The Cornish Coincidence

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Remains of an Engine House

Michael Webb tells Cornish Story how he discovered the remarkable events of his past lineage and what startling resemblance they hold within his own family today. Read on to discover a story of generations unfurled.

The phone rang just as I was serving dinner. It was my eldest son in high spirits, calling to tell me he had just been offered a new job. He had recently moved to Orange where he had good friends who assured him he would be able to find work. It was a big move from Perth, some 3500 klms, leaving a very well paid job where he had been working as an Electrician in the mines. He was missing family and wanted to move closer to home, closer to Sydney.

“Was it full-time or casual work?” I enquired.

Good news; it was full-time, just 20 minutes outside Orange in a gold, copper mine in an area called Cadia. I have visited Orange many times, it is a few hours West of Sydney, a lovely country town of around 40,000 people, but I was unaware that there was a mine in the area.

The more we talked about Cadia and the mine, the more the name became familiar to me. It was only later, when I remembered I had encouraged my mother to write a journal about her life and family history, that I remembered a reference to Cadia. After much searching through the journal I discovered to my amazement that her great grandfather had been the Mine Manager there. This naturally led me on a journey of discovery to find out more. What a coincidence! I found the likelihood of my son working at this mine to be absolutely staggering! To think my son would be working at the same place as his great, great, great grandfather.

Like most of us, at one time or another, my eldest son was unsure of what career to pursue. Being very “outdoorsy”, it was unlikely to be an office bound occupation. Eventually he embarked on a career as an Electrician, a vocation that would allow him to travel all around the world. His other passion was camping, hiking and anything associated with the great outdoors, taking on pursuits such as abseiling and caving. Short stints in Europe and even further afield to Mexico and Machu Picchu. By his late 20s, he was far from settled down. And, of course, such pursuits do not easily embrace saving.

We talked about this at some length, there were credit cards to be paid and time was running out. There was a mining boom in Western Australia and I was aware there was huge demand for Electricians. The pay was good, there was an opportunity to save and “Mr Outdoors”, more than others, would easily cope working in such isolated locations. But five years of FIFO (fly in fly out) he had been working, which I should add, far exceeded the average length of time of most working in such remote conditions in the Pilbara had taken its toll. Now it seems he was working in a mine his great, great, great grandfather managed. This, of course, aroused considerable interest, so I began investigating further.

I discovered he was a Captain, which I found curious at first, assuming he was a ship’s Captain. What would a ship’s Captain be doing working in a mine?  He was in fact what we would call today a Mine Manager; it would seem the term Manager had not yet entered the lexicon, and so the term Captain, a person in charge, was transferred to other industries, not just exclusively for shipping. Curiosity gripped me; I just had to investigate further.

After some research I found out that Captain Josiah Holman had arrived in Australia from New Zealand in May 1862. He had been offered a position to take charge of a mine at Cadia, which had already achieved some success mining mainly copper and gold. The Company had purchased a Cornish beam engine from Cornwall which was waiting on the wharves at Sydney to be transported to Cadia. But what experience did Captain Holman have to take on such an endeavour?

He was a farmer in New Zealand, arriving in Auckland in May 1859 with his family of five, the youngest my great-great grandfather. I later found out Josiah was born in 1821 in Gwennap and grew up when the area was going through a huge mining boom. At the age of 14 he began work as a miner, learning the necessary technical skills to advance himself further. As a Mining Engineer, these skills enabled him to travel extensively around the world, joining mining expeditions, providing advice and direction, often as a Mine Manager. His knowledge also extended to tin assaying and smelting, gaining further experience in gold mining and copper assaying. By his mid-30’s, he had travelled to Brazil working as a Second Agent in the St. John del Rey gold mine in Morro Velho, inland from Salvador.

During the latter half of the 1850’s he travelled extensively to the Philippine Islands, Canada twice, including Lake Superior, Malacca assisting with Tin exploration, assaying and smelting for Bolitho of Penzance, Cornwall and Enthoren of London as well as South Africa. To many of these places he took his family as two of his children were born in Brazil and South Africa. In between these overseas assignments he sought work in and around Truro.

