History of West Australia/Alfred Leon Simon


THE histories of the world's famous goldfields are now being repeated in Western Australia. The magnetic power of the yellow metal attracts well-informed, intelligent, able-bodied men from all over the world. Every goldfield contains a cosmopolitan, and, at first, a pure democracy. Almost since the days of Roman greatness, nations and people have been sedulously searching for gold that shall quickly make them rich without the necessity of long and arduous toil. The early explorations in Asia and Africa in medieval days had that end in view. Long years after the East India Islands became known, speculation was casually indulged in as to the possible wealth of the minerals and merchandise which they contained. Hence Columbus sailed away from Europe to discover a westerly route to these places, and happened on Cuba. Not long afterwards Hernando Cortes was despatched to that island to form a settlement, but not finding it so congenial as he wished, he went further west, and exploited Central America. Then in a short time millions upon millions of pounds' worth of gold were taken out of that famous country by the Spaniards, and the Old World was astounded with bright luminous tales of wealth. A spur was given to further exploration and navigation, and mariners and travellers went forth in the anticipation of possible riches, and discovered divers islands and hitherto unknown parts of the world.

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Therefore, it is apparent that in later history gold has been the foundation of discovery, and in order to acquire it people have been drawn from one end of the world to the other, like children in a toy-shop rushing here and there to get its prizes. The American goldfields not only attracted those resident in that continent, but civilised people from every portion of the globe. Ballarat and Bendigo and South Africa thus got their magnificent populations. Western Australia is not singular in this respect. The basis is the best that could possibly be gained. No general of a universal army could despatch finer officers and men to these regions than are gathered spontaneously without any ruling power other than that of self interest. Men of all shades of learning, of professions, avocations, and classes, are monthly taking up their abode in the colony. The capitalist and the poor man join together to gain some benefit from the golden wealth which she contains. The biographies published in this work of those resident on and interested in our gold fields give rise to these reflections. Happy is it for Western Australia that her deserts contain the yellow talisman, and this glittering augury of a prosperous future is now performing its potent mission. Of the highly educated, scientific, and intelligent, we have already mentioned several names, and chief among them is that of Dr. Alfred Leon Simon, of whose career a brief sketch is appended. With his wide experience, invaluable training, and, in the possession of that chief agent of development-capital,—Dr. Simon has very materially assisted in fostering the prosperity of the colony.

Dr. Simon was born at St. Johann, Germany, and received his early education at Mühlhausen, in Alsace. Thence he went to the Polytechnic School at Zurich, Switzerland, where he passed with honours the State examination for a civil engineer and an analytical chemist. He then took his degree as Doctor of Philosophy at the University of the same place. After thus distinguishing himself he received an appointment as assistant to Professor Bernthsen, teaching organic chemistry at the famous Heidelberg University, where he remained for eighteen months. His thirst for knowledge carried him first to Lille, in Northern France, where he occupied the position of chef de laboratoire at the world renowned manufactory of chemical products, and thence to Frankfort, where he obtained a practical insight into the treatment of ores at the Gold Reduction Works in that city. After this he visited Freiberg, in Germany, and Central France, where he obtained a good knowledge of practical mining. The goldfields of South Africa were at this time being opened up, and Dr. Simon, like others, saw in the new country a greater scope for his talents than in the settled centres of civilisation. He accordingly went to the Rand, where his services were eagerly sought after by several mining companies. He became civil engineer and metallurgist to the Ferreira Gold Mining Company Limited, and designed and erected large cyanide plants on the mines of the Rand. He also held the important position of consulting metallurgist to several very large mines, including the Robinson, Wemmer, Salisbury, Jubilee, New Heriot companies, &c. After three years of active work on these famous goldfields, Dr. Simon went to Paris on a holiday trip, intending to return in a short time. The Western Australian goldfields were, however, attracting great attention in France, and he was approached by representatives of a wealthy syndicate, who asked him to undertake a tour of inspection round the fields on their behalf. Dr. Simon consented to do so, and arrived in Perth in December, 1894. He at once proceeded to Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, and the White Feather, and subsequently visited Yalgoo, Mount Magnet, Cue, and Day Dawn. The Doctor reported very favourably on the fields, but drew the attention of his principals to the fact that, although there were many rich properties, great discretion would have to be exercised in purchasing tempting-looking shows. The outcome of his report was the formation of the New Austral Company, with a capital of 10,000,000 francs (£400,000), to acquire properties in Western Australia. Dr. Simon was entrusted with the onerous task of investing part of this money in mining properties, which he has done in the most judicious manner. The best properties, he considers, that the syndicate has secured are the Norseman mines, near Dundas; the Hill-End, for which £25,000 was paid; the New Victoria, seven miles from Coolgardie, £40,000; and the Australasian, one and a half miles from Coolgardie, £8,000. Dr. Simon has imported three dry-crushing plants (with pan-amalgamation), which have been erected at the mines.

During his association with Western Australian goldfields he has proved himself an enterprising, shrewd, and far-seeing capitalist. In all his investments he has followed the golden rule that the first loss is the best loss; after acquiring a property he at once thoroughly tests its resources, and if the results are not equal to expectations, he does not waste any more money on its development. The result is that the properties on which he spends money are known to be promising investments. In the business and commercial life of the colony Dr. Simon takes a prominent part, and his straightforward manly conduct is well known. In Coolgardie he holds (1896) the important office of president of the Chamber of Mines.

In the public affairs of Coolgardie Dr. Simon has shown a sympathetic and sustained interest, and when the much debated starting-point for the Menzies Railway was before Parliament, he took a leading part in urging the claims of Coolgardie. He has been a consistent advocate for railway extension, and in this connection has brought the Esperance-Norseman-Coolgardie line under Government notice on more than one occasion.

Whether in city or mining town West Australian residents have a good word in favour of the vivacious, courteous gentleman who represents the New Austral Company, whose prosperity he has materially aided.