The Jewellery Boxes
The Dazzling Madame Berry Mines
As a gold producer and dividend payer, the Madame Berry Gold Mining Company’s Madame Berry No. 1 is one of the most celebrated mines in the history of Victoria. At its peak in 1887 the company employed over 250 men, was leading technological advances in mining and would have been one of the largest industrial sites in Australia.
TOTAL GOLD PRODUCED
TOTAL GOLD VALUE
AT 2020 GOLD PRICE
YEARS OF PRODUCTION
1880 TO 1895
Madame Berry No. 1 Mine
By far the richest and most profitable mine on the field, Madame Berry No. 1 is the most famous mine on the deep leads system.
Contractors commenced sinking the No. 1 shaft on 8th September 1879 and when they bottomed at 138m on 9th September 1880, they discovered that the shaft was right on the edge of the Berry Lead. (It was preferred to sink a shaft, through the ordovician bedrock to one side of the lead to avoid the quicksand-like drift and water that was present above the alluvial gutters).
On the first clean up of the shaft, gold nuggets the size of wheat grains could be seen covering the bottom, and with excitement a bucket of wash gravel was hauled to the surface.
Astoundingly, the 1’x1’ bucket contained 700g of gold (~$60,000 in 2021), and so the glorious career of Madame Berry No. 1 began.
Above: Etching by FW Niven. Note Madame Berry No.2 poppet head and chimney in the background
“There was one drive in Madame Berry No.1 which they used to call the ‘Jeweller’s Box’ and when the shares were lagging a bit they’d take a few loads out to lift production and steady the shares".
The Caves of Aladdin
By 1887 Madame Berry No. 1 was in full production and had a 15km underground network of drives to access the wash in the gutters and 2.4km of drives to access the gold in the quartz reef - all within it’s 2.5km2 lease.
By 1890 the company had closed No. 1 shaft as most of the accessible gold had been extracted and work now focused on No. 2.
The Madame Berry represented the most advanced technology of its day and the infrastructure at the mine was said to be more extensive than most city factories.
Above: Madame Berry No.1 Mine ~1887.
Photo: Geological Survey of Victoria, Government of Victoria
Solid Gold Investment
Registered in 1878, the Madame Berry Gold Mining Company had 20 original shareholders who accounted for 18,000 shares at ten shillings per share.
In 1895 when the company was wound up the three Madame Berry Mines had produced 11 tonnes of gold and had a total expenditure of ~£1.5million:
• £980,000 was paid in dividends and royalties
• £450,000 was paid in wages.
Figures from Creswick Advertiser, 1896
Above: Proud owners, managers, investors and miners in front of a deep lead mine. Photo: Creswick Museum
“The Madame Berry has continued to produce her magnificent yields with unerring regularity, and while the fortunate shareholders have reaped substantial dividends, the district generally has been greatly benefited”.
The Ballarat Star, December 1888
Madame Berry No. 2
In 1883 work was started on the No. 2 shaft, but at 378 feet the contractors sinking the shaft were confronted by a significant inflow of drift.
Conventional methods to overcome the problem were proving futile so it was decided to engineer an innovative method where iron cylinders, one inside the other like a telescope, were hydraulically forced through the drift – a bold display of the ingenuity and skill that was required to overcome the unique problems this goldfield presented.
By 1895 No. 2 shaft was finally closed for, like No. 1, uncontrolled bursts of drift and water in the prospecting drives were once again putting miners’ lives at incredible risk.
Above: Inset map of Madame Berry mining lease ~ 1883. Note the traverse of bores to the north of Birch's Bald Hill and the shaft of the Lord Harry mine. The 'reef wash' indicated on the bottom right is connected to Lone Hand No.2 mine.
“It is told that the Calaby family put their sons through university in the 1930s by working through what remained of the old gravel wash dump of the Madame Berry Mine”
Horse Drawn Tramway
So rich was the gold in the quartz gravel at No. 1 wash dump that in 1888 a horse drawn tramway was laid down to transport the tailings from No. 1 to the crushing battery at No. 2. Here the 15-head stamping battery pulverised the quartz rocks into a fine sand to release and recover the gold.
Above: ‘Captain Watson’s shift, Madame Berry G.M Co.’.
Photo: Sovereign Hill, Ballarat
The rich legacy of Madame Berry continued to influence investment and that history would repeat itself in the development of mines to the north.
The Berry Lead is named after Sir Graham Berry, Victorian Premier, 1877, and the Madame Berry companies are named after his wife, Rebecca.
Sir Graham Berry was known as ‘one of the most radical and colourful figures in the politics of colonial Victoria’ and made determined efforts to break the power of the Victorian Legislative Council which was the stronghold of the land-owning ‘Squatter’ class.
We must remember that at the start of the Victorian goldrush, the 'Squatters', who had parliamentary representation and paid a small annual sum to the government to access and farm the land, were the 'Diggers' opposition.
The Diggers, who had no representation in parliament and who had to pay a Miners' Licence to access the land regardless of the gold they won, began rebelling against the government at Forest Creek, Chewton in 1851 which lead to the Eureka Revolt in Ballarat three years later.