Charles Whitham, 'Mount Lyell Smelters', 1917 (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Smelting has occurred in Tasmania from 1849 onwards in 22 smelters, which have varied in size from small to very large. Three-quarters smelted ore near the mine it came from, ten of these near west coast mines, three around Beaconsfield, and one each at Blue Tier and Port Davey. Seven smelted ore brought to industrial sites at Bell Bay (Comalco, Temco), Launceston (Mount Bischoff) and Hobart (early short-lived smelters, and Electrolytic Zinc). Copper, iron and tin have been the most common ores smelted.

Twelve smelters were short-lived, processing ore near a mine for three years or less. They failed due to unsuitable technology, unsuitable or low-grade ore, bankruptcy, or the difficulties of working in remote areas. Four lasted about ten years, and six 25 years or more. From 1875 to 1929 Mount Bischoff's smelter at Launceston processed tin from its mine; Mount Lyell at Queenstown processed its copper ore from 1896 to 1969; the Electrolytic Zinc Company at Risdon near Hobart began smelting zinc ore from Broken Hill and later from Rosebery in 1917, and smelting continues; from 1923 to 1948 Electrolytic Zinc smelted Mount Read-Rosebery ores at Zeehan; Comalco, established in 1955, continues to process bauxite from Weipa at its plant at Bell Bay; and Temco, also at Bell Bay, has from 1962 processed ferro-manganese ore from Groote Eylandt. The fourth continuing smelter was established in 2001 by Rallinga Mines at Port Davey, and smelts local tin deposits. Overall, smelters around the island have made a substantial contribution to the Tasmanian economy, for over 150 years.

Further reading: K Pink, The West Coast story, Zeehan, 1982; L Rae, Window on Rosebery, Ulverstone, 1994; L Whitham, Railways, mines, pubs and people, Hobart, 2002; Mines Department, A century of tin mining at Mt Bischoff, Hobart, 1972.

Greg Dickens