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New Australasian No 2 Gold Mine

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Australasia Drive, Creswick VIC 3363

Features

  • Historic gold mine
  • Site of 1882 mining disaster
  • Educational signs
  • Miners' memorial
The New Australasian No. 2 Deep Lead Gold Mine in Creswick is the scene of one of Australia's worst underground mining disasters.

On the 11th of December 1882 forty one men entered the New Australasian No 2 mine to work a seemingly ordinary Monday night shift. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, 12th of December 1882, water flooded the mine from the old workings of Australasian No. 1 trapping twenty seven of the men underground. Rescue efforts commenced immediately but by the time the miners were reached three days later only five had survived. The body of one man was still warm when it was recovered.

Many firsthand accounts of the disaster were published in the newspapers, describing the unimaginable and horrific experiences of those trapped underground as well as those endeavoring to reach them.

Significant sTATEMENTS EXTRACTED FROM NEWSPAPER ARTICLES

"...the whole back of the drive burst out with a tremendous report, and the water, it is supposed from some old workings, poured in in a mighty, overpowering torrent along the drives. Then followed a scene that defies all description. Mason and Reeves fled for their lives, the overwhelming force of the water driving them onwards into the plat." (source)

William Mason, one of the contractors in the new reef drive, describes his escape: "The back drive suddenly broke away without any warning with a tremendous report, and the water poured in in a tremendous volume. Reeves and I then made for the shaft, which Reeves reached first. We shouted out to the platman, come or die, who took the alarm and ran up the drive to warn the workmen. Reeves and I subsequently went to the No. 5 shoot and subsequently escaped." (source)

Henry Polglaise, a trucker, described his group's escape by feeling their way out in the dark: "We knocked on the air pipes as a signal that the water had broken through, but owing to the noise of the rushing water, our signals were apparently useless. Carmoody tried to get on to a truck, in order to be able to proceed quicker to warn the men, but the truck tipped up. Carmoody then ran along the level and gave the alarm. He went as far as No. 9 shoot, a distance of about 700 feet. The water was up to his neck when he got back to No. 5 shoot. Gunther, R Woods, and myself went in what we took to be the direction of the shaft. Our lights were out, and we had to feel our way along to the plat by the sides. We came to the plat, and felt for the ladders, which we found only after great difficulty. We then climbed to the surface, a distance of about 300 feet which we reached in a very exhausted state." (source)

Michael Carmoody, platman, described the water rushing him and his narrow escape: "I prepared to return to the No. 5 shoot, but I found that the water had risen against me, and its force was such as to upset the truck. I then left the truck and went without it, but before proceeding very far all the lights went out, and the water rose up to my belt. I then met lathes, full and empty trucks, and timber of all descriptions, being carried along by the torrent, and these came against me, knocking me off my legs. I had hold of the air-pipes with my hands, and this saved me from going under the water. When I came down as far as No. 5 shoot I found I was on the wrong side of the drive and could not find it, but fortunately Mr Hodge was in the manhole, and he directed me by his voice where to come to. We then proceeded up the ladders until we got to the top of the shoot. From there, without lights, we had to crawl on hands and knees as best we could to the intermediate level, where we found Reeves and Mason with a light coming against us." (source)

Mining manager William Nicholas described initial rescue efforts: "I could not get down to the water for the foul air, which put out the lights. I went back to the intermediate level, and went towards No. 5 rise, which is about 800 feet from the shaft. This is a perpendicular rise. On My way there I met Fisher coming towards me from the rise. I proceeded further, towards the rise, but met with no other men. I returned to the shaft, and ascertained the depth of water there. There was then about 10 feet of water in the shaft..." "...I returned to the surface and sent the men for tanks with which we started to bale about 8 a.m. The tanks hold about 240 gallons each. The pumps were working when I first went to the mine. I gave orders to the engine driver to put on full speed at once." (source)

Robert Spencer described the moment they first discovered the survivors, several days after the mine flooded. False news was taken to the waiting crowd at the surface that all twenty seven trapped miners had survived: "I was down the mine all night cleaning the drive for pumping, and the air pipes. The drive is full of obstructions from beginning to end, but we managed to clean it. As we crawled along on all fours we cleaned it while the water was running over us. When within No. 11 shoot we called out to see if there were any men alive there. Our hearts jumped with joy as we several times heard answers. The answers were very faint; at first they were hardly distinguishable. At length we heard a call, which we pronounced to be "We are all right," and "We are all safe." The words were to that effect. The voice was supposed to be that of Baulcombe. I was the man to bring the news to the surface." (source)

