December 2018

The King Battery site, near Kalgoorlie/Kambalda, WA

  • By Dr Sandra E Close HonFAusIMM(CP), Chair – AusIMM Heritage Committee

The so-called King Battery site is located 47km SSE of Kalgoorlie, WA. It is located on Woolibar (originally called Wollubar) Station and is accessed from a track which leads off the eastern side of the Kalgoorlie-Kambalda Road, approximately 45 km south of Kalgoorlie/Boulder. Its heritage significance is due to the rarity of the remains of its gold treatment plant, dating from the early 1900s.

Heritage Status of site

The site was listed as a Permanent Entry on the Register of Heritage Places by the Heritage Council of Western Australia on 13 May 2005. The relevant documentation, particularly the “Assessment Documentation” and the “Permanent Entry” document give little technical information on the site and it is clear that they were written without much understanding of these aspects. Furthermore, as well as lacking crucial explanations, the documents contain several errors of fact.

Prior to the heritage listing, a paper was written by Gerard MacGill which gives considerable background on the area, on the company associated with the site and with that company’s various operations. However, little technical information was given – on the King Battery itself and how it originally operated, or on an explanation of the remains still visible today. MacGill commented that little is recorded about the design of the plant. (MacGill, 2004).

Purpose of this paper

This paper provides an explanation of the site – as it was most likely operated and as it is today – based on the writer’s knowledge of the technology of gold treatment plants in the late 1800s/early 1900s, including a detailed knowledge of the developments and plants on the Golden Mile and elsewhere at that time.

Given the lack of definite information regarding some aspects of the plant, this paper first describes a relatively simple circuit and then describes possible additional features that may have been present. The descriptions in this paper deliberately give considerable detail and explanation, as the usual methods of working a plant of that era are now little understood.

While the site is known today as the King Battery, it would be more correct to call it the King Plant or the King Mill. The term “battery” refers essentially to a stamp battery but does not convey that it was in fact a more elaborate works, including a cyanide plant for the treatment of gold ores.

Ernest Lidgey and Hampton Plains Estate Ltd

The site is closely connected with Ernest Lidgey who was born in Adelaide in 1863 – he was not therefore English, as is sometimes claimed. He was educated in Cornwall, England and returned to Australia where in 1891 he joined the Victorian Department of Mines. In 1897 he was appointed Assistant Government Geologist and in 1898 was appointed Government Mining Representative in London. However, he resigned shortly afterwards and returned to Australia in July 1899. He was President of the Australasian Institute of Mining Engineers (AIME) in 1901.[1] His connection with the Hampton Plains Group commenced in 1900. (Coolgardie Miner, 1900; Cumming and Hartley, 2014) The Coolgardie Miner reported Lidgey’s view that, “with thorough and careful development the Hampton Plains Estate should become the largest gold producing property in Western Australia.” By 1901, he and his wife were resident at “Wombra” on Block 48, Hampton Plains, where visitors to the AIME 1901 Conference were entertained and he advised them that a 20 head stamp had been ordered. (Evening Star Boulder, 1901) At about that time he had recommended the erection of both a 20 head battery and a cyanide plant. (Kalgoorlie Miner, 1903) Although some sources, including W G Manners,[2] (1992) claim that an English engineer was involved, it was clearly Lidgey to whom they referred.

It is unknown who actually built the battery section of the plant which began operating in early 1902 (West Australian, 1902) but the cyanide plant is known to have been built by S G Turrell and W G Manners. (Manners, 1992) Cumming and Hartley (2014) provide brief details of Turrell and Manners’ association and their individual careers. The Western Argus of 24 Jun 1902 advised that a contract had been let to Messrs Turrell and Manners for the erection of a cyanide plant on the Hampton Plains and on 5 August 1902, it further reported, “Messrs Turrell and Manners are erecting a cyanide plant on the Hampton Plains and are putting in what will be the largest tailing wheel in the State, diameter 54 ft.”[3] (Western Argus 1902) It was completed in October 1902. (Kal Miner, 22 Nov 1902)

