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Mining in the settler dominions : a comparative study of the industry in three communities from the 1880s to the First World War Mouat, Jeremy


This dissertation examines the evolution of the mining industry in three British dominions during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Adopting a case study approach, it describes the establishment and growth of mining in Rossland, British Columbia; Broken Hill, New South Wales; and Waihi, New Zealand. Separate chapters trace developments in each area, focussing on the emergence of organised labour, the growth of mining companies and the sophistication of mining operations. These underline the need to consider diverse themes, maintaining that the mining industry's pattern of growth can be understood only by adopting such a broad approach. Following the three case studies, the final chapters of the dissertation offer a comparative analysis of Rossland, Waihi and Broken Hill. The study emphasises the similarities of these three communities, especially the cycle of growth, and identifies a crucial common denominator. Despite differences in climate, in the type and nature of the ore deposit and in the scale of mining activity, all three areas experienced a common trajectory of initial boom followed by subsequent retrenchment. The changing character of the resource base forced this fundamental alteration of productive relations. In each region, the mineral content of the ore declined as the mines went deeper. In addition, with depth the ore tended to become more difficult to treat. Faced with a decline in the value of the product of their mines, companies had to adopt sweeping changes in order to maintain profitable operations. This re-structuring was accomplished in a variety of ways, but the most significant factors, common to Rossland, Broken Hill and Waihi, were the heightened importance of applied science and economies of scale. Both developments underlined the growing importance of the mining engineer and technological innovations, principally in milling and smelting operations. In addition, new non-selective extractive techniques reduced the significance of skilled underground labour. The re-structuring of the industry not only had similar causes but also had a similar effect. The comparative chapter on labour relations, for example, argues that these managerial initiatives were closely associated with militant episodes in each community. While the leading companies in Rossland, Waihi and Broken Hill successfully reduced their working costs, they all faced the same ultimate end. Their long-term success or failure reflected the skill with which they coped with the inevitable depletion of their ore body. The common experience of Rossland, Waihi and Broken Hill demonstrates the importance of placing colonial development within a larger context. Regional historians should make greater use of the comparative approach, rather than continuing to focus on the unique and the particular.

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