German Charlie- The King of the Barrier


Kay Koenig

Broken Hill is one of the world’s most influential mining areas. Both BHP and Rio-Tinto began there and the mines they operated underpinned their later successes. But before the rich silver-lead-zinc orebody at Broken Hill was exploited, the Barrier Ranges was a frontier. Men, and a few women, came as pioneers. Their attempts to prosper in the far west of NSW had a lasting impact on both the landscape and the people who had lived there for thousands of years. Like all pioneers, their lives were the stuff of legends. Some of it real, much of it exaggerated and imagined. One pioneer was Charles Carl, known as German Charlie. At the time of his death in 1904, Charles Carl was acknowledged, as an important early settler in the Barrier Ranges. Later his place in history was downgraded to that of a grog shanty owner of dubious character. This reputation dates from Roy Bridges’ ‘From Silver to Steel, The Romance of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company’, published in 1920.

Bridges asserts that- ‘On Stephen’s Creek German Charley, notorious in the first years of the Barrier silver rush, set up his grog shanty. At Lake’s Camp, nine miles from Umberumberka Creek, old Lake conducted a shanty almost as notorious. The grog -sellers along the route, reputed in league with cattle duffers, figured in many a grim and evil story of the district………Bridges depiction of Charles Carl was oft repeated and believed. But was it true? Was he a crook and a man of dubious character, more suited to a gaol than a church?

Newspapers and books are full of stores about German Charlie. Some may be true but not necessarily related to Charles Carl……

A graveyard was laid out neatly near one of Charlie’s shanties. It was supposedly built for his customers. Although he did not murder them, it was rumoured, some died from drinking his rum. Apparently, the rum was doped heavily with tobacco. On one occasion a thirsty drover arrived at his shanty and called for drinks. He got sick and nearly died. After recovering, he called for his bill. It included an amount of one pound for digging his grave. When this was challenged, Charlie said “You was sick. The sun was hot. If you’d died, you would not have kept. I had to be prepared.”

Another oft repeated story was about a drover who became sick and died at one of Charlie’s wayside inns. Because he had a pocket full of money, he was sat at the bar and his health was drank until his money was spent. But where did this happen? Was it the inn near Poolamacca or the hotel on Stephen’s Creek? In fact, this story was even attributed to the Yanko Glen Hotel which was never owned by Charles Carl.

Another story related to the legend of Charlie’s cattle-duffing. Apparently, a bullock bearing the Mt Gipps brand, was close to Charlie’s inn on Stephen’s Creek. When a mounted policeman came to visit. Charlie asked for a favour. Would he shoot the bullock for him? The trooper fired a shot. that The bullock fell. “Oh, do you want to ruin me?” asked Charlie. The trooper rapidly disappeared leaving Charlie with a good supply of meat.

Then there is the recipe of Charlie’s rum. It was purported to contain, clay pipes, some rum, and lots of tobacco and sugar. Apparently, the tobacco gave the concoction flavour.

In the second half to the 19th century, transport in western NSW was uncertain. Rain could make the roads impassable. During drought, the flow of the Darling River was so reduced that river boats could not operate. In fact, there were many reasons that supplies never reached remote settlements. A break in the transport system resulted in a shortage of rum. For the local drover, shepherd or prospector, this was unforgivable.

When necessary, local hops were used to make beer. It was sold as ‘Longasleeve’, ‘Deep-sinker’ or ‘Jimmy Weedser’. No doubt various locally made concoctions were also sold as rum substitutes in many hotels and inns throughout the Barrier.

Charles Carl was a well-known character in the early days of the Barrier Ranges. He was portrayed as having a thick German accent and a wicked sense of humour. He was quick to seize opportunities to make money. He lived through the period when the Barrier Ranges were first populated by Europeans, who established a pastoral industry, then developed one of the richest mining districts on Earth. Although never a major player in this development, Charlie was quick to take advantage of any opportunities that arose.

