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The dashed hopes of the Aldershot smelter

This is a sneak peek into edition 26 of Traces!

By David Huggonson

The Queensland Smelting Company, near Maryborough, began with high hopes, plenty of investment and sound management. The venture was, however, short lived.

In July 1888 in London, the Queensland Smelting Company was formed to treat the refractory ore that was resistant to standard gold recovery methods available at Gympie, and the newly discovered goldfields west of Maryborough. The capital behind the company was 80,000 shares, at £1 per share.

Francis Gill, who was the managing director of the new company, was dispatched to Maryborough to locate a site for the smelting works. The Maryborough region was attractive because of its port and the rail link to Gympie. After examining several sites, Gill settled on 485 hectares on the banks of Saltwater Creek, north of Maryborough. Several bores were dug, and a large quantity of coking coal was found on the land. While waiting on the arrival of processing machinery from America, a branch railway line to the Maryborough/Burrum railway line was built, and 100,000 bricks were manufactured on site from local clay. To house the workforce and to help offset costs, a township named Aldershot was surveyed, and building allotments were sold.

A worldwide search for a metallurgist who was experienced in treating refractory ore uncovered E. A. Weinberg from overseas, who was willing to come to Queensland. Weinberg presented a paper at the 1895 Brisbane meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science on ‘Refractory gold ores of Queensland’. By 1895, the works produced 20,637 ounces of gold.

Because of the shortage of gold ore, the works changed direction to treating lead-silver ores from Bowen, Herberton, Irvinebank, Mount Albion and Chillagoe in north Queensland; however, the erection of small smelting works in the north – at Mount Albion, Muldiva, Calcifer and Munganna – meant that less ore was sent south to Aldershot. The final straw was the construction of the Chillagoe railway and an extensive smelting establishment at that centre. The owners were only able to keep the works operational by a financial arrangement with the owners of Ravenswood Mines, who supplied rich concentrates from their mines. The Aldershot company had to compete with the Cockle Creek smelter near Newcastle to obtain concentrate from Charters Towers.

To read the rest of the story, check out the latest edition of Traces.

Pictured: Map of the township of Aldershot, Queensland, circa 1893. Image courtesy of Queensland State Archives.

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