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Geraldine Mine

Port Gregory, formally called Boat Harbour, was established in 1849 and named after brothers Augustus and Frank Gregory, two of Western Australia's most active explorers. In May 1853 sixty convicts and Pensioner Guards arrived from England via Fremantle in the brigantine Leander and the cutter Gold Digger. A townsite was gazetted in 1853 as Pakington near the shore, with Lynton gazetted around the same time as the convict depot and townsite for the guards, 1.4 km inland on the Hutt River. The convicts were used for Government works and in establishing a road to the Murchison River and the Geraldine lead Mine, operated from 1849 to 1875. Ticket-of-leave men from the depot were hired out for work at the port and on nearby farms and stations.

The Geraldine Mine: the 1850s lead mining frontier in Midwest Western Australia

Martin Gibbs
Archaeology, University of New England

The Geraldine lead mine was established in 1849 as Western Australia's first attempt to create a remote industrial frontier and engage in the global economy. Historical and archaeological evidence shows that the mining operation attempted to employ innovative technologies, used experienced miners as well as convict and Aboriginal labour, and in its later phases provided a well-developed mine settlement. Despite good quality ore its operation suffered through isolation, logistical difficulties with ore transport and an unstable workforce, while several hasty decisions including positioning the main shaft within a dry riverbed also impeded its success.


The establishment of mining settlements in Midwest Western Australia, broadly in the geographic area between the Irwin and Murchison Rivers, was the point where the ’peripheral’ British colony of the Swan River (1829) underwent a shift in colonisation strategy and developed its own remote cosmopolitan frontier. This paper explores the history and archaeology of the Geraldine Mine, the first of the Midwest industrial settlements and the first commercial mine in Western Australia, established on the Murchison River in 1849. The operation is considered in terms of colonisation process and how the primarily British settlers adapted their social, economic and technological structures to an environment arguably far more alien than previously encountered within coastal Australia. It also considers the mine’s existence on the ‘periphery of a periphery" of the British Empire and the World System (Orser 2009).


The research described in this paper was originally undertaken as part of the Midwest Archaeological Survey (MAS), an annual three-day student field training and public archaeology exercise run by the author from the late 1980s to the 1990s as a member of the Archaeological Society of Western Australia (Gibbs et al. 2008). The main focus was the early mining settlements, many dating to the mid-1850s when European colonists pushed beyond the boundaries of the original southwest settlement along the Swan River (Perth) and established a new frontier several hundred kilometres further north. The Geraldine Mine was the first of these mining operations, established in 1849.
The Geraldine Mine site was recorded by the MAS over two trips, in 1998 and 2000. following the established practice of students and community members participating in the archaeological surveys. One of the pedagogical foundations of the exercise was to allow the students to take control over directing their component of the investigation, while also guiding the community members. Only basic field equipment such as tapes, compasses, dumpy levels and later GPS was available. Despite efforts to check records in-field, during post-fieldwork write-up various omissions and problems with data common to student exercises inevitably emerged, such as failures to record locations of baselines, variable standards in site plans and structural descriptions, etc. Given the strict time limits and emphasis on basic survey of the sites, no attention was given to identification and recording of domestic artefacts. As a result, the potential to address more sophisticated questions surrounding the evolution of these sites and the nature of life at them is limited without further investigation (see below). However, the MAS surveys achieved their core educational and community goals, and annual reports were produced and lodged in the W.A. State Library (e.g. Gibbs 1998 , 2000). Several papers have also been published on elements of this research (e.g. Gibbs 1997a. 1997b. 2006, 2007.2010; Gibbs and Harrison 2008; Gibbs et at. 2008).
If there was an underlying theoretical orientation which drove the MAS projects it was an interest in the nature of frontiers and the processes of adaptation, themes which emerged very strongly in the early years of historical archaeological research in Western Australia (e.g. Gibbs 1996; Burke 2004; Nayton 2012). Frontier theory has a long pedigree in historical archaeology, attempting to explain patterns and processes that occur on the geographic peripheries of activity for a particular cultural group (Green and Perlman 1985:4). As noted by Paynter (1985:164) A frontier implies at least three cultural forms: the frontier, the homeland, and the aboriginal culture impacted by the expanding homeland culture. Fundamental is the need to understand the social, economic and political motivations for people to move beyond their original territorial boundaries, as well the structure of relationships between core and periphery(s) (McCarthy 2008:203). In addition there are the encounters and ongoing relationships between coloniser/ invader and Indigenous groups (e.g. Silliman 2001; Gibbs and Harrison 2008). Underlying these are the interactions with natural environments and the processes of adaptation (social, economic, technological, etc.) leading to either a ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’ settlement (Birmingham and Jeans 1983; Blanton 2003; Hardesty 2003).
The 1829 British colonisation of the Swan River region of Western Australia had been conceived as an insular frontier, with anticipation of developing a largely agricultural settlement. However, in the face of Crown reluctance to support new colonies, the ambitious young British naval officers who led the 1827 explorations of the area (and aspired to senior postings in the new settlement) framed their arguments in terms of the broader geopolitical circumstances of the time, including the Swan River colony having an immediate place within the emergent world economy and Britain’s relationships with Asia. They emphasised that its position relative to prevailing winds across the Indian Ocean gave it an advantage for receiving settlers and supplies from England. These same vessels could then be loaded with local produce to be sent northwards into Asia, including the gold ...

References and Links

Gibbs, Martin 2016, 'The Geraldine Mine: the 1850s lead mining frontier in Midwest Western Australia', Australian Historical Archaeology, 34 (first page shown above). page for this mine.

Heritage Council page for this mine.

Garry Gillard | New: 22 April, 2021 | Now: 22 April, 2021