The heartwrenching moment the waiting crowd learned of the deaths of twenty two trapped miners was emotionally described as follows: "A great shock has just been given the residents of Creswick, and one that will be felt all over the colony. The intelligence was brought to the surface at an early hour this morning that the imprisoned miners were in the mine alive and well. The excitement was extreme. The township of Creswick was decorate with bunting. The news spread like wildfire, and before long there were several thousand assembled on the ground. The first man raised to the surface was Manley, who appeared rather sick and faint, then came Bowen, Corbett, Maloney and last of all Cornelius Kirk. As each man was raised to the surface, the crowd nearest the shaft raised a cheer, which was caught up by the surrounding multitude, and repeated long and heartily; the name also of the man was called out and echoed aloud with glee, by thousands of glad eager voices. When Kirk was brought to the surface, the rumour was spread abroad that the whole of the men in the mine were alive and well, but before this had time to go well round, a profound sensation was caused by the announcement that the remaining 22 miners below were dead. Then followed a brief pause, as though the multitude were stunned by the awful news. The silence was broken by a groan of agony from the crowd. The scene that followed baffles description. The wives and relatives of the dead miners threw themselves on the ground, in a transport of grief, and shed tears of agony. They were not the only ones that did so for the shock caused even the strongest man to weep, and shake like a reed. There was not a dry eye in the crowd, and many fell on their knees in prayer for the bereaved ones. The scene presented as I am writing is heartrending, and those who witnessed this terrible and from appearances this morning, unexpected end, will remember the spectacle to their dying day. A few of the men who have been recovered are looking strong and well. They were found in the No. 11 rise, a place where no one expected to get them alive. It appears that after the rescuing party had explored No. 9 rise with no success, they proceeded to No. 10 rise and searched that with a similar result. Going further on they came across an embankment that had been formed through the water washing up the sand against some obstruction. The rescuers got over this and came across the five survivors in the No. 11 rise. I have not yet heard where the 22 dead bodies are, but these will probably be found to be dispersed about the drives." (source

Conditions the miners endured before their deaths were briefly described: "The dead miners had to stand in water in the No. 11 rise with their heads between the cap-pieces. Their limbs were much cramped." (source

Mr. Corbett, one of the five surviving trapped miners, describes conditions underground during an interview: The drive was very small and low, the timber being all broken. He says it was a terrible time, but believes all the men lived for some time, and were prepared for death. He thinks they were not drowned, but died for want of sufficient air. He remarked that he had heard that a statement was published in the press, in which he was made to say that the mine was properly worked. He had no recollection of making any such statement; he intended telling the truth at the enquiry and would reserve further statements until then. Upon the statement published in the Creswick Advertiser being read to him, he said he had no recollection of making any such remarks in reference to the mine. He did not consider that the mine was properly worked in many ways, and especially in the workings being allowed to get so much out of repair." (source)

During an adjourned inquest in late December, mining manager William Nicholas clinically described the rescue of the survivors and recovery of the dead: "About 5 a.m. on Thursday we succeeded in getting as far as No. 10 rise. I was on the surface about 5.30 a.m. when I heard the news that all were alive. This was brought to the surface by the pitman, Thomas Clarke. I immediately went down the shaft and along the main drive to No. 11 rise, where the men were. I could see five men laying dead in the bottom of the main drive, immediately under No. 11 rise. We then commenced to take out the men who were living. These were in the top of No. 11 rise..." "...These men were sent up to the surface. I then counted the dead bodies but could not say whether they were all there. Besides the five bodies found in the main drive, I saw two bodies suspended by the feet from the side of the drive. They were caught in the timber..." "...Two bodies were found on the eastern side, and the remainder on the western side of the rise, all close to it. They were all in the upper drive. I saw the bodies as they were brought up to the surface, and subsequently on the surface. I recognised the bodies of various men." (source)

INFORMATION SIGN AT THE SITE OF THE NEW AUSTRALASIAN NO. 2 GOLD MINE

Site of Australia's most tragic underground mining accident. Without warning on 12 December 1882, water began flooding the No 2 drive, trapping 29 miners deep below. As the water rose higher, the miners scratched messages to their families on billycans and sang the hymn 'In the sweet bye and bye'. 22 miners died in the tragedy, leaving behind 17 widows and 67 children.

Deep Lead mining began after the surface (alluvial) gold was exhausted. The Berry Deep Lead, which the mines here tapped, is part of an ancient system of rivers buried by lava from volcanoes. 

During nine years of operation, New Australasian yielded about 87,000 ounces of gold - worth about 38 million dollars at 1997 prices.

Closing in 1887, the land was then used by the Forests Branch as a tree nursery for the area. Remains of the hawthorn hedges can still be seen today.

AUSTRALASIAN NO 2 MINE GRAVES

An A5 booklet titled Australasian No 2 Mine Graves is available for $5.00 from the Creswick Museum. This booklet provides a self-guided tour around the Creswick Cemetery, showing the burial locations of those who were killed in the mining disaster and others who were associated with the mine. The booklet also includes a transcript of the funeral from the Creswick Advertiser, 15/12/1882.



DID YOU KNOW...

  • Evidence of the mid-late 1800's gold rush can be found throughout the Victorian goldfields in the form of abandoned mine shafts and tunnels, mullock heaps, buildings and ruins, circular puddling troughs, remains of cyanide vats, and quartz kilns.
 

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