The discovery of the Leffel Water Turbine in the bush on the Great Northern Minesite in 2007 began a journey of historic discovery for researchers at the Herberton Mining Museum. Part of that journey of discovery resulted in the turbine, now on display outside the museum, being recognised as an historic Object of National Significance.
But how did an industrial water turbine made by the Leffel Turbine Company in Ohio in the United States in 1878 come to be abandoned in the bush at Herberton in North Queensland? That was the original query.
This query led to the uncovering of the story of two brothers, David and Isaac Daniels, who owned the Monarch Battery which was situated above the junction of South Wondecla Creek and the main Wondecla Creek some 4 kilometres outside of Herberton. The story is not yet complete but what has been discovered so far could make for a real tale of intrigue, stock market manipulation, and doubtful competence.
The Daniels brothers were, according to Isaac’s marriage certificate, born in ‘Carnarvon, South Wales’ in 1838 (David) and 1841 (Isaac). It seems they came to Australia just after Isaac’s birth but their early life has not yet been discovered.
The first sign of David found so far sees him running a produce store in Creek Street, Brisbane in 1871. He sold this business in the next year and took an interest in copper mining with a mineral selection of 120 acres near Degilbo, to the west of Bundaberg. He also purchased land at Enoggera in 1876 and 1878. Isaac is first found from his marriage certificate of 1876 living in Fortitude Valley with his occupation given as builder.
Next contacts place Isaac in Port Douglas where, as a builder, he was involved in construction of some government buildings, starting about 1878 when he purchased land in the area. He is listed in partnership with a George Baker, as builders, in the 1880 Port Douglas directory.
Port Douglas, at that time, was the main port of access for the Hodgkinson Goldfield that J V Mulligan discovered in 1876. This was most likely what drew Isaac to the area but he did not appear to be directly linked to any mine. But that changed with the discovery of the Wild River Tinfield in April 1880 and was perhaps influenced by David’s interest in copper mining. Isaac took out a Mineral Licence in June 1880, being the eighteenth such licence issued at Thornborough when that place was declared the licensing centre for the Wild River (Herberton) Tinfield.
Ruth Kerr states that Isaac Daniels and others actively sought mineral country in the wider Herberton area. However, Isaac is given as the leasee of the Monarch mine in September 1880 with George Baker listed as manager of the mine. George takes out his first Mineral Licence in October 1880.
David Daniels also seems to have been drawn to the tin field possibilities. The Port Douglas branch of the QNB records his signature in November 1880 when he opens an account and he takes out a Mineral Licence in February 1881, and at the same time purchases a number of allotments of land, fourteen in all, some quite large, at Port Douglas. This appears to indicate some commitment to the area.
His name also appears on the Leviathan lease, adjacent to the Monarch, along with Isaac and George Baker.
But now we get to the first definite indication that the Daniels, or at least one of them was prone to making less well thought through decisions, for in November 1880, it was probably Isaac who made the decision to acquire a Leffel turbine that had been purchased by someone on the Mulgrave Goldfield. The machine was left at Redbank, the closest landing to the Mulgrave but, without a road, was unable to be taken to the field. The intention obviously was to power a battery but the Daniels did not apply for the necessary Machine Area until July of the next year (1881).
In the meantime, both the Monarch and the Leviathan were producing good tin with a newspaper in late July 1881 claiming the Monarch could produce 30-40 tons of ore per week.
Once having obtained their Machine Area, the brothers signalled their intention to erect a battery to be driven by the Leffel turbine with water supplied from a dam linked by a two kilometre water race to the machine site. By December 1881, the necessary machinery was reportedly en route to the site.
To finance their ongoing operations, the Daniels and Baker, in January 1882, floated the Monarch Tin Mining Company on the Sydney Stock Exchange. The float was for £50000 – some $20 million dollars in today’s terms – with shareholders reading like a who’s who of moneyed society at the time. Shareholders included James Burns (later to found Burns Philp), John Woods (once Mayor of Sydney and a successful businessman).
