Alice Cornwell has been described as a ‘strikingly good looking woman’, the ‘girl with the golden touch’, a brilliant business woman, a good supervisor of men, and uncannily lucky. She was also known as ‘Madam Midas’.
Alice was a mine manager and speculator in the latter part of the nineteenth century when few women undertook such a role publicly. She managed the Australian Midas Mine, her first venture on a property near Sulky Gully leased by her father. She is reported to have made daily inspections of the Midas dressed in oilskin overalls.
William Bramwell Withers notes that under Alice Cornwell the Midas Company was formed. This ‘took up ground a mile or two south of the Dowling Forest No. 1 where some of the best known of the Sulky Gully leads had been left’. The Midas, in shallower ground, had opened up rich wash by the end of 1886 and was an outstanding success.
Later Alice became associated with the Victoria United and the Speedwell and she was listed amongst the twelve most prominent mining entrepreneurs. Withers notes that ‘The Midas mine, however, is the chief source alike of fame and profit to the Cornwell promoters and their allies’. Nuggets and huge lumps of gold were extracted from the Midas. The Lady Loch weighing 617 ozs and the Lady Brassey, a huge nugget weighing 167 ozs were discovered on the gutter banks in 1887, while nuggets weighing 39, 32, and 28 ozs and other smaller lumps were found. Mr George Cornwell appears to have stimulated her interest in mining. He was the chairman of the original leasehold company which leased land from Sir William Clarke near Sulky Gully.
According to an article by Peter Mansfield in the Ballarat Historical Society Journal Alice was born in England in 1852 to George and Jemima Cornwell and the family migrated firstly to New Zealand and then came to Australia.
In 1863 Jemima, aged 35 years, travelled on the Monarch to Australia with Alice 10, George 7, Frederick 5, and Francis 1. Alice married John Whiteman, a Warwickshire man, in 1875 at the age of 22 years and their son George Frederick Francis Whiteman was born in 1877 at Emerald Hill. John Whiteman, a blacksmith by trade, published ‘Sparks and Sounds from a Colonial Anvil’ around 1873. After the separation of his parents, George lived with his father John Whiteman. Alice travelled to England where she floated some of her mining operations on the stock exchange, purchased a newspaper, and was reunited with her son, who later came to England. This remarkable and lucky lady, Madam Midas, died at 80 years of age.