G4 3 Ernest Sullivan

Ernest Sullivan was Timothy Sullivan's second grandson through father Samuel Grose Sullivan. Born in Kadina, his life was intertwined with industrial progress, his interest in verse and music, and the beliefs inherited from his forebears.

G4     TS/SGS/ ERNEST SULLIVAN (1883 - 1970)

Ernest Sullivan was Samuel Grose Sullivan’s second son and third child from his second marriage. His older siblings were Cecil Arthur Edgar and Hilda Marion, and those younge were Eric Wilfred, Elsie May and John Rundle.

Ernest was born at Kadina on 24/04/1883 with Samuel Grose Sullivan teacher Kadina as informant on the birth certificate (1). At that time Samuel was the Head Teacher, Kadina School.

Samuel Sullivan was relocated from Kadina to Moonta Mines as head teacher of the prestigious Model School commencing on 01/05/1886. He was subsequently relocated to the Le Fevre School at Semaphore commencing on 01/01/1889. Ernest Sullivan was enrolled at LeFevre 30/09/1889 No 1319 age 6.(2)

After two years at Le Fevre, Samuel was appointed head teacher at the Parkside School commencing 01-01-1891. Parkside attendance records show Cecil (2683), Hilda Marion (2684), Ernest (2685) and Ernest’s younger brother Eric Wilfred (2686) all enrolled on 19-01-1891. Ernest left Parkside in December 1996. (2)

With compulsory schooling in South Australia only requiring children to attend to age 13, Samuel chose to also enrol Ernest at a private school, Prince Alfred College, to further his education, where he commenced as a day boy No 2934 in January 1897 aged 13. PAC school fees around 1900 for day boys older than 12 were 13.04 per term (“probably with discounts for Methodists and teachers sons.” – PACSchool Archivist). Unlike older brother Cecil, Ernest seems to have been a quiet achiever, and did not star on the sportsfield or in the classroom. Ernest left PAC in December 1899. (3)


Photo courtesy of R Sullivan

Ernest Sullivan attended the South Australian School of Mines and Industry between 1902 and 1906 studying assaying, mineralogy and metallurgy. By 1907 aged 24 he had obtained his Diploma and was an Associate of the South Australian School of Mines (ASASM)

His first professional job was as chief assayer of the Tarcoola Blocks Gold Mining Company, around a decade before the trans-continental railway was built through Tarcoola. The Tarcoola Goldfield was discovered in 1893 when alluvial gold was found by a station hand near Tarcoola, 420 km west-north-west of Port Augusta. Mining of reef deposits began in 1900 and the goldfield grew to become the State’s major reef gold producer. The major producing mines were the Tarcoola Blocks, Tarcoola Perseverance, Welcome Home and Curdnatta.

Ernest then relocated to the Berringa goldfields in Victoria where he gained experience working underground as a miner in the Birthday Tunnel mine. The Berringa gold field is situated about 30km south west of Ballarat, extending from Rokewood Junction in the south about 20 kms north to the old alluvial diggings near Scarsdale.The revival in mining in this field commenced in 1896 as a conse­quence of prospectors uncovering the cap of the lode, which proved to be rich in gold. It was found on the date of the Queen's Birthday, and a company was formed, to be known as the Birthday.In Berringa proper there were five mines being worked. These are known, from the north going south, as the Birthday Tunnel, the Kangaroo, the William's Fancy, the Birthday, and the South Birthday. The Birthday Tunnel Company mine is on the side of the highest part of the range on the southern slope of which all the Berringa mines are situated, and is a mile or more north of the Birthday mine. A tunnel has been driven from the gully in which was situated the Company's 30-head mill. This tunnel is about 100 feet below the surface at the shaft, and all quartz for the mill was delivered through it. Works have been extended to a depth of 360 feet. (4) 

His next assignment was probably as chief assayer at the Occidental Gold Mine in Cobar NSW. Cobar is a major NSW metalliferous centre, ranking second only to Broken Hill in renown and continuing importance. The Chesney was the first successful gold mine at Cobar opening in 1887, and other larger gold deposits were developed shortly after it, with the Occidental (later New Occidental) in 1889.

