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Pearce, Samuel William (1848–1932)

by Elizabeth Warburton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Samuel William Pearce (1848-1932), prospector, was born on 31 March 1848 at Wingrave, Buckinghamshire, England, eldest son of James Pearce (1825-1904), schoolmaster and, later, storekeeper and politician, and his wife Harriet, née Edmonds. The family migrated to South Australia next year and James opened a store at the copper-mining town of Kapunda where Sam's eye for mineral-bearing country was sharpened.

His life was a long battle between conventional constraints and unruly impulses: 'I have been a rover and adventurer by sea and land', he wrote in old age. As a youth he ran away to sea, but at Kapunda on 8 July 1867 he married Mary Williams, a miner's daughter; nine of their children survived infancy. In 1870 they moved to Belalie, newly opened to agricultural settlement. Sam began very much his father's son, as a district councillor and active Wesleyan. For eight years he struggled to make pioneering pay, but carried on a search for minerals, pock-marking his farm with holes and joining any local rush. He unearthed manganese, silver, lead, gold, copper, magnesite, asbestos, and a supposed seam of coal on his own land.

Out of it all came the famous prospector on the 'Golden Mile' at Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Pearce could smell gold, it was said, as success followed success. He started in 1893 with the Ivanhoe reef, and next found the phenomenally rich Great Boulder mine. During the next four months, with W. G. Brookman and Charles de Rose, he pegged out Lake View, Three Australias, Royal Mint, Bank of England, Iron Duke, Iron Monarch, Associated, Consols and other rich mines including the fabulous Golden Horseshoe, covering in all 500 acres (202 ha). More discoveries followed, notably the Leviathan and the still richer Lady Mary, named after Mrs Pearce.

Financing the first of these enormous works overtaxed the resources of the syndicate organized by (Sir) George Brookman in Adelaide. On a hastily widened financial base, the Coolgardie Gold Mining & Prospecting Co. Ltd was formed and (Sir) George Doolette was sent by the shareholders to float the biggest claims in London. This company, and the Associated Gold Mines of Western Australia Ltd which absorbed the rest of the original claims, are part of the Pearce story only in that his share agreement slipped into limbo at this time. No Sir Samuel rose from the dirt of the 'Golden Mile', despite his remarkable achievements. Pearce wrote in Smith's Weekly in 1927 that his agreement with the Adelaide syndicate had allowed him a one-ninth interest in all he found. This, he computed, should have netted him £3 million, with more to come.

Even the amount he received was a bonanza for the Pearce family. Six feet (183 cm) tall, broad-shouldered and strong, Sam was a big spender when he had money, and loved to walk into the Jetty Hotel, Glenelg, bellowing 'Shout the bar'. He bought a mansion, furnished it extravagantly, and took his family on a world tour. Mary Pearce died in 1907. Next year, on 17 March, Sam married Alice Gilmer Fogg, dressmaker, who died in 1917, leaving a young daughter.

Pearce went on prospecting for gold, silver, rubies and diamonds from Klondyke to California and the sierras of Mexico, across South Africa and Zululand, and in every State of Australia. He brought camels from India for desert work; and in old age led an expedition to the MacDonnell Ranges, still following the gleam of gold and entertaining his companions round the camp-fire. His fortune was not so much dissipated as flung over several continents. 'Pity the poor prospector', he used to say, but it was the life for him. A granddaughter recalled him in a tent on the Deloraine goldfield near Adelaide in 1928: 'an old iron pot was on the fire … there he sat, stirring his tucker with a sterling silver monogrammed claret ladle'. Pearce intended to live to be a hundred but died at 83 on 1 January 1932 and was buried in Payneham cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Warburton, Old Stradbroke (Adel, 1976)
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 18 June, 9 July 1927.

Citation details

Elizabeth Warburton, 'Pearce, Samuel William (1848–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pearce-samuel-william-7999/text13937, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 25 August 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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