It was obvious in examining the limited remains of the plant today that the original design was not optimal and that elements of the plant were not well sited, based on the author’s knowledge of other plants and the usual treatment methods and the variations then commonly employed. For obvious reasons, most plants at the time were designed to take advantage of gravity as much as possible but not the King Battery. Also, what remained of the cyanide plant itself did not suggest an efficient layout. These anomalies were ultimately confirmed by the comments of W G Manners that, “their engineer insisted that we build the plant upside down.”[4] (Manners 1992, p121) There are further comments in the press of the time which cast considerable doubt on Lidgey and his actions. (Western Argus, 1902: The Sun, Kalgoorlie, 1903) He was extremely over-optimistic regarding the possibility of rich ores in the area, which led to the erection of the central plant which he promoted and is reported as believing “…it appears probable that 80 stamps can be kept constantly going.” (Kalgoorlie Miner, 28 October 1901)

By mid-1902 Lidgey was being questioned by the company’s Board for failing to make sufficient returns from the operations to justify the heavy expenditure and in September 1902 he resigned and left Kalgoorlie for London. (Kal Miner 30 Mar 1903) However, despite the amount of money he essentially wasted on the plant, the Board of the Hampton Plains Estate Limited absolved him of blame. At the company’s sixth annual general meeting in London on 18 December 1902, Lidgey was present and the Chairman advised that, “unhappily the sanguine expectation s of Mr Lidgey have not been fulfilled, and he is here today to answer any questions.” The Chairman also said that he, “must in justice to Mr Lidgey tell you, with the entire concurrence of my colleagues, that our faith in his honor and integrity is undiminished.” (Kalgoorlie Miner, 1903) It was also reported that, “a vote of thanks to Mr Lidgey closed the proceedings.” (Kalgoorlie Miner 1903) Various comments in the local press of the day by those who had observed the situation were understandably not so forgiving.

The real problem was that the material treated was not of sufficiently high grade to be treated economically, that is it was not technically “ore.” Others battled on after Lidgey left, “…they have produced order out of something approaching near chaos” and “… the present management …to their credit… are doing good work with bad tools.”(Kal Miner, 30 March 1903) But by 1904 the plant was closed. Lidgey, however, was already back visiting the property, promoting an electric ore finder. (Daily News, Perth, 19 Aug 1903) His role in the whole saga of the King Battery and its associated mines is certainly unimpressive.

It is ironic that the site remains today because it is not located on or adjacent to a gold deposit – not even one which would be economic in the present day.

Introductory plant information

The King Battery was erected on Block 48 of the properties owned by Hampton Plains Estates Ltd. The treatment plant complex was designed to treat ores from several mines in the area, with the ore to be transported by rail from these to the centrally located mill. Although it was erected to treat ores from several deposits, these were essentially owned by the same company, so it was a central mill but not a custom mill, per se, as custom mills treat parcels of ore from a number of owners. The name came from the nearby King mine which was named “in honour of the new ruler on the British throne.” (Evening Star 28 May 1901, p3)

The most informative but very brief description found of the plant says “the 20-head of stamps crush about 80 tons per day. The pulp is laundered to a tailings wheel (54 feet in diameter, and one of the largest wheels in the State), and runs through Butters’ distributors to six cyanide vats…emptied by means of sluicing.” (Kalgoorlie Miner, 1903) In addition, several sources note that the plant had 20 head of stamp, made by Fraser and Chalmers in England. (Evening Star 1901) A single photograph has been discovered showing an overview of the site in 1903, (Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 1903) and two more photos of parts of the plant under construction are contained in Manners (1992). The plant operated only briefly, between 1902 and 1904.

As far as can be ascertained there is nothing particularly unusual about the equipment and methods that were employed in the plant, other than that it was not well designed and laid out. It may also have been that more money was spent on the plant than necessary – for example, the only photograph from the period shows a large structure built above the site’s tailings wheel which is much more elaborate than on other similar tailings wheels, where at best the sides of the upper spokes were covered to prevent splashing.

The site’s significance today is its rarity. It is the most complete gold treatment plant remains known in the Kalgoorlie region dating from the early 1900s that includes the foundations of a cyanide plant. In Western Australia, the only other known site with a similar level of significance is that of the Cosmopolitan at Kookynie, which was a much larger plant. Despite the large number of such plants erected in the early 1900s, it is believed that only these two remain – the rest were destroyed or swallowed up by later mining operations.