With money now not a concern, the new entity ordered more equipment from the Salisbury Iron Works in Launceston, and the head of the Mt Bischoff Mine in Tasmania sent a representative to assist with its installation. Unfortunately there were delays. By March, 1882, a large shed some 65 x 60 feet had been erected, but only five head of stamps had arrived. This situation extended past July when work was still progressing on the dam and water race but machinery remained on the wharf at Port Douglas. Happily though, both the Monarch and the Leviathan were still producing significant quantities of ore.
Then, just as it appeared the mill could start, there was not enough water to run the turbine and a portable steam engine had to be borrowed. Actual crushing started in mid January 1883, over two years after the purchase of the turbine. Unfortunately though, crushing was proceeding at only half capacity as more equipment was still being waited on.
Then the borrowed engine had to be returned and a new one purchased. It arrived in July 1883 as did Hugh Dempster from Tasmania, sent by Mr Keyser of the Mount Bishoff Mine, to supervise the installation of his new patented tin processing equipment. It appears Mr Keyser was becoming less impressed with the competence of the Daniels brothers and Baker and wanted a better representative at the battery.
And it seems he was not alone. Herbertonites generally appeared to have reservations too. In fact, after a critical article in the local newspaper, the Herberton and Western Miner of July 1883, by the editor, a Mr Jenkins, for commenting ‘very freely about the management of the above named company’ and ‘built a dam and it was washed away and had spent a considerable amount of money with no result’, George Baker attempted redress through the courts. The magistrate seemed to agree with the editor, and threw the suit out. As a point of comparison, Moffat’s Herberton Tin Company battery was complete and operational inside six months from when equipment arrived at Herberton.
The mines though, still produced. They employed up to twenty men and the settlement that was created, called Bakers Camp, had enough families and children that a primary school was begun nearby. It was originally called Nigger Creek Provisional School and was started in early May 1883.
Meantime, it was not until September that the mill again started crushing only to stop again after four weeks to await even more machinery. It appears money kept being spent freely.
Interestingly, at this time, ownership of the Monarch lease no longer has the Daniels or Baker mentioned. Ownership is given as John Woods and James Burns as trustees for the Monarch Tin Mining Company. The Daniels and Baker continue as partners, with others, in two other nearby leases, the Syndicate and the Leviathan.
Then followed some months of fairly trouble free crushing until the end of February 1884 when the flume supplying water to the battery washed out. Luckily this occurred after a significant crushing of 40 tons of ore to produce 10 tons of black tin, and re-treating the older tailings through the newly installed Keyser’s patented appliances.
Mr Keyser though, had definitely lost faith in the venture and a Tasmanian consortium in which Keyser had an interest decided, in April 1884, to erect their own battery. It was to be built near Watsonville, was to be called the Bischoff Mill and Hugh Dempster was withdrawn from advising the Monarch to be manager of the Bischoff. The Daniels seem to be building a reputation!
All this seems to have led the Daniels brothers to a well kept secret decision. They put in place an elaborate plan to jump ship, to start afresh, at a place quite distant from Herberton North Queensland.
This all began some time before with a contact from a Mr Solomon in the Northern Territory (in those days, part of South Australia). V L Solomon was part of a group who discovered the Mt Wells tinfield, just to the south of Darwin. Why Solomon would contact the Daniels is unclear as yet. However, the Solomon family was quite large and close knit and two Solomon men were in north Queensland at the time, one in Port Douglas and another operating a store at Thornborough, so it could be family connections.
The result was that David Daniels sailed to Darwin to inspect the Mt Wells find, where he arrived in August 1882. He acquired an interest in the leases and began mining later in 1882. By June 1883, he was reported as ‘putting up large huts and applying for a machinery licence’. It was about this time that Isaac also arrived for an inspection and expressed himself pleased with the prospects. Isaac returned to North Queensland and it was now the plot was developed. They would leave North Queensland and the reputation they seemed to be earning, for somewhere new.
