Wheal Hughes Copper Mine

Useful Information

Location: Moonta, Moonta to Wallaroo Road, Yorke Peninsula.
Open: closed.
Fee: closed.
Classification: MineCopper Mine
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours:  
Bibliography: John L. Keeling, Alan J. Mauger, Keith M. Scott, Kerri Hartley (2003): Alteration Mineralogy and Acid Sulphate Weathering at Moonta Copper Mines, South Australia, In: Roach I.C. ed. 2003. Advances in Regolith, pp. 230-233. CRC LEME.
Address: Wheal Hughes Copper Mine, Wallaroo Road, Moonta, SA 5558, Tel: +61-8-8821-2333.
Bookings, Tel: +61-8-8825-1892.
Moonta Mines Museum, Moonta, SA 5558, Tel: +61-8-8825-2152, Tel: +61-8-8825-1988.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1860 copper discovered by James Boor.
1861 copper discovered by Patrick Ryan at Moonta-Moonterra.
1863 Moonta village founded.
1866 Wheal Hughes founded.
1868 Wallaroo Tramway branch line constructed.
1874 Wheal Hughes Mining Company wound up voluntarily.
1890 mine restarted for a short time.
1923 copper mining in the area ceased.
1990 mine opened.
1993 closed due to falling copper prices.
29-NOV-1998 opened as a tourist mine.
2008 closed after a rock fallfor security reasons.


Captain Walter Watson Hughes, a retired sea captain, owned some land in the area. James Boor, who worke for him, discovered copper in a wombat hole while looking after his sheep in 1860. A mine was opened in 1866, named Wheal Hughes after the owner, Wheal is a Cornish term meaning mine. The Irish shepherd Patrick Ryan, another worker of Hughes, discovered copper at a place, known as Moonta-Moonterra to the local Aborigines, in 1861. All over copper deposits were sought and worked, like the Parrara, Paramatta, Poona, Karkarilla and Yelta mines. Others were called the Wheal James, Wheal Devon, Wheal Humby and Wheal Stuart. Unfortunately few of them proved to be very successful, calls were made on shareholders to pay more money to keep the mines going.

Wheal Hughes showed good prospects and some rich ores were obtained. At the first half-yearly general meeting of the company in Adelaide the directors informed the meeting that a good lode had been found. After some work the ore was reached and Captain Cowling sold more than 130 tons of ore during a few months. Everybody thought the future of the mine looked good, but unfortunately the deposit gave out shortly after. In June 1874 the Wheal Hughes Mining Company was liquidated voluntarily.

In 1890 the copper prices were higher, and so the mine was restarted. With better technology the revenue was better, but again it worked only for a short time.

A whole century later, in 1990, the mine was finally reopened. The ore was mined in a huge open cast and crushed on site. It was partly processed at nearby Kadina, then sent to New South Wales for final processing. In only three years the mine produced some 300,000 tons of copper. It employed 30 people and operated one 12 hour shift. Then the copper prices fell dramatically and the mine was not rentable any more.

This time the mine was finally closed and acquired by the Copper Coast Council. They made a show mine to explain the local mining history and geology to tourists. Although the mine is rather young, the show mine explains the history of 150 years of copper mining in the area. The tour goes down to the bottom of the 65 m deep open cut and then further 55 m into the underground mine. The deepest point is below sea level.

The show mine was closed after a falling rock hit chief tour guide Ned Knight in 2008. Unfortunately the volunteers who try to reopen the mine do not have the expertise to do the necessary maintenance. So far the mine could not be reopened.

Also of interest is the Moonta Mines Museum at Moonta, located inside a school house built in 1878. It shows exhibitions on mining history and the people engaged in mining in the local area including numerous memorabilia. Hands-on exhibits for children demonstrate the cycle of mining.