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LETTER from A.L. ELDER to R.A.A. MOREHEAD, JULY 1849 per Emma

This entire was from one of the Elder family (pioneers and benefactors of South Australia) to a business associate in Sydney carried per ‘Emma’, postmarked G.P.O./[crown]/ JY * 25/ 49/ SOUTH AUSTRALIA, and addressed to R.A.A. Morehead Esq, O’Connell Street, Sydney. There was a manuscript ‘6' which denotes that 6 pence was paid at Sydney for the double ship letter rate. (Figure 1).

The reverse showed a black SHIP LETTER/ [crown]/ AU * 10/ 1849/ SYDNEY of variant 1, Type SL 5 (J.S. White) in black, used earlier than previously recorded, now from 10. 8. 1849 to 19.7.1852, the crown being larger than in the earlier Type SL 5. The ship’s transit time Adelaide to Sydney was 16 days (Figure 2).

The letter consisted of three pages, and except for a few one-word blanks shown in parentheses, a full transcription is provided below, with certain words underlined (which will be discussed further below):

p. ‘Emma

Adelaide 24 July 1849

Respecting Bon Accord

R.A.A. Morehead Esq.,

Sydney,
       My dear Sir:

      I am just on the eve of starting to go to Port Lincoln to arrange various matters of business there but cannot let ‘Emma’ to leave without a few lines, especially as two matters [should] have answers with respect to the Bon Accord, which require notice.
      The 1st is that the township of Redruth is advertised for sale on the 29th August as per copy of ‘Gazette Extra’ enclosed and what is to be done? One hundred and twenty small allotments of land put up for sale alongside of the Bon Accord with (--- ) Aberdeen altogether. The Burra people as usual talk big and Ayres sic(Ayers) is coming to consult with us on the matter but what can we do? It would very possibly take £10 or £12,000 to buy up all this land.
      I hope to hear from you in reply to this before the day of the sale with your views on this important affair.
      The second matter that has arisen is another feeler thrown out by Secretary of the Burra people to purchase the Bon Accord. Ayres (Ayers) says that they would give a ship’s cargo of ore worth £8 (to) c. £9,000. We tell him that unless he talks of 1000 tons of their 30 p(er) cent ore & upwards we need not waste words. This feeler has claimed more of our notice on the following account viz the receiving of a letter from Captain Pascoe now in the Country, a few days before in which he says “I am given to understand that the Ores in the Burra Mine is turned towards the Bon Accord property, if so good can you not get a sight of it or others to see it for you?”
      It is not so easy getting a sight of the Burra now. Strict orders having been sent from town forbidding any one to be allowed to go underground excepting by virtue of written authority from the Secretary.

      I hope to see Pascoe soon and question him about his authority if any new discovery has been made affecting the Bon Accord. I think it must be in connection with Bicks shafts but the Burra people will no doubt do all in their power to keep the information from us.
      It has struck me that possibly the Burra folks have heard of Walters’ offer to take the Bon Accord on Royalty and that they now wish to prevent this by making another attempt at dealing with us for although our big opponents look with considerable contempt (at) our property still they have always the grading that Copper may be there & may perhaps develop itself someday to their terror & dismay.
      Having met with so many disappointments in our dealing with this mysterious property neither of us I daresay, will be disposed to place very much confidence on what I have just been stating. Nevertheless it may be of sufficient importance to induce us not to be rash in closing with Walters should you think well of his proposals. None of the Aberdeen allotments are yet leased and Redruth will likely put a full stop to this for a time.

I am My Dear Sir
Yours most truly,
A.L. Elder

The underlined words will now be discussed, but not in the order in which they appear in the letter:

To date, I have not found anything on 2 people mentioned, viz. “Bicks shafts” and “Walters’ offer”. The S.S. Emma has been recorded as sailing in and out of South Australia in 1849.

Alexander Lang Elder (1815-85), set sail from Kirkaldy, Scotland on July 16, 1839 as the sole passenger on the family schooner, the 89 ton Minerva with a cargo of rum, whiskey, brandy, tar, fish, biscuits, tinware, gunpowder, agricultural machinery, and seed. He reached South Australia on January 2, 1840, and by July he had founded the firm of A.L. Elder, general and commission agent, at Adelaide. By September, he had found his own premises in Hindley Street, where he continued until 1849, when he removed to larger premises in Grenfell Street. He was a scion of a line of merchants in Scotland and the family had decided that Alexander was to be the first of his brothers to ‘set up shop’ in the new Colony of South Australia. From August 1851 he was elected a member of the Legislative Council for West Adelaide, but resigned his seat in March 1853, and returned to England to become the London representative of Elder and Company. He died there on 5 September 1885.

Sir Henry Ayers (1821-1897), was born at Portsea, England, on 1 May 1821. On leaving school he entered a law office, but came to South Australia in 1840, and for some time worked as a law clerk. In 1845 he was appointed secretary of the Burra Burra mines, and within a year had command of over 1000 men. For nearly 50 years he was in control of this mine, first as secretary and afterwards as managing director. Ayers entered politics in 1857 and became Premier of South Australia on seven occasions. He was a figure of immense influence, prominent in the small group which dominated the financial and commercial interest of the colony. Henry Ayers was knighted in 1872 and a year later Ayers Rock in central Australia was named in his honour (Figure 3).