New machinery was ordered, ostensibly for the Monarch battery, from the Salisbury Iron Works. It was to be shipped to Port Douglas and duly arrived around March 1884. It was loaded onto wagons under the charge of a Mr A H Wilson who had a complement of sixty bullocks and eleven horses and, the convoy, to all intents and purposes, was bound for Herberton.
However, the convoy was next heard of in Normanton where on the 3rd May 1884, the Maitland Mercury newspaper reports the convoy there, en route for Mount Wells. The article lists the owners of the convoy as Messers Daniels and Baker of Herberton.
While Herbertonites may have been blind-sided by this bypassing, in the Northern Territory it was not entirely unexpected. The North Australian newspaper of Darwin, in18th January 1884, reports a little prematurely, that Mr Isaac Daniels is expected to arrive ‘from south’ with machinery, engineers, blacksmiths and carpenters to set up a battery at Mt Wells.
The next major event, late in 1884, was the floating on the Sydney stock exchange of the Port Darwin Tin Company. The Daniels, this time not going for a measly £50 000 Monarch float, backed themselves to the much larger offering of a £120 000 launch. George Baker is listed as the Superintendent, so he was in on the deal, too, and had obviously left the Monarch behind as well. The whole saga of the shift to Mt Wells seems to have some length of planning. Unfortunately, management again appeared doubtful as the Company, despite the money, was in liquidation by August 1889.
However, where was the convoy? For the North Australian newspaper report, premature was an understatement. Like most things the Daniels were involved in, delays seem to come naturally. It took far longer for the convoy to arrive than the North Australian anticipated. In fact, in March 1885 the bullock teams, given as en route from Queensland, and twelve months from loading at Port Douglas, are stuck on the Ferguson River some 100 kilometres from their final destination.
Meanwhile, back in Herberton, the results were stunning. On the 30th August, a newspaper report says the Monarch has 300 tons of ore in the yard and is continuously crushing and a 24th October article says the Monarch is still accepting product. Three days later, that same newspaper, the Telegraph, reports the Monarch Company is abandoning its claims and, by 15th November, it was announced the company was in liquidation. By December, the battery had been bought by Moffat and Company for a fraction of its £50 000 floated value. During 1887, most equipment was subsequently shifted to Moffat’s Glen Linedale mine. It must have been about this time that the turbine was transported to the Great Northern minesite where it became lost for over 100 years.
It was the identification of what it was, in 2007, that unearthed this story and the untold odyssey of that remarkable twelve month bullock team venture across north Australia, a year long journey of some 1700 kilometres.
Locally, at Herberton, the Provisional School closed to be later shifted closer to the deep lead area where it continued up until 1958. The thrown up leases were later taken up by other miners and continued production up until the 1970s. One report lists the Monarch as the second most productive mine on the Herberton Hill. Yet the Daniels threw it up!
On the site of the battery some concrete foundations can still be discerned in a lantana thicket. The dam has not been definitively found but signs of that two kilometre long water race are still traceable. These remnants are yet to be photographed and adequately described.
David Daniels never married, and Isaac’s marriage to a widower in 1876 ended with her death in 1886. She died in Brisbane, so it appears the marriage was not too successful. There were no descendants. George Baker returned to North Queensland to continue mining, now in the Watsonville area.
The subsequent activities of the Daniels brothers in the Northern Territory have been researched by Tim Jones whose paper, David and Isaac Daniels and the Mt Wells Tin Mine, can be found on the internet. That paper continues the theme of doubtful management for the rest of the Daniels brothers time in the Northern Territory with David, who turned his attention to agriculture, general business and local politics being the more successful of the two.
The Leffel turbine displayed at the Herberton Mining Centre has a fascinating history filled with great achievements and bitter disappointment.
The owners of the Monarch Mine even ran a scam when they floated the mine on the Australian Stock Exchange.
Thousands of pounds worth of heavy machinery purchased for the Monarch Mine mysteriously disappeared, and then reappeared at Mt. Wells Mine in the Northern Territory.
The Ruston portable engine which was used at the Monarch Battery has been restored and is located in Herberton. It is hoped that one day it will be displayed at the Mining Centre.
© Herberton Mining Museum History Association 2023