State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 30 December 1982


The Ballerstedts and the Bendigo Quartz Reefs

The most recent addition to the La Trobe Library's picture collection, an oil painting by Albert Charles Cooke, depicts two of Bendigo's more important quartz speculators, Johann and Christopher (known as Theodore) Ballerstedt, at Victoria Hill, where they made their fortune. Although they are shown with a gold pan, their fame was not won from alluvial prospecting but from pioneering the exploration of Bendigo's quartz reefs. In the history of quartz mining at Bendigo one name, George Lansell, looms over all others. However in the development of deep quartz mining a handful of other speculators — such as Carl Mueller, John Boyd Watson, Edward Isaac Dyason, Barnett Lazarus, Carl Roeder and the Hunter brothers — reaped substantial rewards from the Bendigo quartz reefs.1 The Ballerstedts may not have had as long an association with Bendigo as most of these speculators, but they played a crucial part in the initial opening of the quartz deposits.
Prior to late 1851 the area that was to become the city of Bendigo was a peaceful pastoral station. Robert Ross Haverfield who saw the Bendigo valley before the discovery of gold wrote:
The flats carpeted with green grass, were dotted here and there with comely and shady gum trees while the creek banks, shaded with wattle, sloped down to a chain of water holes, which, in the spring and winter seasons, and indeed all of the year round, before the gold era, contained a good supply of sweet clear water. Down about the now desolate (1880s) looking Epsom, the valley wore a really picturesque appearance; the gum trees were very fine and the wattle flourished luxuriantly.2
This peaceful scene was shattered as the news of the gold discoveries spread and thousands of prospectors poured into the valley of Bendigo, with the dream of instantly securing their fortunes. In 1851 only 200,000 ounces of gold were mined but in 1852 this rose to 475,857 ounces and in 1853 a staggering 661,749 ounces of gold was won from the soil of Bendigo3. By 1857 the area, that had formerly been the home of a handful of shepherds, had a population of over 26,000 inhabitants4.
As late as 1861 the majority of Bendigo miners worked on alluvial diggings and only twenty-three percent of the fields 8,744 miners were employed on quartz claims.5 However, the Bendigo gold field continued to be a major producer of gold, despite several lean periods, through until the First World War. This continued prosperity depended, not on the exploitation on easily won alluvial deposits but on the ability to win gold from quartz reefs.
Alluvial diggers were aware of the existence of gold in the outcropping quartz reefs but, while alluvial deposits were easily won, they paid little attention to these reefs. The more perceptive observers, such as Robert Ross Haverfield, realised that the long term future of Bendigo depended on quartz. In 1854 he wrote of the few quartz miners that they were:6
entering upon a field of far greater importance as regards both its yield and permanency than any hitherto worked in the richest gold countries on the globe.
The first attempts to win gold from quartz were hampered by lack of machinery to separate the gold from the quartz. Mackay, in his History of Bendigo, reported that the first quartz miners simply used gads and hammers to crush the quartz7. However a “new era” was commenced in October 1854 when Mr. Irons, Captain Bell and Mr. Hustler imported extensive machinery for quartz crushing.8
The development of quartz mining was also hampered by contemporary geological theory that suggested gold would not be found at depths greater than 100 feet or so.9 Mr. Haverfield, of the Bendigo Advertiser, frequently attacked this notion although, in the early 1850s, his opinion was no more soundly based than that of the geologists.10
By 1861, although alluvial mining still employed far more men than quartz, the foundation of the quartz mining industry had been laid. In Bendigo and its adjacent borough Eaglehawk no fewer than twenty major
quartz mining companies were returned by the mining registrars, and over seventy quartz crushing machines were counted. The theory that gold could not be won at great depths was also in the process of being repudiated. On the Redan reef the Comet mining company, from a depth of 270 feet, crushed 587 tons of quartz which yielded an average of over one ounce of gold per ton of quartz.11
Crucial to the development of this fledgling quartz industry were the father and son team of Johann Gottfried Tobias Christopher Ballerstedt and Christopher Theodore Ballerstedt. Johann Ballerstedt was born in 1796, at Magdeburg in Prussia, the son of a ‘gentleman’. At the age of nineteen he served under Blucher at the battle of Waterloo and six years later maried Amilie Ahrendsson. Of his marriage and life in Germany little is known but his Victorian death certificate states that his wife bore five children — Bertha, Erasmus (dead in 1869), Christopher Theodore, Pauline and Ida Clara.12
Johann and his son Theodore, who was born in 1826, tried their luck on the Californian goldfields but in 1852 they arrived in Melbourne. Johann later claimed that he and his son arrived with little money in their pockets and less English on their tongues. Being able to afford no other transport the Ballerstedts walked the one hundred and fifty miles of the Ovens goldfield. By 1853 they had found their way to Bendigo.13
Late in 1853 the Bendigo goldfields were experiencing a temporary full in the production of alluvial gold when two American Negros found golden stone on the Victoria Hill. In December of that year they sold this claim to the Ballerstedts, who first worked the claim as an open cut mine using crude horse driven machinery to crush the quartz. In defiance of contemporary geological theory Frank Cusack states they eventually worked a quartz reef on this claim at two hundred feet and when this was exhausted they sunk the mine to a depth of three hundred feet. Here they located an equally rich quartz reef. The example of their success, Frank Cusack believes, spurred on other miners to explore Bendigo's quartz reefs,14 and made their claim an essential visiting place for tourists to the Victorian goldfields. In September 1857 these two formerly poverty stricken German immigrants entertained the Governor of Victoria.15
