Famous visitors to the mines
Over the years there have been many famous visitors to the mines. Some of these have left a written record of what they found at the mines. These written records are invaluable in trying to understand how the mines operated.
A tour of North Wales performed during the summer of 1798 Rev Bingley
… from hence I visited Trysclwyn mountain; on part of which called Parys Mountain (Probably from Robert Parys who was a chamberlain of North Wales in the reign of Henry IV) is the most considerable body of copper ore perhaps ever know.
The external aspect of the hill, which rises into enormous rocks of coarse white quartz,is extremely rude. The ore is lodged in a bason, or hollow, and has on one side a small lake, on whose waters, distasteful as those of Avernus,no bird is known to alight. The whole of this tracts has, by the mineral operations, assumed a most savage appearance.
Suffocating fumes issue from the burning heaps of copper, and extend their baneful influence for miles around. In the adjacent parts vegetation is nearly destroyed: even the mosses and lichens of the rocks have perished: and nothing seems capable of resisting the fumes but the purple melic grass, which flourishes in abundance.
I have little doubt but that this mine was worked in a very distant period. Vestiges of the ancient operations appear in several parts, carried out by trenching and heating the rocks intensely then suddenly pouring on water, so as to cause then to crack or scale, thus awkwardly supplying the use of gunpowder. Pieces of charcoal have also been found which proved that wood was made use for that purpose. As the Britons imported all the works in brass, it is certain that the Romans were the under takers of these mines, and it is very probable that they sent their ore to Caer-hen to be smelted, the place where the famous cake of copper was discovered. They might likewise have had a smelting hearth in this island, for a round cake of copper was discovered at Llanfaethle a few miles from this place. Its weight was fifty pound and it had on it a mark resembling an L.
In the year 1762, one Alexander Frazier came to Anglesey in search of mines. He visited Parys Mountain: called on Sir Nicholas Bayley and gave him so flattering an account of the prospects, as induced him to make a trail and sink shafts. Ore was discovered; but before any quantity could be gotten, the mines were over powered with water.
In about two years after, Messrs Roe and co of Macclesfield applied to Sir Nicholas for a lease of Penryhn du mine in Caernarvonshire; with which they were, much against their wills, compelled to take a lease of part of this mountain, and to carry on a level and a fair trial. The trail was accordingly made:ore was discovered; but the expense over balanced the profits. They continued working at a great loss: and at length determined to give the affair up.
They gave their agent orders for that purpose; but he, as a final attempt, divided his men into ten several companies, of three or four in a partnership, and let them sink shafts in various places, about eight hundred yards eastwards of the place called the Golden Venture, on a presumption that a spring which issued from near the spot, must come from a body of mineral. His conjecture was right; for in less than two days they met with at the depth of seven feet from the surface, the solid mineral, which proved to be that vast body which has since been worked to such advantage. The day that this discovery was made was March 2nd 1768; which has ever since been observed as a festival by the miners.
Soon after this discovery, another adventure was begun by the Reverend Edward Hughes, owner of part of the mountain, in right of his wife Mary Lewis of Llys Dulas: so that the whole treasure is the property of Sir Nicholas Bayley and himself.
The body of copper ore is of unknown extent. The thickness has been ascertained, in some places, by driving of a level under it, several years ago, and it was found to be in some places twenty-four yards.
The ore is mostly of the kind called by Cronstedt, pyrites cupri flavo virdes-cens; and contains vast quantities of sulphur. It varies in degrees of goodness; some of it is rich, but the greater part poor in quality.
There are other species of copper ore found here. Of late a vein of the Pyrites cupri griseus of Cronstedt, about seven yards wide, has been discovered near the west end of the mountain: some is of an iron grey, some quite black; the first contains sixteen pound of copper per cwt, the last forty. An ore has been lately found, in form of loose earth, of a dark purplish colour; and the best of it has produced better than eight in twenty. Some years ago, above thirty pounds of native copper was found in driving a level through a turberry; some was in form of mass, some in very thin leaves.
The ore is quarried out of the bed in vast masses; is broken into small pieces; and the most pure part is sold raw,at the rate of about 3l. to 6l. per ton,or sent to the smelting-house of the respective companies to be melted into metal. Mr Hughes has great furnaces of his own at Ravenhead , near Liverpool and at Swansea, in South Wales. An idea of the wealth of these mines may be formed, by considering that the Macclesfield company have had at once fourteen thousand tons of ore upon bank, and Mr Hughes, thirty thousand.
The more impure ore is also broken to the size of about hen’s egg; but in order to clear it from the quantity of sulphur with which it abounds, as well as other adventitious matter, it must undergo the operation of burning. For that purpose, it is placed between two parallel walls of vast length: some kilns are twenty, other forty and fifty yards in length; some ten others twenty feet wide, and above four feet in height. The space between is not only filled, but the ore is pilled many feet higher, in a convex form, from end to end: the whole is then covered with flat stones, closely luted with clay; and above is placed a general integument of clay, and small rubbish of the work, in order to prevent any fumes from evaporating.
