A World of Copper: Burra Workshop

A World of Copper: Globalising the Industrial Revolution, 1830-1870

A World of Copper held its second workshop in the historic mining town of Burra, South Australia, in September 2012, with the generous support of the Leverhulme Trust’s International Network Scheme.

Delegates travelled north from Adelaide to Kapunda, The Kapunda Minethe scene of South Australia’s first copper mining venture in 1844, and on to Burra, where the South Australian Mining Association opened what would become known as the ‘Monster Mine’ in 1847.

After words of welcome from Mayor Peter Mattey of the Regional Council of Goyder, the workshop opened with a paper by Peter Bell (Flinders University) that introduced international delegates to the history of copper smelting in nineteenth-century Australia. The ‘Welsh process’, which coped well with the carbonate ores of Burra and other first-generation sites, was dominant in the early decades, put in place by migrant workers from South Wales. From the 1890s, however, as Australian mining companies started exploiting lower-grade sulphide ores, American technologies, installed by diploma-carrying engineers, started to take over. Chris Evans (University of South Wales) then gave consideration to how current debates about global history and the history of British imperialism could help (or hinder) the task of interpreting the Swansea-centred World of Copper. These remarks were a prelude to Evans’s paper on copper mining in Cuba: ‘Carabalí and Culíes at El Cobre: African Slaves and Chinese Indentured Labourers in the Service of Swansea Copper’.

The odyssey that took Welsh smelters from the Swansea district to the Australian mining frontier was the theme of Greg Drew (Australian Mining History Association).  Leyshon Jones of Cwmavon was an early emigrant to South Australia. He and his son of the same name were key figures in Australian copper smelting from 1848 until the son’s retirement from the Wallaroo smelting works in 1877. The dynastic grip of the Leyshon Joneses, father and son, provided striking evidence of how important the Welsh were in the formative decades and of how significant family links were for the transmission of knowledge and authority. Three papers followed that pondered the complexity of the Chilean mining frontier in the country’s Norte Chico, which developed rapidly in the middle decades of the nineteenth-century. As Luis Ortega (University of Santiago de Chile) made clear, the rapid growth of the mining districts depended upon substantial internal migration from Chile’s southern provinces as well as long-distance migration from elsewhere in Latin America and from Europe. The villages that emerged had an evanescent existence and many dwindled as the boom petered out and the lure of nitrate mining further north took the population away. Igor Goicovic (University of Santiago de Chile) offered a detailed analysis of popular sociability in the district of Illapel in Coquimbo province. Social practices proved to be very varied in a district that was both agricultural and extractive in character. Religious traditions, tavern life, networks of solidarity, and a ready resort to interpersonal violence contributed to Illapel’s distinctive social personality. Sharron Schwartz (University of South Wales) added a transnational dimension to the discussion with her paper on Cornish migration to the Pacific Littoral. The Cornish proved adept at accumulating ‘social capital’ – as their success in establishing themselves as the arbiters of hard-rock mining expertise might indicate. The success of ‘Cousin Jack’ was no blanket phenomenon though; it rested on quite specific and carefully nurtured migration paths between different sub-districts in Cornwall and regions of Latin America.Burra, South Australia

Day two began with presentations by Jason Shute (Flinders University) and David Bannear (Heritage Victoria) that explored the smelting landscape of Burra. The presentations had a split character: an initial briefing in the workshop venue (Burra’s beautifully restored Victorian town hall) was followed by open-air discussions at the putative site of the earliest smelter at Burra, a short-lived blast furnace of German construction, and at the footprint of the Welsh-style smelting works that succeeded it.

The afternoon session began with ‘What were the Environmental Impacts of the Swansea Moment?’ by Katherine Morrissey (University of Arizona), a global survey of nineteenth-century changes and of theoretical ways in which industrially induced environmental change might be understood. Peter Birt (Flinders University) had a more local focus with his presentation on ‘”Whitewash and Red Clay": The Archaeology of the Burra Dugouts’, revealing much about the material culture of working-class migrants who, in the first, chaotic flush of mining at Burra, provided their own housing by excavating underground dwellings in the banks of the creek that ran through the settlement.  Stephen Hughes (Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales), by way of contrast, analysed copper workers’ housing in Swansea, which evolved over a century and a half to take many different forms. Huw Bowen (Swansea University) concluded the session with a consideration of ‘The Future of Copperopolis’s Past: Industrial Heritage and the Regeneration of the Lower Swansea Valley’. This explored some of the key issues emerging from the latest phase of interpretation and regeneration in the Lower Swansea Valley, using a consultancy paper on the Hafod copper works site by Tehmina Goskar as a focus for discussion.

