More about White Cliffs Opal Field in 1894

2 January 2020 by Johno

Categories: Opal Fields | Opal Fields History | Australian Opal

This is the second article about White Cliffs Opal Field taken from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in April 1894. It was written by " The Tourist" and details what they observed on their trip to White Cliffs.

The second part of the article states a lot of sales information of opal and I have selectively deleted a lot of this as it does get a bit boring.

The Tourist's Story

The chief method of mining adopted in this field is to sink a pit or a series of pits - similar in appearance to those used in tanneries in which the liquor is processed - 10 -12 feet in length, 8 -10 feet in width. The gem is found generally from within a few inches of the surface to 12 feet. Some have, however, gone down to 45 feet with profitable results.

Messrs Whitfield and Pilcher have an area of 35 acres adjoining blocks 5 and 14. they have put down a shaft 43 feet and obtained opal at the bottom; then they drove 12 feet on the seam with the result of 40 ounces of opal, worth 40 pound. They have since timbered the shaft, put a base up, driven 60 feet westerly, obtained opal all the distance etc"

E F Murphy is the manager of of the Wilcannia blocks 5, 6, 7, and 8 containing 40 acres. Upon my visit he was in his office with Mr Mylcreest, the sub manager, busy sorting and valuing opals for the market. The parcel they roughly estimated to be worth 1,500 pounds.

"You appear to have a variety in your parcels?"

Yes, these have been previously classed by us into three and sometimes four classes. The lowest class are of no commercial value, and are known as potch. The others vary according to colour, brilliancy, grain or body life, or fire , whilst the other is cloudy showing colour without life.

"What percent is of value or saleable?"

About 9% of the opal raised is potch. There is about 90% of various saleable classes and 1% of lovely gems full of fire , rich colours of various hues, and great brilliancy. This class brings top market price and is eagerly sought after by the Continental buyers. Here is one piece weighing 18 ounces, the largest piece that has been found in the field. Portions of this were beautiful, but others were without the much desired fire, worth about 150 pounds.

Continuing, Mr Murphy said the opal is found in layers or seams, in cement, sandstone, calcareous clay, in ironstone,and, in fact, in everything on the field. He then showed me a large number of shells from Block 18, which were opalised. These are a great curiosity, cockle and periwinkle of various prismatic colours."

"i next visited Block 12, consisting of 8 acres belonging to R Martin. The shaft is down 33 feet with opal found at 20 feet from which they have passed through 5 seams from the surface. They have taken out some of the finest opals found in the field."

" Sparway and Company have an area of 30 acres and employ 8 men including 6 tributers. The work has been started 10 months; seven shafts varying from 27 feet to 32 feet have been put down and worked six months without getting any opal. They then went down to 27 feet where they found first layers of potch then good colours and afterwards struck first quality opal."

" In this claim is found opalised blindstone and fossilized wood, each allowing brilliant colourings. They have found as many as 8 seams of opal in a 1 foot depth."

" I next visited the claim of Messrs Skipworth and Langwell which consists of 20 acres. This claim is being worked with a face and trial shafts are being put down to a depth of 20 feet. Opal has been found at 20 feet but of no value, that is to say it has a little colour but no fire. At other parts of the ground they have got opal at 10 feet. The main lead on this block runs at from 10 - 15 feet deep. At times they find opals of every description the whole length of the drive in conglomerate, cement and sandstone in all quantities and various forms. One piece may be found on its flat, another on its edge and another on an angle. There appears to be no hard and fast rule as to how opals exist or form in their beds.

The article goes on to describe other claims and discusses the various values of opals obtained and while it is informative it is a little tedious For those of you who wish to read the article in full click onto the following link. The Tourist

I hope you have enjoyed this extract from The Sydney Mail of 1894. It gives some details of the miners life and of opal mining in general at the very early stages of the field.


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