Brief description of the simplest possible design of the plant

A very brief description of what would have been the likely simplest design of the plan is as follows:

Ore was trammed to the mill. It was processed by first sizing using grizzlies, then crushed using rock breakers and then fed by Challenge feeders to four stamp boxes. The four sets of five-head stamps wet-crushed the ore with water being added to the stamp boxes. The pulp then passed through screens and washed over copper amalgamating plates, so the gold in the finely crushed ore would amalgamate with the mercury which coated the copper plates. Periodically the amalgam was scraped off the plates and the gold recovered by retorting. The pulp then flowed via a launder to the tailings wheel, where it was elevated approximately 42ft. A launder then carried the pulp to a Butters and Mein distributor, of which there was one centrally located above each of six sands percolation vats which sat atop masonry foundations. Using a network of pipes, pumps and solution tanks and sumps, a series of cyanide washes was then applied to the material in the vats. The resultant pregnant solutions were then passed though zinc boxes to recover the gold which was precipitated, dried and smelted in a small furnace to produce doré bars. Bottom discharge doors allowed the vats to be emptied, either into small manpowered trucks or by sluicing with water. The plant would also have had water storage tanks, solution tanks and sumps, and a laboratory including a small furnace.

Detailed description of the plant

A detailed description of what was the most likely design of the plant is given below. This description is based on what would be the simplest possible flow sheet, taking into account the scant details in the1903 newspaper article, the single 1903 photograph of the plant and the evidence from the remains.

For the purposes of the description it has to be assumed that the ore was expected to be relatively free milling and would not require the more elaborate treatment that refractory ores, including telluride ores, would have required.

However, in addition to the relatively simple processes assumed, descriptions are also given herein of possible other processes which may have been carried out at the plant, given the various more complex processing methods common at the time. But, it is impossible now to determine whether any of these additional treatment methods were actually employed. As Lidgey and the Hampdon Plains companies appear to have spent considerable sums beyond what might have been considered prudent, it is possible that they did include more elaborate rather than less elaborate treatment options.

Stamp battery

There was probably a grizzly, similar to a very large sieve, on which the ore was unloaded and through which very large pieces of ore did not pass and had to be broken up. Then the ore would have been fed to one or more rock breakers and crushed to reduce its size to no more than a few inches. Then, very likely there was a Challenge feeder for every five head of stamp, to provide a steady feed of ore to the stamp boxes. After crushing in the boxes with the stamps, the slurry or pulp consisting of finely crushed ore particles and water passed through screens, which ensured that particles that were not sufficiently fine were subjected to further crushing by the stamps. Then the pulp would have been passed over copper plates coated with mercury, whereby some of the gold amalgamated with the mercury, with the plates being scraped periodically to remove the amalgam. This would have then been heated in a retort, so that the mercury was vaporised, then cooled and collected for reuse, while the gold remained in the bowl of the retort, to be recovered and further purified by heating in a crucible with flux, then poured into moulds to produce doré bars.

The excavation for the stamps and associated equipment, hewn out of solid rock, today forms a distinctive feature on the western side of the site but no equipment or foundations remain.

Tailings wheel[5]

After passing over the copper plates, the pulp may have been sent directly by a launder (a long trough) to the tailings wheel, where it was elevated. The tailings wheel was 54 feet in diameter (Kalgoorlie Miner, 1903;Western Argus, 1902), so the tailings would have been lifted around three quarters, or a little more, of the diameter of the wheel, say some 40-42 feet. The substantial masonry and brick pillars remain intact today, as does the central portion of the wheel, with its spindle still attached to the tops of the supporting pillars. The spokes and “buckets” are no longer there. What was most unusual was the substantial roofed building covering the upper part of the wheel. It would seem rather unnecessary and would have been an added expense.

