extraction of mineral ores
Gold appears to have been the main substance extracted from the Williams Valley. This was not done during the major Gold Rush period of Australian history but later, when a number of mines were established primarily at Wangat at the northern end of the Williams Valley. These mines, although small operations, were not individual prospectors but partnerships as some capital was required to sink shafts and operate stampers. Sufficient gold was extracted over a number of years to encourage Angus & Coote to set up a shop in Dungog at which gold could be sold by the miners.
Wangat on the Little River at is described as ‘6 miles from the junction of Little River with the Chichester’, itself a tributary of the Williams River. From the 1870s through to the early years of the 20th century the area around Wangat was the site of numerous gold mining claims. In 1872, mines such as the Perseverance, Morning Star, Webb’s line, Homewardbound, Bohemian, Aunt Sally, Victoria, Golden Spur, and William Tell are mentioned, as are the presence of four hotels, but no resident Commissioner.1 In 1873, the shareholders of the Golden Spur Reef had a 50 foot tunnel that they were extending to strike a new reef named the Liberator.2
Both steam and water stampers were used, with Lower Wangat producing 1,456 ozs and Upper Wangat 215 ozs; an average of 2 ozs of gold per ton.3 The average claim at Wangat was 2 to 5 men per claim and miners such as ‘Quinn and Party’ sank shafts costing ten shillings per foot to locate reefs at 60 foot that were perhaps 18 inches wide.
Gold was also successfully mined at Copeland on the other side of the Barringtons from Dungog Shire, and in 1878 gravel was being laid down to improve the roads and a new Monkerai Hill road was being built. In fact, the best route to the ‘Barrington diggings’ was reported to be via Monkerai with the trees marked for horsemen and the work done by ‘a few Dungog residents’.4
In 1878, two cakes of gold of around 12 pounds each came to Dungog, spent the night in the bank safe, and then left again escorted by two constables.5 It was around this time that a government subsidy to encourage prospecting, known as the ‘Prospecting Vote’ was provided. This meant grants of up to £2,000 were made to assist in extending shafts and other operations but with 50% of the value to be done before a subsidy could be applied for.6 Later a ‘Prospecting Board was established in 1887, and £15,000 provided for the encouragement of prospecting. The Board would inspect sites proposed by miners and estimate the cost of any work required, and again a sum not exceeding 50% of the estimated costs could be provided.7
It is not known how much of this prospecting vote, if any, came to the Wangat miners, but by 1880, the population at Wangat was reported to be 60 and in 1881 there were ‘80 souls all told at Upper and Lower Wangat’. It was also reported that: ‘There are no Chinese mining or otherwise there.’ By 1886, the population was 14 men, 7 females and between 20 and 30 children, though the following year the report was 10 miners only. Despite this decline, in 1907 mining was still continuing with at least six men at Wangat digging 100 tons for 44 ozs of gold or £150. The miners were both locals and from further a field, with a ‘company of working coal miners’ reported to be on the Loch Lomond Mine, and a ‘Dungog syndicate’ on the Eclipse Mine.8 After 1913, the construction of the Chichester Dam in this area would have further restricted access to the Wangat gold mines, though some prospecting continued, with an old lease being taken over by the Mountain Maid Mining Co. as late as 1924.9
Few details of this gold seeking life remain. There are reports of prospectors approaching local shopkeepers for a stake, and of prospectors skipping off with gold won by their partners.10 Angus & Coote set up a shop in Dungog town and acted as gold assayers. This company appears to have misjudged the amount of gold left in these Barrington foothills, investing in a new store in 1911 just as the gold petered out; their manager bought them out in 1913 and continued as a jewellry store. Finally, according to a Department of Mines report, the total Wangat production over some 30 years or more was just over 88 kg of gold from 2,444 tons or 30 grams (a little for than 1 ounce) of gold per ton.11
Far up against the Barrington foothills was not the only place people sought for gold within Dungog district and the lure of gold led people to sink a number of other mines such as at Rocky Hill just to the north of Dungog town. Even on the Dungog Common a shaft some 51 foot deep was sunk by Thomas M’William in search not of gold it seems, but of silver.12 Other mining locations were Cherry Tree Hill in 1880, five miles east of Dungog on Stroud Rd, and at Marsh Creek, five miles above Wangat. Another in 1888, was at Little Mountain, four miles from Dungog. The Cherry Tree Hill claim even had a stamper in 1889, but was abandoned by 1897. By 1909, the only operating mine was reported to be the Mountain Maid Mine at Monkerai, which had begun in 1893 or 1894.13
While gold was the only metal successfully mined within the Williams Valley area, this does not mean that efforts were not made to find and exploit other metals. As early as 1845, copper was being found, or at least searched for, on the Cory property at Gostwyck on the Paterson River.14 Despite much enthusiastic talk of specimens being similar to those in Cornwall, nothing serious seems to have come of these deposits, despite at least one shaft having been sunk.15 Years later, in the 1870s, copper fever seems to have hit again, this time with a company formed and the sinking of shafts not only at Gostwyck but also further east on the ridge dividing the Paterson and Williams Rivers.16 When offered for sale the following year, the Gostwyck estate was described as one where, ‘it having been proved beyond doubt that copper exists in more than one portion of the property, which if properly developed would yield an enormous fortune to the proprietor …’.17
Another mineral that was discovered and rediscovered several times was antimony. The first such finding occurred in the 1850s when it appears in an advertisement for the sale of land near Gresford. In a further effort to boost the value of these supposed antimony deposits, it was also reported that the British government was experimenting with the use of antimony in cannonballs. Reports of antimony were circulating again in the 1870s and again in 1907.18 Finally in 1937, there is a report of an antimony mine actually being worked, though not now on the Allyn River, but rather on the Upper Paterson near Lostock/Mount Rivers.19
Mine shafts (Wangat)
Village remains (Wangat)
Mines (copper & antimony)
13 Osborne, (compiler), Geological Survey of NSW – Gloucester, Dungog Division, 1886-1909 & Sydney Morning Herald, 26/4/1894, p.7.