The workshop’s final session was devoted to the functioning of industrial diasporas in the World of Copper. Roger Burt (University of Exeter) made the case for using freemasonry as a lens through which to examine networking patterns in international mining. 'Map Kernow', Son of Cornwall, KapundaBill Jones (University of Cardiff) reported on his research on Welsh copper workers in Chile in the mid-nineteenth century, focusing on those employed at the smelting works of Urmeneta y Errázuriz at Guayacán. The Welsh were very far from home, of course. Worse, these wary Protestant nonconformists found themselves in a deeply Catholic country. Yet this was not so troubled an existence as might at first be thought. As Jones revealed, Welsh Protestants and their Chilean co-workers and neighbours rubbed along fairly well; aggressively evangelical missionaries from Wales were not received with enthusiasm.  Philip Payton (University of Exeter) closed the session with a presentation on another staunchly Protestant set of workers: the Cornish who went to South Australia. Migration to Australia, especially to the northern Yorke Peninsula, stamped a strongly Cornish identity on the local mining sector. The town of Moonta became Australia’s ‘Little Cornwall’. Conversely, as Payton pointed out, Moonta and other Australian settlements became fixtures in the mental geography of those who remained in ‘Old Cornwall’. (The Cornish character of Moonta, Wallaroo and Kadina was sampled first-hand by those participants who followed the workshop with a tour to the Yorke Peninsula.)

Photographs: Olivia Saunders

Burra Workshop Programme

Abstracts of presentations can be found here.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

08.00-09.30: Travel from Adelaide to Kapunda

09.30-10.30: Tour of Kapunda Mine led by Greg Drew

10.30-11.00: Coffee break and inspection of the Kapunda Museum and Bagots Fortune

11.30-13.00: Travel to Burra via the original Copper Road

13.00-14.00: Lunch

14.30-17.00: Tour of Burra Mine and townships led by Greg Drew

Monday, 24 September 2012

09.00-09.30: General welcome: Councillor Peter Mattey (Mayor, Regional Council of Goyder); Chris Evans (University of South Wales)       

09.30-10.30: Peter Bell (Flinders University), ‘The Early Development of Copper Smelting in Australia’

10.30-11.00: Coffee break

11.00-12.00: Chris Evans (University of South Wales), ‘Carabalí and Culíes at El Cobre: African Slaves and Chinese Indentured Labourers in the Service of Swansea Copper’

12.00-13.00: Lunch

13.00-13.40: Greg Drew, ‘The Leyshon Joneses: Father and Son Welsh Smeltermen who dominated the South Australian Smelting Industry from 1848-1877’

13.40-14.20: Luis Ortega (University of Santiago de Chile), ‘The Precariousness of a Frontier Region.  Townships and Villages in the Copper Mining Districts of Chile during the "Copper Moment", 1830-1875’

14:20-15.00: Discussant: Louise Miskell (Swansea University)

15.00-15.30: Coffee break

15.30-16.10: Sharron Schwartz (University of South Wales), 'Migration Networks and the Transnationalization of Social Capital: Cornish Migration to the Pacific Littoral'

16.10-16.50: Igor Goicovic (University of Santiago de Chile), ‘The Mining Economy and Popular Models of Sociability: Illapel, Chile, 1840-1885’

16.50-17.30: Discussant: Bill Jones (Cardiff University)

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

09.00-09.30: Jason Shute, ‘When is a Store not a Store? When it's a Smelting House’

09.30-10.00: David Bannear (Heritage Victoria), ‘The Burra Smelting Works’

10.00-10.30: Coffee break

10:30-11.15: Tour of Burra Mine Store led by Jason Shute

11.30-13.00: Tour of Burra Smelting Works led by David Bannear

13.00-14.00: Lunch

14.00-14.40: Katherine Morrissey (University of Arizona), ‘What were the Environmental Impacts of the Swansea Moment?’

14.40-15.20: Peter Birt (Flinders University) ‘”Whitewash and Red Clay": The Archaeology of the Burra Dugouts’

15:20-15.50: Coffee break

15:50-16.30: Huw Bowen (Swansea University), ‘The Future of Copperopolis’s Past: Industrial Heritage and the Regeneration of the Lower Swansea Valley’

16:30-17.10: Discussant: Denis Morin (Lorraine)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

09.00-09.30: Roger Burt (University of Exeter), 'Fraternity and Business Networking: Local, Regional and International'

09.30-10.10: Bill Jones (Cardiff University), ‘Labour Migration and Cross-Cultural Encounters: Welsh Copper Workers in Chile during the Swansea Moment’

10.10-10.40: Coffee break

10.40-11.20: Philip Payton (University of Exeter), ‘South Australia and the Cornish Transnational Identity’

11.20-11.40: Discussant: Luis Ortega (Santiago de Chile)

11.40-12.30: Discussion on publishing results from the network

12.30-13.30: Lunch

13.30-16.00: Travel from Burra to Adelaide, or travel from Burra to Kadina for post-conference tour led by Greg Drew