Tailings wheels, which were used in South Africa, were only erected in Australia for a very limited period in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Many plants favoured pumps instead and it was not long before tailings wheels went out of fashion. Several were used on the Eastern Goldfields and on other Western Australian goldfields at some stage, according to Charleton (1903) and WAMMP. (1906) These included tailings wheels of various designs at Great Boulder Main Reef (believed to be the first in WA) approximately 24ft diameter; Brownhill, 32 ft; Lake View Consols, 42ft; Golden Horseshoe No 1 plant 40ft; Great Fingall Armstrong mill, 40 ft; and Sons of Gwalia, 56 ft diameter. (Charleton, 1903; WAMMP, 1906) In addition, the Cosmopolitan Mine at Kookynie had a tailings wheel which “elevates the pulp 50ft.” (Rickard et al, 1907, p313) Its supporting pillars remain intact to the present day, which is contrary to the claim in the Heritage documentation that the only remaining tailings wheel pillars are at the King Battery.

However, as was typical in many plants, it is possible that prior to entering the launder to the tailings wheel, the pulp may have first been put through spitzkasten and/or passed over Wilfleys or similar vibrating tables, as described later. Also, it is possible that the pulp may have been put through spitzkasten after it left the tailings wheel, prior to being fed via launder to the vats. This too will be described later.

The cyanide plant – treatment of sands by percolation

What is definite is that the pulp was treated with dilute cyanide solutions by the percolation method in what was often referred to as a sands plant – that is the sands fraction, together with some slimes, was placed in vats and cyanide treatment was effected by percolating solutions through the material, which needed to be sufficiently porous and permeable for effective percolation.

The pulp was conveyed by a launder which dispersed it into one of the six Butters and Mein distributors which sat atop six vats, the foundations of which are still intact today. Six vats, as at King Battery, was a common number in many smaller plants, providing one vat for each day of the working week, with each vat being filled, treated with the various solutions and then emptied, on a rotating basis. A Butters and Mein distributor comprised a central collecting cone into which the pulp poured from the launder, with the cone having pipes of different lengths attached. This all rotated on a vertical axis due to the flow of the pulp and thereby the material was evenly distributed in the vat from the rotating arms of differing lengths. This simple but effective method was widely adopted after it was developed by Charles Butters and Captain Mein in Johannesburg in 1894. (Eissler, 1895; Dorr, 1936)

In the Kalgoorlie area vats were constructed of curved steel plates, riveted together, with flat steel plates on the base.[6] At the King site the diameter of each vat is estimated to have been approximately 24-25 ft and the height probably 5-6 ft, sitting on foundations around 6ft high.

Fortunately, the masonry foundations of the six vats are essentially intact at the King site, although partially buried by sand and loose fill, so their dimensions are readily ascertained. As shown in the sketch, each vat had its own set of foundations, with four supporting walls running north-south. The two inner walls are 25ft 4in long and the two outer walls 19ft long. The open space between each group of the longer walls is 1ft 8in and between the shorter walls is 7ft8in. Thus the total length of the vat foundations is 160ft 4in – probably actually 160ft in all, given the inaccuracy of the rough survey method. Across each vat foundation, measuring in an east-west direction, that is, across the line of vats, the outer supporting wall is 2ft thick, then a space of 3ft 6in, then an inner wall 2ft 6in thick, then a space of almost 8ft (for a tramway or sluice), then the second inner wall 2ft 6in thick, then a space of 3ft 6in, then the other outer wall 2ft thick – thus, a width of 20ft 9in overall. The total height of the foundations is difficult to determine due to the fill now present but judging from the foundation abutments at the southern end they would have been about 6ft high, which is typical and which would allow easy access for a man to stand up.[7] On the upper portion of the easternmost supporting foundation of each vat, 3 ft from the southern end, there is a gap which would have been to allow pipes to be fitted to the vats for the various solutions. The vats would have been laid on wooden supports above the masonry foundations and evidence for this is clear, with lengths of timber still remaining, cemented into the top of some of the foundations.

Once filled with pulp, the water was drained from the vat then the contents were subjected to cyanide treatment. This usually comprised three different washes – a stronger cyanide[8] wash (in the order of 0.3-0.5 % potassium and later sodium cyanide), a weaker cyanide wash (approximately 0.15 % potassium or sodium cyanide) and a water wash. In each case the cyanide solution was left to percolate through the crushed ore, often for a day or two, before being drained and the next solution run on.

