Zeehan's Silver-Lead orebody

Zeehan's Montana mine (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Zeehan's silver–lead orebody was discovered in 1882 close to where the impressive Post Office building stands today. Frank Long, earlier associated with the development of the nearby Heemskirk Tinfield (1876–77), established an 80-acre reward section which he named the Mount Zeehan Mine. Ironically Long's reward claim was a failure, while many surrounding mines flourished.

Interest in the mining field increased during 1887, when George Bell discovered the substantial Silver Queen galena lode. By 1891, 159 companies and syndicates operated around Zeehan. Dundas, ten kilometres east of Zeehan with a population of over 1000, also became a prosperous mining field with 74 companies floated. The Government Geologist, Alexander Montgomery, estimated the Zeehan–Dundas area produced about 14,000 tonnes of silver-lead ore by 1893, with the Silver Queen, Western and Oceana at Zeehan and Maestrie's at Dundas the prominent mines. During the most successful period, 1893–1908, the value of production was estimated at £3.5 million, about $175 million on present-day valuation. Zeehan reached its peak during 1907. A typical 'boom town', it contained, as well dozens of business enterprises, the Zeehan School of Mines and Metallurgy, and the Austral Smelters. Dundas, a much smaller community, provided its inhabitants with the essentials of life – some shops, pubs, a brewery and a rail connection with Zeehan. Nothing remains at Dundas today.

A rapid decline occurred after 1911 when Zeehan's important mines began to run out of shallow ore. The outbreak of war in 1914 destroyed European markets, and with the closure of the smelters (1913), the gradual demise of the town started. By the time the last mine (Oceana) closed in 1960, Zeehan's population had dwindled to 600. However, during 1965 the town began to grow, due to a major expansion at the nearby Renison Tin Mine. By 1970, Zeehan contained over 1800 people. Since 1985, the population has gradually fallen to about 800, coinciding with the decline of the Renison Mine workforce. Today, Zeehan continues as a centre for small mining operations and exploration companies.

Further reading: W Jay, The wild westerners, Rosebery, 1988; C Whitham, Western Tasmania, Queenstown, 1924.

Greg Dickens