Charles Carl  – German Charlie

Several lines of hills rise from a semi-arid flat plain that stretches from the Darling River into South Australia. Known as the Barrier Ranges, they trend roughly north-south about 40km east of the South Australian border. None of the hills and ridges rise more than 300 meters above the plain. Water holes are tucked into the headwaters of normally dry creeks that run through valleys and sweep into the surrounding flat lands. These are covered with mulga scrub, salt bush and spinifex. The banks of the larger creeks are flanked by gum trees. For thousands of years the ranges were home to the Wiljaali people. In drought years they barely survived, clinging to the water holes, sheltering from dust storms and surviving on the merger food that could be eked from the desert. But when rains came the creeks flowed and the plains become a garden of green grass and wild flowers. Mobs of kangaroo and emus signal a season of plenty. Explorer Charles Sturt arrived in 1844 during a good season. When he returned to Adelaide, he talked up the ranges as a potential grazing area for sheep and cattle. Eventually, white settlers found their way to the Barrier Ranges. Pastoral leases were taken up in 1863. The first was called Mt Gipps, after a local hill named by Sturt. The Mundi Mundi and Alberta Runs were occupied a little later.

Henry Lake and his three sons, William, James and George took up the 125,000-acre Alberta Run. Henry, James and George returned to South Australia. Both sons eventually became members of parliament. William Lake stayed to work the property. It had a chequered history. After William Lake relinquished it, Robert Gow held it for a while until he lost 20,000 sheep in the 1868 drought. Then he went bankrupt. For a while, it and the adjoining Corona Station were managed by Alfred Dickens, the son of author Charles Dickens until both were sold in 1875.

German Charlie was a friend of William Lake. In an interview with the Barrier Miner in May 1904, Charlie said that he was born in Hanover Germany and migrated to South Australia on the Johann Caesar in 1855. In 1864 he came to Campbells Creek in the Barrier Ranges. He went to the Darling River, then to Mingary, near the NSW border in South Australia. He lived for a while with W H Whiting and James Lyon, then joined William Lake who took up land near Corona. He was around for the first discovery of silver and for the beginnings of Silverton.

Many travellers to the Barrier Ranges rested at the Mingary waterhole. To serve the travellers; hotels, stores and stables opened. The town eventually had churches and a school. It was the last chance for settlers and prospectors to rest and buy provisions before entering the dry, sparsely populated Barrier Ranges. W H Whiting and James Lyons ventured into the Ranges. A little after Mt Gipps began, they established Eldee Station. Today this sheep and cattle property is open to tourists and offers a unique holiday experience in the outback.

German Charlie returned to the Barrier with William Lake. Lake established Youltucaroo Station. He built a hut and stocked the property with sheep. Aboriginal women were his shepherds. In August of 1865, a fight broke out between Lake, his white offsider and two aboriginal men. Lake was speared in the back and the two aboriginal men were killed. One was shot, the other knifed. Two graves were dug and the men were buried. At the time, newspaper reported that the incident would be investigated by police and that South Australian magistrate Mr A Hall would issue warrants if necessary.   There were no further reports of an investigation or of warrants ever being issued.

William Lake did not live to become an old man. He married in 1871, sired three children and in 1875, when only thirty-seven years old, fell off his horse and died. He was buried where he died and the grave became an overnight resting place for those on-route  to Purnamoota. It was known as Lakes Camp. So, Roy Bridges made a mistake in his 1920 account. ‘Old Lake’ did not operate a notorious grog shop at Lakes Camp. Perhaps he made other mistakes as well.

Charles Carl or German Charlie was born in Germany in 1838. He migrated to South Australia and made his way to the Barrier Ranges with the first wave of white settlers. In the beginning, Charles was a bullocky who carried a bottle of rum with him in his dray and dolled it out to shepherds and station workers for a 1/- a thimble full. He worked for a time on Mt Gipps station.

