Sam Pearce- an extraordinary miner

On the last day of March 1848 in Wingrave, a small village in Buckinghamshire located in the central part of England, Samuel William Pearce was born.  He was someone who would go on to make discoveries that unlocked massive wealth and upon which a thriving city would be built and endure.  His parents, James and Harriet [nee Edmonds], migrated the following year and after some short moves elsewhere took their family to settle in Kapunda, a booming copper mining town in South Australia. James was a prominent citizen as he ran a hardware store, he was Kapunda’s mayor for a time, became a member of the SA Parliament and was a very long-term Methodist preacher.  As a teenager, Sam, the eldest son, worked as a clerk in his father’s store doing the accounts, but that was not an occupation remotely consistent with his yearnings. The store he worked in supplied the miners and mining was a subject he would have encountered every day.
At nineteen he married a miner’s daughter, sixteen-year-old Mary Williams.  Mary had been born and raised in Kapunda, and had been conducting a school in a back room of the family cottage.  Sam and Mary were to have nine children surviving into adulthood and a staggering 11 which did not.

Sam and Mary PEARCE

Sam and Mary PEARCE

In 1870 Sam and Mary moved to Belalie (now Jamestown), a newly opened up agricultural settlement, and for eight years attempted to make a living as agricultural pioneers producing wheat and sheep.  This northern country can be cruel and dry and the Pearces eventually joined many others to move on from there.  However, he left behind an indication that his heart was in prospecting as his farm was pock-marked with holes from his search for minerals.  He was known as someone who would readily join any local rush.  He built his understanding of geology and a reputation as a skilled prospector and knowledgeable mineralogist in the district as he found copper, silver, lead, manganese, gold, asbestos and magnesite during that period.  He was also a dreamer and cheerfully went further afield.  For instance, in 1886 and accompanied by his second son Reg[ who was 14yo at the time, he left the rest of his large family behind to go prospecting in South Africa, predominantly in the Transvaal region and in Zululand.  He returned from there with some uncut diamonds.  At another time after his major discoveries of the Golden Mile, Sam undertook to survey part of the Kalgoorlie desert – to do that he first went to India from where he came back with a team of camels and their handlers.  He did this with son Willie and some other family members.   In his home country, he would eventually go prospecting in every Australian state.

The main story has been recounted by Sam himself in at least two publications (Pearce, 1909) and (Pearce, 1929); it began in early 1893 when he was caught up in the Glen Taggart rush in Dashwoods Gully near Kangarilla in the Mt Lofty Ranges of South Australia.  While there he came across ‘new chums’ and old schoolmates William [Willie] Brookman and Charles [Charlie] de Rose whose returns had been scant after several months of toil.  Their lack of experience and knowledge had them classified as part of the much maligned ‘white shirt brigade’.

A young Sam Pearce.

A young Sam Pearce.

However, despite the endeavours of Brookman and de Rose being misdirected, Sam was impressed with their willingness for hard work, their indomitable energy and their outlook that difficulties existed only to be swept away.  He invited them to join him working his claim as he was confident they would at least find some gold if they did so.  They did that and, while they were occupied there, Pearce prospected for a better site for the trio.  He settled on one nearby in a hole that had been abandoned but in which the ore body had not “bottomed” [terminated].  To get access they had first to remove some heavy boulders in which Pearce had identified several wiry stringers of gold.  He soon found good prospects, so the three of them joined forces at this new site and were able to extract several ounces of gold from it.  Due to the heavy sandstone rocks they had to remove, Pearce named their find the Great Boulder Alluvial Claim, a name that would later have huge significance in a distant part of Australia.


The happenstance that brought Willie Brookman and Sam Pearce together has been summarised as follows:-

“It was a simple kindness shown by him to a mug prospector that eventually brought Sam Pearce to the West… Among the ‘White shirt brigade’ as a section of the budding prospectors was called were W.G. Brookman and C. de Rose, who were not afraid of work but whose labour was greatly misdirected.  In taking a bag of dirt about a mile further down the gully to wash, Pearce came across the two triers washing some dirt on their account, but his experienced eyes showed him that by the way they were handling the dish they would lose all the gold even if they had an ounce to the dish.  He offered his help, and thus sprang up a friendship…” (Veteran prospector passes, 1932)

They had a visit from a mutual friend, John Dick, who rode up to them and scoffed at their paltry returns in comparison with what was reputedly being found in the new goldfields of Western Australia.  He suggested they go to Coolgardie where Arthur Bayley’s find had sparked a rush.  Excitement was raging following discoveries at Coolgardie and elsewhere in that state.  Dick supposedly spoke colourfully to them: “You bloody fools.  Why don’t you go to Western Australia where the gold sticks out like raisins in a plum pudding?” (Kennedy, 1953).  They were willing and ready to go but they would need backing to get there and a fair deal offered to them by their sponsors should they have success.

Willie Brookman approached his older brother George to see if he might raise the cash to finance their journey to the west.  While George was a very wealthy businessman, unfortunately Willie was not and indeed it was bankruptcy which prompted him to try prospecting.  He had bought into a company manufacturing jams and pickles, Chance & Co, but the company went bankrupt in 1890 (with insolvency proceedings dragging on for two years and the majority of his creditors being family members) – Willie Brookman received most of the blame for the company collapsing (Giles, 1979).  The younger Brookman was not well regarded around Adelaide, in fact he was somewhat notorious for his recklessness and there were those “who talk about him in a manner that shows he does not possess their esteem, and they would not evince much grief if his riches should take unto themselves wings and fly away” (Quiz and the Lantern, 1897).  George agreed to do so but on the proviso that the experienced and committed Sam Pearce go as the prospector.  There is a view that George may have seen this as an opportunity to be rid of his troublesome and embarrassing younger brother.  By this time Sam Pearce had a reputation as

an enthusiastic prospector with a splendid knowledge of mineralogy” (South Australian Register, 1899).

