The Discovery of Mount Morgan

Early Days of Mount Morgan 1883

In the year 1853, the Leith Hay family moved from the South to settle on a cattle property near Rannes. In 1855 the Archer brothers settled at Gracemere near Rockhampton. In 1853 the Archer brothers had travelled northward through Rannes, up the Dee Valley, coming out on the edge of the Razorback ranges, not very far from where the Stopford Highway drops over into Poison Creek. They then descended onto the Fitzroy flats. They were probably the first white men to see Ironstone Mountain (now known as Mount Morgan), although to them it would have appeared to be nothing more than an insignificant hill amongst the various peaks and ridges at the northern end of the Dee Valley.

Ironstone Mountain (or Mount Morgan) was a subsidiary spur of the main coastal range, having a bearing of W.N.W. and E.S.E., and had an altitude of 1276 feet (389m) above sea level.

Shortly afterwards Hugh Robinson selected a cattle property (Calliungal Cattle Station) which stretched from Rannes northwards to the Razorback Ranges, taking in most of the Dee Valley through which the Dee River flows and in which, at the northern end of the valley, lies Mount Morgan.

As far back as 1865 prospectors were fossicking in the gullies in the vicinity of Ironstone Mountain, and alluvial gold was found in the district long before the mountain itself was found to be gold-bearing. The reason for this was, of course, that fossickers were only interested in alluvial gold from the gullies, and perhaps tracing its source to reefs in the surrounding hills; this alluvial gold did not come from the ironstone outcrop of Ironstone Mountain.

Around this period William Mackinlay, a stockman on Calliungal Station, was sent to set up an outstation on the Northern end of the Calliungal run. He built a hut for himself and his family on Box Flat, which is only a short distance from Ironstone Mountain, and was living there when John Gordon, a Scottish migrant, came to the district. Box Flat was later named Maranu by the Railway Department. Horses carting a load up the Razorback Road Carrying a load up the Razorback.

Mackinlay was interested in prospecting, so it was only natural that he prospected in his spare time. In about 1870 he discovered that the ironstone outcrop of Ironstone Mountain was gold bearing. However, we are told that he failed to interest anyone in the specimens of rock (the source of which he kept secret) that he had taken from the mountain. One of his daughters, a Mrs. Healy who lived at Talban on the outskirts of Mount Morgan until 1940, would tell how she, her father and other members of the family would carry bags of stone from the mountain to the creek below to dolly and wash for the gold content.

In 1870 John Gordon applied to select and purchase 640 acres of land on the Northern end of the Calliungal run (under the Crown Land Act of 1868 it was possible for land-seekers to select blocks of land on designated portions of existing runs. After some difficulties over boundaries, he secured the block for 320 pounds, and his western boundary ran right across the top of Ironstone Mountain. He named his block Glen Gordon. Not being a mining man, he would have been ignorant of the significance of the ironstone outcrop.
In those days the owner of the land, to all intents and purposes, owned all the mineral on the land, so Mackinlay and his family decided to keep his discovery a secret, especially from John Gordon. Although Mackinlay could have selected worthwhile land outside the boundary fence, he did not do so.

One of Mackinlay's daughters became friendly with Alexander (Sandy) Gordon, one of John Gordon's sons, and she divulged the secret to him. Mackinlay was so angry that he banished her from their home and thereafter had nothing to do with her. She eventually married Sandy, who died in 1885.

The drought of 1878 and possibly the ill-health of Mrs Gordon forced the family (with the exception of a son, Donald) to leave Glen Gordon and go to live in Rockhampton. As it was necessary to live on a property for a specified time to obtain the freehold title to the land, John Gordon transferred his property to his son Donald who continued to live there, receiving the title in 1879.