Ernest’s next move to the South Mine at Broken Hill was ill-timed and precipitated a major career upset. In 1908, Broken Hill was the third largest city in New South Wales. Its 35,000 strong population was supported by the city's vast mineral supply and the company established to mine it, Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP).  

The city was in ferment in the last months of 1908. Two mines in Broken Hill were closed and workers were laid off as lead prices fell. In September 1908 BHP announced an effective wage cut of 12.5% for staff across all BHP enterprises. Workers in the highly unionised town rejected this cut. An application was made to settle the dispute before the Federal Arbitration Court and a hearing was set for February 1909. On December 7, 1908, BHP posted notices around the city declaring that only men who accepted the reduced wage would be employed. Workers refused to accept any alteration until the case went before the Arbitration Court. A lockout was put in place by BHP, and unionists set up pickets around the mines.

Between New Year and January 9 tensions were high; an explosion cut a railway line to BHP's lease and scab workers were jeered and stoned. Two hundred extra police were moved to Broken Hill from Sydney and Adelaide. The situation came to a head on Saturday, January 9, 1909 when police blocked a picket procession led by a firebrand union leader, Tom Mann.

"In a thrice all was confusion, consternation, disorder, violence - men (and women too) were being batoned in all directions. Tom Mann was struggling with at least 15 policemen. Arrests were being made in all directions. Police, in the excitement, were flourishing revolvers in one hand and striking with batons with the other." (5)  

In February 1909, Justice Higgins, President of the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Court heard the dispute. Higgins was known for his sympathies towards the working class and was deeply committed to the concept of a minimum wage. Justice Higgins was far from impressed with BHP. He noted that the estimated cost of BHP's new smelters at Port Pirie almost equalled the exact sum to be saved over the year by the planned wage cut. He asked BHP whether it could be concluded that the new plant was to be financed from the men's wages.

On March 17, 1909 Justice Higgins delivered his judgement. He did not doubt evidence that BHP's mine was declining in value, however he did not find this reason enough to reduce workers wages below the minimum wage required to adequately live in Broken Hill. He determined that this figure was 8 shillings, 7 and half pence per day,

 "The cost of living at the Barrier is undoubtedly much greater than in Melbourne or in Adelaide and I am driven as any impartial person who has heard the evidence must be driven to the unhesitating conclusion that the minimum wage proposed by the company is not a sufficient living wage in Broken Hill. That the 7s. 6d. which is the standard rate for miners in Victoria is not sufficient for Broken Hill and that no less than the full sum of 8s. 71/2d., the minimum fixed for unskilled labourers by the agreement of December 1906 and now claimed by the men, is required for the healthy subsistence of an average family.

"I face the possibility of the mine remaining closed with all its grave consequences, but the fate of Australia is not dependent on the fate of any one mine, or on any one company, and if it is a calamity that this historical mine should close down it will be a still greater calamity that men should be under fed or degraded." (6)

Following Justice Higgins' judgement BHP appealed to the High Court. As a result some of the judgment was set aside. However, the principal of the 'living wage' for the Broken Hill workers was upheld.

BHP suspended mining operations in Broken Hill for two years in order to avoid paying. And Ernest Sullivan, assayer, was forced to look elsewhere for work. However, before leaving Broken Hill, Ernest became engaged to Merva Broadbent, an engagement that was to last for eight years (Mrs Ron Sullivan)

In January 1910, Ernest now living in Parkside became a joint leaseholder (Crown Lease 8587) with his father Samuel’s friend Charles William Rodda, a Kadina farmer, of the 1799 acres of Section 26 of the Hundred of Mortlock just west of Edillilie on the lower Eyre Peninsula. Samuel had asked Rodda to teach Samuel’s youngest son John Rundle Sullivan how to be a farmer, that being young John’s desired career once he was to leave PAC in May 1910. It’s unclear when exactly John Rundle joined Ernest at Edillilie.