George subsequently formed a syndicate in Adelaide to fund this speculative venture.   There were 10 paying shareholders who each contributed £15 ($30) to provide a total capital of £150 ($300) which was considered a very modest amount indeed for such an undertaking.   Despite this being a relatively small amount to put towards the venture, raising these funds was not easy as this was a time of a severe economic depression when many banks and other businesses folded.   Nevertheless, gold prices held up and it was the gold discoveries that provided much needed jobs, with the bullion extracted playing a major role in rebuilding the economy.  Besides the financial contributors to this syndicate, five ‘free’ shares or one third of the entitlement were allowed for the duo to share who were going to go out and look for gold.  Sam went off on the basis that his own return would be from the one-sixth ownership through the two and a half shares he was allocated, plus royalties of a one-ninth interest in all he found.  To his dismay, he would never receive any royalties and his proportionate ownership would be whittled down as his discoveries became more and more valuable.

Sam and Willie left Adelaide aboard the P & O steamer Australia on her maiden voyage on June 7, 1893.  Their passage cost them £50 ($100), a third of their capital.  By coincidence, this was the same day that Paddy Hannan’s party had set off from Coolgardie in their own search for riches.  Charlie de Rose did not take up the invitation to join them and instead went to Broken Hill where there was a mining boom of another type and he was keen to learn from that, but later that same year he would meet up with his mates again in the west and play a vital role in developments there.

Upon arrival at Albany in Western Australia, the two men travelled by train to Perth where Sam had the good judgement to purchase and study a copy of the Acts governing mining in WA.  This was a wise move and many others unfamiliar with the regulatory issues suffered because of their ignorance.  From Albany they took a train to the railhead at York where they purchased their equipment, provisions, a spring dray and two horses.   The horses and dray cost £75 ($150) so by this time most of their original £150 ($300) for expenses had been used.  They loaded their purchases including a heavy iron dolly [a vessel for crushing rock to enable gold to be washed out] onto their light dray and because their supplies filled the dray and to spare the horses they set off to Coolgardie by foot.   Sam was a powerful, broad-shouldered man, unusually tall for those days at 183 cm and he and Willie, who was considerably shorter and slightly built, walked the entire distance from York to Coolgardie.  It was an arduous walk of nearly 500km but it took them only 12 days.  There was a scarcity of water and they tolerated the discomforts associated with trudging over sand and through clouds of red dust.  They progressed along a badly cut track, enduring hot days and bitterly cold nights, with Sam examining either side of the track along the way for minerals as they went.  They arrived in Coolgardie on June 28, 1893 after passing through Southern Cross and the Gnarlbine Soak, a vital water source for prospectors heading to Coolgardie, merely three weeks and one day after leaving Adelaide.  Upon arrival they learned of the announcement of Hannan’s discovery that had occurred a week earlier about 40km away where modern-day Kalgoorlie is today.  Being caught up in the resultant excitement, they each obtained their Miner’s Right and headed out to the same area after weighing up different options as there had been reports of new finds elsewhere.  The declaration of an alluvial gold discovery near Mt Charlotte in Western Australia in June 1893 by Hannan, Shea and Flanagan led to thousands of others rushing there seeking to realise their own dreams of riches and soon the field was covered with miners.

Sam had hardly started looking in this same field, Thirty Mile as it was first called, with thousands of other hopefuls when he struck a leader carrying gold.  It took him less than half an hour to find that leader, but he was not excited by that at all – “we haven’t come all the way from Adelaide for a little six inch (15cm) leader”.  All the attention was on seeking surface gold but Pearce was convinced that the white quartz that others were pursuing contained less than sufficient gold.  Pearce was scornful of alluvial finds; he had bigger plans and left Brookman to keep working that site while he went elsewhere looking for something better.  He was much more intent on finding mother lodes from which alluvial slugs are shed.  His theory had been that payable gold would be associated with iron so he set off in a different direction altogether to look for tell-tale signs.  He rather liked the ironstone cappings and other features of the low hills, points which other seekers had either not noticed or appreciated.   Pearce was about to put brilliantly into practice an association that the Government Geologist Edward Hardman had reported on several years earlier; “the almost universal association of gold with iron oxides [ironstone] in auriferous deposits is remarkable” (Hardman, 1886, p. 8).  Reflecting on the short-lived rewards to be gained from alluvial finds around Kalgoorlie with the likelihood of that field being abandoned after a few years, Kirwan, in 1934, asserted “had it not been for the prospector’s instinct possessed by Sam Pearce, the Golden Mile might not be discovered to this day” (Kirwan J. , 1934).

Pearce took a track leading south from the camp towards what was then known as Red Lake and, branching off from it, he was filled with anticipation as he came across huge ironstone outcrops.  It is notable that others did not share his interest in such formations, in fact, completely oblivious to the precious reefs that lay in this area, they scorned him as a ‘wild cat’ for prospecting in a completely different type of country.  ‘Poor devil, he’s mad to expect to get gold in that rock’ and ‘goat farm’ were comments heard as he was digging his first shaft.  It is significant how attitudes soon changed and he eventually had so many successes that he was revered by his contemporaries as a born prospector who “had a prospector’s instinct and seemed almost to scent gold” (Kirwan J. , 1936).  Many similar comments can be found from other sources about Sam’s supposed ‘nose for gold’.

