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Heinrich Wilhelm Ferdinand Kayser (1833–1919)

by John Reynolds

This article was published:

Heinrich Wilhelm Ferdinand Kayser (1833-1919), mining engineer, was born at Clausthal, Hanover, Germany, third son of Georg Andreas Kayser, mining engineer, and his wife Augusta, née Wisse. Educated at the Bergakademie Clausthal, he went to Adelaide in 1853 and to Melbourne in 1854. He worked on various goldfields, was naturalized in 1861 as a farmer and miner, and became a mining manager at Bendigo in 1863. In 1875 he became manager of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co. at Waratah, Tasmania.

In 1871 James (Philosopher) Smith had found tin deposits at Mount Bischoff and early in 1872 applied for a lease. His matchbox of samples aroused much local interest and next August Smith with a small party cut a rough track through the dense scrub from Burnie to the mount. Mining began in December and by June 1873 several tons of ore were sent to Launceston and Melbourne, causing such attention that a syndicate was formed to buy the mine. A mining expert was sent to the site and reported favourably but the project collapsed. However, in August the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co. was formed with 12,000 shares at £5. Smith sold the mine for £1500 in cash and 37 per cent of the company's shares. The first mining manager, William Crosby, spent £10,000 in forming fifty miles (80 km) of road from Burnie to Waratah and battling against the incessant winter rain. At the mine Crosby's installations were primitive but by 1875 Waratah had a post office, a few houses and a well-patronized hotel.

Kayser took up duty at Mount Bischoff on 16 November. He first examined the lease and found much richer lodes: with difficulty he had them cleared of scrub and opened. Smith supplied him with sawyers for enlarging the ore-dressing sheds and the directors gave him an old 5-head battery which was installed in December 1876. He began damming creeks for water storage and increased the sluices. By August 1877 production had risen from 45 tons a month to 250 tons. By February 1878 he had spent some £90,000 and the company had an overdraft of £40,000 but shareholders received £12,000 as their first dividend. In March over 1500 tons of ore were piled at the mine waiting to be carted and the price of tin in London fell from £72 a ton to £55. The shareholders were irate but the directors allowed Kayser to install a 15-head battery in 1879 and to start an embankment 12 ft (36 m) high across Falls Creek. In that year with help from the Van Diemen's Land Co. a wooden tramway for horse-drawn trucks was completed from the mine to Burnie.

By 1881 the Falls Creek dam was completed, a supplementary 40-head battery had been installed, the mine was yielding over 220 tons of ore a week, three dividends of £6000 each had been declared and shares were selling at £62 10s. Eager to persuade his men to settle, Kayser built them good houses, a hospital and a grand temperance hotel at Waratah. In June 1883 he lit the town, mine and dressing sheds with hydro-electricity, the first in an Australian industrial plant, and in July 1884 held a banquet to celebrate the completion of an iron tramway to Burnie. In 1892 at Hobart he read a paper, published as Mount Bischoff, to the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, claiming that the company had built 6 reservoirs, installed 75 stampers for reworking the tailings, produced some 37,000 tons of ore valued at £2,300,000 and paid £1,113,500 in dividends.

In 1898 Kayser was succeeded as general mine manager by J. D. Millen but continued as consulting engineer to the company and lived in Launceston. As magistrate, coroner, registrar of births, marriages and deaths, almost sole employer in the Waratah district, owner of the North-Western Advocate and a humane despot, he was widely known as the 'Chief'. Large and impressive with his mutton-chop whiskers, heavy moustache, firm jaw and blue eyes he seemed more like a military officer than a mining engineer. In 1894-1905 he was an elected councillor of the Australasian Institute of Mining Engineers to which he read three papers and was president of its meeting at Launceston in 1898. He was also a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and of the American Institute of Mining Engineers. In 1908 he moved to Victoria. He died at St Kilda on 12 October 1919, survived by his wife Mary Elizabeth, née Druce, whom he had married with Baptist rites in Melbourne on 4 March 1876, and by a son and seven daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • G. Blainey, The Rush That Never Ended (Melb, 1963)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 Oct 1919
  • Examiner (Launceston), 14 Oct 1919
  • Age (Melbourne), 15 Oct 1919
  • James Smith letters, 1847-97 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

John Reynolds, 'Kayser, Heinrich Wilhelm Ferdinand (1833–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Clausthal, Hanover, Germany


12 October, 1919 (aged ~ 86)
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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