It is believed that the origin of the Maranboy is Aboriginal, but the exact meaning is not known. The first official survey of the area was carried-out by Mott and Lindsay in 1914, they used the name “Marranboy” on their plans, however, official reports of the time use the “Maranboy” spelling. This is still used today.

Discovery

Alluvial tin[1] was first discovered near the head of Beswick Creek, 65 kilometres east of the Katherine Telegraph Station in 1910 by a stockman from Pine Creek, Tim O’Shea, however, he never registered the claim. In 1913, two prospectors, Jim Sharber and Tom Richardson, rediscovered the field and registered the claim. This started a “tinrush”, and within a few weeks of the discovery, there were 40 to 60 pioneers on the field prospecting for the best claims. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Harald Jensen, the Chief Government Geologist of the Northern Territory, visited the field and was greatly impressed with the quality of the cassiterite[2] he saw. This was later assayed at 1 to 5 percent tin.


[1] Tin has many uses. It takes a high polish and is used to coat other metals to prevent corrosion, such as in tin cans. Alloys of tin are important, such as in soft solder, pewter, bronze and phosphor bronze. Some tin compounds were used as anti-fouling paint for ships and boats, to prevent barnacles. However, even at low levels these compounds are deadly to marine life, especially oysters. Its use has now been banned in most countries.

[2] Cassiterite is an ore of tin.

The field was officially gazetted as the “Maranboy Gold Field” on 24 September 1914. However, as far as is known gold was never found in the area, but small amounts of wolframite[3] and malachite[4] were. However, the purpose of this declaration, under Section 8 of the Northern Territory Goldfields Amendment Act, 1886, was to prevent Asians from mining any field discovered by Europeans for a period of two years. Consequently, this declaration was renewed every two years. This effectively prevented Chinese people from mining in the area for the life of the field. The consequence of this was that the miners were reliant on Aboriginal workers to carry-out the labouring tasks.


[3] Wolframite is an ore of tungsten.

[4] Malachite is an ore of copper.

Establishing the tin field

In his report on the field, Dr. Jensen recommended that a public “stamp battery” be installed by the government. At first, this met some resistance, causing a delay in its implementation. However, by June 1914 the first parts of the battery started arriving on site. However, due to a disagreement between the government and the transport company over costs, the remainder of the parts did not arrive on the field until mid-1915, and the battery did not commence operation until December that year. The final cost of the battery was £20,163 ($2,106,000 in 2020), however, this did not include the cost of the steam engine (which ran on wood, which had to be obtained locally), boiler, and water reservoir. The government also paid for a surveyed road to be built from Katherine. Dr. Jensen also recommended that a tram line system be installed to take the ore from the various mine sites to the battery. Based on a similar network near Darwin, Dr. Jensen estimated that 8 kilometres of track, plus rolling stock would cost approximately £3,000 ($1,972,000 in 2020).

However, the “Chief Expert on All Things”[5]; the Administrator, decided otherwise. In his opinion this was much too expensive, he decided that a steam-traction engine and trailers costing £3000 was a better proposition. Two years after the traction engine commenced work, it had hauled less than 1,000 kilograms of ore, and was rusting in the bush un-used. The engine had proved too slow, too expensive to run (it ran on wood, which had to be cut from local trees, seasoned and stacked), and too labour intensive to maintain.


[5] An off-the-cuff remark by Dr. Jensen.

Another scheme, favoured by the battery manager, was an aerial ropeway. This would consist of buckets suspended from a rope which ran on rollers on top of poles, but it is not clear what would power the system. The lines would run from the major claims to the battery dump where the buckets would tip automatically onto a conveyor belt which would take the ore to the battery. It was envisaged that with this system, the cost per ton (1,000kg) would be reduced from about $28 to $2, a huge saving to the miners. The other advantages would be a saving in maintenance, less labour, and a general saving in wear and tear. But it was not built. As far as is known, at least to the retirement of Mr. Stutterd, the battery manager in 1946, the ore was carried from the mines to the battery by horse-drawn wagons. Depending on distance from the mine to the battery, miners were charged between 6/6 ($25.56 in 2020) to 8/- ($31.46 in 2020) per ton to transport the ore. However, there are several photographs dated 1949, that show a rail system leading to the battery building. It is not known when this was installed.