By the late 1860s and early 1870s the Ballerstedts had amalgamated four leases with an aggregate area of over eight acres. On this claim they had erected their dwelling house, stables, machine house and outbuildings at a cost of over £10,000. Instead of primitive horsedriven crushing machinery, by the late 1860s they owned a twenty horse power mercury steam engine which powered their sixteen head quartz stamping machine. When in full work, Macartney claimed in 1871, the Ballerstedts’ lease employed forty men and six horses. By this date its shaft was sunk to a depth of 500 feet.16
The prosperity that the Ballerstedts won from Bendigo was reflected in their two storey brick home which, Macartney wrote, was “worthy of a special description”.17 Its rooms included a parlour, a dining room, cellars, three bedrooms, a drawing room, a ballroom and even a bowling alley. Their house also had a large swimming bath, the water for which was pumped from their own claim. Even though its water was brackish it provided “a most agreeable plunge”.18
The Ballerstedts, like other Bendigo mine owners, made little attempt to live away from the noise and dirt of their mines. Adjoining the Ballerstedts’ house was a stamping mill, that thundered night and day, and 30,000 tons of quartz tailings.19 However the noise of the crushing works must have had its pleasanter side. Donald Cameron in his The Mysteries and Miseries of Scripopolis observed:20
Verily there was some sense in it. How nice to rest on your bed of down, and hear the stamps go clatter, clatter, clatter each sound representing so much gold.
Figures of individual profits made from Bendigo mines are extremely difficult to obtain. Nineteenth century observers believed that in the first six years of operation the Ballerstedts made £243,000 clear profit from their mine. In the 1860s they did not make public their gold returns but they were believed by contemporaries to have been substantial.21
However, unless the Ballerstedts repatriated their profits, contemporaries must have overestimated their true worth. When Johann died in 1869 his estate — including a half share in the Ballerstedts’ house, their mining lease and plant and shares in the Victoria
Reef Gold Mining Company and the Victorian Reef Quartz Mining Company — was worth only £19,000. His only other substantial non goldmining property was £1,000 invested in the Bank of Victoria, £1,500 in the Commercial Bank and £1,000 owed to him by a fellow quartz reefer — Mr. Wittschiebe.22
In an age when most Bendigo miners died without leaving any measurable property, the Ballerstedts were indeed men of property. They were also richer than most other Bendigo investors. The average estate of probated Bendigo “speculators and mine investors”, who died in Victoria between 1879 and 1899, was £5,627 and for “gentlemen” the average estate was £7,737.23 The estate of Johann Ballerstedt was, however, well below that of Bendigo's three most prominent quartz kings — John Boyd Watson (died 1889), George Lansell (died 1906) and Barnett Lazarus (died 1880).
Of these three Watson was the wealthiest and, although his fortune of £944,017 was initially founded on the success of his Paddy's Gully claim, his probate inventory reveals that the major part of his wealth was invested in Melbourne real estate and building societies.24 Lazarus likewise made a fortune from quartz mining but sold out shortly before his death. He then invested most of his estate, of £108,000, in Government debentures.25 Only Lansell remained to the end of his life totally committed to goldmining, and of his estate of £339,316 a total of £305,722 was invested in goldmining scrip and plant.26
Johann Ballerstedt died in 1869, a year before the Bendigo mine field experienced a major boom in company formation, leaving his complete estate to his son Theodore.27 Theodore, believing that the claim on Victoria Hill had seen its best days, in 1871 sold the mine, plant and house to George Lansell for £30,000 and retired to Germany. In the years after his departure Bendigo's mines boomed and for each of the years 1872, 1873 and 1874 over 300,000 ounces of gold was produced and dividends of £1,745,482 were paid on calls of only £826,787. Lansell, himself, renamed the Ballerstedts’ claim the ‘180’ and, in the first stope he entered, he is said to have cleared £180,000. Indeed Professor Blainey has stated that Lansell had received the purchase price of the ‘180’ by the time Ballerstedt had arrived home in Germany.28
Although the Ballerstedts were pioneers in the development of Bendigo's quartz reefs, by the time Theodore left Bendigo the exploration of these reefs had barely begun. In 1872 Macartney reported that the Ballestedts claim was sunk to a depth of 500 feet; four years later the Great Extended Hustlers Company was winning gold at 1000 feet, while the Lazarus Number One mine was crushing gold bearing stone from depths of 700 to 800 feet. By 1890 Lansell's ‘180’ mine, the old Ballerstedt claim, had been sunk to a depth of 2,640 feet and by 1899, on the New Chum Line of Reef, eight mines boasted shafts of over 3,000 feet deep.
The quest for gold at such depths required the expenditure of substantial amounts of capital. In 1901 the Australasian Insurance and Banking Record listed seventeen dividend paying companies in Bendigo with an average called up capital of £40,444. Between 1871 and 1900 Bendigo's mines called up nearly four and half million pounds. By the late nineteenth century the crude machinery that the Ballerstedts had employed, in the 1850s and 1860s, had been replaced by massive winding, pumping and stamping machines. From the late 1870s hand held rock drills were gradually replaced by compressed air machine drills.29
Although Theodore Ballerstedt did not participate in these technological developments of the last three decades of the nineteenth century, the early work of Theodore and Johann Ballerstedt helped to demonstrate that gold could be won from quartz. They therefore ensured that Bendigo would become one of the world's major quartz goldmining centres in the nineteenth century.
Charles Fahey


