April 17, 2014
We flew from Hobart to Melbourne and then drove to Ballarat to check out the Sovereign Hill town and Stampers. It was raining most of the time we were at Ballarat, but that did not stop us from having a good time. There was a 10-stamper that ran on 90 pound steam on site. Only 5 of the 10 stamps were operating at the time. They were replacing the other 5 due to excessive wear. The mill was very similar to mills in the States.
I started my trip to the stamp mill by first going into the engine room where there were a couple of steam engines in operation, one that ran a very large Cornish pump and the other that ran the winch (winding winch) for the Headframe (poppet head). The hoist and steam engine are in this picture. Everything was in immaculate condition, very impressive and everything worked! I met the operator, Andrew Tink, who answered all of my questions while he manually lubricated the various bearings with his oil can. This had to be done quite frequently since the older engines did not have bearings with reservoirs to hold a quantity of oil.
Next I went to the boiler house where there were two large horizontal boilers. The fire boxes were very large, as you could tell by the size of the wood being fed into the fire box. The fireman called the “stringy bark”, which was a local timber and the log being fed into the fire box was about 8” thick and 3 feet long. I found out that this is a type of Eucalyptus. The picture below shows the fireman putting one of the logs into the fire box.
Next, I went into the mill house and met up again with Andrew who showed me around the mill. He had to set one of the stamps on a jack and I went and watched him perform the task. He used an innovative method to lift the tappet in place to set it on the jackstand. Normally you have to get the chainfall out and set it, and lift the stamp onto the jackstand and then remove the chainfall. Very interesting.
He ran the mill for me and started with opening the steam supply to the steam engine. This steam was generated in the boiler building and piped over to the mill house. The entire setup was quite impressive, a complete system with operable stamper. Below is a shot of the steam engine.
The following shot is the front of the stamper battery and the mercury sluice table and then the roughing sluice table with a carpet to collect the gold that did not stick on the mercury table. This arrangement is slightly different than in the States. In the States sluice tables were only copper plates coated with mercury with no additional table. The material that was caught on the second table was processed through the Berdan that was on the floor in front of the stamper battery. This was before the use of cyanide in Australia and New Zealand. The carpet table was doing the job that cyanide would do later on. I added pictures of the emblems on the battery. The mortar box was made in Salisbury, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia and the framework was made in Melbourne.
There was one 3-stamper that did not run that was located in the town. There were also many craft shops that did everything from making wagon wheels to making candles. The picture below shows a portable stamper battery that was manufactured in Melbourne.
We drove around Ballarat for awhile after talking to some people that knew where there were additional stamper batteries in the area. They mentioned that there was an active mine site that had a 10-stamper battery on the property that you could access. The picture below shows the rig.
There were some interesting points about the Stamper Battery located at this operating mine. The picture below shows a close-up of the mortar box that has a feeder slot the entire length of the back of the box. This was an earlier box that was meant to be hand fed. The new boxes had a slot that was about half the length of this box. It also has a distinctive bull wheel that was made from steel plate. I have not seen anything like this anywhere during my travels. It also has a collar that was used with the automatic feeders that happened later on. Confusing!