In January 1912 Rodda and Ernest added as a 4 year lease Crown Lease 8588 over the adjoining 1290 acres of Section 27 Hundred of Mortlock.

It’s likely that part of the early years would have involved clearing land of native bushland, and in constructing or improving a dwelling. Bushfires were a constant summer hazard. Ernest Sullivan noted in a brief memoir that he engaged in mixed farming (sheep and cereals) at the Hundred of Mortlock, Eyre Peninsula, where “War and drought eventually forced him to forsake this.”                     

HMSatEdillilieElectoral Rolls for Grey show Ernest Sullivan, Edillilie, farmer in 1913, being joined by John Rundle Sullivan in 1914. The 1914 Sands Directory lists the Sullivan Brothers, farmers, at Edillilie.

Samuel Grose Sullivan died on 01/03/1912 and his entire estate passed to his wife Hannah Maria. Prior to his death he had transferred ownership of Wattle St to Hannah Maria

In 1914 younger sister Elsie Millicent joined the brothers at Edillilie, and mother Hannah Maria then aged 60 followed in 1915, having leased or rented the Wattle St property. The 1916 and 1917 Electoral Rolls show all four at Edillilie, although John Rundle had enlisted on 26/10/1916. His enlistment form designated his mother, Hannah Maria Sullivan, of Edillilie, Flinders, near Port Lincoln, as next of kin.

Hannah Maria Sullivan, at Edillilie
Photo courtesy of R Sullivan

Between 1912 and 1917 Eric Wilfred Sullivan, younger brother to Ernest, and older brother to John, managed the chemists shop at Cowell about 200 km north east of Edillilie. So all Samuel’s South Australian descendants were at that time on Eyre Peninsula.

In the 1911-1915 period, Australia suffered a major drought. In 1914 excepting coastal NSW, drought became widespread and severe from July to October. By the end of October the national wheat crop was a total failure. 1914/15 still holds the record for South Australia's worst annual wheat yield. 

The Sullivan Brothers persisted until youngest brother John Rundle enlisted on 26/10/1916. Whether he enlisted out of patriotism, out of a sense of adventure, or as a way to escape the hardship of the struggling Edillilie venture is unknown. The two women returned to Adelaide, where they took up residence at 17 Ruby St Prospect, only a short walk to 37 Flora St (the next street) to where Eric Wilfred and Adeline had moved after leaving Cowell.


In late 1917 Ernest walked off the farm and returned to Broken Hill to resume his employment as an assayer with the South Mine, a position he held until his retirement in 1948.

On 23/04/1918, the day before his 35th birthday, and after a patient eight year’s engagement, Ernest married Merva Clara Broadbent aged 26, a teacher, daughter of Mr and Mrs R Broadbent, in the Methodist Church Broken Hill.

Photo courtesy of R Sullivan

Merva Broadbent was born 02/12/1891 at Wilcannia NSW as the third child of six to parents Reuben Broadbent and Clara Elizabeth Broadbent (nee Weidenhoffer.)

The Broadbents

Merva’s father Reuben Broadbent was born at Cherry Gardens  SA in 1862,  a son of John Broadbent who arrived in Adelaide on the Buffalo in 1836. Reuben married Clara Elizabeth Weidenhoffer, born in North Adelaide around 1866, on 01/09/1887 in Silverton (NSW 7395)

By the late 1890s early the Broadbent family was living at Gawler, where youngest brother Alwyn was born in 1899, and Merva was taking pianoforte lessons from a Miss Barnett in 1901. From 1897 to 1902 R. Broadbent grocers operated in Gawler with Turner St the home address. By 1905 R Broadbent appears to have changed career and is now a “Traveller” of 157 Beulah Rd Norwood.  In 1907 sisters Merva and Vera were attending and may have been boarding at the misses Stenhouse school, Lothian House, at Semaphore, which was where they were developing their musical talents. Merva was musically gifted and was mentioned in the Advertiser several times in the early 1900s with her successes in music theory and practice.

