Geology and mining

The earliest SA geologist was Johannes Menge (1788-1852), who arrived in 1837 on the Coromandel.

H.J. Driscoll observes:

... Johannes Menge, the father of South Australian mineralogy. This remarkable man had studied geology, mineralogy, and botany in Germany, Italy, France, the British Isles, Scandinavia, Iceland, Russia, Siberia, and other parts of Asia and North America. He was also a most distinguished linguist, being ac quainted with more than 20 languages, all of which, except the dead ones, he had acquired while living in the lands in which they were spoken. He was a native of the Hartz Mountains, and after the completion of his mineralogical journeys he settled down in the East End of London, where he taught Hebrew and other Oriental tongues. In 1835 he declined the chair of Hebrew and Greek at Oxford at a salary of £1,000 a year, and shortly afterwards, for the sake of being able to pursue his mineralogical sutdies in Australia, he accepted the position of "mine and quarry agent and geologist" to the South Australian Co. at a salary of £150 per annum with a free passage to the colony. Menge was a non-conforming Lutheran, and when the persecution arose in Prussia in 1830 his sympathy with religious freedom was shown both by voice and pen.

At Kingscote he lived in a "dug-out," the roof of which was just above the level of the ground. He rambled about the island as far as he could with safety, and made exhaustive reports to the company on the result of his investigations. He described the geology, mineralogy, and the various soils on the island, pointing out the different treatment such soils demanded in order to obtain the best results from them. He was always urging upon the manager of the company the vital importance of irrigation; indeed, he went so far as to say that the land was of no value whatever without it. In one of his reports he elaborates a scheme for conserving all the flood waters which flow into the sea from Western Cove to Emu Bay. The project included a fresh water canal navigable for 30 miles. Under a proper system of irrigation he computed that Kangaroo Island would carry a population of a million.

In one of his reports, speaking of the capabilities of the soil, he says:— "You know already that I made the nature of the soil here my study, and I found out that an acre of land will yearly provide for £200 worth of vegetables or fruits if cultivated on chemical principles.'' Although he describes iron as being the "domineering" metal on Kangaroo Island, he was successful in finding traces of copper, small portions of tourmaline, and all the necessary materials from which to manufacture earthenware and china of all degrees of quality. Precious gems have of late years been discovered, and the china clay mine near Cuttlefish Bay, which is now being developed, bears testimony to the accuracy of his statements.

Professor Menge, as he was generally called, was a most eccentric man. His eccentricity was so nearly allied to madness that at times under the stress of undue excitement the partition which divided them was very thin indeed. He was good-natured and child-like in his innocence and regardless of self. His general appearance was more that of a professional tramp than a Christian gentleman as he was at heart. "Cold water, soap, and clean linen were evidently regarded by him as unnecessary luxuries for a new colonist to indulge in." Another who knew him said that he lived on tobacco smoke and pancakes. Wild bursts of passionate vituperation afforded a strange contrast to his, at other times, guileless merriment. After the arrival of Mr. D. McLaren, the second colonial manager of the company, he was instructed to endeavour to find water, that necessary fluid having still to be brought from Port [Point] Marsden and retailed at from ½d. to 1d. a bucket. His efforts to locate any springs or indicate where water could be obtained by sinking were futile. A violent quarrel with the manager resulted in his leaving the company's service, and very shortly afterwards fresh water was discovered within a few yards of the front of his dug-out at Reeves Point. This well is still in use, the quality and the supply both being excellent. ,,,

Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954), Saturday 12 September 1914, page 8HISTORY OF KANGAROO ISLAND (1914, September 12). The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954), p. 8.

Menge wrote reports, published in the press:

GENTLEMEN— The season for resuming my geological ramblings being at hand, I intend, through the medium of your valuable journal, to inform the public of the results of my researches, in a series of letters addressed to you. But as I shall have often to refer to the lists of minerals contained in the South Australian Almanack for 1841, I think it necessary to indicate previously their geological occurrence, and acquaint you with those parts of South Australia I have visited hitherto. I began my wanderings in Kangaroo Island, which I considered to have been connected with the main-land at Cape Jervis, and cut off by the working of the sea, leaving the Pages remaining. The formation of mica slate, from Mount Lofty south-eastward, continues, indeed, all along the southern coast ot Kangaroo Island, which confirms my opinion. There had been two inlands joined together by an accumulation of sand and lime in the line of what is called the American river (Lagoon Bay). Along the south-east coast are nothing but heaps of sand from the shore, blown up by southerly gales. Limestone is continually forming around the coasts by the sea, and rests upon the primitive slates, which are cut off by the American river. It contains the shells, petrified, thrown out by the sea; but what I never observed before, was the petrifaction of the indigenous wood, of which I observed whole stumps with all their roots. In some places the lime-stone appears in tables, like that used for litho-graphic purposes, which is free from shells. The sub-strata of the mica slate formation are chiefly talc slate and chlorite slate; the latter contains rutite (oxyde of titanium). Within the quartzy veins, which are as frequent as in our ranges. appear traces of copper ore, and sometimes of tourmaline. The quartzy mica slate falls into sand, on which the grass-tree grows much larger than on the main-land. The quantity of lime which the sea continually deposits on the shores of South Australia seems to originate from the sea animals, as the waters are every where salt in the lime soil. Fresh water is found in sandy trucks, flooded, from dissolved mica slate.

