History of West Australia/Thomas Gilbert Pearce


Thomas Gilbert Pearce HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

TO be able to look back on a life well spent is without doubt the greatest pleasure man can enjoy. The life may not have been an unruffled stream of prosperity—few lives are—but the sharp edges of adversity cannot deaden the joy that must arise from the contemplation of a career conducted on the strict lines of duty and endeavour. In all countries, both in the new and old worlds, there are men whose only object in life is to obtain riches, and who sacrifice everything to the selfish passion. There are also men who are truly the builders of their country, for despite the most discouraging circumstances they elevate both themselves and their follows by their integrity and honesty of purpose.

In the great mining centres of the world, where men are ever striving for a foremost place in the fierce race for wealth, the temptations to sacrifice honesty for the glittering bauble is perhaps greater than anywhere else. Fortunately, many of those occupying the principal positions in the mining world of Western Australia are above suspicion. Some men have greatness thrust upon them, others achieve it by their talents and honesty. Among those who can claim to be included in the latter category is Thomas Gilbert Pearce, a mining captain second to none in the colony.

Born in Penzance, Cornwall, within a mile of the famous St. Michael's Mount, in 1842, and educated at Trevellyn School, be breathed the air of the mines from the cradle. When only thirteen years of age his services were claimed by his father, to assist in the erection of batteries and engineering works connected with mining.

After two years of this, young Pearce, in order to escape an apprenticeship to a distasteful trade, ran away from home, and with a modest capital of £36, which he had managed to save, sought to make his fortune. This was in the year 1857, after the whole of the old world had been a state of excitement over the marvellous gold discoveries in Victoria. The young Cornish lad, though only fifteen years of age, joined the throng of adventurous spirits bound for Australia, and arrived in Melbourne in the latter end of that year. Like the majority of his shipmates, Pearce at once went to the diggings, and at Little Bendigo, Ballarat, he obtained work feeding stumpers and driving the engine at one of the mines.

At the end of twelve months he removed to Bendigo, and took a contract at Gibb and Lazarus' New Chum Mine, and after completing this work he proceeded to Blackwood. During the three or four months Mr. Pearce remained there he did fairly well, but the New Zealand rush which occurred at this time took him to the land of the Maori. Mr. Pearce worked at Weatherstones, near Otago, then at Glenore, Tokomario, and Skippers Creek. He was fairly successful in winning a good quantity of gold, and in the winter was able to go to Manwherkia and erect a large water-wheel. Payable dirt was here in abundance, and the miner's prospects wore a most rosy hue until 1863, when a great flood, known as "the Old Man Flood," played havoc with the mining plant. This misfortune was followed by twelve months of hard work at Skippers Creek, rewarded, however, so liberally that Mr. Pearce was able to return to Victoria in comparatively affluent circumstances. Like most golddiggers he went back to his old love, and with a party of mates opened up an old claim at Blackwood, which was fondly believed to be rich in payable stone. When too late Pearce discovered that he was the only one of the company who had any capital, and as this was expended in erecting a battery, the company was without the necessary money to work the mine.

Once more Mr. Pearce turned to New Zealand, and embarked for the West Coast. Landing first at Rosstown, he proceeded further down the coast to Donnaugh, where he erected a water-wheel. Not meeting with the success he hoped for, he tried his fortune at Greenstone, where fortune favoured him in a marked manner. The attractions of quartz mining were too great to allow him to remain satisfied with the work in New Zealand, however, and soon after a fair capital had been accumulated he again returned to Victoria. On reaching Blackwood he purchased a share in the Crown mine and in the Long Tunnel. His next venture was the purchase of a sawmill in the Bullarook Forest, and he carried on the operations of a sawmiller until 1884. In this year he paid another visit to New Zealand, where he remained until 1887. Hearing that silver had been discovered in the Darling Ranges in this colony, Mr. Pearce came here to examine the finds, but was so little impressed with their value that he returned to Victoria. It was at about this time that the rich discoveries of tin at Mount Wills, Gippsland, Victoria, were made, and Mr. Pearce, with others, formed a syndicate, and took up forty-six fifty-acre leases. The enterprise was rewarded in a most gratifying manner, and splendid returns were obtained.

In 1893 the goldfields of this colony attracted his attention, and Mr. Pearce directed his energies to the development of the gold mines at Marble Bar. He was one of the first to erect a public sluicing machine at this place, and for two years shared the prosperity of that field. In 1895 he removed to Coolgardie, and has ever since been closely associated with the interests of that great field. He successfully floated several companies, including the Richmond Gem, the Malcolm Moore, the Easter Gift, the Irish Lily, Irish Lily Extended, Lady Loch, and Lady Loch Extended, all of which are situated at Coolgardie. Then there is the well-known Ida mine at Bardock, and the Dover Castle at Mr. Malcolm, which he purchased in conjunction with Dr. Taft.

Mr. Pearce's great experience in practical mining places him in the front rank of mining experts on the field. His well-known integrity is sufficient guarantee that a mine favourably reported upon by him is a sound investment. Throughout his career he has endeavoured on every occasion when reporting on mining properties to do so honestly and straightforwardly, so that the investing public shall not be misled.

Mr. Pearce, who was married in 1865 to Miss E. M. Appleton, sister of the well-known actor, has five children. In the Masonic craft he has held many important offices, and he is also a member of the Coolgardie and Perth Stock Exchanges.

This brief sketch will give an idea of Mr. Pearce's character. Of splendid physique, he has been able to survive the hard life of a pioneer gold-digger without injury to health, and he now enjoys the benefits of a wellspent life. Wherever he has been his name has been associated with what is honest, and throughout the whole of the Coolgardie district there is no better known and respected man than Captain Tom Pearce.