Saturday, November 10, 2012

Herbert Pierssené's Outback Adventures

Page 159 of my book Pierssené, a Huguenot Family of London (available through BookPOD) mentions Herbert Pierssené's period of residence in the Kalgoorlie district of Western Australia during the second half of the 1890s.

Andrew Pierssené has recently discovered some fascinating old photos among the papers of his late brother, Jeremy, and kindly sent me copies from England. The photos, taken by the Greenham & Evans photographers of Perth & Coolgardie, were passed down by their father Sir Stephen Pierssené, who was Herbert's nephew. They carry several handwritten inscriptions mentioning Mount Jackson, Enuin and the Eileen mine, thereby providing insights into some of Herbert's outback adventures.

The following newspaper excerpts tell the story of the Eileen mine, operated by the Nil Desperandum Company from around August 1895 to November 1901. The story begins in the Western Mail, Perth, Fri 2 Aug 1895, p 4, col a:

MOUNT JACKSON. (FROM AN OCCASIONAL CORRESPONDENT.) Mount Jackson as a reefing district is coming into great prominence. Although out of the beaten track and away from the more fashionable Coolgardie, it will assuredly in time make a name and fame for itself.  Modern maps show Mount Jackson's location westwards of Coolgardie and north of Southern Cross. 'Mount' is a relative term in the world's oldest, flattest continent - the top of this hill is 621 metres above sea level.
The article specified the location of the Eileen Mine: There are no phenomenal finds in its neighbourhood, nor do the reefs carry hundreds of ounces to the ton, but the reefs are well developed and traceable for miles and have down to the depths at present sank been proved to carry gold and to make into larger bodies of stone. The Big Blow reef and the Black reef are traceable for miles and give splendid results at the several depths they have been sunk upon; and the Victoria Reef in the Victoria mine at the 75ft and 100ft has given good prospects. Another new line of reef has been found about seven chains to the west of and parallel to the Victoria, carrying good gold, and has been opened upon at three points some thirty chains apart, all showing fair results. The reef has been christened the Eileen.

Eileen Mine, Mount Jackson
The site had the advantage of a supply of underground water, essential for mining operations: The Nil Desperandum Company seem to have only to sink anywhere to get a golden reef. A new reef altogether was discovered when starting to sink a new shaft to cut another line of reef carrying visible gold. Water, too, will never be much of a trouble to the several companies that will eventually be scattered over this field, as at the Nil Desperandum they have got a bountiful supply at the 135 feet level, and at the Victoria, at 110 feet, they have struck a fair supply.

The mine site looked very primitive in the photograph, an observation supported by the following statement: But what this field suffers from is a dearth of capital. The several parties prospecting have not the wherewithal to give the several reefs a proper prospecting, and the field is not suited to small parties at all. It wants capital to develop it. The reefs are here, the gold is here, but it is only under the battery that it can be obtained, and I would never advise parties without a bit of money behind them to come out to this field. The present finds are limited to about two miles by a mile of country, but the country is about two miles wide by several long; reefs cropping up in hundreds, only waiting for capital to prove their value.

Water remains a severe limitation in Australia's outback, where stranded travellers can still die of thirst. Don't be fooled by maps such as the following, containing lake beds coloured in blue. Certainly, the lakes reflected low-lying land, but more often than not these were dried-out salt pans, only containing water after seasonal rains. Surface water was particularly important in the 1890s, when transportation was horse-powered and it took many days to travel the vast distances involved: A new road is getting out from Southern Cross cut, which will materially shorten the distance, and will also be better watered than the other road.
This road would have been better described as a dirt track. The following photo indicates that it passed through a place Herbert Pierssené described as Enuin, but shown in the centre of the accompanying map as Ennuin. (Mount Jackson is near the top of the map.) Since a professional photographer took the photo, Herbert was presumably one of the five businessmen featured in the photo. A later photo of him as a small and rather lean man (on p 161 of my book) shows similarities to the man sitting second from the left.