The next morning, he and Willie went out that way again and, going then into what was thick bush, came across what he described as “huge blows of iron”.  Sam used his pick to mark a salmon gum tree with ‘P.P’ – Pearce, Prospector.  They decided to move camp the next day without telling anyone of their intentions to a spot near that tree, which is a little over 5km south of Kalgoorlie and central to what was to become the area known as The Golden Mile, regarded as “the richest square mile of country in the world” (Sentinel, 1932).  Unfortunately, this tree of great historical significance was cut down a couple of years later, like most other trees in the area.

From this new camp they went about one kilometre to the east and came to where Pearce spotted white quartz leaders running east and west.  He soon discovered some gold showing in one of them.  They pegged out an area to prospect, then did some digging.  The bush around them at that time was so thick with sandalwood, salmon gum and black oak that they had little fear of being observed by others.  The gold there held out but did not seem to widen as they were hoping.  Pearce left Brookman to keep digging out the quartz and traced the leader further east and over a well-wooded hill (later to be called Pearce’s Hill) looking for a more promising site.  After about half an hour he came across what he was looking for – a place where the leaders intersected with a north/south formation of quartzite and iron enclosed in diorite walls, and found rough gold in one of them.  He pegged out the area in his own name.  He was ecstatic, describing the find at this junction as “gold showing freely in every stone broken or picked up”.  He gathered about 25kg of the gold-bearing rocks and carried them back to Brookman where he dropped them at his feet in great excitement.  He told Brookman to stop working where he had been digging as he had found what was needed to make the expedition a great success.  At this little hillock he had found the Ivanhoe reef.  It was merely a month since they had left Adelaide and their meagre capital had dwindled to only £7 ($14).  Brookman, the ‘clerical manager’ as Pearce dubbed him, went to Southern Cross, a long journey across dusty and sandy country that was almost waterless, to telegraph the Adelaide shareholders with Pearce’s appraisal.  They of course were excited to receive the report anticipating an extremely high gold yield of 3 to 4 ounces per ton, which subsequently proved to be an accurate assessment.  However, the directors wanted verification so they wired a third party, a Captain Oats, to go to the Ivanhoe and report back on what he found.  When he did so, he stated that Pearce had underestimated the value of the find and confirmed to the shareholders that Pearce had discovered permanent payable gold in large formations or dykes, rather than in the white quartz lodes.

The Ivanhoe’s first main shaft with windlass, 1893

The Ivanhoe’s first main shaft with windlass, 1893

While Brookman was away Pearce continued working the Ivanhoe shaft.  His spirits, however, had declined due to loneliness, a lack of drinking water and an absence of cash to buy anything [Brookman had taken all the cash with him to Southern Cross].  After a fortnight, at the end of the day and in the twilight, and perhaps out of boredom he left his shaft and went for a walk to see if he could locate a new reef.  He carefully followed the north/south ironstone outcrop from the top of the hill and came to a point where he spotted a little bit of slate and diorite sticking vertically about 15cm out of the sand.  In the fading light, he was able to see a glint of gold showing in the crevices.   Crawling on the ground he was thrilled to find several weathered stones containing gold.  With his pick he pried a small block up and hurried back to his camp where he placed it under the pillow on his bunk.  He knew he had found something very special.  After a sleepless, anxious night he took a post and placed it about 150m north of his find.  To this post he nailed a legal notice taking possession of 24 acres (10ha) on behalf of the Coolgardie Gold Mining and Prospecting Company of Adelaide [this was a company that had been formed by those in Adelaide to succeed the original syndicate].

 The rapid development of The Ivanhoe mine is highlighted from this 1899 photo

The rapid development of The Ivanhoe mine is highlighted from this 1899 photo

Willie returned that same morning and was excitedly shown the piece of gold-rich rock.  They eagerly went and completed the pegging out of their claim and Brookman invited Pearce to name it – Sam chose to call it The Great Boulder in honour of their earlier South Australian claim.  Upon sinking where Sam had identified the very rich leader they found it opened out into a large reef.  A letter written by Willie to the syndicate on July 15, 1893 told them of the discovery and another letter was sent a fortnight later with confirmation and further detail.  Then a telegram despatched by Willie a few days later showed they clearly understood the significance of the find:

“Have discovered an immense iron hill with very rich reefs running through, from one of which assays as high as 300 ounces to the ton have been taken.  Have dollied 30 ounces of gold.  Estimate the value at a quarter of a million”

The camp where Sam Pearce and Willie Brookman were located on the Great Boulder claim in 1893

The camp where Sam Pearce and Willie Brookman were located on the Great Boulder claim in 1893

The usual size of a mining lease was 24 acres which is a little under 10ha.  To secure a lease a peg, really a post, had to be placed at each of the four corners of the area selected.  The posts they used were about a metre high and a notice would be attached to one of them.  This notice stated that the person doing the pegging was in the process of applying for a gold mining lease.  Ten days from the posting of the notice were allowed for this application to be made to the Warden’s Court, usually a tent in which the Mining Registrar sat, and rent and survey fees had to be paid. A lease would be issued in the first instance for 20 years with a right for renewal.  An annual rent had to be paid and there was a requirement for it to be worked constantly with not less than one miner for every four acres held, although exemptions could be sought

The Great Boulder lease was registered at Coolgardie on August 30, 1893 [Lease No. 16E].  This site unfolded into such an enormously wealthy and significant find that the rapidly establishing adjacent town took the name Boulder acknowledging the prominence of this particular find.

