Rip Van Winkle mine, Mineral Springs, Blackwood.


By Margot Hitchcock, Historian for the Blackwood & District Historical Society. ©


The Rip Van Winkle mine has a long history going back to Blackwood’s early gold-mining days and is first recorded in 1859 as the Early Bird mine and later the Great Extended mine which was situated on Johnston’s Reef halfway between the then townships of Blackwood and Golden Point, and now located at the foot of the hill south of the present Blackwood Caravan Park.

In October 1859 the Early Bird Company crushed 20 tons of stone with a yield of 11 oz of gold.  The reef where they obtained the gold in one place was eight foot wide.   In December 1859 the Mining Surveyor’s reports stated that “the Early Bird Company has been very fortunate in striking some very rich quartz, surpassing in richness any specimens found in this division since the opening of the Crown claim at Simmons Reef”.   In September 1860 the Early Bird Company was reported as being renamed the Caledonian, and in October the report states that the mine was abandoned by others who had spent about £2000 with little or no return and left in despair.  The present owners sunk the shaft six foot deeper and struck auriferous quartz which paid 2oz to the ton of quartz.   The report of January 1861 states the Caledonian Company purchased the interests of the Golden Point Co. in the adjoining claim.   By May 1861 they are reported to be only obtaining 17 dwt. to the ton of quartz crushed, the total depth of the shaft then being 150 ft.   By June it was reduced to 2 dwt., while in September it was 12 dwt.   In October 1861 the amount of gold obtained was down to 2 dwt per ton and mining stopped.

The mine was idle for 3 or 4 years, then a company known as the Great Extended Tunnel commenced operations in approximately 1865. Messrs. Byres and party worked the two reefs.  They had a suitable crushing plant of six heads of stamps, worked by a water-wheel 30 feet in diameter; the stamps weighed 600 to 700 lbs each.   With two and a half sluice-heads of water, the stamps could be worked to 60 blows per minute.  The reef was worked by an adit which was driven towards workings in the Early Bird shaft from which it was stated good returns were obtained before the records of the Mining Registrars were kept, as this gold was bulked with the Gold Escort returns of 1868.   The company sank the main shaft 100 feet below tunnel level and crushed 2500 tons of quartz which gave value of about 3 dwt to the ton. The company worked the mine for about one year, and then it closed down.   A co-operative party then prospected the reef down the previous company’s shaft at about 70 ft below the tunnel level and cut fair stone which was worked for several years.    The whole reef for a distance of between 200 ft and 300 ft north to the cross course was taken out and proved  payable, the reef being between 2ft to 4ft thick.

In about the 1870’s when alluvial gold had become scarce, Byres and Party commenced to dig a tunnel in an area which is now above the Mineral Springs camping area below the road to Golden Point, which was called the ‘Rip Van Winkle’ mine. It was dug a distance of approximately a quarter of a mile with several drives off the main tunnel.  A huge wheel driven by a water-race, was used to operate a plant to crush the quartz from the tunnel.

In 1896 the Rip Van Winkle Company took up the mine and while prospecting on the surface found a reef with good prospects.  The history of this reef illustrates how a good mine may be missed even in the heart of a mining township.

When Byres and party (Mr Alex Byres, Jack Byres, Charlie Gribble and Mr Herb Cann Snr) found this reef, they stoped it to the surface, and it was noted that one large block of quartz projected above the ground, right on the roadway close to a house.  Gold could be clearly seen in this stone, yet it had, thousands of times, been struck by the feet of the people of the village.   In the upper workings of the reef there was a shoot of gold 140 feet long, which was worked to the 60 feet level.   During the following 3 years of mining the company crushed 3000 tons for a yield of 1500 oz of gold.

From mining reports, the ‘Rip Van Winkle’ showed good returns. Altogether 1,100 ounces were obtained from the surface to a depth of 80 feet, and 1,245 ounces to a depth of 250 ft.

The ‘Rip Van Winkle’ was operated until the early 1900’s.   The crushing plant was removed in 1936 to the ‘Easter Monday’ mine.  This crusher can now be seen in the main street of Blackwood near the Hotel.  The water wheel unfortunately having been dismantled several years previously.  The tunnel itself was last prospected about 1938.  ©

Information from Mining Reports and also from a report ‘Great Extended and Early Bird Mine Blackwood by H Foster 1932’, ‘The Blackwood-Trentham Gold-field by W.H.Ferguson 1906’, courtesy the Victorian Mines Department, and ‘Mining Surveyors Reports’ 1859-1861, courtesy State Archives.


Water Wheel and Quartz Battery at Rip Van Winkle Mine.

Info and photos courtesy Margot Hitchcock, Historian, Blackwood & District Historical Society.  2008.  Bottom photo from my mother (Dorothy Light nee Roberts, nee Warner collection) ©