First pegged in 1887 by E. Firman, with an adjoining lease taken up by E. Clark, was an 80 acre mining lease that was to become the Zeehan Silver Spray Mine.
In 1888 both leases were transferred to E. J. Freeman, who successfully floated the Silver Spray Mining Co. in 1889. Afterwards the lease was taken over by the British owned Mount Zeehan Silver-Lead Mines, who also owned the Argent Mine which operated to the North of the Silver Spray Mine. 370 leases were pegged in, around and under Zeehan by 1890, although not all of them became successful mines. Most mines were not profitable due to the high costs associated with transporting the ore to market, but the narrow tramlines were lifelines.
By 1890 an exploratory ‘adit’, (a horizontal tunnel driven into the side of a mountain), about 80 metres long and one metre wide had been driven along an orebody, but there was very little financial reward. The miners were looking for silver bearing lead ore.
Mining almost ceased, until 1900 when antimony-bearing, (a lustrous gray metalloid, it is found in nature mainly as the sulfide mineral stibnite), silver-lead ore was found. It was analysed as giving over 2,000 ounces of silver per ton of ore. This was extremely rich ore and created a great deal of excitement, making the Silver Spray Mine one of the most important mines in Zeehan at the time.
During this time, Zeehan grew to become a thriving city known as ‘The Silver City’. At the turn of the century, Zeehan had a population of around 10,000, with 27 pubs at the time. Today, very hard to believe, it was the third largest town in Tasmania. Between 1893 and 1908, Zeehan saw its greatest period of prosperity. Ore worth $8 million was recovered between 1893 and 1908. After 1908 sadly the mines began to fail, mining activities declined, and with it, Zeehan.
In 1901 the Argent tramway was extended by the British Zeehan Silver Mining Company, a tunnel was made through a hill south of the Zeehan Golf Course to access the Spray mine. The company purchased a small locomotive, a 10 ton Kerr Stuart called “Spray”. It was used to transport ore from the Spray Mine to the smelters south of Zeehan on the tramway until the Spray Mine closed in 1913. The Spray Tunnel is an unusual ‘keyhole’ shaped tunnel, said to be the result of the top part of the tunnel having been enlarged to allow the passage of the huge steam boilers that were brought through the tunnel to the mine.
Between 1905 and 1908 the No. 1 shaft was sank to a depth of about 120 metres, but was closed in 1909 due to flooding. Photographs showing the construction of the shaft headframe and associated buildings can be seen in the West Coast Pioneers’ Memorial Museum at Zeehan. These photographs show the area completely without vegetation, with little left but tree stumps. Today though one sees a much different picture, a testimony of the West Coast’s environmental ability to reclaim through regrowth… today all that remains of the Silver Spray Mine are fascinating relics, a fenced off shaft and remnants of buildings to inspire the imagination, hidden amongst the regrowth of nature as it reclaims the land.
Up until recently one could drive a vehicle through the Spray Tunnel to the site of where the Silver Spray Mine once stood, once inside you could not open your vehicles doors, it was a close fit and many a vehicle lost paint on the walls. Today, due to safety reasons, vehicular access has been stopped, and one must walk through the 100 metre long abandoned train tunnel that leads to the abandoned Silver Spray Mine.
It is an almost eerie experience, at times glow worms can be seen on the ceiling… one can almost hear the whistle of the locomotive echoing through the tunnel… one can almost hear the constant rumbling, reverberation of the battery of stampers as you wander out to where the Silver Spray Mine once stood… one can almost smell the acrid fumes of sulphur drifting from where the smelters once stood. Truly worth the effort to make a visit!
The Spray Tunnel is located at the end of Fowler Street, Zeehan. Drive north towards the end of town and turn left onto Fowler Street, follow it to the end past the Golf Course. Just past the golf course the road divides, take the left hand gravel road (road straight ahead has ‘no entry’ sign, but you can walk to northern entrance of tunnel this way). Gravel road is suitable for all vehicles, though not caravans, it is a single lane road with ‘pull over bays’ to pull over to allow passage of oncoming traffic. The road takes you through some spectacular mountain scenery and beautiful dense forests before you will arrive at a car park close by the Spray Tunnel.
All photos strictly ©Carol Haberle, H&H Photography.
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