Once again Willie Brookman set off to the telegraph station to wire the good news of this latest find to Adelaide with the recommendation that it would pay to crush for gold.  They sent off a bulk sample of around 35kg for analysis and all involved were elated when the results came back showing very high concentrations of the precious metal.  It was an imperative to raise more funds in order to hire labour to exploit the claims and this was the task of the syndicate members back in Adelaide.  The financial base to develop the leases was widened.  The next company they formed from Adelaide, the Associated Gold Mines of Western Australia Ltd, absorbed the original claims.  Eventually George Doolette was despatched to London to raise more capital by floating the biggest claims there.

Further discoveries by Pearce came in quick succession including the Great Boulder East (plus Great Boulder South, Great Boulder North and Great Boulder Extended), Lake View (plus Lake View South and Lake View Extended), Royal Mint, Iron Duke, Iron Monarch, Associated Mines (originally the Adelaide North, South and East mines), Daisy, Australia (plus Australia North and Australia East), Bank of England and the fabulous Golden Horseshoe.  This success was staggering.  Making so many claims was unprecedented and Pearce’s knowledge of the mining Acts proved crucial in him being able to do this.  According to Sam (Pearce, 1909) and verified by others, as soon as Willie returned from Coolgardie after registering one claim he was able to show him another that he had pegged out and had ready for registration.  Each journey to register a lease in Coolgardie was a round trip for Willie Brookman of about 80km of walking.  All in all, the syndicate took up 19 of the leases they pegged out over an area covering about 200ha, mostly within a mere four months since leaving Adelaide.  This all occurred so quickly that by the end of 1893 six important mining companies were formed on the back of Sam’s discoveries; more than one hundred years later these were still producing a large proportion of the Golden Mile’s annual gold yield.

A special report in an Adelaide newspaper of the period laid rest to any thought that Sam Pearce was merely a lucky prospector:

“It was undoubtedly a happy chance that these pioneers elected to settle at Hannan’s [Kalgoorlie], but when it was considered that the Ivanhoe is quite a distinct reef from the Boulder, and of an entirely different character, that there is a space of some hundreds of yards between the Ivanhoe lodes and the Lake View Consols, and that both are separated by distance from the Australia Blocks, it becomes apparent that ‘luck’ was a microscopic element in the selection of these particular areas for development.  The prospectors proceeded about their business in a systematic way.  Mr Pearce made careful tests of every claim before acquiring the lease, and referring to the Australia Blocks his prophetic declaration that ‘possibly at some time the whole hill will be treated, as I have found gold in the borings of the country’, stamps him as a practical geologist, whose theories are founded upon an intelligent interpretation of experience.” (South Australian Register, 1899)

Developing those leases was far from automatic.  ‘Expert’ mining engineers visited the site and, making a huge blunder, condemned every single one of the leases as being worthless.  They had never previously encountered gold in such formations.  Their assessment was that the syndicate members had been swindled and that Sam and Willie’s glowing reports had been massive exaggerations.  When this report reached Adelaide, it caused panic among syndicate members and they sent a telegram to the prospectors to abandon what they were doing and sell all of the leases.  Pearce and Brookman were dumbfounded and furiously protested by both telegram and follow up letters saying it would be madness to dispose of the claims.  Their protests convinced George Brookman that Sam and Willie’s reports were honest and accurate, and he in turn was able to persuade the other syndicate members to persevere.  It was to the syndicate’s great benefit that they did:

“…the experts who visited the locality, unfamiliar with the formations, universally condemned the shows.  The shows, however, have since conclusively condemned them.  Had the promoters not possessed a more intimate knowledge of the character of the formations than the experts who reported upon them they would, in the face of such evidence, have relinquished their hold upon the ladder of success.” (South Australian Register, 1899)

As more and more claims were made there was an ever-increasing requirement for capital.  George Brookman was the key to raising the necessary funds from city-based investors but the supply of those funds did not always make it to the goldfields when needed.   When this was the case Pearce and Willie Brookman dollied some gold to use as currency and keep the working of the claims going.  At one time, George Brookman personally guaranteed an overdraft needed for the enterprise to persevere.

For a lease to be payable it had to have high grade ore.  Ore samples had to be assayed and the yield of ore assessed before progressing with the development of a mine.  The evaluation was not always straightforward and accurate.  On one occasion Pearce had some ore from one of his new leases that he had subjectively appraised as being a very rich 10 ounces to the ton.  Around 20t of ore was crushed, put through assaying machinery, but it registered as producing only one ounce per ton.  It was a disappointing outcome and caused despondency but Pearce challenged the assessment, blaming the poor quality of the water used in the extraction process for the disappointing outcome:

“You hardly got any of the gold.  Impossible to get the gold with the water you used – like thick pea soup.  It will be misleading.  There is gold there, much gold”

There was no other assaying plant available for them.  They decided to do a rough test themselves on some of the tailings from the previous assay, involving burning off mercury and an amalgam on a shovel.  Once they did this they found the remnant left to be gold, showing that Pearce was correct in that gold had been missed.  When properly assayed, the ore was shown to be yielding at Pearce’s prediction of 10 ounces per ton.

Charlie de Rose, their friend from Dashwoods Gully times, re-joined them.  The company gave Charlie the task of supervising the transportation of plant required for mine constructions – machinery such as boilers, battery stamps and engine.  Willie Brookman had a supervisory role in the constructions and their first battery commenced on the Lake View site in October 1894.  Gold production was high from the outset.  An additional syndicate had been formed, the Lefroy Coolgardie syndicate, and it had sent out three young men in Dorham [Dorrie] Doolette (son of George, the Chairman of both syndicates), Alexander [Alick] Macgeorge and Bruce Henderson.  Their brief was to work alongside Pearce and Brookman, peg more leases and buy existing leases of promise from others.  This trio had arrived after the first eight or nine leases had been pegged out by Pearce with Willie Brookman’s assistance.  They were tasked with following in Pearce’s footsteps and hopefully peg out some more rich leases.