Of late some of the kilns have been constructed with brick arches over the ore, which is found to be the best method of burning. Within these few years, attempts have been made to preserve the sulphur from escaping; and that is done by flues, made of bricks, who’s tops are in the form of a Gothic arch, many scores of feet in length: one end of these opens into beds of copper which are to be burnt. Those beds are set on fire by a small quantity of coal, for all the rest is effected by its own phlogiston.
The volatile part is confined and directed to the flues; in its course the sulphurous particle strike against their roofs and fall to the bottom in the form of the finest brimstone; which is collected, and carried to adjacent houses, where it is melted into what is called the shop stone brimstone.
The beds of copper thus piled for burning are of vast extent. Some contain four hundred tons of ore others two thousand. The first require four months to be completely burnt, the last near ten. Thus burnt, it is carried to proper places to be dressed, or washed and made merchantable. By this process the ore is reduced to a forth part in quantity, but considerable improvement in quality: and by this means the water is strongly or richly impregnated with copper, which is dissolved by the sulphuric acid; and is collected or precipitated again by iron in the above described pits. The iron is all dissolved.
But a far richer produce of copper is obtained from the water lodged in the bottom of the bed of ore, which is highly saturated with the precious metal. This is drawn up, either by means either by means of whimsies or windmills, to the surface, and then distributed into a number of rectangular pits thirty-six feet long, some pits more and some less, twelve to fifteen feet broad and twenty inches deep.
To speak in the language of the adept,Venus must make an assignation with Mars, or this solution will have no effect. In plain English a quantity of iron must be immersed in the water. the kind of iron is of no moment; old pots,hoops,anchors or any refuse will suffice. But of late, for the convenience of management, the adventures procure new plates, four feet long, one and a half broad and three quarters of an inch thick. These they immerse into the pits; the particles of copper instantly are precipitated by the iron and the iron is gradually dissolved into the yellow ochre; great parts of it float off by the water and sinks to the bottom.
The plates or the old iron (as it happens) are frequently taken out, and the copper scraped off; and this is repeated till the whole of the iron is consumed. the copper thus procure differs little from native copper and is prized accordingly and sold for prices of 25l to 45l a ton.
This mode of precipitation is not new;it has been practised long in the Wicklow mines in Ireland,and above a century in those of Hern-grudnt in Hungery where the precipitate is called Ziment copper. The water of the Hungerian mines are much stronger impregnated with copper than those of Parys mountain. The first effects it’s operation in twelve or about twenty days,the last requires two months. horse shoes, iron made in shapes of hearts and other forms are put in the foreign waters and when apparently transmuted, are given as presents to curious strangers.
The ore is not got in the common manner of mining, but is cut out of a bed in the same manner as stone is out of a quarry. A hollow is now formed in the solid ore open to the day, and extends about a hundred yards in length about forty yards in breadth and twenty-four yards in depth. the ends are at present undermined, but supported by vast pillars and magnificent arches, all metallic; and these caverns meander far underground. these will soon disappear and thousands of tons of ore be gotten from both the columns and roofs. the sides of this vast hollow are mostly perpendicular and access to the bottom is only to be had by small steps cut in the ore; and the curious visitor must trust to them and a rope, till he reaches some ladders, which will conduct him the rest of the descent. on the edges of the chasm are wooden platforms, which project far out,on them are windlasses, by which the workmen are lowered to transact their business on the face of the precipice. there suspended, they work in mid-air, pick a small space for a footing, cut out the ore in vast masses and tumble it to the bottom with great noise. in such situations they form caverns and there appear safely lodged, till the rope is lowered to convey then up again. much of the ore is blasted with gunpowder, eight tons of which I am informed, is annually used for the purpose.
Nature has been profuse in bestowing her mineral favours on this spot; for above the copper ore, and not more than three quarters of a yard beneath the common soil, is a bed of yellowish greasy clay, from one to four yards thick, containing lead ore and yielding from six hundred to a thousand pounds’ weight of lead from one ton; and one ton of the metal yields not less than fifty-seven ounces of silver. Mixed with the earth, are frequently certain parts of the colour of cinnabar: Whether these are symptomatic of the sulphurous arsenical silver ores or of quicksilver, I will not pretend to decide. Something interferes with the successful smelting of this earth in the great: insomuch that it has not yet been of that profit to the adventures, which might reasonably be expected from the crucible assays of it; and they have at this time about eight thousand tons on bank undisposed of. This place has been worked for lead ore in very distance times. In the bottom of the pool was found ancient bits of smelted lead, of about four inches in length, two in breadth and half an inch thick.
These works have added greatly to the population of the island; for about fifteen hundred persons are employed who, with their families, are supposed to make eight thousand persons, getting their bread from these mines. The little village of Amlwch,the port of the place, is increasing fast, and the market grows considerably. at the season of greatest work, Mr Hughe’s men alone receive, for many weeks, two hundred pounds in one week and a hundred and fifty in another merely for subsistence. The port is no more than a great chasm, between two rocks, running far into land, and dry at low water; into which sloops run and secure to receive their lading.
A tour of North Wales performed during the summer of 1798 Rev Bingley
Observations on the current state of Parys mountain communicated by Mr Price the agent
The Parys mountain copper vein is very extensive, and contains ore in bellies of various magnitudes. ; such bellies or bunches are commonly called Stock Works.
