The First Electrolytic Copper Refinery in Australia at Wallaroo, South Australia

Additonal authors: McHenry, B.. Book title: Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019. Chapter: . Chapter title:

Proceedings, Vol. Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019, 2019

Mackey, P.J.

The Wallaroo smelter on the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia commenced smelting operations in 1861 treating ores from the nearby Moonta and Kadina mines. The plant expanded and modernized on several occasions and was a leader in the successful introduction of new technology to improve operations. It operated continuously until 1923 when local mines became exhausted; in the closing stages of the 19th century it was the largest copper smelter in the world outside of those in Swansea, Wales. In 1892 a small electrolytic refinery was established at Wallaroo, the first in Australia, based on principles developed by Elkington at Pembrey, Wales in 1869. The Wallaroo refinery was specifically built to recover gold and silver from copper produced by smelting gold-containing feed materials shipped from Western Australia. This first venture into electrolytic refining was replaced in 1903 by a somewhat larger refinery which, although modest in size for its time, with a capacity of about 1000 tonnes of cathode copper per year, was very productive in precious metals. Anode copper was produced by an updated version of the reverberatory-based Welsh process until 1910 when barrel-type pneumatic converters were introduced based on American practice; subsequently, anodes were cast by tapping the precious-metals rich "bottoms" portion of converter copper as produced at about one-fifth into the copper blow. The present paper describes the Wallaroo refinery, its anode supply and products, supported by initial observations on a sample of a Wallaroo cathode held in the collection of the South Australia Museum, Adelaide SA, Australia. INTRODUCTION Australia ranked 6th in the world for copper mine production in 2018, with an output of 918,000 tonnes of mined copper, after Chile, Peru, Congo, China and the USA; about 40% of Australian mined copper was smelted in the country. Interestingly, the world ranking of Australia in mined copper has, with a few variations, remained about the same for more than 100 years – of interest, it was also the 6th largest country for copper production at 21,089 tonnes in 1899. At that time, all or most of the copper was smelted in the country (Mackey, 2016). Copper was first discovered in Australia in 1842 in South Australia not far from Adelaide; additional copper discoveries in the region soon followed. At first, copper ore was shipped to Swansea, Wales for smelting (Bampton, 2003). However, in addition to the long, 150 day one-way sea passage, it seems Welsh smelters preferred higher grade of ores – these aspects and likely a mood in the new colony to be independent of Swansea (Evans, 2014) evidently encouraged local smelting at the mine sites using small, Welsh-type reverberatory furnaces fired with hardwood as fuel and operated by Welsh and Cornish migrants. The first large copper smelter in Australia commenced in 1848 at Bremer, near Callington some 60 km east of Adelaide. With larger discoveries on Yorke Peninsula, the Wallaroo copper smelter at Wallaroo Bay on the west coast of the peninsula commenced operations in 1861 (Bell & McCarthy, 2008). Thus began one of the most successful, and in its day, one of the most advanced and innovative plants in Australia if not the world. In the late 1860s, it was considered one of the largest copper smelters in the world (Bell & McCarthy, 2008)
Keywords: Copper 2019, COM2019