The Great Boulder battery, built December 1893

The Great Boulder battery, built December 1893

Macgeorge later wrote that it was Pearce’s close and painstaking scrutiny of the surface that led to him identifying so many small veins; the gold was always fine and would be peppered on the schist face with what was known as ‘mustard gold’, different from any gold formation previously known in Australia.  He was adamant that all the gold bearing outcrops had been found by Pearce alone and, while Brookman’s work was invaluable, none of the finds could be attributed to Willie Brookman (Macgeorge, p. 18).

“The systematic way in which Mr Pearce went to work, testing the various lodes and lines of country around Kalgoorlie… undoubtedly enabled the Syndicate to avoid many dangers, and to take a straight course to fortune” (South Australian Register, 1899)

Unfortunately for Sam, his fellow shareholders back in Adelaide had come up with new business structures That not only expunged the additional one-ninth reward for everything he found, thereby dishonouring the foundation arrangement made with him, but also diminished the proportionate shareholding of the prospecting duo.  With their two and a half shares each in the original syndicate that had a total of 15 shares, they each originally held a one sixth shareholding.  Of course, none of this restructuring was done in consultation with Sam or Willie and they only found out well after new configurations had been put in place.  It is unarguable that more capital needed to be obtained with some urgency in order to do the mining, buy the equipment and pay employee wages, but it is shameful that Pearce in particular was so badly treated.  It was observed “members of this small syndicate reaped millions in dividends and share interests but Pearce’s share was insignificant compared with the nature of his discoveries” (Sentinel, 1932) and “although Pearce expected a specified interest in his discoveries, his proportion was a miserable one compared with the fortunes won from the area” (Sentinel, 1936).

It is galling that those who took the risks and endured the hardships, did the work, found the gold and were most worthy of reward would be treated so poorly and reprehensibly.  It needs to be appreciated that the personal risks were high with medical services in remote fields non-existent and many prospectors perished due to disease, accident, malnutrition or thirst.  While Pearce was aggrieved that he did not receive the prescribed one ninth of all he found and that his degree of ownership of the enterprise had shrunk, others became extremely wealthy on the back of his discoveries and attained social eminence, with two of them later knighted, namely the two Georges – Willie Brookman’s older brother and the senior Doolette.  In his epitaph it was written “Sam Pearce will go down in mining history as the man who found fortunes for others, but received very little himself”, … “although he expected a specified interest in his discoveries, his share was insignificant compared with the wealth that was unearthed from the area” and “members of the syndicate which employed Pearce reaped millions in dividends, and share interests, but he received a miserable proportion” (Veteran prospector passes, 1932).

The way these business processes were typically done at the time was for the directors to create a new company and put a call on existing shares held in the old company on the basis that more capital was needed.  If the call was not met then those shares would be forfeited.  Such calls may not be met either due to shareholders not having the funds to meet the call or shareholders being unaware of the calls.  Of course, where communications were poor as they were to these new goldfields, which had a complete absence of a mail service, it is not surprising that prospecting shareholders in remote Western Australia would be unaware of such machinations taking place in Adelaide and London.

Records held in the State Library of South Australia show that Pearce and Brookman threatened legal action when they found out about the business structural changes and the effects on them. In the original Adelaide Prospecting Company between them they had a shareholding equivalent to one third of the total interests.  This had progressively been slashed by the various reconstructions to a much smaller proportional holding, leaving them outraged and seeking reinstatement of their original position.  In November 1893 a compromise was reached whereby Sam Pearce and Willie Brookman were to share between their two selves 10% as cash or shares of the earnings from the leases controlled by this company, other than at the Ivanhoe and the Great Boulder.  Subsequently there was yet another reconstruction and this one provided them with a shareholding which discharged all claims they may have had.

Nevertheless, Willie Brookman soon became rich and rose to prominence.  A large workforce was needed to work all the leases and do the mining and it became Brookman’s task to deal with that while Pearce continued with the prospecting.  Before long, Brookman had engaged a workforce of more than 300 workers.

The area continued to develop and a description of the field decades later indicates the great industry:

Hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of plant is working ceaselessly, crushing rich ore torn from the bowels of the earth.  There is the sullen roar of machinery on the surface, and hundreds of feet down a network of shafts steadily extends as the feverish winning of ore goes on.  Poppet-heads, with their spinning wheels shooting the ore to the surface loom up everywhere” (Barkla, 1936)

Willie Brookman prospered and in 1895 he was able to fully discharge the earlier bankruptcy that initially brought him looking for gold.  He went on to acquire control of some 800ha of mining leases for himself in different fields including 19 leases south of Kalgoorlie.  As a millionaire, he lived an opulent lifestyle and bought much land, acquired a country estate, a seaside cottage and a private yacht.  He lived in a town mansion with a suite of liveried servants.  He was lionised in financial circles and seen as a leader by mainly gold-rush migrants hostile to the government of the time.  He had 30 company directorships both in London and Australia [many were later stripped from him], became Lord Mayor of Perth for a short time [the failure of his venture to smelt ores at South Fremantle and subsequent arrangements with his creditors made him ineligible to hold office], gained membership of the Legislative Council in WA [but never made an inaugural speech and the seat was declared vacant due to his non-attendance].  An incorrigible speculator, his failed business ventures and a plummeting stock exchange broke him and he was forced to sell his considerable assets to meet his debts.  Sadly, his wife’s desertion of him only added to his ill health and personal turmoil, with his life ending miserably at the age of 50.

