Opalton - The Great Opal Rush

on . Posted in Queensland Opal Mines

Compiled by Ron McKenzie Author of 'Sweat, Tears and Blood Red Opal'.

The following timeline is chronicled from articles in various newspapers and from records at the John Oxley Library.
outpost opalton 
1878, 'The Queenslander' November 9. 'The Darr' October 12.
Approaching Winton from the east you observe some cone-shaped hills called opal mountains which are supposed to cover a mine of wealth (The existence of Opalton was confirmed by 1878 in the Winton District.)
 
1880. Carl Lumholtz, Norwegian discoverer and ethnographer met two men at Elderslie Station who were looking for opals in the mountains east of the Diamantina river.
 
1882. Known graves date from 1882, but no doubt there would have been some earlier ones because the country around this area was first taken up in the 1860's. (A grave near Winton at Wallaces camp is 1873).
 
1887. By early 1887 the opal diggings at Fermoy Station were known as the Fermoy field. This is where George Cragg first dug opal and where he met George McLennan. 
 
March 12 1887. Jimmy Cragg 'The Mailman' was born and won his first contract in 1907. Banjo Paterson wrote a poem about Jimmy and personally handed it to him when Jimmy and his wife Violet were paying a social call to the Riley's house in Winton Qld.
 
1888. George Cragg a stockman from Warrnambool Station found the opal specimens, at the later site of Opalton. Also an outcrop of boulders with beautiful opal about 10 miles from the Mayneside waterhole and on the south side of Big Horse creek. This opal show became the famous Craggs Boulder Mine. Also by 1888, some opal mining on the Jundah - Opalville fields. One of the family names around Jundah was Meyers. Here was the first black opal mine in Australia, 'The Black Mine' first worked in 1890. Ten years before the discovery of Lightning Ridge in NSW.
 
1891, 'The Queenslander' October 24. Most of the opal finds its way by shipping, to London and two packages of opal were sent by the mail ship 'Alameda' to San Francisco, USA.
 
1894. George McLennan started working, 'the Brilliant Claim', in the winter of 1894. The start of the workings at the Opalton townsite. This was the opal show found in 1888 by George Cragg, but he didn't work it. McLennan in later years owned Thymania Station and his grave is there on a small sand ridge. (He died, April 15, 1919)
 
1894, 'The Brisbane Courier' December 13. Splendid find of opal on Warrnambool Station, twenty miles from Fermoy Station. One man has got some £600 worth of stone.
 
1895, Early or Late. First recorded opal bought by Longreach publican Paddy O'Reilly. Most local publicans bought opal from the miners or took it as payment for drinks, meals or accommodation. First store to open 'Conways' was run by J.H.Wilson, he had a wooden leg from a previous horse accident.
 
1895 Great Opal Rush, to the Fermoy opal field, mainly around Opalton town site. Peak years where 1895 to 1900. Good seasons 1895-96. J.C.Conway struck it rich at his claim two and a half miles east of the Brilliant Claim (Opalton town site) and this started the rush to the Opalton town site.

1895, 'The Western Champion' March 12.
Interest taken in opal mining at the locality recently discovered by Mr McLennan continues unabated. Mr J.B.Hickie, the well known opal buyer has paid two visits to the workings. Mr J.Conway of Fermoy Station who came on the ground afterwards is said to have already obtained some very beautiful opals valued at £250. The best opal being the Royal Opal sometimes known as the Noble Opal or Oriental Opal. Also the Harlequin opal and Moss opal. Not much has been done in testing the Boulder opal, but in the Sandstone some extensive finds have been made. 
 
1895 'Brisbane Courier' April 24. Some of the finest opal yet obtained in Queensland is found. 200 men on the field, one buyer alone purchased, in March, £1000 worth of stone. Quantity of polished opals sent to Longreach and Winton. (Fermoy Opal Miners)
 
1895, 'The Western Champion' August 20. The Fermoy field. The value of the opal has risen by 100% within the last few months. There are probably something like 400 men on the field at the present time.

1895 September. First official inspection of the Opalton-Fermoy field by Mr. Hickie, who was also an opal buyer. About 1895, E.Spike a photographer came to Opalton. Also in 1895 Karl Erhard Sjogren (known as Charles) from Sweden came to Opalton and by 1899 he had met Anne C.Jensen, a daughter of Hans and Mette Jensen of Danish origin. Charles and Anne were married in may 1900 in Rockhampton, in the colony of Queensland. At a later date Hans Jensen buried T.A.Page at Big Horse creek on the Mayne. Page had died of heat apoplexy on January 23, 1904. He had been an Opaler for years.