Each vat was fitted with a filter on its base, comprising a combination of pebble beds, canvas, burlap, coconut matting and the like which were overlain with wooden battens, as the battens provided protection when the spent material was shovelled out. Pipes were fitted at the base of the vats to enable introduction and removal of solutions, with draining often assisted by suction. As already noted, the location of where the pipes joined the vats can be deduced from the remains of the vat foundations.

The different cyanide solutions were contained in separate tanks. After being applied and then run off the vats, the solution was passed through zinc boxes, usually dedicated to the different solution strengths. These boxes were usually of a standard design, as first described in the patents related to the MacArthur-Forrest Cyanide Process.[9] The pregnant solution passed through a series of compartments in a long wooden box which had several screens fitted which contained zinc turnings. The gold was precipitated and dropped to the base of each compartment and the zinc went into solution, then the boxes were cleaned out of the “sludge” which was dried and heated in crucible with flux in a furnace to produce gold doré[10] which was poured as bars, then sent for refining.

After passing through the zinc box(es) relevant for the strength of the solution, it was collected in sumps. Usually three sumps were provided – with strong solution, weak solution and water wash being kept separately. At the King site one of these sumps, 4ft 3in square and of similar depth, has been excavated and is located east of the fourth vat foundation near the corner of a flat area assumed to be the floor of a building. This would have been the building where the zinc boxes were located and it is highly probable that two other sumps can be found, adjacent to the one excavated. The solutions from the sumps were reused and were usually sent to three larger solution tanks, for strong, weak and water wash solutions, where extra cyanide was added if needed, to make up the required strength before the solution was applied to a new charge in a vat. However, at the King site there is now no evidence of where these solution tanks may have been located.

Emptying the vats

When the percolation process was complete and the cyanide solutions containing the gold were recovered for treatment, the spent material from each vat was emptied. Normally, in many similar plants, there were circular bottom discharge doors in the base of the vats which were opened so that the spent ore could be shovelled through the open doors into small trucks. These trucks ran on a narrow tramway with rails laid between the middle two masonry foundations of each vat and the contents were trucked away by manpower from the vats and dumped.

However, in the case of the King Battery it is not clear if this typical working method was applied and there is insufficient information to determine the actual method used. Three aspects suggest that despite the vat foundations being typical of a normal plant, the usual method was not necessarily employed at the King Battery. First, the Kalgoorlie Miner article (1903) says “as there is a plentiful supply of water these vats are emptied by means of sluicing.” Second, there is a rough channel-way about 6 ft (~2m) wide and 6ft (~2m) deep which runs east from southernmost vat, then turns 90 degrees and runs south. It changes direction along the edge of two adjacent flat areas which appear to have been the floors of buildings. It is terminated at its southern end with a brick arch located near the top and near the western end of the 91 ft long retaining wall which runs east-west. Third, the photograph shows a trestle supporting what is apparently a sloping launder leading south away from the cyanide plant. These three aspects could perhaps be interpreted as indicating the spent tailings were indeed flushed out with water and drained via the channel-way and/or a launder on the trestle to a dump located south of the plant. However, there is no indication how the material would have been moved from each vat prior to it entering the channel-way – today the vat foundations are half buried, so whether there was a channel or indeed a tramway cannot be determined. But even so, this begs the question why the channel-way was not simply dug straight towards the south. Alternatively, the channel-way may only have been to contain various solution pipes but if that were the case, it would not have needed to be so wide and deep, although a number of pipes was required to ensure the various solutions were kept separate.

Water tanks

There is a single set of tank foundations on the lower ground immediately south of the plant and below the 91 ft long retaining wall, at its eastern end. These comprise a series of eight low “walls” 1 ft wide and approximately 1ft high. The innermost two walls are 21ft long and the outermost two 13ft long. These foundations are constructed of masonry, finished on the upper surface with mortar work for timbers. Obviously it was the location of a single tank, around 21 ft in diameter, of unknown height, which sat on timber bearers. As it was not far above ground level, it was presumably a water tank to serve various parts of the plant, although located at the lowest point. In the photograph there also appears to be tanks located on the higher ground to the west of the load-in point of the battery, which it is assumed, provided water for the stamps, although no trace of foundations for these is visible today.

