History of West Australia/Leslie Robert Menzie

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Leslie Robert Menzie HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

GREATNESS is a term widely applied and universally envied. The successful exploiter of nature's minerals has a greatness as promotive of envy as that of the king or poet who makes the songs of a people. And this Mr. Leslie Robert Menzie has proved and appreciated. He was born in Baltimore, United States, and was educated in that city. With an inherent love for mining, he left the parental roof to go to the Sacramento fields—that home of gold-mining in America. This place was a mere preparatory school for storing the mind with such rudiments of the secret art as he could acquire in eighteen months, and he went to the Rand, in South Africa, and was on the spot soon after British money was first invested there. In that quarter of the globe for two years he prospected the famous African Goldfield, and laid by a store of mining knowledge which was bound to become useful to him at some period of his life. Nor did he merely gain experience, for the golden god looked kindly on his efforts of propitiation.

After some measure of success in Africa, the enterprising spirit and the true quality of one who deserves to receive the gifts of the earth took him to another far-off country. His mining education was not yet completed, and it would be difficult to imagine a better schooling than that to be obtained in divers countries where the infinite resources of nature can be appreciated. Nature never repeats itself; and as no two human faces are alike, so no two valleys or hills present the same features. Mr. Menzie heard that gold had been found in New Zealand, and he passed over to the South Island, to exploit her fern-clad valleys and mossy outcrops. First he searched for riches in the Thames district and then he travelled the whole length and breadth of the gold-producing country in the South Island. New Zealand offers a wide field of study to geologists. Substantially, it is unlike any other country on the face of the earth, and nature glories in the most anomalous contradictions. At Makapawa, especially, Mr. Menzie's labours were rewarded.

Five years were passed in the land of the dusky Maori. But now there began to loom dimly on the horizon of the mining world a new golden country—a modern land of Sheba. And while the historical Queen was presenting her gifts to Solomon, the sable children of the Western Australian deserts roamed thoughtlessly over the deposits which enriched the earth. Vague speculations were indulged in in 1890 that Western Australia contained the nucleus of a great goldfield, and prospectors from all over the world drifted here at intervals to explore her vastnesses. Among them in that year came Mr. Menzie. In the height of summer he went out into the country and prospected Parker's Range, near Southern Gross. Not yet was the golden era of his life to come, for his success was an inadequate return for personal hardships. Nothing daunted, he persevered, and in this was encouraged by the syndicate which he represented. Several Perth gentlemen commissioned him to prospect, and under their auspices he transferred his labours to the Murchison district, there to take charge of the Star of the East Mine. In him was a deep love of the life of the prospector; and with that love he possessed other necessary characteristics, such as untiring energy and determination.

He was accompanied to the Murchison by Mr. J. E. Macdonald, a counterpart of himself. These gentlemen remained together for three years, and acquired vast experience in, and knowledge of, the auriferous belts of this colony. From place to place over the Murchison they made their search, and by this time rumour was confirmed, and rich mines of gold were discovered in widely-separated parts. Bayley and Ford had hit upon Coolgardie; the Londonderry discovery had electrified the mining world, and John Dunn had made his fortune at the Wealth of Nations. Men who had hitherto known the colony but as an empty name now seized their maps and gloated over the pink outline of a country which they had formerly stigmatised as barren. The labours of Mr. Menzie on the Murchison were not greeted with remarkable success, and he returned to Perth. Hardly had he arrived when the public was incontinently excited and mesmerised by the discoveries of Dunn. Seized with the feverish excitement, Menzie immediately went to Coolgardie. No more fortunate journey was ever made by him, and the exaggerated stories of mountains of gold told him in the eastern mining town made him ambitious to emulate the greatness of Bayley and Dunn. With Mr. Macdonald, a native, an Afghan, and camels, he penetrated the lean desert. On their camels they crossed to Hannan's, thence to White Feather, Black Flag, and the Ninety-Mile. From the last place he took a north-westerly direction, and had not gone far before he determined to elaborate]y and laboriously prospect likely looking country.

In the remarkably short space of four weeks after leaving Perth he discovered the field now known as Menzies. While moving over the dusty way he saw before him an outcrop three or four feet high, in which, as he says, "was glistening gold that could be seen two or three chains away." Hurriedly did he peg out a twenty-four and an eighteen-acre lease, erecting a few mute pegs, signs of possession which few miners will disrespect even in the most inaccessible region. In the former is now the famous Lady Shenton, floated by Mr. H. J. Saunders, M.L.C., into a company, with a capital of £160,000; and in the latter the Florence, also floated by Mr. Saunders for £120,000.

After pegging out the ground, Mr. Menzie set out for Coolgardie and made application for the leases, which were granted. Returning with additional stores—for their provisions and water had run cut just when they had made the lucky find—Mr. Menzie was met by a large number of men at the Ninety-Mile, who followed him to the treasure-ground. He now remained on the claims for a short space of time, and then proceeded to Perth for a holiday. Potential energy was still in abundance, and he found an outlet for it in starting upon another prospecting tour, but after passing Kurnalpi he was seized with rheumatic fever, and was conveyed back to Perth. He recovered slowly, and when convalescent he forsook active mining for the realm of speculation and investment.

In May of 1896 the wheel of his fortune again revolved, this time in South Australia, where he went on behalf of two other gentlemen and himself. They believed in the resources of that colony, and signified their belief in the most effectual way—by purchasing sixty-four gold mines. In connection with this venture Mr. Menzie floated the Menzie's Barossa, the Menzie's Barossa North, and the Menzie's Welcome companies. The first possesses a capital of £160,000, the second £60,000, and the third he disposed of to a wealthy syndicate.

We have now given the chief links in the chain of his busy life. The tide of fortune seized him at the flood and raised him to high water-mark. But let the romantic and sanguine youth guard himself against fallaciously conceiving it to be a regular rapid flow, for an undercurrent or ebb may run conjointly. Mr. Menzie can feel a reflex sense of pleasure in looking back on those days when, with swag and camel, hungry and thirsty, he pursued the hunt of the yellow dust, fearing, like the poet, when he said

"We wear out life, alas!
Distracted as homeless wind;
In beating where we must not pass,
In seeking what we shall not find."

A word of prophecy from such an authority on the future of Western Australian fields will be welcome. Mr. Menzie strongly affirms that this colony will be one of the leading gold-producing countries of the world. Of a good-natured and suave disposition, Mr. Menzie's company is greatly enjoyed. To the country in general his well-earned acquisitions have been highly beneficial. He has helped to throw open the gates leading to rich goldfields in Western Australia. In August, 1895, he married Miss Jerger, daughter of Mr. H. Jerger, the well-known jeweller, of Hay Street, Perth. Their residence, "Ettawanda" (called after the daughter of an Indian chief Mr. Menzie met many years ago in America), is a beautiful villa, situated on the slopes of Mount Eliza, on the Mounts Bay Road. which overlooks the river and some of the finest scenery in Perth.