The excavations in the mine are in extent agreeable to the quantities of ore they contain. But it must be observed, that these vacancies were not entirely filled with copper ore, but partially with mineral stone or matrix of the vein, mixed with ore and dead ground which was requisite to be cut to give room to pursue the ramifications of the vein.
This vein has been worked on a very large scale upwards of seven hundred yards, beside considerable workings to the east and west of this length of ground. This length includes the Parys and Mona mines, which are both in the same grand vein.
From the boundary of the two mines in the west end of the Parys mine, is an open cast excavation two hundred yards long, one hundred and fifty yards broad and twenty to forty yards deep, which gives a content of nine hundred thousand cubic yards of removed natural ground. This part of the mine contained grand bodies of ore of various qualities; beside the above mentioned open cast; there are several large subterraneous excavations in this part of the mine and several trails westward.
From the boundary of the two mines in the east end of the principle workings in the Mona mine is a length of vein five hundred yards in which extent are three large open cast excavations, out of which full four hundred and sixty-eight thousand cubic yards of natural ground have been taken.
Some of the subterraneous excavations in this part of the mine are very grand; one of them is fifty yards long, thirty yards wide and forty yards high from the bottom to the rugged crown of the arch, supported only by one pillar in that cavity. In another part of the mine is an excavation forty yards in length, fifteen in width and forty yards high in one entire arch. The underground working are too numerous to particularise. The whole of them will amount to a vacuity of two hundred thousand yards cubical measurement besides shafts, levels etc. some idea may be formed of the vast bodies of ore this part of the mine contained, by the quantity of ore raised by two bargains in three months in the year 1787, in the first two thousand nine hundred thirty two tons of good copper ore and only ninety two tonnes of waste in the other four hundred eighty-eighty tons of copper ore and two hundred sixty seven tons of waste, beside the ore raised by sundry other smaller bargains.
The ore of this mine is in general the yellow copper ore; it contains pyrites, sulphur and from four to fifteen per cent copper. Some black copper ore has been raised in Parys mountain, that held from fifteen to twenty per cent copper, some parts of the vein produced fine specimens of native copper adhering in a foliated form to the side of the interstitial rock, this copper has undoubtedly been held in solution and precipitated by the ferruginous quality of the rock to which it stuck.
There is upwards of four hundred sixty yards of ground in length in the east part of this mine, which has been only partially worked, and in that space there are in all probability several bodies of ore undiscovered, but this can only be ascertained by future trails.
The ore after being dressed, that is, broken down to a proper size and the waste extracted therefrom as much is compatible with this extensive concern is carried to kilns and burnt.
The walls of the kilns are from four to five feet high, and sufficiently strong to support the lateral pressure of the copper. The width of the kiln inside from eighteen to twenty-two feet and commonly filled with ore from three to four feet above the level of the top of the walls. The length is undetermined, but continued agreeably to the quantity of ore that is intended to be put therein, the kilns will contain from four to thirteen hundred tons of ore. The ore on the top of the kiln is curved and covered close, excepting the flue that run along the top of the kiln and convey the smoke to receivers erected for that purpose; they are about six-foot-high and five foot wide, arched with brick and kept as dry as possible. The smoke becoming stagnant in the condensers, the sulphur subsides to the bottom and is taken from thence boiled and depurated for sale. There are flues in the front wall of the kiln at which the ore is set on fire and after it has sufficient taken fire it burns per se.
The ore of this mine abounds with sulphurous acid which, united to water percolates through the fissures of the vein, combines with the copper and holds it in solution. The water thus impregnated is conveyed into pits in which iron has been put. The acid having a greater affinity for iron than copper combines with the iron and leave copper at liberty to be precipitated in a metallic form. This precipitated copper is a congeries of minute granules closely united and is nearly pure metal. To expedite the process of precipitation, the surface of the iron is repeatedly scraped and cleared to give the acid fresh surface to act upon, by which some of the decomposed iron in mixed with the precipitate which impairs its qualities.
The copper is taken from the pits in the form of mud and when dried is sent to the furnace to be smelted. This precipitate holds from ten to twenty-four per cent. But if wrought iron is put in the mineral water and left undisturbed, that is without cleaning it to give a fresh surface, till it be wholly dissolved it will precipitate nearly its weight in pure copper.
The pits in which the copper is precipitated from the mineral water, are in ranks, one row beneath another, accordingly and the declivity and the extent of the ground admit; the water is let off from one set of pits into another, till the water has let go all the copper it held in solution. The water that runs from the lowest or last row of precipitation pits is conveyed into reservoirs where the decomposed iron subsides. The ferruginous ochre is useful as paint. The dimensions of the pits are commonly thirty-six feet by twelve and about two feet deep, with a space six or seven feet between each of them.
The number of men employed in the underground workings of the Mona mine in the year 1806 were 227 the consumption of gunpowder 17,036lb and candles 26,283 lbs.
In the year 1808,122 men employed,6300 lb of gunpowder and 9200 lb of candle consumed.
Produce of different ores in the Mona mine
The best raw ore on an average holds 8 per cent. The inferior ore holds 4 per cent.
The best burnt ores, when the smaller are riddled out holds ten per cent. The inferior burnt ore, when dressed, but rounds and small mixed, holds four and a half per cent.