As the battery was owned by the Commonwealth Government through the Department of Territories and then through the Northern Territory Administration, they thus controlled what went on at Maranboy. They appointed Mr. Louis N. Stutterd, as the warden of the field, and the manager of the battery. He had arrived with his wife, Ethel, and their three daughters. He was also provided with a new two- storey house costing £350 ($230,100 in 2020), it had a cement floor and was completely mosquito-proof. The internal walls were made from unbleached calico tightly stretched over a timber frame. It was a model of economy, convenience, and adaptability to climatic conditions. One of the Stutterd daughters later described the house as “…like an enormous meat safe”. Although he used his own car to get around, Mr. Stutterd was paid 17/- ($93.50 in 2020) per day travelling allowance, plus 2/- ($11.00 in 2020) per mile for using his own car, plus the cost of all his petrol. In 1924 Mr. Stutterd made a trip from Maranboy to Alice Springs and return. It is difficult to compute how much money he was paid for this journey. Mr. Stutterd remained in his position until 1946 when he retired…and there was much rejoicing among the remaining residents of Maranboy.

Miners

The first prospectors to arrive on the field had the choice of the best claims. Some amalgamated their claims and formed partnerships with others, whilst others struggled by themselves. Once the claim owners had accumulated sufficient funds, they generally built themselves reasonable houses. Some of the miner’s had built paper-bark houses with galvanised iron roofs, others built houses made from sun-dried bricks of a clay and ant-bed mixture. The best miners’ houses were built of a cypress pine frame, and covered with wire netting and then covered with rubberoid[6], and an ant-bed floor. These houses were spacious, cool, and dry, and generally consisted of four rooms plus a porch and an external kitchen. The claim owners generally provided their employees with calico tent accommodation containing two stretcher beds. Employees were either paid by contract agreed to by both parties, or a fixed wage, which was generally about £6 (about $472 in 2020) per 44-hour week for good men.


[6] A trade-name for an imitation hard rubber.

Due to the monsoon season, the wet season being from October to March, and the dry from April to September, the miners and the battery did not work at the same time. During the dry, the miners dug pits up to 15m deep, and piled the tin-bearing ore next to their claim. They could not work during the wet as their pits would fill with water. The battery only worked during the wet when there was plenty of water to run the steam engine. The reservoir adjacent to the battery was designed so that water would run from high ground and fill the pit. During the wet season, most of the miners sought casual work in the battery, however, only a few were accepted.

A problem arose when the miners returned to work at the commencement of the dry. Their pits were full of water and needed to be pumped-out. Initially, Mr. Stutterd refused to even discuss the matter of supplying pumps. However, when the output of ore was affected by the miners having to empty the pits by hand, he relented, and basic pumps were supplied.

Conditions

The conditions of those working for the battery were quite different. The “Government Gazette” notice No. 216/24 cites conditions under which men were employed. However, the way Mr. Stutterd interpreted the notice was also quite different.

The food ration was originally developed by the South Australian Pastoral Association. This diet was known as the “8, 10, 2 and ¼” ration, and issued every Saturday. This equates to 8lbs (3.6kgs) of flour, 10lbs (4.5kgs) of meat, 2lbs (0.9kgs) of sugar, and ¼lb (0.1kgs) of tea. From this, it was expected that the receiver would make a meal of; a damper, a fried slab of meat, and a cup of tea. Originally, this ration was intended for Aboriginal employees to supplement the wild game (kangaroos, lizards, etc.) and native vegetation they had gathered. It was not designed to be a complete diet.

However, Mr. Stutterd considered it was a complete diet, but only issued the rations once a month, consequently the meat (whatever it was[7]) did not last that long without refrigeration[8]. This ration, as issued at Maranboy, was, in effect, a starvation diet, forcing the workers to obtain supplemental food elsewhere. Most miners lived on bread and jam or golden syrup, while others scoured the bush for native animals such as kangaroo and galahs. Some were able to afford a slightly better diet of porridge and rice, but few could afford expensive staples such as beef and vegetables. The result of this was that many workers suffered disease due to severe malnutrition and scurvy. Section 4 of the Government notice No. 216/24 also states that miners would be supplied explosives at no charge to carry-out their required mining activities. In fact Mr. Stutterd demanded that workers sign a paper guaranteeing that the cost of the explosives would be paid back before the worker left the field.