Besides the formation of mica slate, we have in Kangaroo Island a chain of transition rock, belonging to a formation of dibuse or greenstone, but which is literally a grey-stone, and contains extensive stocks of brown iron ore, running in a north-westerly direction through the middle of the island, in the shape of table-land, in which some patches of excellent soil occur, particularly in the valleys. The construction of the grey-stone, as well as of the iron ore, is everywhere globular without any stratification. Even upon this formation the tertiary limestone is found in several places; in other places a siliceous breccia is formed instead of lime. Along the northern coast of Kangaroo Island I found a great variety of sandstone in immense masses, and some beds in tables regularly stratified. These tables are excellent for pavement, and would make as good footpaths in the streets of Adelaide as are those in Edinburgh. The flags are heaped up close at the shore, as if laid in stores, and may be separated from each other without any trouble. The greatest masses are quartzy sandstone, containing occasionally a kind of pudding stone, in which [?] pebbles are red jasper. If the formation of sandstone should have been in connexion wiih Yorke's Peninsula, we might expect to find coal along the eastern shore of Spencer's Guif.

Although Kangaroo Island is generally barren, there are some tracks of excellent soil along the table hill, and in the drainages in general. Remarkable are the lagoons in this Island, which are very numerous. There is a chain of large lagoons from the head of Seal Bay right over to Vivonne Bay; and from the Table Hill I numbered twelve large lagoons, which are mostly dried up entirely in the summer. Some valleys running out to the north coast would make excellent gardens, as there is no frost in the winter season. They are filled with high timber, but in the whole, as far as I have seen the Inland on its eastern part, till Vivonne Bay and across to Cape Cassini on the north coast, I do not think there are more than five hundred acres of real good land. The climate is very healthful on the island. It is neither so warm in summer nor so cold in winter as on the main land ; but the gales are heavier and there is less rain in general than on the main. The whole island is covered with shrubs and young trees; there is scarcely sufficient grass to nourish twelve head of cattle; the best grassy track I found between the Salt Lagoon and Cape d'Ertains, along the Table Hill. ...

Yours, &c. JOH. MENGE.

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), Saturday 19 June 1841, page 3GEOLOGY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA. (1841, June 19). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 3.

1845 Our Kangaroo Island correspondent promises us some mineral specimens which he is about to procure from the interior of the island where he is informed copper exists in great abundance. Mineral waters are said to abound, as also precious stones and real jet (not Mr Warner's). In short, a spirit of inquiry and useful research seems to have filled up the season of comparative leisure which usually precedes the whaling season. The salt carrying trade by the small cutters has been particularly brisk, and more work is cutting out for them.

LOCAL INTELLIGENCE. (1845, March 15). Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904), p. 5.


1898 The Government Geologist, Mr. H. Y. L. Brown, left Adelaide on October 29, and proceeded to Queensclifie, Kangaroo Island. On October 31 he started on a journey westward as far as Starvation Creek, visiting the old Robinson Gold Mine, Tilka's Mine, and Western River Silver-lead Mine. Thence he went to Naratta and the mouth of the South-West River, afterwards returning to Queenscliffe via the Harriet River, Mount Pleasant, and Hawk's Nest. From Mount Pleasant he went up the Eleanor River to Dawe's gold diggings, where a little alluvial gold has been obtained. From Queenscliffe he visited Smith's and Emu Bays, and inspected the surrounding country. He returned to Queenscliffe and proceeded southeastward to American River, thence to Hog Bay and Cuttlefish Bay, inspecting the manganese mine and quartz outcrops at that place. Afterwards he visited Cape Willoughbv, Hog Bay River, and American Beach, and returned to Queenscliffe via Buick's Station and Point Morrison. A considerable portion of what may be regarded as the backbone of the island, extending from Cape Willoughby to Cape Borda, was occupied by primary rocks very similar to those on the mainland from Mount Lofty to Cape Jervis, and equally likely to contain gold and other minerals. Cappings of volcanic rock at Kingscote and westwards through the Hundred of Menzies were a special feature, as also was a sandstone formation extending from Point Marsden to Emu and Smith's Bays, and probably further westward. Mr. Brown left Queenscliffe on November 22, and returned to Adelaide.

