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Braché, Jacob (1827–1905)

by Helen Morris

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Jacob Braché (1827-1905), civil and mining engineer, was born on 5 June 1827 at Coblenz, Prussia, son of Jacob Braché, civil servant, and his wife Johanna Elizabeth, née Heppner. He was trained as an engineer and left Prussia in 1846 for the silver and gold mines of South and North America, where he gained experience in engineering and mining. After employment in Panama on waterworks and the railway and also prospecting for gold, he reached Melbourne in August 1853.

Braché was soon attracted to the goldfields. Various ventures, one at Forest Creek near Castlemaine in 1854 and another at Ballarat in 1855, failed. Individualistic diggers were hostile to his introduction of wage labour and machinery, and the government refused to grant the leases he sought. Eager to reform mining administration and operation, and encouraged by John Humffray, Braché began to emerge as a spokesman for mining interests. Humffray was responsible for Braché's nomination as secretary to the select committee on gold in 1855-56. Humffray's bill of 1856 'for the better protection of inventors' was probably stimulated by Braché who claimed to have suffered because of lack of protection for his various inventions of mining machinery.

His most comprehensive work was his 'Report on the State of the Mines in Victoria, as compared with that of other Mining Countries' (Transactions of the Mining Institute of Victoria, 1, 1859). In it he advocated a system of mining based on the union of capital and labour for their mutual benefit and the safeguarding of investors' interests by adequate leasing laws. A professionally qualified mining administration with central government authority should replace local administration. He deplored the influence on the government of squatters who prevented the provision of adequate leases and security of tenure.

In November 1856 Braché was appointed secretary of the royal commission on the colony's mining resources. His imperfect knowledge of English made the position difficult, so he was requested by the commission to make mechanical drawings. His disagreement with the chairman, Professor (Sir) Frederick McCoy, on the potential of quartz mining caused him to dissociate himself publicly from the commission. In 1857 under vice-regal patronage he founded the Mining Institute of Victoria with a nucleus of men well known in mining circles, such as Alfred Selwyn and Charles Ligar. The rules and by-laws of the institute were comprehensive and also contained many of Braché's personal views and comments. He edited the Transactions of the Mining Institute of Victoria and the short-lived Colonial Mining Journal. He also published Prospectus of the Projected Great Long Tunnel Gold Mining Company, Walhalla (Melbourne, 1876). In 1860 Braché was said to have been a government medallist for an essay on water supply. In March 1861 he began work at Ararat for the mining and topographical survey of the Geology Department under Selwyn and from April 1862 to September 1864 he was superintendent of the survey. In this capacity he reported on surveying administration. In the 1880s, after putting much money and energy into the survey and exploration of brown coalfields near Moe, Gippsland, Braché found that he could not extend leases which he had held for ten years. His Claim on the Government for Losses Sustained in Connection with Certain Coal Lands in Gippsland (Melbourne, 1895) was unsuccessful and he had to compromise with his creditors, suffering great financial loss.

Braché married a Scotswoman, Hannah Campbell, and had six sons and two daughters. Until late in life he carried on his business as a civil and mining engineer in Northcote, Melbourne, where he had lived since 1865, and was a member of the Victorian Engineers' Association from 1883. He died on 2 September 1905; he and his wife who died on 27 April 1912 were buried in the German cemetery in Separation Street, Northcote.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Westgarth, Victoria and the Australian Gold Mines (Lond, 1857)
  • R. B. Smyth, The Gold Fields and Mineral Districts of Victoria (Melb, 1869)
  • G. Blainey, The Rush that Never Ended (Melb, 1963)
  • R. A. Paull, Old Walhalla (Melb, 1963)
  • G. Serle, The Golden Age (Melb, 1963)
  • Government Gazette (Victoria), 1856, 783
  • Ballarat Star, 6 May 1858
  • Colonial Mining Journal (Victoria), 2 Sept, Oct-Dec 1858, Apr 1859
  • Argus (Melbourne), 23 May 1889, 4 Sept 1905, 28 Apr 1912
  • Northcote Leader, 9 Sept 1905
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Morris, 'Braché, Jacob (1827–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brache-jacob-3038/text4463, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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