[7] Generally, the meat would have been either corned beef, salted pork, or boiled mutton.

[8] It was also possible that flour could “go off”, and sugar could crystalise to become rock hard.

Another deviation Mr. Stutterd made from the Government notice was charging upfront for the tent and bedding that should have been either loaned to the worker at no cost, or purchased by him at the end of his period of employment. As many workers arrived on the field with no money to purchase a tent, they slept where-ever they could find a place out of the weather. There is a record of a man employed as a “teamster” sleeping in a vacant horse stall in the stable.

The Government notice makes no mention of the workers receiving any money for their labours. Their sole income was the rations issued by Mr. Stutterd. As time went on, the clothes that the men arrived at the field wearing, wore-out, and with no money to purchase new items with, they resorted to wearing clothing made from flour sacks, calico, or any material they could obtain.

Disease

With such a low standard of living, it is not surprising that illness and disease spread rapidly. The main problems were dysentery and malaria. In 1916 and again in 1923, malaria struck the community with vengeance. At the height of the 1916 outbreak, over 90% of the population were suffering from the disease, and many died. Among those who succumbed included the youngest daughter of the Stutterd’s. Her father, the battery manager, at one stage, was himself completely unconscious with malaria, although he later recovered. Many others died as well, including many of the elderly miners who were the first to arrive on the field and staked-out rich claims. Several miners also lost their wives and children during the epidemic. Some sufferers laid in their accommodation (such as it was) for days before death overcame them, without anyone being aware that they were afflicted. The only medicines available were some “snake oil” types stocked by the Maranboy store, and quinine held by Mr. Stutterd in his medicine chest, but these quickly ran out. Some residents, desperate for medicines, travelled to Katherine or Pine Creek, with very little luck as they were also rife with malaria. Another “remedy” was a mixture concocted by the local doctor, Dr. Strangman. Although home-made, it proved surprisingly effective in making the patient feel better if taken while the disease was still in its early stage, but it was not a cure or preventative. However, the doctor had a great deal of trouble obtaining some ingredients, consequently his mixture became very scarce.

Due to the 1916 epidemic, the Australian Inland Mission (AIM), under Rev. John Flynn, established its first hospital in the Northern Territory in Maranboy in 1917. The Northern Territory Administration offered to build the hospital if the AIM would provide the staff to run it. However, the hospital was not open to Aboriginal people, on the grounds that if Aboriginals used it, Europeans would not, although this rule became more relaxed as over time. The hospital building was known as the “Penola Hostel” or “the meat safe”, because of its construction method, was used until 1931, when the AIM felt it had served its purpose. It was then used as police station, later a post office and later still, a police residence, but finally demolished in 2006. The first staff were Sister J. Hepburn, who previously worked at the Austin Hospital for Incurables in Heidelberg, Victoria, and Miss May Gillespie. They worked tirelessly, initially treating those inflicted with malaria, they also treated tuberculosis, beriberi, leprosy (sufferers were generally removed to a leprosarium outside Darwin), scurvy, various sexually transmitted diseases, and there was never a shortage of wounds and broken bones to be treated. After two years, they returned to their homes in the south, and were replaced with new staff. Their citation from the grateful Northern Territory Administration read in part: “They nursed the sick and opened their doors to the lonely men; lent them books and made them feel that there was a little bit of home.”

Population

The population of the field fluctuated greatly. In 1914, Dr. Jensen gave a figure of “about 90” men on the field, although this seems rather high. A report to the Administrator in 1915 put the figure at “30 miners, 16 labourers, two carters, and one officer.” Women were not counted until 1918, and Aborigines not counted until 1927. In 1918, there were six women on the field: two were nurses who worked at the AIM  hospital, three were wives of miners, and the other was Ethel Stutterd, the wife of the battery manager. When the price of tin rose in the late 1920s, the population of Maranboy increased. A report to the Administrator in 1929 gives the numbers as: 45 miners, 17 “European female adults”, and seven children under 12. During the war, the population decreased to nine miners, two carters, and two battery hands.

