Miners Under the Southern Cross

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John "Henry" Whitford (1805 – 1889)

The well publicised mining boom in South Australia drew Henry, a Cornish miner, and his family to emigrate to Port Adelaide in 1848. South Australia relied heavily on the expertise of Cornish miners. Descendants of Cornish miners can be found in almost every corner of the globe. They have always been willing to take themselves off to foreign parts in search of tin, copper or gold. You’ll find them in North and South America, in South Africa and of course in Australia, particularly in Western and South Australia. You’ll find them in Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie, at Kadina, Moonta and Wallaroo.

Henry probably commenced work as a "Bal" (mine) boy, at seven years of age in Cornish mines near Newlyn East. Some bal boys only saw their home on Sundays, and the hours of labour were from 7 am to to 5 pm, six days a week. Bal maids also worked at the mines, but never underground.

The family probably made their way to Burra by bullock wagon, carrying the women and supplies, with the men walking. A script by John Collins sent to the A.B.C. in 1957, notes:

"The Burra copper mine provides an interesting sidelight on early conditions in the colony. It was discovered by a shepherd named Picket in 1845 and, in order to buy the fee simple of the mineral land, it was necessary to buy a special survey of 20,000 acres, paying the government for it in specie. The survey was taken out by Messrs L H Bagot and G P Aston for the Princess Royal Mining Company, and by Messrs Samuel Stocks Junior and William Allen for the South Australian Association. These two parties were known as the Nobs and Snobs.

The Nobs were the aristocracy of the colony and the Snobs were the Tradespeople. The antagonism between them is shown by the fact that the Nobs wouldn’t join the Snobs in a joint stock company. Although they united to buy the ground, neither party unaided could raise the hard cash. The land was divided by drawing a line through the centre from east to west. Lots were then drawn and the Snobs were lucky enough to get the part on which the Burra mine was. The Princess Royal property was sold for pastoral purposes".

Henry started work as a teamster transporting ore from Burra Mines in the Mid-North to Port Adelaide. "The Touring Guide of South Australia" notes that The Burra, as it was known, consisted of a series of small townships based around the nationalities of the miners who lived there. Kooringa and Redruth were Cornish, Aberdeen Scottish, Llywchwr Welsh, Hampton English. Although the mines were spent in little more than thirty years, the character of Burra remains intact today. The Burra Mine with the world’s only reconstructed Cornish engine house, and the miners’ dugouts, where as many as 2,000 miners and their families lived along the river bed, have been preserved.

Henry’s daughter, Maria married a miner, James Pearce at Kooringa in 1850. By 1864 Maria and James had moved to Kadina. Many of Henry’s family settled to farming the foothills of the Little Para in the Hundred of Munno Para. The Lady Alice gold mine, which created such a furore at one time disgorged over 20,000 worth of gold, but it is not known if Henry or his sons laboured there.

By 1870 Henry held 911 acres of farming land. Hard work must have kept him fit, because at the age of 74, the widowed Henry married 26 year old, Elizabeth (nee Black).

Cornish Miner's Cottage, Moonta

Family Historian, Ross Dodd outside a restored Cornish Miner’s Cottage, Moonta


In 1995, my husband, Keith and I, had the pleasure of visiting the copper triangle – Wallaroo, Moonta and Kadina with Ross Dodd. Ross’s father, George and Keith’s great-grandfather, Jabez were brothers.

Copper was discovered at Wallaroo in 1859; the mines near the present site of Kadina proved immensely rich. Wallaroo’s copper mines were already yielding when a shepherd discovered copper around a wombat burrow twenty kilometres away. The town of Moonta quickly grew around the site. Today Moonta is a monument to the mining age. Its streets look just like they did one hundred years ago. We visited a restored miner’s cottage and walked around the mining ruins. We walked the jetty at Moonta, where Ross described his childhood memories of the magnificent sight of great sailing vessels awaiting loading.

William "Jabez" Dodd (1833-1912) was employed as an engine driver for the Wallaroo and Moonta Mining Company, serving a total of 34 years. He worked at the Kurilla Mine for 30 of those years. In his early days, he was a teamster on the roads between Mt Barker and Adelaide, but in 1851 when gold was discovered in Victoria, Jabez travelled overland to Bendigo where he remained for six months. Returning to South Australia, he lived at Callington from 1864-1869 before moving to the "copper triangle" in 1869. His father-in-law, Richard Champion, a miner, moved there in 1871.

Jabez’s sons, George, Jabez, Foster, Arthur, Hedley and Alfred Dodd earned their living as miners in their young adulthood. His daughters, Mary "Elizabeth" and Lydia Gould are known to have married miners. Elizabeth’s husband, Thomas Trenwith left for Broken Hill in search of employment in 1892 with Hedley, as did Alfred and Foster that same year as the local mines were closed during strikes.