In 1867, an employee on Mt Gipps, or possibly Poolamacca station, borrowed a horse. He said he had found gold and intended to ride to Wilcannia and register a mining claim. He was never seen again. Whilst there is some debate about the station that this man worked at, there is no doubt that rumours of his supposed discovery reached Adelaide and resulted in the first rush of prospectors to the Barrier Ranges.

Probably this rush encouraged Charles Carl to make a small investment. In 1868, he acquired 40 acres of land, obtained a liquor licence and established the Poolamacca Inn on the Tibooburra Road at Campbells Creek near the turnoff to Poolamacca Station.

The inn offered little by way of accommodation and was more of a grog shop; a place with a bad reputation and a disruptive clientele. Charles served rum and hop beer at the inn. No doubt both were home-made. Maybe the rum recipe included pipe clay and tobacco.

Always enterprising, Charles Carl augmented his income by agisting horses and leasing them to travellers who needed a fresh mount. He liked to be paid for his services. In early 1868, he took out an advertisement in the Adelaide Observer. If he was not payed within a month, he would sell three horses that had been left with him. Charles maintained that the sale would defray the cost of agistment.

There is no evidence that Charles Carl or William Lake ever indulged in cattle duffing. However, about 1866, Charles Carl sold three bullocks. Two years later they were stolen from their new owner and in another incident in April 1880, Michael Malloy was convicted with stealing two horses from Charles Carl.

During his early years in the Barrier Ranges, Charles no doubt drove his bullock team to Menindee, on the Darling River, for supplies. In Menindee he met Annie Walsh.

Annie was born in Tipperary, Ireland in 1844. She migrated to South Australia with her family in 1854. In 1869, one of her older sisters married George Miller who held the licence of the Menindee Hotel. Annie and her younger sister worked at the hotel. A romance developed between Annie and Charles Carl. They married in Menindee in June 1877. The following year a son, William, was born in Burra South Australia. By then the Barrier Ranges was becoming civilised.

In 1875, Julian Nickel and a mate found silver while digging a well on Thackaringa Station. This discovery began a silver rush. One rumour connected Charles Carl with the first discovery of silver.

This story began with a shepherd who needed a drink of rum. He went to the Mt Gipps Hotel and while there showed Charles a stone that he found. Was it valuable he asked? Charlie told him it was useless but nevertheless kept the specimen and sent it to Adelaide for identification. On being told it was rich in silver, Charles obtained finance for a mining venture. When the shepherd next visited Charlie gave him a bottle of rum in return for showing him where the specimen was found. It was rumoured that Charles eventually received £20,000 for revealing the information. But, was this true?

Andrew Thomas was an Analytical Chemist and Assayer. He was associated with mining in South Australia from the time he arrived in the colony in 1848. He worked A & E Copper Company at Burra and established assaying company in Adelaide in the mid 1850’s. He continued to operate the company until the beginning of 1901. Andrew Thomas assayed ore samples from around the Barrier Ranges and later from Broken Hill. In 1885, he wrote about the first discovery of silver in the area.

He reported that the first samples were collected by John Stokie about 1865. At the time Stokie operated the Travellers Rest Hotel at Thackaringa. The samples were rich in silver but because the cost to transport ore from isolated western NSW was prohibitive, Stokie did not proceed with mining. When the samples that Julian Nickel found were assayed, the results were disappointing so Nickels did not pursue the venture. A little later, Patrick Green, a storekeeper in Menindee mined some ore and sent it to England. Circumstances delayed its passage. There was a drought and the Darling River was too low to allow the river boats to run. The bags of ore lay on the riverbank for a year. When they finally reached Adelaide, they were loaded onto a ship bound for England. The ship ran into a storm and half the ore was thrown overboard. Meanwhile Patrick Green died in Glenelg, South Australia in 1877. Months later, a considerable amount of money was received by Green’s executor. It was the proceeds from the smelting of the silver ore that had finally arrived in England. Then, Patrick’s brother Robert, formed a company and began the Pioneer Mine at Thackaringa.