However, by far, the largest population group at Maranboy were the Aborigines. Maranboy is on the land of the traditional Jawoyn people, who also occupy large areas of land around Katherine. When the first counting of Aboriginal people in Maranboy occurred on 1927,  their estimated number was 270, and this figure stayed fairly constant up to the late 1930s. Generally, each miner employed at least two Aboriginal labourers, and also provided for their dependants. But Aborigines also worked in other areas. They were employed by miners’ wives and Ethel Stutterd as domestic servants, by the police as trackers, by the hospital, and some gave sexual favours to anyone who could pay.

Generally, the police at Maranboy were not well liked by the miners.  In the late 1920s one of the Police Officers was Constable Arthur Clapp. He would prosecute the miners for what he perceived to be any infraction of the law. But if a law didn’t exist to suit the occasion, he made one up. After a couple of years of his bullying and intimidation, the miners had had enough. They threatened to run him out of town if the Northern Territory Administration did not remove him within two days. Constable Clapp was eventually transferred, but by the Administration’s time-table, not the miners.

Production

Even as early as 1918, the miners were not pleased with the output of the battery. Anecdotal evidence suggested that they were not being paid for the actual tin concentrate that was being extracted from their ore. Eventually, two miners sent a parcel of ore away to be assayed and were greatly disappointed with the extracted concentrate, it being a full 3% below what they expected. They then asked a battery worker to take a sample of the tailings. This was sealed and sent to the School of Mines at Charters Towers for assay. The result indicated 2.54%, metallic tin, or 3.22% tin oxide, in the tailings. This confirmed a huge loss to the miners, but the sample was obtained after the battery had run for only one hour, over a whole day the loss would have been enormous.

When pressed on the matter, Mr. Stutterd admitted that what counted to the Administration was the total tonnage of ore crushed, not the amount of tin extracted. This saved the government money, as they didn’t have to pay the miners as much money, and it made the production figures of the battery look good. When the miners discovered this, they went on strike until they were assured that the operation of the battery would change to ensure that the miners received the true value of their crushed ore. In consultation between the miners and battery manager a new method of processing the ore was agreed. The tailings would be assayed, and if it contained a significant amount of tin it would be processed a second, or even third, time to extract the maximum amount of tin. The results of each “crush” would be posted for all to see. For the first time the miners would be allowed to be in attendance and watch the process. However, there would be an increase in charges to the miners in line with the amount of tin extracted.

On rare occasions when the authorities from Darwin visited the field, the miners formed deputations to demand better conditions. Chief among their requests were: better pumping equipment to remove water from their pits, preference for local miners to obtain casual employment at the battery, improved roads, and more visits by the Government geologist. These requests generally met with very little success.

As time went on, the amount of tin produced declined. In 1917 the value of tin produced was £15,660 ($1,445,000 in 2020), However, by 1932, it was only £168 ($14,000 in 2020). In some years the fall in production was quite dramatic. For example, in 1923 53 tons (53,000kgs) of tin was produced at Maranboy. The following year, 1924, just 18 tons (18,000kgs) were produced. In 1951, the Northern Territory Director of Mines, described the history of the Maranboy field as, “particularly black and dismal”. He further remarked that the production of 30,000 tons (30,500,000kgs) of ore during the previous 35 years was “discouraging”.

World War 2 was not kind to Maranboy. Although the demand for tin increased, the production decreased. Many miners left to have an easier life, with decent food, and better living conditions, in the Army. Many were employed in the building of the Stuart Highway, and as they remained in the Northern Territory, were still near friends and contacts. In 1949 the battery closed “for repairs”, but never re-opened.

All information has been researched and compiled by Barry

References

NT Place Names Register, https://www.ntlis.nt.gov.au/placenames/view.jsp?id=14788 , Retrieved 21 October 2021.

Northern Territory Times and Gazette, Sat 5 Oct 1918, Page 12, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/3291876 , Retrieved 20 October 2021.

