James "Philosopher" Smith, Flour Miller and Discoverer of Tin Deposits

Part IX of An Australian Emigrant Family

Peter Blackwell, Ph.D. Brown University '88 (Rhode Island) and Mark Blackwell, B.Com. B.D. (Euroa, Victoria, Australia) [[email protected]]

One of the interesting characters at the time was a man known as Philosopher Smith, born James Smith, in 1827 in George Town. He was a flour miller's assistant for a while, and then a farmer in 1853 gradually acquiring property until he was one of the largest landholders in the district.

But the lure of mineral wealth had been a long time interest of his and he was content to roam the bush with his dog, sometimes disappearing into uninhabited regions of the colony for months at a time. In 1851 he joined the gold rush to Victoria and gained invaluable experience mining at Castlemaine.

In 1859, he found traces of gold at the Wilmot River, copper at the Leven River, and iron ore at Penguin Creek, but not enough for any of it to be profitable.

During the next ten years he prospected in the rugged central highlands. In 1871, while prospecting in the Waratah Rivulet area below Mt. Bischoff, due south of Emu Bay, he noticed traces of casserite (tin oxide) in the stream. The traces disappeared as he waded upstream, but when he climbed the mountain he discovered casserite in considerable quantities.

In 1872, with a party of workers, he cleared a track and the scrub over the lode and began mining. During the summer of 1873 several tons of ore were carted by bullock teams to Burnie to be smelted in Melbourne, where the quantity extracted proved rich. By the 1880s the dividends from the mine were fabulous, eclipsing every mine in Victoria, and Waratah grew from a camp to a town of 874 people by 1881. It became, in fact, the richest tin mine in the world.

As the economy improved, spurred on by mining and the supporting industries, Edwin returned to that skill which perhaps he knew the best -- flour milling -- and a mill was set up on the banks of Deep Creek at West Wynyard using water as the motive power as had been to the mill in Longford. When the mine at Waratah was started, Edwin made a four-day trip delivering 20-pound flour bags, an amazing feat when one considers that the first arduous 18 miles of the 48-mile trip were a constant climb through thick forest and the unformed track was a morass for nine months of the year.

It was during this time that Edwin became quite wealthy although he also lost considerable invested sums when the new Florence Mine at Zeehan closed as a result of flooding from an underground river.

The flour mill was initially run by Edwin and his sons, Fred and Arnie but by 1897 he had sold it to the boys as indicated in a newspaper advertisement in the Emu Bay Times of that year.

Roller Mills, Wynyard Blackwell Brothers (Late E.O. Blackwell and Sons) Beg to notify that they have recently added to their Extensive Plant, improved Machinery, and have now on hand a very superior line of flour,


Also first-class Stone Flour, Pollard Bran, Barley Meal, and Crushed Oats. Fowl's Wheat always on hand,


The brothers, in turn, sold the flour mill to their great uncle Stephen Ward Margetts, as they were interested in joining their father who was running a saw-mill he had started. The flour mill was deliberately and maliciously burned down by a Herman David Thompson in 1925.

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