Dimensions of the kilns
Length within 58 feet
Breath within 22 feet
Height of walls 4 ½ feet
Filled with copper above the walls 4 feet
A kiln of the above dimensions will contain 700 tons of copper ore.
Aikin Journal of a tour through North Wales. August 13th 1797
This has been a most interesting and entertaining day being spent in visiting the vast copper works connected with Parys mountain. We breakfasted at Amlwch , a considerable town on the coast about two miles from the mine , and almost entirely peopled by the miners and their families.
We had no difficulty in distinguishing this celebrated mountain, for it is perfectly barren from the summit to the plain below, not a single shrub and hardly a blade of grass, being able to live in this sulphurous atmosphere.
The nearer we approached the scene of business, the more penetrating was the fume of Sulphur: but we had very soon too many objects of attention to regard this inconvenience. The mountain is about a mile in length and is the property of Lord Uxbridge and Reverend Mr Hughes. The fortunate discovery of the copper took place a little more than thirty years ago, thus converting a piece of ground originally of very little value into one of the most profitable estates in the kingdom.
The substance of the mountain being ore, the work is carried on in a very different manner from the custom of other mines. Here are comparatively few shafts or levels, the greater part being quarried out for as to leave a vast excavation open to the day. There are two of these quarries or mines which are worked by two different companies. The first goes by the mane of Mona Mine and is the sole property of Lord Uxbridge. The other called parys Mine is shared between the Earl and Mr Hughes.
The view down this steep and extensive hollow is singularly striking. The sides are chiefly of a deep yellow or dusty slate Colour, streaked however, here and there, by fine veins of blue or green, shooting across the cavern, mingles with seams of greyish yellow. The bottom of the pit is no means regular, but exhibits large and deep burrows in various parts, where the richer vein has been followed in preference to the rest. Every corner of this excavation resounds with the noise of pickaxes, hammers: the edges are lined with workmen drawing up the ore from below: and a short intervals is heard, from different quarters the load explosion of the gunpowder by which the rock is blasted ,reverberated in pealing echoes from every side.
The external covering of the mountain is an alumious slate, the matrix black grey cherts the ore Copper chiefly: –
I)The yellow sulpurated : of which the richest contains, according to the miners computation Sulphur and copper 25% each the rest waste rock. The worst ore yields the same amount of sulphur but of metal no more than 1 ¼ %. This inferior kind however is chiefly worked for the sulphur.
II) Black ore, containing copper mixed with galena,calamine and a little silver.
III) Malachite or green and blue carbonate of copper.
IV) Native copper but in very small quantity.
V) Sulphate of copper, crystallised and in solution.
VI) Sulphate of lead, in considerable quantity, containing a pretty large proportion of silver.
VII) Native sulphur.
Process the ore is got from the mine by blasting: after which it is broken into smaller piece byb the hammer, this being done chiefly by women and children and piled into a kiln to which is attached by flues a long Sulphur chamber. It is now covered closed: a little fire is applied in different places and the whole mass becomes gradually kindled: The Sulphur sublimes to the top of the kiln, whence the flues convey it to the chamber appointed for it’s reception. This smouldering heat is kept up for six months, during which the Sulphur chamber is cleared four times, at the expiration of which period the ore is sufficiently roasted. The poorest of this, that is, such as contains 1 ¼ to 2% metal, is conveyed to the smelting houses at Amlwch port, the rest is sent to the company’s furnaces at Swansea and Stanley near Liverpool.
The greater part of the kilns are very long, about 6 feet and the Sulphur chamber are of the same length and height, connected by three flues and on the same level with the kilns. Some new ones however have been built at Amlwch port by which much Sulphur is preserved that would have been dissipated in the old kilns. The new ones are made like lime kiln, with a contrivance to take out at the bottom the roasted ore and thus keep up a perpetual fire. From the neck of the kiln branches off a single flue, which conveys the Sulphur into a receiving chamber built on the rock so as to be on a level with the neck of the kiln ie above the ore.
The two smelting house of which one belongs to each company contain thirty-one reverbatory furnaces, the chimneys of which are 41 feet high, they are charged every 5 hours with 12 cwt of ore which yields ½ cwt of rough copper, containing 50% of pure metal. The price of rough copper is about £2-10 per cwt. The coals are procured from Swansea and Liverpool a great part of which is Wigan slack. From experiment it appears that though a tonne of coals will reduce more ore than the same quantity of slack, yet, owing to the price difference the latter is on the whole preferable: the price of the two at Liverpool being coals 8/6 per tonnes and slack 5/-.
The sulphate of copper however is the richest ore that the mine yields, containing about 50% of the pure metal. This is found in solution at the bottom of the mine, whence it is pumped up into cistern like tanners pits, about 2 feet deep, of these pits there are many ranges each range communicating with a hollow pool of considerable extent. Into the cisterns are put cast iron plates and other damaged vessels procured from Coalbrookdale. When the sulphuric acid enters into combination with the iron, letting fall the copper in the form of a red sediment very lightly oxidised. The cisterns are cleared once in a quarter of a year, when the sulphate of iron in solution is let off into the shallow pool and the copper is taken to the kiln, well dried and is then ready for exportation. The sulphate of iron remaining in the pool partially decomposes by spontaneous evaporation and let’s fall a yellow ochre which is dried and sent to Liverpool and London.
