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Merton’s Reward gold mine: Reconstructing the mine and deconstructing the myth

Chappell, Marianne (2013) Merton’s Reward gold mine: Reconstructing the mine and deconstructing the myth. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

Prospector Fred Merton discovered gold near the town of Malcolm in Western Australia in March 1899 and took the bold step of developing his find as sole owner/manager. When he sold to British interests in January 1902, his audacity had won him fortune – approximately £84,202 worth of gold plus the proceeds of the sale – and fame. Or should that be infamy?

This thesis addresses two aspects of the history of Merton’s Reward gold mine. It analyses the evolution of the mythology that developed around Merton and his mine throughout the twentieth century, and it investigates how and why the mine developed as it did, firstly under Merton’s management and then that of a typical British mining company.

The Western Australian gold boom of the 1890s generated numerous tales of prospectors and bonanzas but there has been little discussion or analysis of the authenticity of these myths in either the reminiscence literature or scholarly histories. The well-documented mythology surrounding Merton and his mine provides an excellent subject for this type of investigation. Its origin is revealed in misinterpreted and biased newspaper reports of the time.

The mine itself developed into a sprawling confusion of randomly named quarries, shafts, and associated workings, sorely in need of clarification. Detailed examination of the records demonstrates the importance of geology as a factor in its development. When integrated with other factors including finance and the influence of the individual, Merton’s Reward provides a rare opportunity to compare management style in the two phases – the one-man show and the company operations – of the gold mine’s life. Although Merton ran the mine for his own benefit he followed locally accepted mining practice. He understood the limitations of his style of management and sold when changing conditions within the mine threatened to surpass them.

Despite a full complement of staff appointed to professionally manage development of Merton’s Reward and despite the company producing roughly twice as much gold as
Merton, it failed to achieve a return on its investment. The geology of the mine defeated it.

This case study starkly illustrates the insurmountable difficulties associated with chasing a failing orebody at depth, the main reason for closure of the majority of Western Australia’s outback mines. Merton is demonstrated to have been highly competent, both as prospector in his choice of ground and as mine owner in the timing of his departure.

Publication Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Supervisor: Layman, Lenore
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/20220
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