The “Silver King” Charles Rasp is credited as the founder of Broken Hill, but few people would be aware that Saxony-born Hieronymous Salvator Lopez von Pereira deserves precisely just as much credit.
No, we have not unearthed a hitherto unknown “claim-jumper” looking to snare some of the credit for discovering history’s richest seam of silver, lead and zinc – Rasp and Pereira are one and the same person.
Charles Rasp was born Hieronymous Salvator Lopez von Pereira in Saxony, Germany on October 7, 1846, a descendant of Portuguese aristocracy. At the time of his death, Rasp’s father was being pursued by the financier Rothschild and tried to obscure his identity by changing the family name.
Rasp sailed to Australia after leaving the German army during the Franco-Prussian war and by the mid 1870s he was living in Victoria and worked on several pastoral properties. From there he moved around Queensland and NSW until taking work as a boundary rider on Mount Gipps station where he developed an outstanding reputation as a bushman.
Adding another layer of intrigue to the founding of Broken Hill, Charles Rasp was neither a geologist nor even a miner. But sustained by a first class education, his extensive powers of observation made him the first to discover minerals at a site which previous prospectors had dismissed as a worthless hill of mullock.
Rasp pegged the first block on the rocky outcrop known as the “broken hill” on September 5, 1883, which he thought was a mountain of tin. On the advice of his employer – Mount Gipps station manager George McCulloch – a syndicate of seven was formed and a further six blocks were pegged to include the whole ridge.
Initial reports from Adelaide-based analysts produced disappointing results as they only tested for tin, but the discovery of rich silver ore in 1885 launched the Broken Hill mining boom and within five years Rasp had made a fortune.
The following extract, from the Melbourne “Argus” on August 19, 1905, explains in Charles Rasp’s own words, the harsh realities the syndicate faced:
“At the start it was very bad. There was no accommodation, water and provisions were scarce and the weather was very trying. It was an awfully dusty place. For 12 months it was really doubtful whether we would make anything out of it; I had unlimited faith in it right through. Of course, I did not think it would turn out as big as it has done, but I always thought it would be a fairly good thing”.
That “fairly good thing” became the largest single source of silver, lead and zinc in the world, measuring 7.5 kilometres long and 250 metres wide. It would eventually generate more than $100 billion in wealth.
The Broken Hill discovery provided the young Commonwealth of Australia with an important role on the world’s economic stage. Rasp held two-fourteenths of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, which was floated as a public company on August 13, 1885, yet never joined the board of BHP.
Rasp moved to Adelaide and married Agnes Maria Louise Klevesahl there on July 22, 1886. For their honeymoon the couple went to Silverton and in 1887 Rasp bought a gracious mansion in the inner-north Adelaide suburb of Medindie and named it Willyama – the Aboriginal name for Broken Hill. (In 2006 Willyama sold for $6.4 million).
By 1890 Rasp’s shares in BHP were worth over one-million pounds and with this wealth the couple were able to travel extensively, both in Australia and overseas. In May 1897 the couple left for an extended holiday visiting Europe, Africa, China, Japan and India, while three years later - accompanied by their servant Anna Paech - the couple left for a two-year visit to England and Europe.
On May 22, 1907 Rasp died suddenly from a heart attack at Willyama aged 60. For some time he had not been in the best of health, but his death was quite unexpected and he was buried in North Road cemetery in Adelaide. Agnes died in Adelaide on May 26, 1936, aged 79 and was buried in the same grave as her husband.
In the words of Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Emeritus Professor of Economic History, at the University of Melbourne:
“Charles Rasp is one of the most important figures in the history of our land in the late 19th century. In discovering the silver-lead of Broken Hill he initiated and shaped a crucial event in our economic development.”