The sulphur produced in the roasting after being melted and refined is cast into rolls and large cones, and sent to London. The cone is used chiefly for the manufacture of gunpowder and sulphuric acid.
Green vitriol and alum are also made in small quantities by a separate company but to the works strangers are not admitted.
The number of men employed by the two companies is 1200 miners and about 90 smelters: the miners are paid by the piece and earn in general from a shilling to twenty pence per day. The depth of the mine in the lowest part is 50 fathoms and the ore continues as plentiful as ever, and of a quality rather superior to that which lay nearer the surface.
With regard to the annual quantity of ore raised, little certain can be mentioned. The Parys mine has furnished from 5000 to 10000 tonnes per quarter exclusive of what is procured from the sulphate of copper in solution. The two mines employ nearly equal number of workmen and probably afford about the same quantity of ore.
Adjoining to the smelting houses is a rolling mill, upon the same construction as malt mills for grinding the materials of fire bricks. These consist of fragments of old fire brick with clunch (a kind of magnesia clay found in coal pits.) procured from near Bangor Ferry.
The port of Amlwch is chiefly artificial being cut out of rock with much labour and expense and is capable of containing 30 vessels of 200 tons berthed. It is greatly exposed and dangerous of access during high northerly winds, which drive a heavy sea up the neck of the harbour. The two companies employ 15 brigs from 100 to 150 tons berthed besides slops and other craft all of which lie dry at low water.
The various articles, the produce of the mines which are exported are the following: –
I)Coarse regulus of copper, from the smelting houses.
II) The richer copper ores roasted.
III) The dried precipitate of copper from the vitirol pits.
IV) Refined sulphur
VII) Green vitriol.
The town of Amwlch which about 30 years ago had no more than half a dozen houses in the whole parish, now supports a population of four or five thousand inhabitants.
Rev Skinner A ten-day tour in Anglesea 1802
The Reverend Skinner was a Somerset Parson who was touring wales in 1802. … having taken a slight repast at Amlwch we proceeded to the Parys mountain which of late years has enriched not only many individuals but the nation at large… the approach to it is dreary in the extreme for the sulphurous steams issuing from the copper kilns have destroyed every germ of vegetation in the neighbourhood. When we had gained the higher ground the uninteresting and gloomy prospect we had hitherto observed was at once converted into the liveliest and active scene.
Hundreds of men, women and children, appeared busily occupied in the different branches of this vast concern and the bustle of metropolis prevailed amidst the dreary recesses of the Druids.
We were first conducted to some wooden stages erected on the edge of an immense excavation of an oval form about two hundred yards long, half as much in width and eighty in depth which has been hollowed out in course of twenty years. On looking down from hence to the chase beneath, we saw the rock rich with ore of a light gold colour which the miners were busily engaged in boring, blasting, breaking with sledge hammers, wheeling the fragments to appointed places beneath the stages filling the baskets which were hauled up by windlass.
There might be from twelve to fourteen stages erected for this purpose in different parts of the mine. As soon as the commodity is landed it is delivered to a number of woman and children to be broken into smaller pieces, the good ore is then separated from that of an inferior sort and carried to the kilns to be baked the sulphur forms in what is called flour brimstone… collected, melted in large cauldron and formed into round moulds for sale. We understood that the better type of ore was sent to Neath and other places, and the inferior to the smelting houses in Amlwch.
MICHAEL FARADAY – TOUR IN WALES – 1819 THURSDAY JULY 29th
We were disturbed this morning about 7 o’clock by a sad noise in the inn and were induced to get up about half an hour earlier than we otherwise should have done to ascertain its cause. On entering our breakfast room we found an elderly gentleman, shaving himself by the side of the cups and saucers. He however shifted to the window seat on seeing our intention of taking a meal and in a few minutes we found out from his information that the Dublin Packet bound for Liverpool and which sailed yesterday had been so much retarded by contrary winds as to put into Amlwch and set some of her impatient passengers on shore. Five or six of them had taken the inn by storm and occasioned the noise which disturbed us. They had sent to Gwyndy, a town 10 miles off for Post Chaises, intending when they arrived to proceed to Bangor Ferry.
We were sorry to find the wind easterly for it had been our intention to leave Amlwch in one of the trading vessels and go over to Liverpool, but now that plan was abandoned and we made up our minds to walk as before. We had scarcely finished breakfast when Captain Leaman called for us to go to the Mountain and mines. We were ready in a moment and having settled accounts, shouldered our bundles we bade adieu to Amlwch.
The Mountain is about 2 miles from the town. Our path was along a very dusty, dirty road for when bad it is mended with slag and cinder and as there are always 12 or 14 carts moving backwards and forwards on it these materials are soon ground into black and disagreeable powder. There are no trams used on these roads or in the mines in consequence of the corrosive effects which the waters from the workings would have upon them and which would destroy them in a short time.