Laboratory

There would have been a laboratory on site where ore samples and cyanide solutions would have been tested, as well as a small furnace for sample analysis by fire assay and a larger furnace for smelting to produce gold doré. This location can often be indicated by the presence of broken glass and ceramics from chemical storage and laboratory work, from broken cupolas used for fire assay, from broken crucibles used for smelting and from fire bricks used in the furnaces. Some such material was present in what had been excavated from the sump but this gave little indication of the actual location of the laboratory.

Other remains 

There are various smaller remains around the site, probably foundations and the like for pieces of equipment and for launder supports and so on. A proper survey would assist with identification of these remains and provide some greater understanding of the overall lay-out of the plant.

Was there a slimes treatment circuit as well as sands treatment?

Another aspect of the King site which cannot be ascertained today is whether it had a slimes/agitation treatment circuit in addition to its sands/percolation circuit. No foundations are evident which indicate such a circuit existed but it was quite common in plants of the day. If there were one, it presumably would have been located in the north east corner of the site where several buildings of a considerable size are shown on the higher ground on the right hand side of the 1903 photograph.

Were there a slimes circuit, then there would have been extra equipment added in several places in the treatment circuit, so that additional classification could be carried out in order to separate the sands and slimes. One possible addition would have been spitzkasten placed after the copper plates and before the Wilfley, or similar, vibrating tables. Spitzkasten were inverted pyramidal boxes which separated heavier particles from lighter, finer slimes, with the underflow (that is the heavier fraction) being passed over the Wilfleys and the overflow (containing the lighter slimes) sent direct to the slimes plant. Similarly, spitzkasten might have been placed in line after the pulp left the tailings wheel but before it reached the launder to the Butters and Mein distributors, so that the heavier sands underflow went to the vats and the lighter slimes overflow went to the slimes plant. Another possibility would have been to have circular launders around the perimeter of the vats which would have collected the lighter slimes overflowing the top as the vats were filled. These too would have then been piped to the slimes plant.

Were such slimes collected, they would have been placed in settling tanks to remove some of the water, prior to being placed in agitation vats. Agitation tanks or vats were considerably smaller and more upright than sands vats and were fitted with impellers, to mix the pulp to which cyanide had been added. The pulp would then have been treated in filter presses as noted below.

Sands and Slimes

Ordinarily when ores were stamped a range of material sizes was produced but the percentage of the coarser sand fraction compared to the finest slimes fraction depended particularly on the nature of the ore being treated. The coarser sandy fraction was amenable to percolation but the finer slime fraction was not and if there was too much finer material, or slimes, it had to be separated and treated differently. While there were many variations, the method usually used for slimes on the Eastern Goldfields at that time was to agitate the slimes with cyanide solution, then to use filter presses to enable further treatment, then ultimately to recover the pregnant solution for treatment in the zinc boxes, while the dry filter cakes were sent to the dump. Slimes treatment was quite common around Kalgoorlie, as the talcose ores of the region often produced much slimes and were not always amenable to percolation.

Was there separation of gold and/or concentrates which required further treatment?

It is unclear but possible that Wilfley tables or other similar vibrating tables were used, often after the material had passed over the initial amalgamating plates. Such tables enabled gravity separation to be effected, so that that several streams of different densities were formed as the material was sorted by the movement of the sloped, shaking tables. At the end of each table, a heavy gold rich stream and/or a stream of concentrates which included gold rich sulphides, was collected separately. Free gold from such gravity separation could be treated directly by smelting with fluxes in a small furnace to produce gold doré. For the amalgam scraped off the copper plates, the gold was recovered from the retort when the mercury had been removed and was then smelted in the same way as the gravity recovered gold.