1895, 'The Western Champion' October 8. Opal Digger. We have arranged a nice little camp of four. Don't advise anyone to come out until after the rain as water is very scarce at present and no good feed for horses. Bob Pross fell down a 10 foot (3 metres) shaft yesterday and screwed his arm. Conway is a real white man and will stand to any 'stiff'on' (meaning he will help anybody out, who is broke) and is very oblidging.
 
Police-Station opalton1895,  November 10. Constable T. Bates No.475 and Constable D. Soal No.747 opened the Police Station, under the name of Opalton. A Post Office has also been opened. (the police barracks closed on September 14, 1901. The diggings around the town site of Opalton were known as part of the Fermoy opal field. The Jackeroo mine at Opalton was dug by two Jackaroos from Corona Station. Cost of water catrted by horse over rough country was 25/- (shillings) for 100 gallons (450 Litres).
 
1895, 'The Western Champion' November 26. Several hawkers carts conveyed provisions and drapery and a few known as 'Bumboats' are laden with something stronger than billy tea. About 6 bullocks a day are killed to supply the whole camp with meat.
 
1895, December. The Fernery and Opalton Hotels are being built opposite each other.
 
1896, 'The Western Champion' January 7. Boxing Day sports at Opalton included;100 yards race (scratch) Free standing jump. Three legged race. Standing long jump. Running long jump. Girls race - Bunning hop, step and jump. Old Buffers race. Running High jump. Opalton handicap. Consolation Stakes handicap. Second Girls race. Blind fold race.
 
1896, 'The Western Champion' January 17. Since the rain our population has considerably increased and the old workings are getting a working up. I regret to state that recently this field has been visited by a thief or two and several robberies have been committed. One robbery, from the store of Messer's Corsel and McIntosh a tin hat box containing a valuable opal pin, opal ring, set of studs, some pieces of opal and a purse containing between £70 and £80 in notes and cheques.
 
1896, 'The Western Champion' January 21. A painful accident occurred to a miner R.Barnard. He in company with a mate went out shooting and after firing a shot the shell of the cartridge got lost in the magazine of the rifle. Thinking it was the last cartridge in it they were not careful with it trying to get it out and in doing so a cartridge exploded, the powder and the exploded shell being blown up into Barnard's face. He however luckily escaped with a few cuts on the head and neck, but owing to the powder having injured his eyes rather severely he was sent to Longreach, for treatment, the following morning.
 
1896, 'The Western Champion' February 4. One or two 16 foot (4.87 metre) shafts in the vicinity of the deep ground turned out a good deal of opal last week. A meeting was held on Saturday night last at which it was decided to fence in two large waterholes - one each end of the main camp - for culinary purposes (these would be Kilarney and Long water holes).
The license for the Opalton hotel by Mr McIntosh having been lately granted, the hostelry will be opened in a few days and judging from the interior the proprietary are far from novice at the game. The stock of 'snake juice' on hand is of the choicest and best brands and visitors to the opal field may rely on receiving the best accommodation and 'tucker' procurable at this distance from the coast.
 
1896, 'The Western Champion' March 17. Owing to wet weather a flour famine was only averted by the arrival of Barry's coach, for some weeks. The coach has on board a few hundred weight of provisions, the flour being sold at the high rate of 9d ( pence) per pound. The price however only ruled for a couple of days when a local hawker brought a few bags from Winton which retailed at 4d per pound.
 
1896, 'The Western Champion' June 16. The population around Opalton had reached 600 men, a lot if them being shearers and station hands.
Opalton requires a well, as the quickest and cheapest means of obtaining a good wholesome supply of water, and with the amount of labour offering could be done on the most advantageous terms. 
Postal affairs require urgent attention as it is beyond reason  to think that the present Postmaster will act as such and find his own office for £6 per year. The police are also entitled to much greater powers than they at present possess, as many small cases have to be overlooked.
It will not be very long before the government will be called upon to provide for the eduction of the many children. (note: There was never a school at Opalton)
 
1896, 'Daily Standard' July 4. Stage coach robbery at Opalton on June 21st. A parcel of 160 pieces of opal, value £45 was stolen. Constable M. Daly found most, or all the opal.
 
cobbCo opal miners stagecoach1896, 'The Western Champion' (from 'The Longreach Standard' correspondent) July 21. The fare on Barry's coach from Longreach via Fermoy station to Opalton was £2. I hear that one or two small 'pots' have been got in the shallow ground near Conway's old store and a rich patch was struck last week in McCormack and party's claim on Poverty Flat.
Mr.Hickie, a Longreach buyer, purchased a considerable quantity of opal, of which there still remains, on the field, a considerable amount.
At a meeting of the local Progress Association held on Sunday, it was resolved to construct an overshot dam at the top camp, known as Clancys, by volunteer labour. (Also discussed) The proclamation of the field. A mail run via Winton and a provisional school.
 