By 1909 Reuben Broadbent had moved to Broken Hill and has become a sharebroker. In August 1909, based in Broken Hill, he was promoting new mineral leases in south east SA. He stayed in the share broking business until around 1915 when he became listed as an insurance agent, and remained listed as such until 1918. In 1917 the Broadbent family were living at at “Clyderville” in Beryl St, and in April 1918 at “Mulga Hall” 400 William St when Merva and Ernest married.

Around 1916 Reuben left Broken Hill for America. American Metallurgical Society records reported Reuben lecturing at several mineralogical Societies on “Australia, its Mines and Minerals” with particular reference to Broken Hill and the newly developed ore flotation process. Family history is that Reuben had an invention which he was attempting to promote in America, probably the flotation process. (Rosina Sullivan). However newspaper reports in 1919 and 1920 list Reuben as the defendant in a forgery case in which the plaintiff alleged Reuben had forged a land transfer document, obtained title to a valuable property, and promptly mortgaged it. The plaintiff’s lawyers alleged that Reuben had left for America “around 1916” and had not returned. The judgement was in favour of the plaintiff, with Reuben and the other defendants required to make restitution. Reuben eventually died in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1934 aged 71.

As the Broadbent family broke up mother-in-law Clara Broadbent eventually moved in with Ernest and Merva, and the 1930 electoral roll showed her residing at “Kiloola” 463 Morgan St, Broken Hill with them. Clara eventually died at age 81 at Seaton Park South Australia on 01/02/1947, widow of Reuben Broadbent, sharebroker.

XMAS31RGBEErnest and Merva had four boys all born at Broken hill, Ronald Grose Sullivan in 1919, Geoffrey Ernest Sullivan in 1921,.Brian Harold Sullivan in 1924, and Eric John Sullivan in 1927.The boys grew up in Broken Hill, with occasional visits from and to Adelaide cousins including Margaret Rendle Sullivan and Phillip Grose Sullivan, and the three daughters of John Rundle Sullivan, Dorothy, Gladys and Marjorie.

The photo is from Christmas 1931 and shows from left to right Ron, Geoff, Brian and Eric.

Photo courtesy R Sullivan

The boys went to school in Broken Hill and had commenced careers in various occupations when World War 2 broke out. Ron, Geoff and Brian all enlisted and served in the armed forces.

 Ernest and Merva remained at the family home “Kiloola” in Morgan St broken Hill until Ernest’s retirement in 1948. Their life at Broken included musical activities with Ernest writing the libretto for a “Back to Broken Hill” musical, and publishing a small volume of his poetry.

After retirement they moved back to Adelaide where Ernest purchased the property at 103 Gage St Firle from his younger brother John Rundle. Their son Brian Harold built the retirement house for them around 1953.

Ernest Sullivan, retired metallurgist, age 82 died 08/09/1965 at “Payneham South” residing at 103 Gage St Firle and was cremated at Centennial Park. He had 4 surviving male children. Cause of death was listed as  Chronic Myocardial Degeneration with Chronic Bronchitis. (Death Certificate) (1)

Merva Sullivan died in her 90th year on 07/07/1981 at Aldersgate nursing home in Felixstow, and was privately cremated


(1) Copies of South Australian District Births Deaths and Marriages Certificates held by SA Genealogy & Heraldry Society

(2) Copies of school atendance records held by South Australian Genealogy & Heraldry Society.

(3) Prince Alfred College Archives

(4) 1904 Victorian Department of Mines Bulletin

(5) George Dale, 'The Industrial History of Broken Hill' 1965, p.117

(6) Justice Higgins cited in 'Federal Court Does Justice to the Miners', "The Worker", 18 March 1909