Soon a tent city was established at Thackaringa and other mines including the Gypsy Girl, Lady Brassey and Goat Hill were soon producing silver.   Cobb & Co ran a coach service from Adelaide via Mingary and through Thackaringa, Umberumberka and Mt Gipps Stations to Wilcannia. By 1875, Charles Carl had acquired a licence for a hotel on Mt Gipps Station near Stephens Creek. At the time, it was the only stopping place along the road to the Barrier Ranges. Charles brought his bride to this hotel and in 1877 Annie was the joint licensee of the Small Thorns Hotel at Mt Gipps. The Carls ran the hotel until the early 1880’s. During that time daughter Julia was born in 1879. She died as a young child and was buried in a small graveyard next to the hotel. A second daughter, Wilhelmina Margaret was born in 1881, just before Charles and Annie moved to Silverton.

By the early 1880’s prospectors were swarming over the Barrier Ranges. A little gold was found at Mt Brown and Milparinka. It caused a rush, then there was disappointment as the dreamed of golden riches failed to eventuate. Some prospectors remained in the Ranges and joined the hunt for silver. Once again Julius Charles Nickel was lucky. One day he got lost and was forced to camp out for the night. The next day he realised that he had been sleeping on the outcrop of a silver deposit. This became the Maybell Mine, one of the richest mines in the early days of the Barrier Ranges and the first to pay a dividend.

John Stokie also had a second chance at making a fortune from silver mining. He was born in Geelong in 1842. As a young man, in the early 1860’s, he drove cattle through northern Victoria into NSW. He claimed to have accompanied Bourke and Wills on part of their journey. Then he moved to Menindee, married and became the local pound keeper. In Menindee he was a steward at the horse races and a friend of Patrick Green. In the 1870’s he moved to Thackaringa and opened The Border Inn. He built his hotel between the Menindee road and the road heading north to Purnamoota. Bush hotels were situated at approximately a day’s ride apart. They provide food and a change of horses as well as the alcohol that they became known for.

In 1879 Stokie opened a hotel in what would become Silverton. Two years later he discovered an outcrop of Galena, (lead sulphide), near Umberumberka Creek. Andrew Thomas assayed the ore and found it contained 4000oz of silver. The Umberumberka Silver Mining Company was launched in October 1882. It operated for roughly ten years.

A township sprang up near the Umberumberka mine. After the Post Office opened in November 1883, the settlement was called Silverton.

In the early days, it was a shanty town with no substantial buildings. For the most part, large blocks of land were only occupied by a shack or an underground bunker. The smallest and flimsiest building was all that was needed to fulfil the legal requirement of improving the block. Some residents dug a hole, built a roof across the top and partially covered it with soil. This produced a cool home for the warmer months but was very cold and damp in winter. John Stokie’s small hotel was the only substantial building in town.

Two years later the town had grown beyond recognition. It was served by three banks, three churches, a small hospital, a school, post office, mining exchange, a police station and wardens court. Racing and sporting clubs, two breweries and seven hotels provided recreation for the workers of the town. De Baun’s Silverton Hotel, a substantial two storey stone building, was completed in 1883. By 1885 the Carl family was also operating a hotel at Silverton. Charles purchased 40 acres of land at Umberumberka Creek from James Smith. He added another 80 acres giving him a wide frontage along the creek. There he built the Nevada Hotel, a store and a house. All were constructed of stone. He sank a well which was regarded as having the clearest water in the district. The area became known as Carl town or Carlton. Charles and Annie’s infant son, Julian died in 1885. Geraldine Ann was born in 1887 and died the following year. Altogether five children were born into the Carl family, only two reached adulthood.