However, when the gold was contained within sulphides such that it was not able to be liberated by ordinary amalgamation over the copper plates, it was necessary to treat such sulphides further. Were this the case at the King Battery, most likely the concentrates would have been ground in an amalgamating pan, such as a Wheeler pan of which Forward and Down or Watson and Denny were common manufacturers. Alternatively, the concentrates might have been roasted to liberate the gold from the sulphides, then the roasted concentrates would have been ground in an amalgamator. Note that this involved grinding, in contrast to crushing by the stamps, and that the grinding was carried out in the presence of mercury to effect amalgamation. However, there is no evidence of whether amalgamators were used on site. Furthermore, there is no evidence on site for a roaster and significantly no chimney stack is evident in the photograph, other than that of the principal engine which would have served the stamps and other equipment in the battery and also been used to rotate the tailings wheel via a belt drive. Although the simplest method for treating concentrates was to use a Berdan pan for amalgamating, it is likely, given the nature of the King Battery and the approach Mr Lidgey seems to have taken, that were such treatment actually required, just a Berdan would probably not have been considered appropriate.

Conclusion

It is ironic that the King Battery site should be of considerable heritage significance today, essentially because it was a failure in the early years of the twentieth century, due to it being erected where there was insufficient ore for it to be worked economically.

It survives as a rare example of a gold treatment plant, including a cyanide plant, which operated at the start of the 20th century. Such plants were commonplace on gold fields around Australia in the early years following the introduction of the Macarthur-Forrest Cyanide Process, which had changed the economics of gold processing around the world. At the King site today there are sufficient remains, mostly consisting of masonry foundations, to allow some understanding of the plant. Although little written information is available, much can be inferred as to how the plant was worked, although the original plant design is clearly not optimal.

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Recommendations

It is recommended that the whole of the site be surveyed, better to appreciate all the remains and their location relative to one another. This will also assist with a more accurate description of the site and also a greater understanding.

Limited excavation could be undertaken, such as trying to locate other sumps but as little excavation as possible is recommended as it may simply lead to greater destruction of the remains on the site.

Explanatory signage would assist greatly in enabling visitors to understand and appreciate the site. Such signage would also provide an educational experience, so visitors can gain a little insight into what metallurgical processes enabled Kalgoorlie/Boulder to become such a celebrated goldfield.

Information should be made available online, such as the Council website and made available for wider use on tourist websites, heritage websites, etc. As well, a smart phone app/commentary should be developed for use by tourists and those interested in the heritage of the Eastern Goldfields.

The current owners of the station on which the site is located should also be provided with material which enables them to appreciate the importance of the site.

S E Close, February 2019

 

References

Charleton A G, 1903, Gold Mining and Milling in Western Australia, Spon Ltd, London.

Cumming D A and Hartley R G, 2014, Westralian Founders of Twentieth Century Mining, Hartley, Rossmoyne, WA.

Dorr, J V N, 1936 Cyanidation and Concentration of Gold and Silver Ores, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Eissler, M, 1895, The Cyanide Process for the Extraction of Gold, Crosby, Lockwood and Son, London.

Grant, R J, 1905, in The Economics of Mining, Rickard, T A et al, Second Edition, 1907, Hill Publishing Co, London & New York.

Manners W G (via R Manners), 1992, So I Headed West, W G Manners, Kalgoorlie and Hesperian Press, Carlisle, WA.

MacGill, G, 2004, The King Battery and Mr Lidgey’s Grand Vision for the Hampton Plains, Journal of Australasian Mining History, Vol 2, September 2004.

Register of Heritage Places – Assessment Documentation, Heritage Council of Western Australia, 2005.

Register of Heritage Places – Permanent Entry, Heritage Council of Western Australia, 2005.

West Australian Metallurgical Practice, 1906, The Chamber of Mines of Western Australia, Kalgoorlie, WA.

References from newspapers

Coolgardie Miner, 17 April 1900, p3, Hampton Plains Estate.

Evening Star (Boulder), 28 May 1901, p3, With the Engineers to Hampton Plains.

West Australian (Perth), 20 January 1902, p5, Late Mining, Hampton Plains.

Kalgoorlie Miner, 28 October 1901, p3, Hampton Plains Estate.

Kalgoorlie Miner, 22 November 1902, p5, Hampton Plains Estate.

Kalgoorlie Miner, 17 January 1903, p3, Hampton Plains Estate.

Kalgoorlie Miner, 9 March 1903, p3, Hampton Plains Estate.

Kalgoorlie Miner, 30 March 1903, p3, Mining News, The Hampton Plains Properties.

Sun (Kalgoorlie), 26 April, 1903, p6, Mining.