Captain Leaman (Treweek) took the utmost pains to explain everything to us and made the time pass so agreeably that we were at the mountain before we knew it. The first thing we came to was a small steam engine employed to drain one of the workings of the mine. It was good and preserved in very neat order within the house, the outdoor parts were of timber. The water here raised from the mine is suffered to run away not being rich enough in copper like some of the others to pay for the separation of the metal. The miners found themselves at first very much embarrassed in working this engine in consequence of the peculiar nature of the waters in this neighbourhood. For being a solution of sulphate of copper they acted on the cylinder and other iron parts of the engine rapidly corroding them and rendering the whole useless. Now they very carefully collect the waters from the higher part of the mountain where they are more free from sulphate of copper, and they neutralise what portion of that salt may be in them with the acid also that they contain by lime and they also preserve the condensed water and cooling it in reservoirs use it over and over again.
Close to the engine were several shafts and at one of them, a Whimsy, at which a horse was drawing and raising ore, the ore being placed in large wooden buckets hooped strongly with Iron in the usual manner. The men are all paid piece work receiving so much per ton for the ore they raised either more or less according to its quality. Captain Leaman, who is a Cornish miner, astonished the natives by showing them that dirt would stick in the bottom of the bucket. The smaller parts of the ore had adhered to the bottom and gradually accumulated so much as to make the bucket about half a hundred weight heavier than it needed. Though they raised and lowered this over and over again and consequently work a good deal without being paid for it, they were quite astonished at the thoughts of cleaning it out now and then though for their own ease and stared prodigiously at seeing large lumps fall off on the sides being struck with a hammer.
Whilst Captain Leaman arranged his morning affairs and procured us clothes for the mine, we rambled about among the workmen. The ore is raised from the mine by the whimsy in large heavy masses and is then thrown over a stage onto the ground below where it comes into charge of the cobbers, principally women and boys. We came up to a large group of these, about 8 or 9 women were sitting on the ground in the midst of heaps of ore of the large and small, their mouths were covered with a cloth to keep the dust of the ore from entering with the breath. The fingers and thumb of the left hand were cased in strong iron tubes forming a sort of glove. A large hammer was handled in the right hand and a block of ore placed before them served as an anvil. Thus furnished they were employed in breaking lumps of ore into small pieces and selecting the good from the bad. The good gradually accumulated into a heap before them being the produce of their labour and the earthy and stony parts are carted away. The boys assisted them by fetching lumps and by selecting the broken portions. Altogether they formed an amusing but not an enticing group. These, and indeed all who work at the mines, are paid piece-work according to the quantity and quality of what they produce an assay master being employed to ascertain the latter and overseer the former.
As soon as the boys saw that strangers were there they began to select bits of ore and offer them to us cap in hand, and by the time we returned to the office there was a large parcel of them about us each with his specimens. We had them all into the office and took their whole stock and there being 12 of them we gave a shilling to one six and a shilling to another and left them to divide equally. Away they went crowding about the shilling holders and squabbling which set they should belong to and the monied boy uttered high tones in consequence of the important office he filled. We selected a few pieces from the ore they had brought in memory of the place. The specimens were and the ore sometimes is pure copper, at others mixed sulphuret of copper lead and iron and now and then specimens of blende or sulphuret of zinc are found. The sulphurets are frequently mixed with white quartz.
We now dressed. I stripped off everything but my stockings and boots and took possession of a miner’s trousers, shirt and coat all of thick flannel. Then putting on a thick woollen cap, hanging a candle to my breast button and taking another lighted and garnished with clay in my hand I was now ready to descend. Magrath was similarly equipped and we laughed heartily at each other as a sort of prologue to our adventure. We followed Captain Leaman to a small shaft and a little distance from the office and in such true miner’s style that I verily believe the men themselves did not know us for other than miners. The place we prepared to descend was a small aperture in the earth about 4 ft. by 3 ft. wide and a ladder appeared at its mouth which descended into the darkness below. Captain Leaman chose this shaft because it was the most comfortable. There were two others but the pump rods worked up and down in one and in the other we could only ascend and descend in the buckets like lumps of ore. Having taken a lesson how to hold our candles we got on to the ladder. It was not long but on reaching its termination we had to swing around it by a little stage on to a second and from that on to a third and so on until I lost count of their number. We soon left daylight and were not long before we were well used to the place and could trust so securely to our hands as scarcely to notice a false step though a fall would have led us down 200 or 300 ft. without any ceremony or hesitation. At last we began to enter the vein and had to shuffle on in a more irregular manner. A rope ladder occurred here and there in places where the chasm was too crooked to admit a straight one of wood and they felt very curious dangling in the middle of the air and darkness.
I ought here dear Margaret endeavour to give you an idea of a metallic vein and then you will comprehend our progress better. Imagine then a large lump of clay with a sheet of Iron thrust obliquely through it and the clay will represent the earth (in our case the Parys Mountain) and the sheet the vein only you must modify this idea according to the following circumstances. The vein is not of uniform thickness throughout but differs very much indeed in different parts, sometimes it is not more than half an inch thick and other times it becomes 20 to 30 feet wide. The edges on the veins or sheet of ore are not so regular as the edges of the metal plate I have mentioned. The upper edge is of course at the earth surface only covered perhaps a foot or two by soil and the lower edge frequently descends to unworkable depths laterally. The vein spreads out through the country, but when traced to its termination is irregular and ragged. Veins have been traced above – feet and sometimes they extend for miles across the country. The Veins are very rarely perpendicular in the earth. The one we were in extended on the surface east and west and in descending in the earth it approached towards the north which is technically expressed by saying it dips from South to North. In working the vein, the only object is to remove the ore from its place with safety and to this end every contrivance is adapted. Shafts are dry wells dug down to the workings by which man and materials and ore pass. Galleries and workings are excavations made in the mass of the rock below to give access to the ore. The waters deposited by the surrounding earth are removed by pumps and thus precautions and contrivances are adopted as occasion requires.
