M Mines Wash & Dry c.1910

Moonta Cornish Mining History

17th of December 1859

Copper discovered by James Boor at the Wallaroo Mines.

May 1861

Copper discovered by Paddy Ryan in the Moonta Mines.

It is often spoken by Narungga people that the green firelight of a Narungga campfire first alerted Hughes' to the presence of copper.


5,000 tons of ore worth 67,350 pounds was produced in the first year of operation. A dividend of 10 pounds per share was paid on the 3,200 shares. No further capital was required to finance the mine.

The mine was managed by Captain James Warmington and later his brother William.


The town of Moonta was established.


First Miner's Strike – lasted for around three months.


William Warmington was dismissed.

1864 – 1898

Captain H.R. Hancock was appointed chief captain.


The mine employed about 1200 men and boys.


More than 5000 people were dependent on the mine which was producing 20,000 tons of dressed ore, averaging about 20% copper.

Two additional Cornish engines had been erected along the line of the main lode. Prankerds winding engine and Richman's Engine, which was principally to power crushing and dressing machinery.


The Corporation of Moonta was proclaimed.


A fourth beam engine, Hancock's, was erected near Bowers Lode to power a crushing and concentrating plant. Captain Hancock was responsible for the development of ore treatment methods of Moonta, introducing the famous Hancock mechanical jig and Improved bundles, were erected at three treatment plants, Hancock's and Richman's, powered by beam engines, and Ryan's, powered a horizontal engine. Hancock also introduced wire rope and skips in place of chain and kibbles and later mechanical drills, powered by compressed air.


On the 10th of April another Miner's Strike took place at the Moonta Mines.


Moonta and Moonta Mines population was 12,000 Cornish Miners and their families.


Moonta was the first mining company in Australia to pay 1,000,000 Pounds in dividends.

The employment peak was nearly 1700 men and boys, however the price of copper was diminishing leading to widespread unemployment.

Some miners and their families left for greener pastures and set up farming throughout the Yorke Peninsula.


Low copper prices resulted in the Moonta Mining Company's first loss.

Little work carried out during this time.


Moonta Miner's Strike for better pay and conditions.


Moonta Mines and Wallaroo Mines amalgamated.

Ore worth 5.6m pounds had been raised from the Moonta Mines and was significant to the establishment of South Australia and the University of Adelaide.


Unproductive removal of ore at depth – Hancock's Engine House was dismantled.

Prankerd's winding engine was replaced by a modern horizontal steam winding engine at Taylors Shaft, where a new headframe and sorting plant was erected.

Wallaroo Mine was developed and modernised and surpassed Moonta as the larger ore producer.


The cementation (leaching) process was established for the extraction of copper from the large tailings (waste) heaps which had accumulated at the three concentration plants.


The miners of both Moonta and Wallaroo refused a drastic cut in their wages.

On the 3rd of November 1923 the Moonta Mining Company went into voluntary liquidation and the mine was closed.

Small scale mining and prospecting continued until late 1930s, some high-grade ore pillars were mined at shallow depths.

Leaching of the tailing's dumps continued until 1943.


The Commonwealth and State Governments subsidised mining at Moonta and a new headframe was erected at Smith Shaft.


A flotation mill was installed, and operations continued until 1938.

Although a financial loss the scheme employed up to 70 men during the depression years.

1909 – 1949

Exploratory drilling was carried out by the South Australian Government.


Many private companies explored this area, and some proved profitable.

1988 – 1992

Poona Mine was discovered and mined by open-cut.

1990 – 1994

Wheal Hughes just north of Moonta was worked by open-cut and underground methods.

This mine became a tourist attraction, operated by National Trust of South Australia in partnership with the District Council of the Copper Coast and was closed due to safety reasons.

Acknowledgement of information: Discovering Historic Moonta – written by G.J. Drew and Published by the District Council of the Copper Coast.