The family paid a terrible price for working underground. Three brothers were trapped in a cave-in in 1900. Hedley was killed, George (Ross’s father) escaped with a bruised ankle and Arthur, though escaping with a fright, died of bronchitis and pneumonia, aged 34. Foster died suddenly aged 28. George was an underground miner in his early working life but sought to improve his position through study. He gained certificates in mine surveying at night classes in the early 1900s. This expertise in underground surveying enabled George to gain promotion to the staff of the mining company. Because of this position, he was able to foresee the termination of Wallaroo and Moonta Mines. His substantial house in Kadina provided him with capital to seek other means of earning a living. The Kadina mines closed in 1923. Having taken up farming on the Yorke Peninsula, George escaped the dreadful lung disease, silicosis that affected so many underground workers.

The Dodd family were heavily involved in church and union matters. Jabez and his son, Jabez were lay preachers (Wesleyan Methodists) and the family held strong labor ideals. William "Hedley" Dodd was Treasurer of the Kadina Branch of the Amalgamated Miners’ Association and Treasurer of the South Australian Colonial District No. 4. Arthur Dodd was Secretary of the Kadina Branch of the United Labor Party for several years.

The Honourable Jabez Edward Dodd, MLC (1867-1928)

Jabez also sought work at Broken Hill. Compassionate for the plight of his fellow miners, he was involved in organising the strikes and was threatened with physical violence if he did not leave. Later he travelled in the Kalgoorlie goldmines and won a reputation as being responsible for organising the miners in this area. His all round ability, saw his election to the Secretary of the Miners’ Association on the W.A. goldfields; a Minister for five years during the Scaddan Government; and a member of the Legislative Council for 18 years. During his period on the Legislative Council, he drafted legislation designed to improve the working conditions of the miners.

From The Cyclopedia of Western Australia, J.S Battye, Vol I, Facsimile Edition, Hesperian Press, 1985; ISBN Volume 0 85905 073 4

A striking personality in the present Ministry is to be found in Mr. Dodd, one of the Honorary Ministers. Born at Callington, South Australia, in 1867 he is a worthy scion of the Central State.

Shortly after his birth his parents moved to Kadina, in the same State. Here the subject of the present memoir was educated, and on what sound lines his future career has already made fully manifest. In 1889, at the age of twenty-two, Mr Dodd left Kadina and proceeded to Broken Hill, where he spent seven strenuous years, during which period the famous strikes of 1890 and 1892 had taken place. Being enamoured of the possibilities opening up in the "Cinderella" State of Western Australia Mr Dodd, attracted by its wonderful development, like many other hardy spirits, left more settled districts to try his luck on the Western Australian goldfields, making his home at Coolgardie in 1896, three years later proceeding to Kalgoorlie.

During his residence in this State Mr Dodd has been closely identified with Labor and Labor ideals, and every movement for the amelioration of the condition of the workers has found in him an earnest advocate and an enthusiastic supporter. He is known far and wide as a mediator in trade disputes and many conflicts betwixt labour and capital have been stayed by the power of his personality. The decisions he has from time to time given as arbitrator in industrial conflicts have been loyally accepted by the opposing forces.

Early in his residence in Coolgardie Mr Dodd became identified with unionist proposals, assisting to found the Australian Workers’ Association and later the Amalgamated Miners’ Association, now the Western Australian Federated Miners Union, of which he was Secretary. In this position he has done much to relieve the many disabilities under which the miner works. Under the deep sense of responsibility that has been such a marked feature of his career Mr Dodd has worked so whole-heartedly in the cause of the miners that his efforts to alleviate the conditions of their labour will be remembered with gratitude wherever his name may be mentioned. The high appreciation his fellow-unionists have of his integrity and ability can be found in the fact that from its inception he has been the Treasurer of the Western Australian Federated Miners’ Union and until recently was its Secretary. His wide experience as a practical miner in Broken Hill, Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie has made him an authority on all questions in regard to that industry, while his tact and judgement have earned for him a place in the Legislature and Cabinet of the State of his adoption. With wisdom and with confidence he has guided the affairs of his fellow-unionists, and it is with confidence we can regard his advent on a wider sphere of action.

Like many of his contemporaries in the political world Mr Dodd made consistent essays in the world of journalistic literature, for despite his strenuous efforts on behalf of his Union he found time to become a regular contributor to the columns of ‘The Worker’. In 1910 he was returned for the Legislative Council in the interests of Labour for the South Province, being elected by a substantial majority. With such a short period of Legislative life to be elevated to a position in the Cabinet is a marked compliment to the purity and integrity of Mr Dodd’s motives and his ability to deal with the grave questions of policy that will meet him in his present sphere."


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