Well our progress in the vein was at first through very confined passages but on a sudden we entered a place like a large chamber so large that our light would not reach across it. Here the vein had swelled out into a bunch in the way I just now mentioned and had afforded a very rich mass of ore. Here again it became very narrow and we had in one corner to lay down on our backs and wriggle in through rough slanting opening not more than 12 or 14 inches wide. The whole mountain being above us and threatening to crush us to pieces. You will understand my Dear Girl we were now in those parts of the veins which had been cleared of ore by the workmen. All, however, above and below to the right and the left was not void for if the ore had simply been removed and the place left to itself working would soon have been stopped. You will remember we were now in the centre of the mountain and its whole weight resting over us and this weight would long ago have crushed the two sides of the empty veins together if precautions had not been taken to keep the place open and support the mountain. This is done thus. When the miners have excavated the vein so as to leave a free space above them of perhaps 20 feet in height timber as the trunks of trees are let down to them which they place across the cavity a little distance above their heads so as to form a rough, strong floor and then on this is placed all the gangue and useless rubbish loosened with the ore, until the place is half full of such parts of the vein been left open as are useful for the conveyance and the workings. In this way a number of what may be called apartments or galleries are formed in the empty part of the vein at the end of which men frequently go on working in a horizontal direction on the edge of the vein, whilst others far below them are extending it in depth.
Proceeding along one of these galleries we came at last to a chasm at the bottom of which we could just see men with lights. Whilst admiring the curious scene the large bucket came rushing past us from above and descended down into the depths. This indeed was the shaft at which we had seen horses and men raising ore above ground for the cobber’s. It was intersected in this place by the gallery along which we were proceeding and stopped our progress. The shaft here was not perpendicular but followed the inclination of the vein and the bucket slid up and down against one side which was covered with smooth planks. In a few minutes we saw a bucket come up and to us strangers it had a very curious appearance. The rope moving on for a long time without visible means, the empty bucket banging, slipping and tumbling down and the full one suddenly emerging from the darkness beneath into the candlelight and immediately disappearing above are so peculiar in their effect as to irresistibly create some degree of surprise.
We crossed this place on a plank and a rope loosely put over it and advancing onwards soon after descended again creeping and sliding, tumbling and slipping as before Captain Leaman giving us the utmost attention in explaining everything. Now at times we began to hear explosions which reverberated throughout the mine in grand style and we soon came up to two men who were preparing a blast. A hole is cut first by chisels in the rock in the direction thought most proper and from 12 to 24 inches deep according to circumstances. This being cleaned out by proper tools a portion of gunpowder is placed in the bottom of it and then a long thin iron rod called a needle being put down into the gunpowder, pounded stone is introduced and rammed hard with an iron tool on to the gunpowder. More stone is introduced until the hole is full and then the needle being withdrawn, a straw filled with powder or sometimes quills so filled are put down the hole and make a communication with the charge below. A bit of touch paper is then attached to the external gunpowder and being lighted the men retire a few yards off round some projection or corner whilst the explosion happens. When it has taken place the ore or stone thrown off is removed and the process again repeated. It is astonishing how careless the men become of the peculiar dangers to which they are liable from the frequency with which they meet them. They go on hammering without the least care at the hole charged with powder and now then explode it by the attrition they cause before they are out of the way and then men get killed. They put their candles anyhow and anywhere and their powder is treated in the same manner. Magrath, to rest himself whilst the Captain gave directions, sat down on a tub and stuck his candle against its side. We found out afterwards it was what they kept the powder in and it certainly would not have been wonderful if we had all made a grand blast together.
Here the men were at work on the rock cutting a level to another part of the vein and they are paid so much per foot or yard, but returning a little way and then moving on again we soon came to some who were working out ore. They blast it just as in the former case and it is then carried to the edge of the shaft I before spoke of and drawn up by the buckets. These men also work piece work but differently to the others. Captain Leaman comes and views the place and then he submits terms to the men thus I will let you have that place a month at so much per ton of ore raised’ varying the price per ton according to the supposed facility of obtaining and working the ore. After the bargain is made the men take all risks of the place being good or bad, sometimes when it appears very unpromising and they have obtained a high price for working it out in consequence of the greater expenditure of powder and labour supposed to be necessary it will expand into a bunch of ore. Then the men earn much money during their month or period of time for they raise an immense quantity of ore rapidly and without much trouble and now and then save a hundred pounds very quickly. On other occasions things are against them and when their time is expired they have raised so little ore as not to have earned sufficient to pay off their powder bill. Generally, however, things are so managed so as to leave them well though not extravagantly paid. None of these men work more than 8 hours a day in the mine. The rest of their time is spent above ground at home, there being sets of workmen who replace each other.
