Tea and the Opium Wars played a key role in the unfolding fortunes of north Queensland’s early mining industry, according to mining historian Col Hooper.
Mr Hooper, principal of HME Consulting Engineers, will delve into the region’s mining heritage at this year’s Sir George Fisher Lecture, hosted by the North Queensland Branch of The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM).
Mr Hooper said it was time that the minerals industry and the mining profession be recognised for their momentous contribution to all civilizations, past and present.
That would be the ultimate ‘take home’ message from his talk, he said.
Silver, for example, has had a critical role in the establishment of civilization as we know it.
Mr Hooper said wealth from the silver mines at Laurion funded the naval fleet that helped the ancient Greeks overcome Persian attacks – allowing the blossoming of democracy and other cultural cornerstones including philosophy, medicine, mathematics, engineering and art.
His talk tonight will cover the role of silver in opening up northern Queensland, including the history of sites including the Montalbion and Muldiva smelters in the Chillagoe area and the early Ravenswood district mines (1860s/1870s) of Dreghorn, Totley, Ukalunda and Galena.
Among the many interesting vignettes he shares from these operations is the story of the lost cargo from Totley and shipwreck survivor ‘Quetta’ Brown.
“The first ore from Totley near Ravenswood went out in the ship RMS Quetta and that hit a rock in Torres Strait near Little Adolphus Island, and that’s now called Quetta rock,” Mr Hooper said.
The 1890 shipwreck saw 134 people perish, but among the survivors was an 18-month old girl rescued by a Senegalese sailor, he said.
“He swam with her to a life boat. They made land and were rescued,” Mr Hooper said.
“The sailor had put his tongue in child’s mouth to suck on for moisture.
“The little orphan was adopted by Captain E L Brown, a pilot on Thursday Island. He named her Cecilia, or Cissy, but she was generally known as Quetta Brown.
Mr Hooper said the early silver mining enterprises in north Queensland were greatly affected by price fluctuations.
What many people didn’t realise was the role that tea, particularly England’s love of a cup, played in this.
In the 18th century, China was the only source of tea for the British and demanded payment in silver coin – draining the British Empire of this commodity.
To overcome this the British worked on establishing their own source of tea in India, as well as starting an opium trade into China to draw that silver back.
Its insidious effect was a major factor in the Opium Wars that saw the end of the Manchu dynasty und ushered in modern China, leading thousands of overseas Chinese to cut off their pigtails, the symbol of Manchu domination, and return to help found the new China.
Mr Hooper has written and published 14 books on mining history, including Angor to Zillmanton – stories of North Queensland’s deserted towns, which is in its eighth edition. (See https://www.desertedtownsatoz.com/ for more information).
The 39th Sir Geroge Fisher Lecture will be held at the North Queensland Club, Townsville, tonight (August 17).