Several miles to the north of Glen Gordon, on the plains below the range, David Jones owned a property at Table Mountain which he acquired in 1862. Towards the end of the 1870's one of David Jones sons, John Jones, was working a five-head stamp battery between Table Mountain and Glen Gordon. In 1881 Donald Gordon showed John Jones a specimen of ironstone flecked with minute yellowish metallic particles which he found in the ranges near his home, which was a hut built near the junction of Dairy Creek and the Dee River, and very close to Ironstone Mountain. Jones said it was gold, but a mining man in Rockhampton had told Donald that it was mundic (iron pyrites or foolsgold). Jones was unconvinced and arranged to go to Glen Gordon to obtain a dray load of the stone for testing. In due course he arrived at Glen Gordon only to find Donald missing. Not knowing where to look for the stone, he returned home with an empty dray. What actually happened was that Donald had been suddenly called to Rockhampton because his mother was dangerously ill, and taking the shortest route, he missed seeing Jones. While in Rockhampton, Donald accepted a job in the North and did not return to Glen Gordon.

In 1881 Sandy Gordon was working in the Raglan district for a business and mining man named William Burns. Sandy had wanted to take Burns to Ironstone Mountain and while Burns agreed to go at a later date, for various reasons the visit never eventuated. Later, having been paid off by Burns, he obtained a job at the Galawa mine at Cawarral, owned jointly by Frederick Morgan (a prominent business and mining man in Rockhampton and three times its Mayor) and Thomas Skarratt Hall (a Rockhampton banker). The mine and treatment plant (a stamp battery) was operated by Fred Morgan's two brothers, Tom and Edwin (Ned). Sandy was eventually paid off because of his insobriety.

Sandy's wife pleaded with the Morgans to re-employ him, saying that if they took him back, Sandy would show them where her father found _______; and here some confusion exists, for according to the Early History of Rockhampton by J.T.S. Bird, Mrs Gordon said, copper. Tom Morgan in "The Tales of Early Rockhampton", by G.S. Pattison, also said "copper". Edwin (Ned) Morgan, in The Mount Morgan Gold Mine, Concise History of the Mine and District, by Frank W. Sykes (1893), said it was a silver lode. The Morgans accepted her offer, re-employed Sandy, and in 1882 Tom and Ned Morgan made a prospecting trip to the Dee Valley.

Ned Morgan claims that Sandy agreed to show them a silver lode in the vicinity of Ninemile Creek and that while Sandy was to receive a share if the silver lode was located, he would not partake in any other discoveries they might make. Ned claims that although they failed to find the silver lode, he, by mere chance, discovered that Ironstone Mountain was auriferous (gold bearing). The Morgans, in due course, pegged out claims on the mountain outside Gordon's boundary fence and later were granted leases. They renamed the mountain "Mount Morgan" after themselves.

As Ironstone Mountain was on the western boundary of the 640 acre block (which is only a small block) owned by the Gordons, and since Donald's hut was built at the junction of Dairy Creek and the Dee River, only a very short distance from the mountain, and as Sandy's wife had told Sandy that the mountain was gold bearing and because Sandy had wanted to take William Burns to the mountain, it would be hard to believe that Ned Morgan, in the company of Sandy, should come upon the mountain by "mere chance".

Ned Morgan's account of how he discovered Mount Morgan, written ten years later, is not very convincing to those who know the district (see Ned Morgan's narrative of "How I discovered Mount Morgan" in "The Mount Morgan Mine, Concise History of Mine and District" by Frank W. Sykes, 1893). In Ned's narrative, he says that because all their gear was wet due to torrential rains which fell on Saturday night while prospecting at the Ninemile, they decided to return home the following morning. By noon the following day, after having to ford a number of flooded creeks, they arrived, directed by Sandy, at a hut near the junction of Dairy Creek and the Dee River and later decided to stop the night. In the afternoon, which was bitterly cold and raining, Ned suggested they do a bit of fossicking to put in the afternoon. Tom declined, so he (Ned) and Sandy set out. Ned claims that they travelled two miles north of the hut fossicking the gullies, then crossed over the range in westerly direction and travelled some distance down a gully. He then said that they climbed a mountain to endeavour to discover the position of the hut, when he picked up some black stone from the top of the mountain (without Sandy knowing). Later, at the hut, he crushed the stone (without Sandy knowing) and found it to be rich in gold. Later they pegged out claims on the mountain just outside Gordon's boundary fence.