GOVERNMENT GEOLOGIST AT KANGAROO ISLAND. (1898, November 23). Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912), p. 2 (ONE O'CLOCK EDITION). Retrieved August 6, 2019, from


1907 The natural resources of the island have been touched on but very slightly as yet, although the geological and mineral aspects show, according to authenticated reports, great possibilities. The locally produced eucalyptus oil is the best obtainable anywhere and an article which is exported to Germany is the yacka gum, used in the manufacture of varnish and smokeless gunpowder. The finding of silver, lead, gold and precious stones led to great activity in developing movements and we feel certain nothing will be left undone to make the mining industry an unqualified success. The discovery of gems at Hog Bay some time ago caused a mild stir, and some very valuable stones were found. The excitement caused by these has subsided, and given way to a more prosaic but equally valuable asset in the shape of the China Clay fields. Showing the great belief the share-holders have in their venture, they have erected, at considerable expense, a large and up-to-date structure replete with the latest machinery, for the manufacture of firebricks and pottery in its various forms. This building is close to the jetty, and will probably, when in full working order, employ about 35 or 40 men. The salt industry is a growing one although there are bad facilities for carting it to the shipping places, but a move has been made to remedy these defects, and it will probably be a thriving business employing many men, before long. ...

KANGAROO ISLAND. (1907, November 2). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 7.

The Regional Geography of Kangaroo Island, South Australia

[extract from PhD thesis published in 1959]

Kangaroo Island is a continental island with an area of 1,673 square miles which lies across the entrance of the Gulf of St. Vincent. Physically the Island had its origin in detritus from ancient land masses deposited in a great geosynclinal basin during the long time span between the Proterozoic and Ordovician time. Orogeny resulting from the collapse of this structure resulted in the erection of the ancestral Central Highlands of South Australia, in which the area now Kangaroo Island played a marginal and flanking role; the bulk of the Island has been land since this time. During Permian time a portion of southern South Australia, including the area now the eastern end of Kangaroo Island, was covered by a continental glacier which moulded and modified the sub-mature pre-Permian topography.

The Tertiary was marked by a long period of crustal stability during which most of this portion of the continent was reduced to a low-relief surface, and the weathered mantle strongly lateritized. This extensive near-peneplain was disrupted in mid-Miocene time by movements along old Paleozoic lines of weakness; the fragment now comprising Kangaroo Island was separated from the mainland and tilted slightly in a SSE direction. During the remaining fraction of geological time the Island was given its present day topography, drainage, soil and vegetative patterns. The Pleistocene brought eustatic fluctuations in sea level which connected the Island to the mainland for brief intervals and extensive marine platforms were cut around its margins.

Between 7,500 and 14,000 years man made his first entrance to the Island, possibly crossing via a land bridge during a stage of low sea level associated with the most recent glacial epoch. This was a primitive hunting and gathering folk whose coming, life and fate are unknown, for they disappeared leaving only the most fragmentary traces of their occupation.

When Europeans first knew the Island in 1802 it supported no human population. Until 1836 the Island was sparsely occupied by groups of Europeans who made a meagre, but apparently satisfactory living from seal hunting, salt scraping and in a few instances, small-scale agriculture. To this point occupation of the Island by man was purely exploitive.

In 1836 the South Australian Company, forced by circumstances to choose a site on Kangaroo Island, established the first settlement in South Australia on Nepean Bay. Intended to serve as a base for extensive maritime and commercial operations, the new settlement was virtually abandoned because of poor soils, lack of an adequate water supply, failure of the maritime and commercial programmes and the attraction of the capital city, Adelaide.

For the next 40 years Kangaroo Island was isolated from the remainder of the colony culturally as well as physically. The economy was only slightly above a subsistence level, but gradually shifted from small-scale maritime interests to very slightly broader agricultural, particularly pastoral, interests. Population increased slightly and the bases of a local society were laid.

The early 1880's brought a short-lived land boom based on the efforts of two mainland pastoralists to establish large-scale sheepraising and attempts by local farmers and a number of newcomers to grow wheat. Despite an adequate and dependable rainfall, unsuitable pastures and soils brought failure to these ventures. It did, however, bring new residents, and the Island's first substantial contact with mainland methods.

There followed 20 years of rather slow progress which was broken in 1905 by 5 years of intense activity, again centred on wheat-raising, this time prompted by an official misjudgement of the beneficial effects to be obtained by treating the lateritic plateau soils with superphosphates. These efforts were no more successful than had been those of the 1880's and the boom faded, leaving the Island to slip into a social and cultural oblivion which not even two wars and a depression of world-wide dimensions seriously disturbed.

The decade of the 1930's was notable for the solution of the serious problems of the unproductive plateau soils and the debilitating "coast disease" in sheep by officers of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. It was found that minute quantities of copper and cobalt restored the ailing sheep to health, and that virtually all of the Island soils were deficient in copper and superphosphate, However, the general application of this knowledge was held in abeyance until the end of World War II.

The last decade of the period covered in this study have been years of almost unbelievable pastoral expansion on the Island. Sparked by a State and Federal programme for the settlement of ex-servicemen on 116,700 acres of land newly cleared and developed by the use of the new trace element-superphosphate techniques, private individuals added another 106,700 acres of new land. Between 1945 and 1955, 70 per cent more land was cleared than had been cleared in the preceding 109 years. This expansion also brought a large population increase, a feeling of confidence and an end to the isolation which had so long handicapped the Island.

The development is continuing, and new problems are being attacked by the application of concentrated individual and scientific efforts. ...

Bauer, F. H., 1959. "The Regional Geography of Kangaroo Island, South Australia", pp 5-8. Australian National University. accessed 2 July 2019.