‘Little Cornwall’ boasts rich pioneering history

‘Little Cornwall’ boasts rich pioneering history


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RECOGNISED: The Moonta Mine has been added to the National Heritage List, nearly 100 years after it closed. This picture, from 1900, is of the former mine office and stables at Moonta. Photo: STATE LIBRARY OF SA (file B 33882).

RECOGNISED: The Moonta Mine has been added to the National Heritage List, nearly 100 years after it closed. This picture, from 1900, is of the former mine office and stables at Moonta. Photo: STATE LIBRARY OF SA (file B 33882).

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THE high migration of Cornish people to Moonta in the late 19th century caused the town to be dubbed “Australia's Little Cornwall”, and descendants from that era still live on the Yorke Peninsula today.

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THE high migration of Cornish people to Moonta in the late 19th century caused the town to be dubbed “Australia's Little Cornwall”, and descendants from that era still live on the Yorke Peninsula today.

Moonta Bay resident Ian Archibald is a volunteer for National Trust Moonta and a driver for the train that runs through the mine.

His great grandfather David Archibald emigrated from Cornwall in 1864 and worked as a shepherd on the YP before he went to work for the Moonta Mining Company. One of his sons, TS Archibald, became an accountant and paymaster with Moonta Mining Company and held that position from 1900-1923, when the mine closed down.

Ian’s wife Colleen was also born in Moonta.

The Cornish influence in the region came from a shortage of skilled mine workers.

“The mines in Cornwall were starting to slow down, so the company sent recruitment teams from Australia to Cornwall to encourage people to migrate,” Ian said. 

By the mid-1870s, 12,000 people – of which 90 per cent were of Cornish descent – were living in the Moonta township or at the mines. 

“It was the largest concentration of Cornish people outside of Cornwall anywhere in the world,” Ian said.

Shepherd Patrick ‘Paddy’ Michael Ryan discovered copper in Moonta in May 1861. That property’s pastoral lease included land that went from Paskeville to Port Riley and as far south as Cape Elizabeth and was owned by retired sea captain Walter Watson Hughes.

Mr Hughes won the right to mine copper in his lease and the mine – then known as the Tiparra Mineral Association – was opened a year later.  

The mine’s name changed to Moonta Mining Company and it was the first Australian company to pay out £1 million to its shareholders. One of the mines had a 55pc yield, such was its richness in copper. 

Under the operation of Henry Richard Hancock, the mine’s technological and organisation advancements included development of The Hancock Jig to separate sulphides from the ores, the use of steam to help with transporting goods, an efficient management system and a minimum wage paid to employees.  

The Moonta and Wallaroo mines merged in 1890 to form the Wallaroo and Moonta Mining and Smelting Company. 

The company closed in 1923 as the price of copper dropped from £130 a tonne to £65/t after World War I. 

About 330,000t of copper was taken from the Moonta and Wallaroo mines.

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