The road to Mt Jackson - Breakfast at Enuin
It was frontier territory: We want a mail service, although, thanks to the kindness of people coming out and in, we get letters fairly regularly. We ought to have a proper mail service. We ought also to have some one here appointed a Justice of the Peace to swear affidavits in connection with mining, &c. A cricket club has been formed, and the north end of the field has played the south end. By the way, Sunday afternoon is the day those test matches are played. The population at present is about 70, all able-bodied men, and two females, but as soon as the Nil Desperandum and Victoria companies get properly to work the population of the field will be largely augmented. The dearth of women is a reminder that after gold was first discovered near Kalgoorlie in 1893, the goldfields of Western Australia became the wild west, and brothels abounded in Kalgoorlie.

Everyone was optimistic and struck by gold fever: There are several other properties that are in the process of formation and on the eve of selling, ……. a nice property at the, at present, extreme south end of the field; and Messrs Holmes Bros. and Magor Bros. have their leases at the extreme north end, over two miles and a half dividing them from the Mount Jackson Syndicate. They are also on good gold and are still sinking, and are very jubilant over their prospects. Bateman and party have a nice reef looking well, whilst the Southern Cross syndicate have two splendid shows, one to the south of the Victoria gold mine, and one on the Big Blow reef and the Black reef. They are down 87ft, and have just cut the block reef carrying a splendid show of gold. George Cheeseman, the original prospector on the block reef, has good gold, and the stone shows more gold the deeper he gets. Hall and party have a good reef; they have sunk on it over 100ft., and the stone at grass from that depth shows first-class prospects. Several other claims are in the prospecting stage, but all have excellent prospects of obtaining good stone.

Although Kalgoorlie was connected to Perth by a narrow gauge government railway line from 1896, an article in late 1898 confirms that developing the outback of Australia was a tough business: MOUNT JACKSON. The weather has been very warm lately, the thermometer registering as high as 110 deg. in the shade. Water is scarce on the field, and the inhabitants have to depend solely on the supply from the Mount Jackson Gold Mines dam. The main road between Southern Cross and Mount Jackson is in a very bad state. Travellers can obtain water only at Golden Valley, which is 60 miles from here. This has caused the teamsters to increase their freight charges, and is putting the inhabitants to a lot of inconvenience. (Inquirer & Commercial News, Perth, Fri 16 Dec 1898, p 1, col e)

In 1896 a remarkable infrastructure project began, the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme, a pipeline pumping potable water hundreds of kilometres across the desert from Perth. It opened in 1903 and still operates today, making life in the arid Australian inland possible for large towns like Kalgoorlie. Places away from the pipeline, like Mount Jackson, had to cart in their drinking water.

In 1899 Herbert married in Kalgoorlie and by 1900 he was living (briefly) in the outskirts of modern Perth.

The next year the Eileen Mine was sold to the owners of the massive Great Boulder goldmine at Kalgoorlie, described as the richest square mile on the planet: DAVYHURST. Mr. Hamilton, manager of the Great Boulder mine, has secured two months' option on the Eileen mine, Davyhurst. The price agreed upon is £10,000, of which the vendors have received £1,000 cash deposit, the balance to be paid if further development of the property within the time specified warrants the completion of the sale. The Eileen is located a mile from Davyhurst township, and has been opened up for a depth of about sixty feet. The mine possesses a fine body of stone, averaging 8ft. thick, from which 1,500 tons have been raised and treated for a return of 22dwt. per ton. (Western Mail, Sat 23 Nov 1901, p 50, col b)

Herbert profited by his mining experience, as advertisements for his publication 'Telegraph Code for Wardens Court & Mines Department' appeared for several years. But he'd already moved on. He was a householder residing in Katanning (see the first map) when he supported another man's application for a licence to run a boarding house in May 1901. (Albany Advertiser, Fri 17 May 1901, p 2, col c). This is interesting, as Herbert was later buried in Katanning.

He soon popped up again in another mining town, at Ravensthorpe (near Hopetoun, on the first map), where he was elected as Chairman of the local Hospital Board in May 1902. The family lived here until at least June 1911, and Herbert's name appeared regularly as the local agent for the Commercial Union Insurance Company from November 1904 to June 1908.

By early 1913 the educational needs of his three children meant that he'd found himself employment near Perth, as agent of the Government Savings Bank of Western Australia at Kelmscott. (Sunday Times, Perth, 2 Feb 1913, p 2S, col e)

By the way, my book (p 162) gives the date of Herbert's death as 4 October 1923 (a published transcription from his headstone) but recently available 'Family Notices' material on the Trove website for old Australian newspapers gives the date as 14 October 1923.

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