Diane Hutchinson and Florian Ploeckl, “Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of Australian Amounts, 1828 to the Present”, MeasuringWorth, 2021 URL:www.measuringworth.com/australiacompare

Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia No. 14 – 1921, https://tinyurl.com/km4svd68, Retrieved 23 October, 2021.

MARANBOY MINERS. (1924, December 5). Northern Standard (Darwin, NT: 1921 – 1955), p. 2. Retrieved October 24, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48016482

Maranboy Tinfields (1918, June 15). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), p. 22. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3289780

Foster, R. (2000). Rations, coexistence, and the colonisation of Aboriginal labour in the South Australian pastoral industry, 1860–1911. Aboriginal History24, 1–26. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24046356

Marranboy Tinfield. (1923, December 18). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), p. 1. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3377971

Mataranka and the Daly, Two Studies in the History of Settlements in the Northern Territory, Jane Gleeson and Michaela Richards, Australian National University, North Australia Research Unit, 1985. https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/49390/3/MatarankaandtheDaly%2CTwoStudiesintheHistoryofSettle2.pdf , Retrieved 1 November 2021.

Proceedings of the Australian Mining History Association Conferences 1997-2000, The Men and Women of the Tin Mining Community of Maranboy, Northern Territory’, by Sue Harlow.

State Library of South Australia (18th Nov 2019). Australian Inland Mission. In Website State Library of South Australia. Retrieved 1st Nov 2021 22:15, from https://digital.collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/nodes/view/290

The Northern Territory Police Museum and Historical Society Incorporated, https://sites.google.com/site/ntpmhsociety/home/our-rich-history/places/maranboy , Retrieved 2 November 2021.

Angels in the Outback: The Australian Inland Mission, Rosenberg Publishing, 2012, Max Griffiths.

Country, Kin and Culture: Survival of an Australian Aboriginal Community, Wakefield Press, 2005, Claire Smith.

WILLIAM PAGE (1927, January 18). Northern Standard (Darwin, NT : 1921 – 1955), p. 1. Retrieved November 6, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48029469

The Maranboy Tinfields (1918, May 18). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), p. 16. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3289359

Maranboy Tinfields (1918, May 25). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), p. 12. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3289447

Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia No. 18 – 1925

https://books.google.com.au/books?id=ymNgwYwoFRIC&pg=PA781&lpg=PA781&dq=marranboy&source=bl&ots=d7cNOvZgkk&sig=ACfU3U0gn0jl02D9tI_ojDyF2cSX7axyCg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiuwsC9qdHzAhWTcn0KHQ9ZD5o4HhDoAXoECAwQAw#v=onepage&q=marranboy&f=false , Retrieved October 25, 2021.

Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia No. 19 – 1926

https://books.google.com.au/books?id=__MCU5jb2aUC&pg=PA738&lpg=PA738&dq=marranboy&source=bl&ots=FvAqX3tQqq&sig=ACfU3U3fwmZ7aqNHqY2V7doF7DtuGttSaw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiuwsC9qdHzAhWTcn0KHQ9ZD5o4HhDoAXoECA4QAw#v=onepage&q=marranboy&f=false , Retrieved October 25, 2021.

Photographs

Flynn, John.  (1917).  Maranboy general store.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-142610451

Flynn, John.  (1912).  Maranboy Hospital, Northern Territory.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-142357586

Smith, K. W. V, Maranboy battery. (1949). . Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://hdl.handle.net/10070/644591.

Colour photographs, J. M. Ridding, 2013

The Australian National University, Open Research Library, https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/197572/1/A513.pdf , Retrieved 25 October, 2021.

National Library of Australia, Evan R. Stanley map collection. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-1992750214 , Retrieved 26 October 2021.

Maranboy general store 1917 to 1931
Maranboy Hospital. Part of the Australian Inland Mission
1949 photo showing a rail track going into the battery building. Presumably the ore was dropped onto a conveyor to take it to the stamper battery
The 10-head stamping battery and water reservoir – 2013
Close up view of the stamping battery 2013
Part of the steam engine that powered the battery
Portion of Robinson’s Road Map of Australia, Mapp 225, showing Marranboy Govt. Battery. Published circa 1948