareholders had intended to reform the company and continue operations but understood little about the practical aspects of quartz mining. The Amherst and Clunes Road Board, anxious to recover rates owed to it by the company, sold off the thirty horsepower engine and boiler to a Mr Henderson for £35, and in April 1863 sold the remaining pipes and pumps to Mr Stanworth for £13. What had been purchased by the company in 1859 for £3,000 was sold for forty eight. In summing up the story of the Amherst United Quartz Mining Company, the Talbot Leader said “let us drop the curtain on this glaring instance of mismanagement and gross incompetence without another word” .

In an incident that may or may not be connected with the demise of the company, in July 1861 Henry Cosstick had gone into Amherst to serve a summons to recover £9/8/- from D.Thomas for goods previously provided to Thomas. Cosstick had tried three times to serve the summons but without success. On the last occasion he had the door “forcibly closed” in his face. He then fixed the summons to the door and informed the occupants of the building that he had done so. Thomas did not appear at the subsequent court hearing and was ordered to pay the amount claimed plus £2/2/- costs or face one month's imprisonment .

Opossum Gully

The next section tells the story of the Cosstick brothers discovery of gold at Opossum Gully. It is available in the book.

By 1863 the Cossticks were able to provide a crushing service for other miners with a battery located at Opossum Gully . This was the beginning of the Croydon Battery which was to serve the district for the next forty years.

Quartz Crushing

Quartz taken to the crushing mill was tipped into a hopper that fed the stone into the stamper-box. The stamper-box was made of cast-iron. The quartz pieces were crushed in this box by the stamper heads, weighing up to 700 pounds each. A set of stamper-heads was known as a battery. The Cosstick's had a twelve-head battery. On one side of the stamper-box an opening was fitted with a grating - a piece of thin sheet-iron which was perforated with about 100 holes per square inch. The quartz once crushed and reduced to fine sand, passed through the grating onto the ripple-board. The ripple-board extended from eight to fourteen feet in length and was set at an inclined plane. Ripples were cut across the board about every two and a half feet. Each ripple was a groove about three inches wide and one inch deep at the lower side and shallower towards the upper side. When the crushing machine was operating the ripples were nearly filled with mercury, or quicksilver, and a flow of water passed across the whole board. The grains of gold were attracted to the mercury while the sand was washed to the bottom. At the end of the ripple board a blanket-table was set. This table was covered with green baize to catch any fine gold that may have escaped the mercury filled ripples.

At regular intervals there was a cleaning-up or washing-up of the ripple-boards, stamper-boxes, blanket-tables and other parts of the crushing plant when the gold was separated from the mercury (the amalgam) and extracted from other parts of the equipment.

The separation of the gold required that the amalgam be heated to evaporate the mercury . This separation could be done manually by placing the amalgam in a dish and heating it over a flame, which is probably what some thieves intended to do when they stole a quantity of amalgam from the Cosstick's battery.

Gold Thieves

The quartz crushing battery was an attraction for those who wished to find gold by an easier method than digging for it. On Sunday 8 May 1864 some Chinese youths stole valuable copper plates from the amalgamating tables at the plant, along with a quantity of valuable amalgam . This was of great concern to Henry and William Cosstick and their partner at Laura Reef, David Paterson. Ten days after the theft, on Wednesday 18 May 1864, Paterson made some notes in a small pocket book in which he kept a record of wages paid at the mine. These were his comments:

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Laura Reef Gold Mining Company

In June 1864 Henry and William Cosstick, with their friend and neighbour David Paterson, took out a ten year lease under the name of the Laura Reef Gold Mining Company . The area to be leased was five acres at Opossum Gully, about 250 yards from the battery , and the intention was to employ eight men, a ten horsepower steam engine costing one thousand pounds, and obtain quartz from a depth of 100 to 180 feet. What had prompted them to take out the lease was to be found in their earlier 1861 claim that contained the filled in shaft. When there was no longer anything to be found in the surface stone they decided to clear out the shaft, which was 180 feet deep. It was something of a risk and involved considerable work. At the bottom of the shaft they found the reason it had been abandoned. The quartz reef worked by the previous occupiers had narrowed to a thickness of only one inch and was barely worth the effort. The Cosstick brothers decided to dig both to the north and south of the shaft and discovered that the reef immediately widened out, in both directions, to a width of between three and ten feet! The previous miners had been unlucky enough to sink their shaft on a break in the main reef .

By the end of March 1864 the Cossticks Laura Reef Gold Mining Company had crushed 1,250 tons of quartz. The yield of gold for the crushing was just over 140 ounces - averaging just over 2 pennyweights per ton . The June 1864 return for 850 tons crushed was 127 ounces , and in September 720 tons gave only 26 ounces . By December the yield was a promising 173 ounces from 650 tons of quartz . This gave the Cossticks a yield of over 460 ounces of gold for the year.

Despite the promise of the Laura Reef, or perhaps because of it, Henry Cosstick decided to keep his interests diversified and in July 1864 he purchased three thirty pound shares in the Search and Find It Gold Mining Company at Mount Greenock, just south of Talbot . Although this company closed and sold its plant in July 1866 , in 1864 Mount Greenock supported eleven paying claims each giving dividends of between £5 and £15 per man each week .

The Cossticks also intended, on 24 December 1864, to peg out a claim at Bulcher's Reef near Cockatoo, east of Amherst. The Mining Inspector had removed some abandoned pegs from a lapsed lease and about twenty minutes later a Mr.Winkel marked out and pegged a new claim on the site. Shortly afterwards Cosstick and Phelps also pegged out a claim, 180 feet by 330 feet in size, on the same site, thinking that Winkel had used only two pegs rather than the legal number of six . The resulting dispute was heard in the Warden's Court at Talbot and it was resolved that Winkel had in fact placed the correct number of pegs and was entitled to the claim. Winkel and Company had originally pegged out the claim then reduced the length to 240 feet which led to some confusion. Undoubtedly the Cossticks were somewhat disappointed at losing the claim as Bulcher's Reef was reported to have been fairly rich and it was only the ground water that had prevented earlier operations from continuing .

Suicide At Opossum Gully

This is less than half of this chapter. The rest is in the book.


All sources and references are cited in the book.

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