1896, 'Daily Standard' August 25.  Messrs Spike and Clancy of the local Progress Association canvassed the town for money to sink a well.
 
1896, 'The Western Champion' August 25. A few of our local miners have lately left to give the Mayne and Horse creek a trial and I hear one or two prospecting parties start out shortly. A lad named James Wilkins in the employ of Mr.J.Conway of Fermoy had his leg badly broken through a horse falling with him.
Hawkers selling various merchandise visited Fermoy (Opalton) field and there were two butchers shops (a bench under a bough shed) in the peak years.
Condys Crystals in hot water was used to bath cuts and infections.
 
1896, 'The Western Champion' September 15. A cricket match at Opalton. Opalton North versus Opalton South. A very exciting cricket match was played on Sturday which resulted in a win for the south by 15 runs.

1896, 'The Daily Standard' September 15. The well at 100 feet (30 metres) has turned out to be a duffer (no water).
 
1896, 'The Western Champion' November 24. Water has to be carted from Blue Bush creek, the miners in twos taking it in turns with a team. A few hundred gallon (1800 Litre) tank thus coming daily to the field. The hole from which the water is obtained will not last long. In view of the giving out of the water at Blue Bush, it was decided at a public meeting held at Bookers Hotel that a track to No Name creek, distant about 12 miles (18 Kilometres) be blazed. Our Post office is now run by Mr James Sinclair, storekeeper with his assistant Mr.Ralph Hill. A new mailman (Mac) is a decided improvement as he is up to time regurlarly.
 
1896, November. Charles Henry Paine had a mail contract (for 2 years hence) once a week by horse from Winton to Bladensburg, Warrnambool, Happy Valley, Opalton, Fermoy and to Highfields.
 
1896, December 12. Proclamation and gazetting of the Mining District of Opalton, area: 14270 Sq.Miles (Approx 36,956 Sq.Kms).
 
1896, 'The Western Champion' December 26. A combined wind and thunderstorm swept across Opalton between 3 and 4 o'clock giving dwellers in tents a merry half hour. The day had been very hot previous to the storm, an unusual number of whirly winds being noticeable, one of which razed to the ground an edifice belonging to Mr. Sinclair, a storekeeper. The storm blew down the tents of Messrs, Spike, O'Neil, McCaffrey, Webster and others. Some of the tents were blown to shreds and contents strewn about for a quarter of a mile around. Some miners pooled their money and resources and worked togeher as a party.
 
1897, 'The Daily Standard' January 6. Sid Jones met with a nasty accident when a rope broke and a bucket of mullock went hurling down the shaft. Being partly in a drive at the time, he received only a nasty scalp wound.
 
1897, 'The Western Champion' February 2. Push bikes were in use at Opalton and George Cragg found the Minnierichie opal show. Severe drought, late 1890's and early 1900's. At the Bold Knob I hear some good opal has been obtained by one party. Mr.Hobbs arrived last week, from the 'Reach, on a bike and on Saturday last a few of our cyclists gave the girls a treat in the way of cycle riding. Both mails were delayed this week on account of the flooded creeks.
 
Also 1897. Fred Holm aged 91 in 1971, said that the opal show at the Yellow Jimmy mine was found in 1897 by two stockmen. It produced top gem grade opal and Fred saw some of the opal at a later date, describing it as "the tops, oh yes, very much".
Coaches left Longreach for Maneroo, Eversham, Corona, Silsoe, Vergemont, Opalton and to Rosebrook.
 
1897, 'The Western Champion' February 9. Mr Yates has struck a nice 'pot'. I hear the pipe opal continued some distance and that about £300 worth had been taken out. In the list of J.P.'s lately published I notice the name of Murdo Cameron of Opalton. Two Indian Hawkers left here on Sunday morning at 4 am to look for horses and as they had not returned by Tuesday morning, on that day Constables Daly and Castledine accompanied by a tracker named Tommy went in search of them.
 
1897, 'The Western Champion' March 30. I hear that Messrs Conway, Inman and Farley have left to prospect some country in the Mayne (river) district.
News was received in town on Tuesday that a prospector had discovered human remains, in the Horse creek country, which are supposed to be those of the missing man Frailly. Constable Daly and a tracker left to investigate the matter and bury the remains.
 
