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The Wheal Watkins mine is a lead and silver mine in Glen Osmond, and is one of the most historically important mines in Australia. Other Glen Osmond mines include Wheal Gawler and the Glen Osmond mine, and these were the first metal mines in Australia, producing the first mineral exports anywhere in the country.
The Wheal Watkins silver mine is so called because "wheal" means "mine" and the deposits were found on land owned by Mr Watkins of Sussex. When silver-lead ore was discovered in the 1840's South Australia was suffering hard economic times. Nevertheless the discovery immediately attracted Cornish miners to settle in South Australia - a mine Captain and ten miners with their families. The Glen Osmond Union Mining Company built a house for mine Captain Pascoe, and several miners cottages for the workers.
Glen Osmond Mine Captain's Cottage (Image: State Library SA B24455)
The Glen Osmond mines were badly affected by the gold rush in Victoria, but mining continued intermittently until 1892. In total around 2500 tonnes of hand picked ore were extracted from the mines while they were open. At first the ore was broken into small pieces, washed, then packed in 100kg bags. The bags were then taken by dray to Port Adelaide for shipment to smelters in England.
It soon became clear that the cost of shipping raw ore was too high, and in 1849 the Glen Osmond Union Mining Company erected one of the first smelters in South Australia. The smelting works have long since disappeared, but the chimney still remains - one of the oldest mining relics in South Australia.
Glen Osmond Mine Smelter 1950 (Image State Library SA B24454)
In 1984 the Wheal Watkins mine was state heritage listed, and two years later the state government paid for the Burnside council to make the mine safe for public tours conducted by the Burnside Historical Society. The Society operated the Wheal Watkins Glen Osmond mine tour until 2005, when Burnside council said that the mine was unsafe after a rock fall.
Burnside Historical Society has worked energetically to reinstate the Wheal Watkins Glen Osmond mine tour since 2005, using money provided by its members to obtain reports on how the mine can be reopened to the public. At a recent Burnside council meeting the Burnside Historical Society sought funding for a report to identify how the Wheal Watkins mine could be safely reopened. Perversely the council voted instead to permanently close the mine, with Mayor David Parkin using both his deliberative and casting vote to carry the motion.
Glen Osmond Mine Tour Guide with National Trust SA President Norman Etherington
It's ironic that while the Heritage Council is developing a plan to support Heritage Tourism in South Australia for the government, the Burnside Council has just voted to shut down tours of one of their heritage jewels. There has been interest in the Wheal Watkins mine tour from schools, the Field Geology Club of South Australia, mining organisations and many historical groups.
For some years Burnside Historical Society have conducted a Glen Osmond mine tour outside the Wheal Watkins mine, but the ability to actually go inside the mine adit and see the original workings would create huge interest and excitement.
Inside the State Heritage Listed Wheal Watkins Mine
The Wheal Watkins mine tour is still held occasionally outside the mine, particularly during South Australia's History Festival. You can find out more about these tours on the Burnside Historical Society (BHS) website. Please note that bookings are essential, and you should book early as the tours are often fully booked.
If you would like to support the BHS in their fight to showcase our mining heritage in South Australia, there are a few ways that you can help
From the Journal of Australasian Mining History: The Wheal Watkins adits, until their closure as a result of rockfalls in 2005, provided an important opportunity for the public to learn the history of the Glen Osmond mines and gain an appreciation of the methods employed by the Cornish miners. It is essential that further restoration of the adits be carried out so that public access will again be possible to one of Australia's most significant mining heritage sites.
Was looking forward to attending today. Had a lovely chat to Dave. Couldn't attend in the end due to recent bad health and migraine. :(
Looking forward to another chance to see the mines. Sites like this are valuable to our local history.
Good luck with your discussions with the council.
On Sunday 5th June 2016 between 1 – 4pm, join Burnside Historical Society in a free viewing of the 173 year old Wheal Watkins Cornish mine, including looking into 2 tunnels from the entrance.
Limited parking is available at the end of Allandale Avenue, Glen Osmond, where guides will direct you to the mine. Enquiries to 0418 802 041.
Come along, bring your family and friends. Please note there are no toilets on site.