Western Argus, 5 August 1902, p6, Mining Notes.

Western Argus, 14 April 1903, p23, Photograph of King Battery Hampton Plains.

Footnotes

[1] This was renamed the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in 1919 and “The” was added to the title in 1955. Today it remains the largest organisation in Australasia for technical professionals in the resources industry.

[2] W G Manners’ grandson, Ron Manners, published his grandfather’s diary in 1992 and entitled the book, “So I Headed West.” WGM erected several plants in the Kalgoorlie region in the early 1900s.

[3] The Sons of Gwalia tailings wheel was erected prior to this and was reported to be 56ft in diameter – see later.

[4] Mr Ron Manners, grandson of W G Manners, has advised in a personal communication that his father Charles had told him that his grandfather had spoken to Charles about his lack of confidence in the design engineers of the plant and that he had a serious confrontation with Lidgey and accused him of designing the plant upside down.

[5] Tailings wheels looked similar to water wheels. However, unlike water wheels which were usually used to provide power, they were powered by means of a steam engine and belts and were used to elevate the pulp.

[6] In many other locations vats were constructed of wood, with vertical staves and planked bases which were held together by a series of iron hoops.

[7] Such height would have been necessary in plants where men pushed the small trucks and it also allowed ready monitoring for leaks, particularly if the vats were wooden.

[8] In the early years of the MacArthur Forrest Cyanide Process potassium cyanide was used but later sodium cyanide was used.

[9] The initial patent for the MacArthur Forrest Cyanide Process was British patent No 14,174, applied for in October 1887 and accepted in August 1888.

[10] In addition some silver was also recovered by this method, dependent in part on the amount of silver occurring with the gold in the ore.

APPENDIX 1 – PHOTOGRAPHS

Photograph from Kalgoorlie Western Argus, p3, 14 April 1903.

 

Looking west. In the background – Masonry wall in front of which the stamps were erected. In foreground – support pillars and central hub of Tailings Wheel.
Looking west. Masonry wall in front of which stamps were erected.

 

Base of Tailings Wheel.
Looking north. Near northern end of masonry “walls” for supporting the vats. Note the recess where the wooden bearers were located on top of the vat foundations.
Looking north. View from the southern end, showing two of the four masonry vat foundations.

 

Looking west. At the southern end of the vat foundations showing the opening in the easternmost vat foundation where solution pipes from the vat were located.
Looking north-east. Floor of one of the buildings associated with the cyanide plant.

 

A sump which has been excavated. This would have been probably one of three which were located near the zinc boxes in order to hold the spent cyanide solution (one sump for each of the strong, weak and water wash solutions) after the gold had been extracted in the zinc boxes.
Low masonry foundation. This is located below a long masonry batter on the southern side of the cyanide plant location. It may have been for a water storage tank.

 

Aerial view. 1. Location of stamps. 2. Tailings wheel. 3. Vat foundations. 4. Wall. 5. Low foundation for single tank. Source: Google Earth.

 

APPENDIX 2

BASIC TREATMENT PLANT CHART

Chart 1.

 

CHART SHOWING MORE COMPLEX PLANT POSSIBILITIES

Chart 2.

 

APPENDIX 3

SUGGESTIONS FOR SITE INFORMATION

1903 Photograph

Perhaps a Basic Plant chart

Perhaps a simple site map showing stamp location, tailings wheel, cyanide vat foundations…

Short Description as follows:

Ore was trammed to the plant and fed to four sets of five head stamps. The pulp of crushed ore and water was passed over copper plates coated with mercury to amalgamate some of the gold. Then the pulp flowed in a launder to the base of the tailings wheel (54ft/~16.5m in diameter) and was elevated some 40ft (~12m), to another launder. This distributed it via Butters and Mein distributors to one of six steel vats which sat atop the masonry foundations still standing today. Cyanide solutions were percolated through the sands in the vats, drawn off at the base and then passed through wooden boxes containing zinc turnings, where the gold was deposited as the zinc dissolved. This sludge was recovered and smelted with flux to produce gold dore bars. The solution was recovered in sumps then returned to solution tanks for reuse, with further cyanide solution added as required.

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