Pearce was especially wounded over how he and his mates were treated regarding the Golden Horseshoe mine.  This mine produced massive wealth and provided some folk, particularly in Adelaide, with enormous riches but Pearce and the others with him when he found the reef received a pittance.  The narrative starts with Pearce receiving a letter from one of the directors to say that an additional company had been formed for the purpose of finding gold and that Pearce, Willie Brookman and the three men who carried that letter of introduction to him – Dorrie Doolette, Alick Macgeorge and Bruce Henderson – had each been given a paid-up share.  Dorrie, Alick and Bruce had agreed to travel from Adelaide after having been assured all those in the prospecting group would be ‘well looked after’ should they make valuable finds.  It was a huge thrill to make the discovery of the Golden Horseshoe but a bitter disappointment to find out later that this company too had been restructured, without their knowledge or consent, and that none in the prospecting group remained as shareholders.  The Lefroy Coolgardie Gold Mining Prospecting Company held four claims and its directors decided to sell its properties in London.  The enormous capital inflow had been disseminated by the time of the half-yearly meeting in June 1894 where the balance sheet showed a credit to the company of a mere £44.19s.1d ($90).  This did not go far when distributed across the original shareholders and proved disastrous to the prospectors as these holdings produced fabulous wealth for the new owners.

Pearce explains how he missed out on the rewards of the Golden Horseshoe discovery:

through having other exploring engagements I lost sight of the claim for some time” (Pearce, 1929)

These other exploring engagements took him to Norseman in 1894, around 200km south of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.  It was there that he made new discoveries including the Leviathan and the very rich Lady Mary (named by Pearce after his wife)  There is nothing in Norseman that has been erected or named to honour these discoveries by Pearce.

The Lady Mary Mine at Norseman. The gold was discovered there by Sam Pearce in 1894

The Lady Mary Mine at Norseman. The gold was discovered there by Sam Pearce in 1894

Nonetheless, Pearce still did very well.   A man prone to impulsive decisions, he sold the shares he had to gain an immediate windfall and for a while he was extremely well off.  Had he held his shares longer he would have reaped far greater and ongoing riches through their increasing value and the stellar dividends they yielded.  As it was, he was able to buy the accoutrements of the wealthy including a mansion that he extravagantly furnished.  Extraordinarily to many, rather than relax and enjoy the comforts he was able to acquire, he succumbed once again to the lure of prospecting only a relatively short period after his first taste of luxury.  He took his family on a world tour – for him it was a prospecting tour – which resulted in using up most of what he had.  Money slipped easily through Pearce’s fingers.

His two-storey mansion ‘Stradbroke’, was described as a 19th century gentleman’s seat in the Mt Lofty ranges, close to Adelaide with extensive gardens, a vineyard and orchard.  This was a stark contrast to the modest houses, mostly huts, which Mary, Sam and their children had before.  The land they purchased for Stradbroke Estate, or Stradbroke Park as Pearce liked to call it, is referred to in land title documents as portions of Sections 293, 294, 339 and 346, Hundred of Adelaide.  In a spending spree, he lavished funds on his beloved family – buying son Willie Pearce a seat on the Adelaide Stock Exchange and for two others he purchased blocks adjoining Stradbroke, building them each a house on the blocks.  It is neither surprising nor coincidental that he named these two blocks ‘Kalgoorlie’ and ‘Boulder’.  Willie Pearce had returned to Adelaide in 1897 after struggling with difficult conditions for the previous two years in Kalgoorlie where he was a storekeeper.  The Pearces lit Stradbroke with electricity from the first privately-owned generating plant in Adelaide.  This was at a time when residents used gas, candles or oil to light their houses and there was no street electricity.

In her insightful book Old Stradbroke (1976), Elizabeth Warburton describes how they poured money into developing and improving the estate including the planting of 2,200 orange and lemon trees, 300 other fruit trees and 4,000 grape vines.  They installed windmills and built a five megalitre reservoir giving them the capability to irrigate all their plantings and the gardens. They also built a gardener’s cottage.

Stradbroke, circa 1900, the mansion purchased by Sam in 1893 and sold in 1902. It was demolished in 1966. Warburton (1988) has it that it is Sam out front on the right standing with a man thought to be one of his brothers. However, others claim that Sam is not in this photo and instead it is his son Willie there

Stradbroke, circa 1900, the mansion purchased by Sam in 1893 and sold in 1902. It was demolished in 1966. Warburton (1988) has it that it is Sam out front on the right standing with a man thought to be one of his brothers. However, others claim that Sam is not in this photo and instead it is his son Willie there


Besides these and other property purchases, Pearce outlaid a lot of money on his wife and daughters and procured an ocean-going yacht (The Enchantress) for himself.  He lavished hospitality on guests.  All the money soon went, as did Stradbroke.  The Pearces sold their mansion in 1902, after only seven years there.  At first, they moved next door into the house on their Boulder block but moved on from there after only short period.  Mary passed away in 1907.  Stradbroke Park was subdivided in 1910 and in 1966 the house was demolished.

