Following their discovery of copper in 1842, F. S Dutton and C. H. Bagot purchased an 80 acre block of land and commenced mining in 1844. At first the surface carbonate ores could simply be shovelled into carts, but by 1845 underground workings has encountered the water table. The first horse whim in the Colony was erected for bailing water, but soon a series of Cornish engines were required to drain the workings. It was at Kapunda in 1848 that the first Cornish engine, albeit second-hand, was erected in Australia.
From 1844 to 1849 ores were carted to Port Adelaide and then shipped to Swansea in South Wales for smelting. In December 1849 smelting works were set up at Kapunda, first producing a matte for export.
The mines were closed in 1851 as a result of the Victorian gold rush, but reopened in 1855, with the Kapunda Mining Company, comprising most of the original shareholders, registered in London. Peak production of 4,103 tons of ore was reached in 1857. In 1861 the smelters were extended to produce refined copper, producing 595 tons in their first year of operation.
By 1863 the mine was making losses, caused by greater extraction costs for the deeper ores, the exhaustion of the richer lodes and decreasing copper prices. In 1865 the Kapunda Mining Company leased the mine to a Scottish company intent on using a leaching process on low grade ores. This was the first occasion in Australia where open cast mining techniques were used.
With the failure of this enterprise, the known high grade ores from greater depths were extracted before the mine closed in 1878. Subsequently the mine was worked intermittently by tribute, operations ceasing in 1912. Total production at the mine between 1844 and 1912 is estimated at 12,800 tons or ore, producing 64,000 tons of copper, averaging 20% copper.
The original mining settlement was located close to the mine at Mine Square, comprising a series of miners’ cottages built by 1846, an early example of company housing in Australia. Other buildings nearby included the miners’ store, the house of the mine doctor, Dr. Blood, and the original mine manager’s house. A second mine manager’s house was built in 1867.
Land to the north of the mine was purchased by the shareholders, but proved not to contain further ore. The area was subdivided and sold as the private township of North Kapunda, in order to recoup costs. The town thrived, first to serve the mine, then as a service centre for the surrounding agricultural district.
This sandstone chimney, erected in 1850, served both the Buhl pumping and winding engines via a shared flue system (Edward Higginbotham, 2006).