1898,'The Longreach Standard' April 30. On February 15th Constable M.J.Daly arrested 2 men for breaking into and stealing from a warehouse known as Conways store.
 
1898, 'The Western Champion' October 11. In regards to finds Messrs Eckel and party have obtained during the past month, upwards of £600 worth of brilliant opals. Messrs Collins and party have also obtained a parcel which they value at six hundred pounds. Both of these finds have been obtained from new ground at a depth of thirty feet, joining what is known at Conway's old workings.
 
1899, 'The Gregory News' January 3. Sunday last week, two men at Opalton started off for water,12 miles (18kms) distant when they missed their way. They struck the mailman's pad and the one who reached Opalton sent help to his mate 10 miles away.
 
1899, January 21. One of the biggest, or maybe the biggest ironstone pipe of opal ever discovered was at Conways diggings and was 11 feet (3.35metres) long with an average thickness of a man's thigh. It took 4 men to carry the, broken up, main sections back to the Police station at Opalton. R.Shillington, G.H. Greenwood, E.T.Creed and a man named Jones were the miners involved.
 
1899, 'The Gregory News' April 18. 'Poison in a mailbag' the postman found a packet of arsenic which had broken open in transit. It was addressed to a Rabbiter in the district.
 
1899. Warden A.H.Zillman's report states Opalton was in decline but some rich opal was still being won. An average of 80 men at Opalton and adjacent camps.
 
1899, 'The Gregory News' May 2. Mr.J.Booker an opal buyer from Longreach secured £600 worth of opal from several owners.
 
1900, 'The Gregory News' February 12. Mr.A.Lewis who is running a coach out Opalton way, reports that Mr.J.Cameron J.P. died at Opalton.
 
1900, 'The Gregory News' August 13. Good find of opal reported at Horse creek about 25 miles (approx. 36 kms) from Opalton.
 
1901. Only a small amount of activity on the main field at Opalton itself. The Police station closed on September 14, 1901.
 
1901, 'The Gregory News' December 23. Mr.C.F.V.Jackson, assistant government geologist was in Winton last week with the intention of visiting the fields in the district.
 
1902, September 20. Constable J.Smith D15 reports he left Longreach in company with Corporal Wick on patrol in the Opalton district after cattle stealers.
 
1902, 'The Gregory News' September 29. Mr.J.Lancashire from Winton, the Opalton mailman had his horse drop dead at Batavia station, another horse he got knocked up after 3 miles. He walked with the mail on his back towards the next stage, had gone 10 miles when picked up by Mr.Curtis in the Sunny Hills station buggy. (There was a severe drought in 1902).
 
1903, 'The Gregory News' June 1. George Cragg, pioneer at Opalton, fossicking for opal between Cork station and Connemara station come across stones arranged to form figures, 1897. Some distance further, a post sunk in the ground and log pointing to a tree, in the fork of which was a large stone. Some miles further on again was a blazed tree with the word. LOST.
 
Opal-chalice1909. The Reverend Fred E.B.Hulton-Sams, known as 'The Fighting Parson' came to the Saint Andrews Bush Brotherhood in Longreach and left in 1914. He collected opal, was a great sportsman and was extremely proud of his Winton boys for their boxing ability. When he was a young fellow, Fred Cragg remembers seeing the Fighting Parson at Mayneside. Rev. Hulton-Sams enlisted in the English army and was killed at Hooge in Flanders on July 21,1915. His fiancé Alice, had a piece of Jundah opal cut into 5 oval shaped opals which were set around the base of a silver chalice. She presented it to Saint Andrews Church of England in Longreach Queensland where it is still used to this day.
 
About 1909. George Cragg's son, Fred said his dad worked a claim at Conways mine about 1909. After he sold the Opalton hotel in February 1907, George and his wife Christina lived in the old Police barracks on and off for 5 years, while opal mining. One patch of opal the Craggs dug out of the Havelock mine (beside the Opalton to Mayneside road) in a few hours was sold to a buyer, the 'Black Doctor' for £800.
 
1912 George Cragg and family shifted camp from Opalton to the boundary riders hut at the Wilderness gate. George checked the rabbit netting fence from there to Mayneside station, a distance of 30 miles mainly on a bicycle. 
By 1912 a store had been established at the old Rosebrook station site beside the Mayneside waterhole. This was the site for the later Mayneside homestead.
 
By 1914 the town of Opalton ceased to exist, having been in decline for years and a lot of miners went to the first World War 1914-18, never to return to the opal fields.