Now living in New Zealand, he had maintained contact with Mining Agents with the hope of securing suitable mining work in and around the area. In 1862 he was offered £500 to take on the management of a new venture at the Cadiangullong Mine near Orange in New South Wales. The Company had ordered a 25 inch rotative beam engine, to be built by J. Thomas & Company at the Charlestown Ironworks in St Austell, Cornwall. The design was identical to the 25 inch engine then operating at the South Crinnis Mine in Cornwall. The engine and its associated equipment had arrived in Sydney in 1860, but remained on the wharf.

The Company urgently need expertise to install and operate this new technology. With the appointment of Captain Holman, the Thomas engine was moved from Sydney to the Cadiangullong Mine by horse and dray. With the western railway line only just begun from Sydney, this would have been a massive undertaking moving this heavy machinery some 160 miles over the Great Dividing Range.

During this time the Company began recruiting Welsh smelter men to come to Cadia. At one point the mine employed over 200 men. As new Mine Manager, Captain Holman directed the original shaft to be sunk to 23 fathoms (78 feet) and began construction of an engine house foundation. The company did well under the watchful eye of Captain Holman, returning the capital outlay and small profits to the Company and investors.

When the mine suffered from the Copper crash of 1866 due to exploding world production, the mine was closed and Josiah return to his previous vocation as a farmer, grazier buying up acreage in and around Cadia. He, with others, had seen Cadia grow to a population of over 600, mainly Cornish mine workers. They established a National School and Wesleyan Chapel and oversaw the growth of the village to two butchers’ shops, several stores, two inns, and several other shops.

Well known for his technical expertise, Captain Holman continued to be contracted in mining engagements from time to time, inspecting mines and making recommendations for production. In 1873 he was appointed manager of the Peak Downs Mine south west of Mackay in Queensland. Although the mine showed some initial success, by 1877 it was recommended the operation cease. Returning to Cadia, Josiah continued mining pursuits and farming. He passed away in September 1893 and was buried in Cadia. His youngest son, my great great grandfather did well, expanding the pastoral estate and must have followed in his father’s footsteps taking on some mining pursuits as he discovered the largest gold Nugget in the area, 70 ozs. He had 11 children, the eldest my grandmother.

In the early 1990s a mining conglomerate began exploring for minerals in the Cadia area. To allow for further expansion they asked the relatives of the families buried in Cadia if the grave sites could be moved to a new location. Josiah and his wife’s gravestone is quite impressive, standing over a metre, now prominently resting on the side of a small hill. This expansion allowed for an open cut pit and the development of an underground mine, over two kilometres wide and over two kilometres deep. Assessed as one of the greatest gold deposits ever discovered, it may well grow to be the biggest underground gold mine in the world.

In 1868 Captain Holman wrote to the Cadiangullong Copper Mining Company, a report that may well be the most remarkable prophetic observation of all time;

“….some very good specimens of auriferous gossans (gold bearing rock) were found. Gold could be seen sparingly in this stone. This result is nearly, if not quite, payable by working it on a large scale. This reef warrants a deeper trial…..”

As I stood next to my son reflecting pensively on the side of that small hill, I thought to myself, what would great great grandfather have thought of his great great great grandson carrying on the work he foretold but left unfinished.

If you enjoy reading about ancestry memoirs, you can also check out Part 5 in our Looking for George Henry Guy series here.

Michael was born in NSW, Australia and embarked on a career in IT, joining the first computer bureau to be established in Australia in the early 1960’s.
Now retired, he was captivated by his journey of ancestral discovery having researched his family tree back to the marriage of John Holman and Ursula Morcam on 26 Apr 1729 in Gwennap. He is planning to visit Cornwall in the summer of 2017 for further research and would welcome any assistance in that endeavour.