One of the companies formed in England to mine the silver and lead deposits at Glen Osmond, brought out Captain Pascoe and ten Cornish miners, with their families. When this company suspended operations these Cornish people dispersed throughout South Australia, some of them going as far afield as the Northern Flinders Ranges, where they worked in the copper, gold and silver mines. Very little remains of the old silver mines at Glen Osmond, apart from some of the old shafts, adits and the chimney, the oldest mine building in Australia

It was the two significant discoveries of copper ore in 1845 by shepherd William Streair and later Thomas Pickett near Burra Creek which quickly turned this sheep grazing area into such a significant copper mining area. Collectively known as `The Burra' the area consisted of several townships including the South Australian Mining Association company town Kooringa, Redruth and Aberdeen. The settlement quickly grew to an established community of some 5,000 in 1851 when Adelaide's population stood at 18,000. The mine was for fifteen years the largest copper mine in Australia and one of the largest in the world. At its peak the mine directly employed more than 1,000 people and the smelting works a further 300. The shareholders earned £800,000 in dividends from their investment. They paid Pickett £10 as his reward for the discovery. The town made a valuable contribution to the development of South Australia through the value of its copper and is generally recognised as Australia’s first mining and industrial town. By 1850 Burra, with a population of around 5,000, was the largest inland settlement in Australia. Until the mid-1860s, Burra remained the largest town in South Australia apart from Adelaide (Figure 4).

Burra mine was world famous for the richness of its copper ores and for the first ten years of its life was the largest mine in Australia. Wealth from the mine made fortunes for many of its original shareholders and its discovery marked the beginning of a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity for South Australia. The lode, though initially rich in ore lasted only some 32 years. In its lifetime the mine produced ore worth 5 million pounds. The interested parties resolved into two groups: the "Nobs" and the "Snobs". The Nobs were capitalists and included the owners of the Kapunda mine. The Snobs were shopkeepers and merchants from Rundle and Hindley Streets in Adelaide.

The Bon Accord Mine commenced operations at Burra in 1846 and ceased in 1863. There were many years of inactivity during this period as no payable copper deposits were found.

Its history includes 1846 mining at Bon Accord started.; 1855 pumphouse completed; 1859 mine captain’s cottage built; 1863 mining ended; and, 1879 pumphouse used for water supply of Burra. If Elder (as one of the “Snobs”of Hindley Street) ever bought into the Bon Accord Mining Company adjoining the Burra Burra Mine, he probably lost his money in the ill-fated venture.

Robert Archibald Alison Morehead (born in Edinburgh, 1814?-1885) the receiver of the letter was the last person to be identified. Robert Morehead, the third son of the Rev. Dr Robert Morehead, Episcopal Dean of Edinburgh, was appointed in 1840 as the Australian manager in Sydney of The Scottish Australian Investment Co. Ltd. of Aberdeen. The conditions of his appointment were that he had to take 1000 shares in the Company, and give surety for £5,000. He was cautious yet capable of quick decisive actions, suitable attributes for a businessman arriving in Australia in the depression of the early 1840s. He acquired many valuable properties in Sydney, Melbourne, Maitland, and Wollongong. In 1846, four months after the opening of the Burra Burra Mine, a section of 347 acres adjoining Section 1 of the South Australian
Mining Association had been purchased by him at Government auction for £5,550.

The property was acquired by two Sydney men, Robert A. A. Morehead and Matthew Young, acting on behalf of the Scottish speculators. The speculators were a group of Aberdeen capitalists which, said the Register, 'accounts for the adoption of "Bon Accord" as the name of the mine, that being the motto of the "gude" town.' (From, Meredith Satchell, for the Burra History Group). In addition he acquired coal-mining property at Newcastle (1858) and large-scale pastoral properties in Bowen Downs, Queensland (1863). When he retired in 1884 he had built up a great empire of land and mineral holdings, so that the Company’s capital had increased from £30,000 in 1840 to over £600,000 in 1870.

Morehead was keenly interested in schools and he was more cultured than many businessmen of the day: he served on the Council of Education in the 1860's and was a trustee of the Public Library. He died in Sydney on 9 January 1885 at the age of 71. In 1841 he had married Helen Buchanan Dunlop in Scotland, and they had two daughters and a son, Boyd Dunlop Morehead, who became premier of Queensland in 1888-90.

This letter introduced us to two remarkable business men, and this paper provides a glimpse into their dealings in the early Australian Colonies.

Addendum:  Two more entires relevant to this paper came available, the first having been written in "Aberdeen May 21st 1850  (Scotland) but posted in South Australia, to R.A.A. Morehead in Sydney.   The front has a faint strike of the rare double circle POST OFFICE/ [crown]/ PORT ADELAIDE hand stamp (top R.) and a strike of the [crown]/ PAID cds (with the date slugs removed) in red and struck as usual over the edge of the cover (lower L.), with a manuscript 'Duplicate No 172' as well as ratings of a red '6' & black '3'  (Figure 5).

The reverse has a single arrival postmark of SHIP LETTER/ [crown]/ OC 14/ 1850.  The vendor states that the contents relate to A.L. Elder's attempts to restrain Captain Dalley from renewing operations at the Bon Accord mine in S.A. (Figure 6).

The second entire is addressed to Morehead in Sydney and it has the 6d slate-blue South Australian stamp cancelled with the blind circle obliterator with a PAID/ FE 10/ 1858/ 4 / ADELAIDE S.A (the '4' misplaced on its side), plus a manuscript 'pr "White Swan".   There is an additional manuscript which runs from the front to the reverse of the entire which apparently says that the letter was acknowledged on 19 July/58 (Figure 7).

The reverse has an arrival postmark SHIP LETTER/ B/ FE 19/ 1858/ SYDNEY.  The similarity of the handwriting attests to the fact that this is yet another letter from A.L. Elder to R.A.A. Morehead (Figure 8).

 


 
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