When the BHP was founded in the Silverton Hotel in 1885, the residents of this booming mining community could hardly have imagined the speed of the decline that was to follow.
Such were the riches discovered at Broken Hill that everything in the booming mining town of Silverton that could be taken away was transported into the Silver City. As such, the early history of Silverton is one of boom and bust, a fate shared with many other mining towns. It is also a story of survival.
The discovery of rich ore bodies in the far west of New South Wales began in the Silverton area when silver ore was discovered at nearby Thackaringa in 1875. The Pioneer Mine was the first mine to be established.
A steady stream of prospectors flocked to the area and by 1877 a town of tents and shanties grew. By the 1880s Silverton had become a permanent settlement and in 1883 Senior Constable Richard O’Connell commenced duties to keep law and order. (Visitors will see and hear Richard O’Connell welcoming them to the Gaol Museum).
The mid 1880s were the glory days of Silverton. By 1884 the population reached 1,750 and the area produced 6,000 tons of ore. Burke Street and surrounds became the venue for businesses, hotels and services. The school opened in 1884 and the Lion Brewery was established in 1885. Silverton became a Municipal Council in 1886.
There was a problem with transporting the ore but the Silverton Tramway was established in the late 1880s to build a line connecting Silverton with Cockburn in South Australia and beyond Cockburn to Adelaide and the world.
So what went wrong? The answer is not a disaster or the decline in the ore body. It was the discovery of the world’s richest ore body at nearby Broken Hill, which quickly eclipsed anything in the Silverton area.
People left Silverton for richer pickings in Broken Hill. Silverton buildings were dismantled and businesses moved. By the early 1890s Silverton was in decline and the new tramway terminus was not Silverton as planned but Broken Hill.
However, this story ends with revival. In recent decades Silverton has thrived again as a tourist destination. Visitors are attracted to the history of the town and the buildings that have survived as well as the incredible surrounding landscape.