1914-1918, World War I. There was very little interest in opal mining until a small revival in the 1930's and after that, mining was more or less forgotten about with only the odd prospector poking around the opal fields.

1927. The Craggs moved to Mayneside Boundary Riders hut on January 23, 1927. George's wage Cragg-opaltonwas £12 a month. Fred Cragg left home in 1927 and went to work on Warbreccan station trapping dingoes and roo shooting for skins. He became known as 'The Old Dogger'. He was an expert bushman and passed away on April 14, 1996.  

1930's 'Floods in Queensland' by Banjo Paterson. It is thought to be sometime in the 1930's Banjo Paterson travelled from Winton to Rockhampton with an opal buyer who lost his bag, containing opal, overboard down near Rockhampton. It was retrieved by a man named Bill who received £2 for his effort. (There was a small amount of mining around Opalton at the time.)
 
1935, 'The Queenslander' Sept 19. <Western Queensland's Precious Stones>
 
 "Opal King" Speaks in Terms of "Thousands"

Although, perhaps, the history of opal mining in Queensland is not so romantic as that of gold, it has its interesting side - <*> lights, and Mr. Jack Clancy, of Muckadilla, Western Queensland, has recalled for The Queenslander some of his experiences while Mr. Clancy claims to know more about opals than any man living, as he has been on every field in Queensland. Every field, he says, has a different formation, and few suspect how rich in gems the country out West is. Some thousands of pounds worth of gems have been obtained from Sheep Station Creek and Duck Creek, and "I have given £260 for a few little stones from Duck Creek that I held in the palm of my hand." But they were gems of the "first order." Many fine opals were found in the Eromanga district, Bull's Creek, Stoney Creek, and the Bum Bum and Little Wonder - yielding some exquisite stones. It was from this district that the late Joe Bridle sold £20,000 worth of beautiful gems. A few thousand pounds worth ' has also been dug out up the Thompson River, near Jundah.

Jack Clancy opalBuyerAbout 110 miles south-west of Longreach on the Fermoy field, or Opalton, as it was called, there was £100,000 worth of precious gems sold. Mr. Clancy was personally acquainted with 18 buyers who operated there, and declares that a big percentage of the opals were sold under their value. He saw a parcel change hands one morning for £700. It was taken to Adelaide and sold to the late Mr. T. C. Wolaston for £3000. It was not until he heard this that the original seller realised the true value of the gems he had sold so cheaply. The "daddy of them all," says Mr. Clancy, was the little Kynuna field on the Diamantlna River, where there must have been between £7000 and £8000 worth sold. Included in a parcel which Mr. Clancy bought at this field was a stone which he sold for £6 a carat in Melbourne. The late Mr. Wolaston, of Adelaide, came along and gave £9 a carat for it. He told Mr. Clancy that it was the best stone he had ever bought—and he purchased over £100,000 worth of opals in his time. This price beats the £750 an ounce which Mr. Klein, as reported recently, secured for 22 ounces at Lightning Ridge. NSW, as there are 155 carats in an ounce of opal. Mr. Wolaston offered Mr. Clancy £10 per carat for any more "beef woods," as this stone was called, he was able to obtain. "I had a big try, but failed," he says.

Mr. Clancy states that in the vicinity of Muckadilla there is a seam of opal one foot thick, but 700 feet deep, and all that has come out of it is what a bore removed, and that was sent to Brisbane and pronounced first class. "But I will have to wait until I draw a Golden Casket before I start on it," Mr. Clancy says, adding that the people around Muckadilla do not realise what wealth lies near their threshold. Mr. Clancy, who was well-known as the "Opal King" in the Winton and Longreach districts, says that there is room for hundreds of unemployed on the various mining fields out West. "It is very easy work and does not require many tools, but, of course, the life is a bit hard, although it is very interesting," says Mr. Jack Clancy.

1938, August 11. George Cragg, bushman, opal prospector and pioneer of Opalton passed away at Onoto station. He was 68 years of age.
 
1960's. Most of the old diggings, partly hidden by Giddya, Mallee and Spinifex and other bushes, were not worked again until people became aware of the old opal diggings, in the 1960's. The first three miners to live at the old ghost town of Opalton were German migrants; Arno Grotjahn, Walter Linek ('Wally Wombat') and Albert Reiss. Peter Russel and others soon followed. Instead of picks, shovels and windlass's etc the modern day opal miners mainly use backhoes, excavators and bulldozers. Some hand mining is still carried on, one place being around the old town diggings at Opalton. At various places over the Mining District of Opalton boulder opal, opal matrix and sandstone opal can be won.

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