1873 – Joseph Paxton’s mining company was said to be one of the best-managed in the Hills End district of New South Wales.
However, when it came to mining in the early years of Australia, anything could happen. And unfortunately it did, to one William Oliver.
Basically, Oliver heard a bang, thought the explosive charge he had just set had gone off, went to attend to it, whereupon it did go off – and killed him.
Paxton’s was the biggest of 255 companies at Hill’s End at the time, and had a number of mine sites and ventures.
Paxton was big on safety. A few years earlier he had joined a deputation to the Minister for Lands to seek the appointment of a mines inspector for gold mines.
However, no appointment of any man would have saved William Oliver’s life. It was taken by simple human error.
Oliver and another man had drilled three-foot hole in the side of a wall late on the morning of May 24, as part of an effort to bring down mullock.
They lit a charge, but it went out. They cleaned out the hole, carefully recharged it, relit the fuse and retreated again.
The Evening News in Sydney gave this quite wordy explanation of what happened next.
“When after waiting the customary time a blast was heard to go off in the direction of the charge they had fired, and the deceased there-upon, pick in hand, sallied out to resume his work, but, horrible to relate, the report which had been heard was one, it appeared, from the adjoining claim Star of Peace — the workings of which open into Paxton’s, and no sooner had the deceased returned to the place where the charge had been put in than the blast went off, inflicting such serious injuries on the deceased as resulted in his death in about an hour after his admisssion into the Hospital.
The inquest jury heard Oliver’s pockets contained receipts for large amount of money, as he planned to return home to Cornwall, England. He had two brothers also in Australia.
The funeral took place on an inclement Sunday afternoon, where a large number of people followed the remains to the cemetery at Tambaroora “amidst the touching and solemn strain of choir of miners”.
Oliver’s headstone stands still at the small cemetery which still stands just a few kilometres from the National Parks-run Hill End township.
Not far from his grave lies a fellow countryman, also from Cornwall. John Scott’s position as a mine manager did not protect him from the ravages of the mine fields.
SOURCES: Cooper, Paul F. Joseph Paxton (1828-1882) Miner, Musician, Philanthropist and Churchman. Philanthropy and Philanthropists in Australian Colonial History, July 9, 2015. Available at https://phinaucohi.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/joseph-paxton-1828-1882-2/
Evening News Saturday 31 May 1873 p 4
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales Goldmines in the southern section of Hawkins Hill, (showing Star of Hope two-storey mine), Hill End, viewed at https://collection.sl.nsw.gov.au/digital/ePqZ6o3LyXexp