by Chris Theyer

Scattered throughout the annuls of historical rhetoric are stories of great golden wealth but equally there are stories of great folly, and in some cases stupidity, in chasing the golden wealth that lay beneath the soils in Australia.

The Duke of Cornwall Mine was a mine that opened with great fanfare and hope and it eventually closed in great despair and substantial debt. Ironically, mines around the Duke of Cornwall were in the main successful.

Freyer's Creek just south of Castlemaine was rushed late in 1851. The creek adjacent to the Lodden field had about 8,000 diggers in the initial rush and this area remained a favourite spot throughout the golden era through the 1850's. The lawlessness that was evident in most of these rushes was no stranger to Freyer's Creek, and particularly brutal crimes were committed there. By 1853 the area was becoming more civilized.

It was at Freyer's Creek in 1855 that a large nugget, "Heron's Nugget" weighing 1,680 ounces was found. This event rekindled interest in the field and a good stream of diggers continued to work this area throughout the 1850's. By the end of the decade the surface gold was beginning to peter out and it was obvious that more sophisticated methods of gold recovery were required. The capital required needed larger companies to raise finance and many organizations looked to England for this finance.

Richard Luke Middleton Kitto was a Cornish immigrant who was an engineer and surveyor from Redruth, Cornwall. He arrived about 1856, and engaged in mining activity. He was appointed the Mining Registrar at Fryer's Creek in 1860. Kitto obtained the lease of the "Duke of Cornwall Quartz Mining Company". It was his intention to raise capital to form a company to recover the gold believed to be at depth.

In 1867 he took leave and went to England to raise the capital required. As a result of his efforts the "Australian United Gold Mining Company" was formed and a prospectus issued in 1868. Kitto returned to Australia as the Manager and Superintendent of the company and proceeded to purchase for the company the Duke of Cornwall Mine and the Central Mine at Malmsbury. Kitto estimated a return of 200% profit on invested capital. His credentials were without question, and it is clear that his belief in the project was genuine.

When he arrived back in Australia mining companies in the area were booming. What was different about the way he went about constructing the infrastructure at the mine site was that it was an almost complete replica of a Cornish mine site. The engine house was large and well forward in construction and the two boilers were progressing well. Offices and storerooms were also under construction.

His first report to the directors in London reported that he had cut into the Cattle's lode and had a considerable amount of quartz gold on his desk as he wrote the February monthly report. Initially the gold returns were satisfactory and during the first year gold recovered was valued at 9,000 pounds. The company had its share of breakdowns and this caused concern to the directors.

At the start of 1870 the reality that the mine was not going to be the bonanza that was hope was evident. Areas of the lease were let out to tribute. A system where miners worked for a percentage of the golden take. Kitto began to report to directors that the results the mines were achieving poor results. Because mine all around the Duke of Cornwall were giving good returns, Kitto was still expecting this mine to produce. His optimistic outlook was conveyed to the directors in London.

The directors agreed to his request and provided a further cash input of 15,000 pounds. Kitto continued to report on the neighbouring mines giving good returns, to keep both his and the directors optimistic outlook focused. Unfortunately the Duke of Cornwall was going from bad to worse. Debts were accruing and the 15,000 pounds input was exhausted.

At an extraordinary meeting in London it was reported that the total debt had blown out to 99,000 pounds. Only 3,000 pounds was available for distribution. In due course the Duke of Cornwall mine was forced to close. In September 1871 the Duke of Cornwall was sold for some 14,000 pounds. The new company the "Duke of Cornwall Mining Company", began operating shortly after, but with the same result of before. A general lack of gold from the mine was obvious and in July 1873 the owners were forced to sell the mine again. This time the local Rowe Brothers bought the mine for the bargain price of 1,850 pounds. 100,000 pounds had been expended for little return.

The Rowe Brothers operated the Duke of Cornwall mine mainly as a facility to extract ore from their adjoining leases quite successfully. However by 1900 all the Rowe Brothers properties were up for sale, including the Duke of Cornwall mine. Several owners are recorded from that time. Today, Freyersfield is a small, sleepy community tucked away in a slumbering valley. The buildings that are left reflect a more modern era, but the cemetery reveals in intimate detail the hardships that were an everyday occurrence in the era. Today the Duke of Cornwall Mine is registered with the National Trust and is a popular tourist attraction.