Four generations – Sam Pearce’s 80th birthday. Sam is with his eldest son Willie, Willie’s daughter Alice and her first two children Yvonne and Valmai

Four generations – Sam Pearce’s 80th birthday. Sam is with his eldest son Willie, Willie’s daughter Alice and her first two children Yvonne and Valmai

To Sam Pearce, money was for spending, for living the high life, rather than be used as a basis for securing a comfortable future.  He spent recklessly buying French brandy and champagne by the case, backing racehorses, and showing off in the typical wealthy miner’s manner of occasionally lighting his cigar with a five-pound note.Such a profligate lifestyle could not endure and he ended his days in poverty.  His final years were spent in very modest circumstances in Beach St, Grange in Adelaide and he passed away on New Year’s Day in 1932 at the age of 83.  He was buried in Payneham cemetery, South Australia.

He has been described as a man who not so much dissipated a fortune but rather as someone who flung it across several continents (Warburton, 1988).  His ill-fated and hugely expensive North American sojourn drained his moneys and curtailed his grandiose lifestyle.  Yvonne Pearce Brown, one of his great granddaughters, told this writer her family spoke to her of his love of adventure and new quests.  She said that when Sam travelled it was often with a “very big entourage”.  She reported that her red-bearded, deep-voiced great grandfather was well known for going into Glenelg’s Jetty Hotel and bellowing “Pearce’s shout!” – behaviour far removed from his conservative Wesleyan upbringing.  He was a generous man throughout his life, and it seems somewhat reckless with his assets, as this shouting of the bar even occurred in his old age when pension day came around, well after his fortune had disappeared.  He was not only generous with his money, he was generous in his advice to other prospectors as to where they might look to do better.  Despite the deep injustices that befell him, he was known as a friendly man who retained a positive outlook.

If the question is asked as to how good a prospector was he, the answer would have to be very good indeed.  No matter how skilled they might be, no-one is going to find a bonanza each time they go out.  However, the manner and the number of instances of prospecting success by Sam Pearce are strong indications that there was far more than good luck involved in his discoveries.  This respect among fellow prospectors for his abilities and observational skills has been well documented.  One eye-witness event was recounted years later by Alick Macgeorge:

“[We] were sitting in the shade of a tree just east of the Blue Gap, Sam Pearce told me the surface rocks on the east side of the area were different from those on the west side, and pointed out where the line of contact ran.  Years after, when trained geologists examined all the mine workings in detail and drew the differences between the rocks… the line of contact they determined was nearly identical with that traced by Pearce when there were no mine workings and nothing but the accuracy of his observant and experienced eye on which to depend.  I always considered this a great feat on his part as, to a less observant man, the surface rocks, much weathered as they were, appeared the same.” (Macgeorge, 1993, p. 20)

In their discussion about the large number of carefully selected leases acquired by Pearce and Brookman, Martyn and Audrey Webb emphasise this impressiveness that the blocks “were located on different and separate lines of reef running roughly parallel to one another…The credit for this highly discriminating set of choices, which must go almost entirely to Sam Pearce, cannot be ascribed, even by the wildest stretch of imagination, to either luck or chance: this was prospecting of the first order” (Webb & Webb, 1993, p. 255).  Furthermore, they put the roles and contributions of the two men into perspective: “Pearce was a most careful worker.  He systematically explored the area, looking for the main lodes.  For his part, Brookman made good use of the labour which had to be employed in fulfilment of the labour conditions, by putting the men to work cutting costeans and digging pits from which immediately saleable gold, as well as useful geological information, was obtained” (Webb & Webb, 1993, p. 263).  Sam Pearce was no ordinary prospector.

Pearce never lost the urge to go prospecting and continued doing so into old age.  In his mid-70s a syndicate commissioned him to go searching for the famed Lasseter’s lost reef, which meant enduring tough conditions once again and travelling into Central Australia.  He did find alluvial gold in the MacDonnell Ranges but not the fabled reef.  On another occasion one granddaughter recollected visiting him in a tent on the Deloraine goldfield near Adelaide when he was nearly 80 and finding him stirring his dinner pot with a monogrammed claret ladle.

Using the windfall from selling his original shares, Sam Pearce eagerly went overseas with his family in tow and prospected for gold, silver and rubies.  This took him to the Yukon in the Klondike region in Canada’s north-west bordering Alaska, to California’s gold fields and to Arizona, and into Mexico’s western sierras.  The Klondike venture was a dreadful disaster – Pearce installed his family in a big stone house in Vancouver, bought plentiful supplies and equipment, hired an overseer to manage it all and set off with a large party with the aim of blazing a new, more direct trail through the wilderness.  Warburton (1988) has it that mosquitoes swarmed them and sixteen horses had to be put down because of blindness.  Worse still, an avalanche buried some of the party.  Pearce limped home in poor shape.  It was also a financial drain on his resources and he directed his son Willie (the Adelaide stockbroker he had left behind to manage his affairs and move with his own family into Stradbroke while he was away) to send substantial funds over to Canada.

Not deterred, he took his family on journeys though the United States and even purchased, and expensively furnished, a house in one of San Diego’s citrus groves.  In letters back to son Willie he called it his American Stradbroke.  The money was fast running out and Pearce eventually sent the family home while he lingered in Mexico to do some prospecting in the western sierra country.  This was a grand adventure but did not restore his lost fortune and, when he finally returned, his properties were progressively sold off to meet debts.



