The Tin-Mining Industry of Cornwall

1910 Scientific American  
THE county of Cornwall is practically one huge mass of tin lode rock. The veins as a general rule run in a direction from north to south, and for· the most part the granite is richly impregnated with the metal. Despite the rich nature of the veins, however, the in dustry has been severe�y crippled, unfortunately, by the existence of obsolete feudal laws; whereby heavy royalties and dues have to be paid to the land-owners upon both the percentage of metal raised and also for the rights to work
more » ... e properties. Some idea of the exacting and heavy nature of these dues may be gath Ered from the fact that in the course of eighty-three years the Dolcoath mine, which is one of the oldest and richest properties in the county, expended $1,295,-000 in this way, which was more than 25 per cent of the aggregate dividends paid to the shareholders dur ing the same period. Moreover, the system of carrying out the extraction of the mineral is hopelessly anti quated, the same methods which prevailed before the discovery of tin deposits in other parts of the world for the most part still obtaining. During recent years many of the largest and most important mines have been overhauled as regards the working machinery, and although there is still room for considerable im provement in this connection, yet the state of affairs is much better than existed in the last decade of the past century. Tin mining is one of the oldest industries in Great Britain. Since long before tt Christian era the Phami dans plied a thriving trade between Corn waH and the Mediterranean ports. Despite the fact that the metal has been exploited for over a score of centuries, there yet remain several million tons awaiting devel opment. During the year 1905 fifteen mines produced 5,480 tons out of some 100,000 tons, which was the world's production for that year. Of this aggregate some 1,697 tons were procured from th':) Dolcoath mine alone, whic h is the largest and most famous in the county, the value of tl;te output representing $3,674,000. In the course of a century approximately six million tons of black tin have boon obtained from this mine. On all sides of the pit mouth over a considerable acreage may be seen huge desolate mounds of dead slaty-colored rubble-the accumulation of centuries. The mine itself is the deepest in the county, the lowest working level being 3,600 feet, while the underground galleries extending in all directions and at varying levels aggregate over 80 miles in length. The mine is entered by the ancient mouth, the descent being by means of a cage. At the points where the veins of tin lode occur at different levels, cross drives branch off on all sides from the main shaft. The cross tunnels are for the most part driven north and south, which is the direction generally followed by the tin-bearing veins. The shaft of a tin mine is invariably divided into two sections by a wooden partition, one serving as the passage through which the ores are brought to the surface, while the othet' acts as the entrance and exit for the miners. The last before descent take a tallow candle, and by means of a lump of moist clay convert their hats into candlesticks. This .is the only illuminating device with which he is equipped, and by reason of its primitive nature the light produced is both flickering and dim. In the lower levels the heat is almost suffocating in 'its oppressiveness, and the miner must necessarily be of sturdy p,hysique to withstand the rigors and labor of toiling in such temperatures, the heat rising in the proportion of one degree F. for every descending 53.5 feet. So intense is the heat in the lower levels that the miners for the most part can work only half-clad, and then only for half-hour stretches, their comrades meanwhile dashing cold water over them. At places the working faces are in large, spacious caverns, while in others the gallery is so narrow and low that the man has to toil in a cramped and difficult position. Where the strata of tin and copper lodes are richest, the rock with which they are impregnated is exceed ingly hard, so that drilling becomes a tedious and labo rious operation. In such places the chisel and ham mer, which constitute the miner's .principal equipment, make but little impression, and blasting has to be re sorted to. A sum of about $90,000 is expended an nually in explosives alone. The hole is bored with a rO'ck drill, and a cordite cartridge with a safety time fuse inserted and tamped horne. At the critical mo· ment the miner shouts "Fire," at which signal all his companions in the vicinity, together with himself, retire to a safe distance. "Firing the hole," as it is called, disintegrates the rock. The shattered pieces are t . hen loaded into little trolleys or skips, and hauled by ponies or pushed by the mert themselves from gal lery to gallery until the main shaft is reached. They are then hoisted to the surface. The tin miner is essentially a skillful worker. Often the cross cuts are driven by the simple guidance of the compass, and a ::>. haft is frequently commenced at different depths, re Quiring cutting with such exactitude, that when com pleted, the sections coincide and form a continuous vertical excavntion. period is about six hours. That such a shift is suffi. ciently lengthy is plainly recognizable from the condi tion ,of the -men, especially those working in the lowest levels, upon their emergence from the shafts. At the greatest depths, owing to the sultry atmosphere pre "ailing, the less stalwart miners often lose as much as five or six pounds in weight in perspiration during a single spell. From this it will be realized that an unusually good physique on the· part of the men is DIAGRAM OF 'BOTALLOCK TIN MINE ON MOST RUGGED PORTION OF CORNISH COAST, It htu ir...r lense workhlgs, a large l)ortion of which are under the sea. Dotted lines show B08Cmyen diagonal ehaft. 1I1cthod of working mine i8 \>y shafts as sho"�· ,a with dr!ves at various levels. Orei s run from lode to shaft along a t1'amway and hoisted to the top. At head of flhaft it is carried by hand-pu�hed tram cars to the battery � from there it passes through the urcsHing plant, then to t.he ealeiller, finally ernerging as black tin on the tin fioors, all of which are indicated in the drawing. Thc blaek tin is sold to the �meltcr.
doi:10.1038/scientificamerican07301910-77supp fatcat:b6gje2oqtvhchknxu4pvzncjqm