As B.G. Patterson, in his lecture entitled, "The Story of the Discovery of Mount Morgan", delivered to the Historical Society of Queensland on 27th May 1948, said, "can we be blamed for being incredulous?". If they had travelled in the direction claimed, they would have been following a gully running into a creek which flowed towards Stanwell and would have been some distance from Ironstone Mountain. And why was Ned Morgan so keen on going prospecting on a bitterly cold and rainy Sunday afternoon just to put in time. There is no doubt that Sandy, with his knowledge of the mountain, took Ned to Ironstone Mountain. The Gordons (and others) later claimed that Sandy was cheated out of his rightful share of the mine.

While full credit goes to the Morgans for developing the mine, they do not deserve the credit of being the persons who actually discovered it. The man who discovered it was William Mackinlay. One can only surmise why William Mackinlay did not take steps to secure a valid claim or title to the mountain, knowing it was rich in gold. In those days a title to a mining tenement was not so easily obtained; for a gold-mining lease could only be taken up on a proclaimed goldfield, and Ironstone Mountain was not on such a field until 1883 when the Crocodile goldfield was extended to take in Ironstone Mountain. He could have pegged out a number of small claims, but this required some knowledge of mining regulations and maybe the services of a surveyor. He could have taken up a selection, as did John Gordon, but he probably did not have the necessary finance and he would have had to live on the property for a specified time to obtain the title. He was a stockman, not a mining or business man, and like many others, probably just hoped to sell his knowledge to anyone who could afford to pay for it.

One may also wonder why specimen of rock taken from the mountain-top created little or no interest at first amongst the mining men of the district. We are told that nobody was interested in specimens that Mackinlay had taken to Rockhampton and that Donald Gordon was told in Rockhampton that the fine yellow material in the rock was mundic (iron pyrites, sometimes called "fools" or "newchums" gold). The reason for this, no doubt, was due to physical properties of the gold in the rock. The gold in the ironstone outcrop was very fine and had a tarnished yellow colour which was probably due to a stain of iron oxide. In those days men did not have easy access to an Assay Office, but depended on their ability to recognise gold and were not familiar with fine gold in ironstone rocks. They also did not like to make fools of themselves by mistaking pyrite (mundic, fools or newchum gold) for gold.

In 1882 the three Morgan brothers (Fred, Tom, and Edwin "Ned"), together with three other Rockhampton businessmen, William Knox D'Arcy (solicitor), Thomas Skarratt Hall (bank manager), and William Pattison (grazier), formed a "syndicate" to mine and treat the orebody. They also purchased Glen Gordon from Donald Gordon, who had returned to the district. The Morgans said that all they wanted to purchase from Donald was 10 acres of the freehold in order to have right of way through Glen Gordon, but that Gordon begged them to purchase the lot. They finally bought Glen Gordon for one pound per acre. This syndicate lasted until 1886, when the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company Limited (now referred to as "The Old Company") was formed.
In 1927, due to the low price of copper, rising costs, industrial trouble and fire in the heavily timbered underground workings, with subsequent flooding of the mine to control the fire, the Company went into voluntary liquidation.

In 1929, "Mount Morgan Limited" was formed and continued until 1968, when Peko Wallsend Limited made a takeover, and Mount Morgan Limited became a subsidiary of Peko Wallsend Limited. Mining and treatment of Mount Morgan ore continued until the closure of the mine in July 1981.

Mined for 99 years, Mount Morgan yielded a total of 225,000 kg of gold, 50,000 kg of silver and 360,000 tonnes of copper; Ironstone Mountain became a very large hole -- 1066 feet (325 metres) deep from the original mountain top.

The Flash Smelter continued to operate at full capacity until 1984, treating copper concentrates from Peko-Wallsend's "Warrego Mine" near Tennant Creek (N.T.) but the concentrates became no longer available and the smelter ceased operations at the end of June, 1984.

A Carbon-in-Pulp Cyanide plant commenced operations in September 1982 to recover gold and silver from accumulated mill tailings, which still contained a gram of gold per tonne, ceased production on 9 November, 1990. This plant produced a further 13979.293 kg of Gold and 4535.167 kg of Silver.