Although Charles Carl played no part in the discovery of the first silver deposit in the Barrier Ranges, he was involved in the early mining industry of the district. Andrew Thomas was interested in the geology of the Barrier Ranges and its emerging mining industry. He knew Charles Carl and encouraged him to collect or acquire as many potential ore samples as possible. Carl sent the samples to Thomas in Adelaide for assay.

Imagine, Charles Carl was in a unique position. Many prospectors visited his hotels. No doubt they showed Charles ore specimens and bragged about the riches of the mines they discovered. Charles sent the specimens to Andrew Thomas who assayed them and sent the results back. With an insider’s knowledge, Charles invested in many mining ventures. In a letter to the South Australian Register on Tuesday 11th August 1885, Thomas maintained that German Charlie financially supported prospectors unable without the money to take up claims. Apparently, he acted as banker for nearly the whole mining area. Charles Carl made a small fortune.

While Silverton was becoming a boom town, a group of workers from Mt Gipps station were beginning to work a mining prospect on a jagged hill about 20 km to the east. The hill, known as Hogs Back, was within the boundary of Mt Gipps station. To discourage a rush of prospectors to the site, the station manager, George McCullock, suggested that the group peg the entire hill. They sank Rasps Shaft and eventually realised that they had discovered an extremely rich silver-lead deposit. They launched a mining company.   The company they formed was BHP. The original prospectus was printed one night on the press of the Silverton newspaper, the ‘Silver Age’. The first meeting of the company was held at De Baun’s Silverton Hotel. As BHP’s star rose, the numerous silver mines that dotted the Barrier Ranges, began to close. Although extremely rich, their ore bodies were small and quickly depleted. Businesses in Silverton closed as the population moved to the new mining town of Broken Hill.

The Nevada Hotel closed its doors. The fortune that Charles Carl had made was lost. In the 1891 he was declared bankrupt. Several attempts were made to sell his land holdings. An auction was advertised for May 29th 1891 and readvertised for Friday 3rd October. In 1891, it was difficult to sell land in Silverton because, by then, it was a ghost town. The Carl family continued to live there. Charles ran a store. His well continued to provide water, even in the driest years. In August 1892 the Carl family were still unable to pay their council rates.

Of the other pioneers on the Barrier, John Stokie also fell on hard times. He was declared insolvent in January 1885. He died in Silverton in 1927. In December 1883 Julian Nickel and mate James Anderson pegged the northern Block 17 on the main Line of Lode at Broken Hill. They called they’re mine the Cosmopolitan. Two years later they sold the mine for $30,000. It became the Broken Hill North Silver Mining Company. Its leases are still mined today.

In May 1904, a reporter from the Barrier Miner was covering the auction of De Baun’s Silverton Hotel when he met and interviewed Charles Carl. By then this old man, crippled by rheumatism, was recognised as having spent more time in the Barrier Ranges than any other white man. He was there at the very beginning of white settlement and had been part of development of the mining industry. After a short illness, he died in September 1904. Charles was sixty-seven years old. His wife Annie continued to live at Silverton. She ran the Travellers Rest Lodging house, worked for charity and taught illiterate adults to read. She died in Silverton in May 1929 aged eighty-five years. Charles and Annie were survived by two children. Their daughter married and moved to Richmond in Victoria. Their son, William Carl never married or left Silverton.

Charles Carl was reportedly to be a friend to many of the original inhabitants of the land. They gave him the nickname – ‘King of the Barrier.’ He would have witnessed the impact of white settlement. In less than fifty years the original population of the Barrier Ranges was decimated. Thousands of years of civilisation was disrupted. Land was taken, people were displaced. Disease and alcohol took their toll. The Spanish Flu that followed World War I was particularly devastating. In the 1892 Poolamacca Station offered the original inhabitants of the Barrier Ranges a refuge. Many went there to live. Today the station is owned and operated by the Wiljaali people. Some of those who remained around Silverton interbreed with the European population. As late as the 1960’s their grandchildren and great- grand children were taken to Broken Hill and then sent by train to Sydney as part of the Stolen Generation.