Prince Alfred Copper Project

Prince Alfred Copper Project

The Prince Alfred Copper Mine is located approximately 100km north east of the town of Port Augusta in South Australia and thought to be a strata-bound sediment hosted copper orebody.

The mineralisation is located within the Yednalue Anticline and is situated in the lower part of the Tapley Hill Formation. The original mine operated during the late 19th and early 20th century, recovering approximately 40,000 tonnes of ore at a ~5% copper to a depth of 170 feet (~51m). No production records are known to have survived from its period of operation.

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History

The Prince Alfred Mine was discovered in 1866 and is located 100km north-east of Port Augusta in South Australia. Copper ore with a sprinkling of gold was discovered in a fairly wild and remote area of the Flinders Ranges, and the following year the Prince Alfred Gold Mining Company Ltd was formed in Adelaide. The mine and the company were named after Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the first member of the royal family to visit the Australian colonies.


Mining seems to have occurred in three separate episodes between 1869 and 1909, with a gap from 1874 to 1889. Most of the production is likely to have occurred in the 1870s, and the masonry engine and crusher houses were built during that first period of mining. It appears that three separate companies operated the Prince Alfred Mine in those episodes, at least one of them based in Melbourne. It is not unusual for mines in remote areas with high costs to have sporadic periods of production, separated by long silences. It indicates that the mine was only viable at times of high copper prices, and always extremely sensitive to metal price fluctuations. 

In 1868 the first company (Prince Alfred Gold Mining Company Ltd) was re-formed as the Prince Alfred Copper Mining and Smelting Company. By early 1869, ore was being extracted from an opencut. Three shafts were put down on the site by July 1869. At first, the ore was taken by dray to Port Augusta, and shipped to the English and Australian Copper Company's smelter at Port Adelaide. By the end of the year, £3,000 worth of copper metal had been produced.

By 1870, the Prince Alfred Mine was concentrating ore with three small jigs, two of them obtained from Burra, where operations were winding down. At the end of the year, the directors decided the time had come to equip the Prince Alfred Mine with more efficient machinery and a smelter. This was a period of development, with the shafts being sunk to 270 feet (82 metres), 150 feet (45 metres) and 100 feet (30 metres), and the value of copper produced in 1870 trebled to £9,000. In 1871 a reverberatory furnace, fuelled by firewood, was built to smelt copper on site.  It had its first firing in June 1871, by which time the engine houses were also under construction. 

Construction of the second furnace began in August 1871, and the engine and crusher were at work by 22 November 1871. Evidence on site shows that the machinery was powered by a horizontal steam engine, and crushing and concentrating were done by Cornish rolls and a jig. There is no remaining evidence of how the Prince Alfred Mine was pumped. The following month the second smelter was firing, and work had started on a third. The second smelter was to be a calciner or roaster to drive off sulphur before smelting proper. The third smelter was a backup, to take over when one or both of the others were down for maintenance. By March 1872 the engine was also pumping water from the nearest mineshaft, called the Engine Shaft. The third furnace was fired in April 1872, and the Prince Alfred Mine's infrastructure was completed in almost exactly twelve months from commencement.

The Prince Alfred Copper Mining and Smelting Company was £5,000 in debt by 1872and the bank wanted immediate repayment. The directors wanted to call up all unpaid capital of £4,000 from shareholders and borrow £2,000 with a mortgage on the mine. The only alternative was to wind up the company.  The Prince Alfred Mine closed in 1874 and the Prince Alfred Copper Mining and Smelting Company was wound up by July 1874.

The copper price was not the reason for closure, as it was buoyant in 1874, although it would crash three years later. No-one made any suggestion of fraud. There are hints that as the mine went deeper, the copper grade was falling, and sulphide ore, more difficult to treat, was beginning to dominate the orebody. 

In 1889 a syndicate began to work on the Prince Alfred Min, pumping out one of the shafts, employing fourteen men, and sending eighteen tons of ore to Port Augusta. In April 1890 the New Prince Alfred Copper Mining Company was formed to take over and work the Prince Alfred Mine. They pumped out the Prince Alfred Mine and worked it on a small scale, installing jigs to concentrate the ore. The concentrate was sent away to Wallaroo for smelting. 

The following year another company called the Prince Alfred Copper Mining Company No Liability was formed in Melbourne, equipping the Prince Alfred Mine with its third lot of machinery and new or rebuilt smelters. In 1900 (a bad drought year) a dam was built to supply the mill with water. Previously, the mill's water supply had come from the mine shafts. The Prince Alfred Mine worked on a small scale through the early years of the twentieth century, producing about 12,000 tonnes of ore. However, another worldwide fall in the copper price closed it in 1907, and the Prince Alfred Copper Mining Company No Liability was wound up in 1909. 

In the 1950s, the Mines Department reviewed South Australia's copper resources. They investigated the Prince Alfred lode by diamond drilling, but no copper of commercial interest was found. 

In 1967, a group of former Broken Hill miners took over the Prince Alfred Mine while the copper price was high and set up a new plant. Their plan was not to re-open the Prince Alfred Mine, but to extract copper from old mine tailings by leaching. They first came to the notice of Carrieton District Council in February 1967, and the following year Council rebuilt the road into the Prince Alfred Mine. They are said to have formed a company called Minerals, Metals Reclamation and Mining Pty Ltd, but the Australian Securities Investment Commission database has no record of a company of that name. A journalist visited the site in 1971 and described a self-sufficient small community built out of recycled bits, with prefabricated former Housing Trust houses powered by a second-hand diesel generator. This tailings reprocessing operation continued until sometime in the 1970s, but it is not known when it closed or how much copper it produced. Mines Department notes record about 600 tons of copper, which was worth $1,600 per ton at the time.
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