(Above) At Mannum on the Murray, 1928: Willie Pearce and his father Sam, Arthur Weston with the oars, Elaine and Iris Pearce (daughters of Willie from his second marriage to Alice Tucker), and Alice Weston (daughter of Willie from his first marriage and wife of Arthur)

Trevor Sykes, a highly regarded historian and financial journalist, has challenged the strong cult of Paddy Hannan in Kalgoorlie.  He argues that the alluvial field Hannan’s party found was not an especially rich one, it petered out in a few years and it is not part of the rich reef associated with the Golden Mile.  He is among those who have pointed out that the real wealth of the area is due to the vision and courage of Sam Pearce and asserted that it is an injustice that he has not received the recognition he deserve (Sykes, 2000).   This is consistent with the conclusions of other researchers such as Martyn and Audrey Webb who deduce “Although all honour goes to Paddy Hannan and his mates for having made the first find, the credit for having discovered and opened up Kalgoorlie’s fabulous Golden Mile – on which the real prosperity of Western Australia is based – must go to two South Australians, William Gordon Brookman and Sam Pearce… [and] it was Brookman and Pearce’s discovery of what eventually turned out to be a cubic mile of rich gold-bearing formations, hardly distinguishable at the surface, and not Paddy Hannan’s surface alluvial find, that marked the real beginning of Kalgoorlie-Boulder as one of the world’s most important and long-lived gold mining centres” (Webb & Webb, 1993, p. 1).

It seems that two key elements are indisputable – one, that it was the first claim reported by Paddy Hannan that flamed the initial rush to Kalgoorlie and two, it was Sam Pearce who discovered the formations of the Golden Mile that have sustained Kalgoorlie-Boulder for the last century and a quarter.  They were both key contributors to the Australian mining industry and it is fitting that both are inductees into the Australian Prospectors and Miners Hall of Fame.

Paddy Hannan has, so far, been afforded all the limelight but it is to be hoped that the role of Sam Pearce will eventually be fully marked and celebrated to at least the same extent and in a form worthy of the significance of his extraordinary discoveries to Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Western Australia and the nation.  The evidence of the vital input to the prosperity of so many others by Sam Pearce is overwhelming.  He is not recognised in any way in Kapunda where he grew up and married, there is no acknowledgement of him where he is buried in Payneham, and there is no recognition of him in Norseman where he made other valuable discoveries.  These are all huge oversights.

While KCGM, the company now mining the area occupied by the Golden Mile, has readily acknowledged his importance, it is astonishing that the City has done so little.  To its credit, KCGM has named its onsite administrative area the Sam Pearce Offices and has named the connection between the open pit and the underground operations the Sam Pearce Decline.  Eventually both those will disappear.  On the other hand, the City has been highly remiss.  There is no statue of Sam Pearce, no major thoroughfare, no significant park, no suburb, no library (he read keenly), no sporting arena (he was an accomplished sportsman), nor other major public building in his name.  To this day in the city built on the back of Sam Pearce’s discoveries, there remains a puzzling blockage to providing a substantial permanent memorial that recognises his contributions.  Flummoxed for other possible explanations, there is a strong suspicion within the local mining community that because the omission is so profound that resistance to full recognition could only have been political.  Surely not, but if it is the reason, then why?  Is it merely an oversight, an oversight that has lasted for a century and a quarter?  Again, surely not.  One explanation has it that the resistance in the past is speculated to be based on a presumption that the City’s considerable investment made in immortalising Paddy Hannan would be undermined by bringing the far more significant discoveries of Sam Pearce to the attention of the public.  That seems ridiculous, it does not follow that by making more of Sam Pearce then less is made of Paddy Hannan.  So why is there this apparent indifference and unwillingness to act meaningfully?  Why has he not been properly celebrated and remembered?  Will this belatedly be addressed in meaningful, lasting ways which recognise his importance to the City?  When will those in a position to do something embrace the imperative to act on this?

It is somewhat encouraging that at long last an initial step was taken to redress this gross oversight –  the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder gave 2016 Walk of Fame Awards to Samuel William Pearce and William Gordon Brookman.  The Council under the leadership of Mayor John Bowler that did this is to be congratulated in its initiative to embrace the memory of Sam Pearce in at least a small way following a century and a quarter of neglect by its predecessors.  It is a start.

The above plaque commemorating the work of Pearce and Brookman appears in the Walk of Fame which is in the footpath of Hannan Street, Kalgoorlie-Boulder

This photo was taken prior to the removal of the headstone by the cemetery authorities.

The only reference to Sam Pearce at his burial site in Payneham Cemetery, South Australia, was on Mary’s headstone.   This headstone has been removed by the cemetery authorities from the gravesite to a few metres away adjacent to Marian Rd where several such headstones are clustered for display purposes.  Sam was buried in Mary’s plot and was never given a headstone of his own.  This plot location was in the Church Trust section, Allotment 212 S& C, Path 45.  There is no plaque or other indication at the cemetery to inform visitors of the connotations of the site.


This story has been written and is reproduced with the kind permission of Chris Morgan.


I am appreciative for the help freely given by many in locating and providing information and their encouragement to pursue this investigation.  In particular I thank Scott Wilson and the staff of the Eastern Goldfields Historical Society and the Eastern Goldfields Prospectors Association’s president Cranston Edwards.  I also acknowledge the extensive investigations of Don Pearce, a direct descendant of Sam, who also generously provided some of the family photographs in this document.

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My name is Moya Sharp, I live in Kalgoorlie Western Australia and have worked most of my adult life in the history/museum industry. I have been passionate about history for as long as I can remember and in particular the history of my adopted home the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia. Through my website I am committed to providing as many records and photographs free to any one who is interested in the family and local history of the region.

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  1. I only had time to skim-read this Moya but just wanted to let you know that I found it fascinating and well-written. I’m sure it will help to get the full story of the Boulder-Kalgoorlie discovery out there. Thanks also for giving me some useful sources of info into the area and mining generally.

  2. Ernie Weston says:

    What a great piece of history written so well,I wondered if the Arthur Weston in the boat on the oars is related to my family as my Grandfather Ernie came from South Australia chasing the elusive gold reef!

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