For the wealth of Bendigonians in the last two decades of the nineteenth century see J. C. Fahey, ‘Wealth and Mobility in Bendigo and Northern Victoria 1879–1901, Unpublished Ph.D., Melbourne University, 1981.


George Mackay, The History of Bendigo. Melbourne, Ferguson & Mitchell, 1891, p. 1.


Ibid., p. 93.


Census of Victoria, 1857.


Fahey op. cit., Table 1.3, p. 20.


Mackay op. cit., p. 69.


Ibid., p. 69.


Ibid., p. 69–70.


Geoffrey Blainey, The Rush that Never Ended: A History of Australian Mining. Melbourne, University Press, 1963, p. 65.


Mackay op. cit., p. 70. Although Haverfield appreciated the richness of Bendigo's quartz reefs they did not provide him with his fortune. When Haverfield died in 1889 he left a gross estate of £596 and a net estate of £217. Haverfield's property was not in mining shares but consisted almost entirely of a life policy £500 and bonus of £60. See probate file 38/299, Probate and Administration Office, Melbourne.


Reports of the Mining Registrars, 31 December 1861.


Death certificate of Johann Christoper Ballerstedt registered 17 October 1869.
Unfortunately the obituaries of Johann Ballerstedt in the Bendigo Advertiser, the Bendigo Independent and the Bendigo Evening News on 18 October 1869, were not very informative.


Henry Brown, Victoria As I Found It. London, T. Courtley, 1872, p. 315.


Frank Cusack, Bendigo a History. Melbourne, Heineman, 1973, p. 123–125.
See also S. H. Prior. Handbook of Austrialian Mines. Sydney, Australian Mining Standard, 1890, p. 110.


Bendigo Courier of the Mines, 21 September, 1857.


For a description of the Ballerstedts’ mine see John Neil Macartney, The Bendigo Gold Fields Directory, Melbourne, Maxwell, 1871, p. 17–18 and Johann Ballerstedt's probate file 7/760.


Macartney, op. cit., p. 17.


Ibid., p. 18 and probate file 7/760.


Probate file 7/760.


Demonax (Donald Cameron), The Mysteries and Miseries of Scripopolis. Melbourne, the author, 1972, p. 16.


Macartney, op. cit., p. 17.


Probate file 7/760.


For the wealth of Bendigonians in the late nineteenth century see Fahey, op. cit., Chapter Three.


J. B. Watson, probate file 40/269.


Barnett Lazarus, probate file 21/913.


George Lansell, probate file 102/236.
I hope to present my findings on the wealth and social mobility of Bendigo's late nineteenth century mining, professional, commercial and manufacturing leaders in the near future.


Johann Ballerstedt, will 7/760.


A. V. Palmer, The Gold Mines of Bendigo, Hawthorn, Craftsman Press, 1976, p. 24 and Blainey, op. cit., p. 79–80.


For a brief account of Bendigo's mines in the late nineteenth century see Fahey, op. cit.. Chapter One.