We had now reached the well of the mine situated at its lowest point nearby. Here all the waters that run from the earth into the excavation are collected together to be pumped up. There was a large quantity in a sort of tank boarded over and containing much copper in solution. The waters it appears had risen a little and they were very particular about them just now because close at hand they were deepening the mine and working at a level below that of the well. We were here in the busy part and the black heads and faces that popped into sight every now and then with a candle before them looked very droll. Some miners were stuck up in a corner over our heads making a roof and they seemed to cling to the rock like bats so that I wondered how they got and remained there but in a few moments I found we had to go up there too and indeed we managed very well. Difficulties and dangers are in almost every case magnified by distance and diminished by approximation, and I do not think that one place in the world can be better suited to illustrate this than a mine.
Following the example of our Captain and peeping into a small chasm through which a man might by contrivance pass, we found it to be the entrance into a large cavity from 30 to 40 feet wide every way. This had been a fine bunch of ore and there were 6 or 7 men with their candles working in it. We did not go down but putting our lights aside laid our heads to the aperture and viewed this admirable Cimmerian scene for some time with great pleasure, the continual explosion on all sides increasing the effect. This was the lowest part of those workings and was about 370 feet below the surface of the earth.
After a little further progress, we came to the pump shaft, an aperture cut down from the surface to this spot. It was 360 ft. deep and we could see no daylight up it. Below it was a small well connected with the large one before mentioned and into this were inserted pumps. The first was a lifting pump and raised the water a few feet. Then a forcing pump took it and made it ascend up pipes far away out of sight. The pumps were worked by the steam engine we had seen above being connected with it by beams of wood descending in the shaft and continually rattling up and down in it. In the small part of the shaft left vacant by the pistons pipes and beams were fixed ladders which ascending from stage to stage conducting to the top and up. There we had to go bathed in the shower of water which was shaken off from all parts of the pump works. After long climbing we came to a part of the shaft where the first forcing pump delivered its water into a little cistern and then another pump of the same construction threw it up to the surface. Still proceeding we at last got a glimpse of daylight above and were soon able to see the pump rods by it. Now the danger of the ascent appeared far greater than before for the more extensive light showing in the well above and something of the depth below made us conscious of our real situation whereas before we only thought of the small spot illuminated by our candles. The agitation of the pump rods was more visible too and appeared greater from being seen over a larger space and their rattling and thumping was quite in accordance with appearances. But in spite of all things we gained the surface in high glee and came up into the world above at the engine after a residence of about two hours in the queer place below.
We were again amused with each other’s appearance which though comical before was now much heightened by the dirt and water of the mine. At the office we found Mr. Irewick waiting for us and soap and hot water ready for use. We stripped, washed and dressed and were soon in complete order again.
All the miners work in flannel clothes and from our own feelings we had reason to commend the custom. We did not feel at all incommoded by heat during our stay below though when we came up and began to change we found ourselves in the very highest state of perspiration. The advantage of flannel arises from the little influence moisture has over it and its non-adhesion to the skin even though damp or moist.
Mr. Irewick now took charge of us and showed us the work above ground. We went first to the kilns and in our way passed other mine workings belonging to the Mona Company. At the kilns the following process is carried into effect. The ore is raised from the mine and broken by the women as described, is placed in heaps about 35 feet long, 10 wide and 10 highs. Larger pieces of ore are used for the outside which is something like rough brickwork but the ore is wheeled in anyhow into the interior. Four or five large holes are made in the mass below like ash pits and when the heap contains enough ore flues are built across and along the top, the large pieces of ore which are connected with another flue running two or three feet from the kiln on the ground and this being done the whole heap is covered with earth and clay so as to prevent the entrance and exit air or vapour except by the holes before-mentioned and the flues. A brick chamber is built a few feet from the kiln and connected with its flue at one end, the other having a small aperture. Some lighted coals are now thrown into the holes left at the bottom of the kilns and in the course of a day they heat and inflame the ore immediately about them and afterwards no further additional fuel is necessary but the combustion goes on with the ore itself one part roasting the other. This lasts five or six weeks and all the sulphur separated and sulphurous acid generated pass through the flues into the chamber and are there condensed. In this way very little vapour escapes and the process instead of being a general nuisance as at Swansea is a very magnificent and agreeable example of sublimation.
When the kiln goes out of itself and is cooled it is pulled down and the ore taken away in carts to the refineries near the port. Those parts which happen here and there to be only half burned being carefully selected and put into other kilns. The chamber is not disturbed for the first, second, even third kiln but after the sulphur of many kilns has been sublimed into it is opened the brimstone taken out, washed from the acid which adheres to it and is fused and then it goes to market.
From hence we went to the precipitating pits. I have already said that the water which gathers in some of the workings is a very strong solution of sulphate of copper from its action on the sulphuret. This water is pumped up by a steam engine into large reservoirs and it is let down by sluices from there into small tanks placed side by side each about I2 feet long, 8 wide and 18 inches deep. Into these tanks is thrown old iron of all sorts, hoops, nails, saucepans, etc., and they frequently procure what they call iron from the iron works, but it is generally a mixture of slag and iron containing about half its weight of the latter. In this state the iron and water remain in contact for some time being turned now and then to expose fresh surfaces to their mutual action and then the water is drawn off and fresh let in. The waters are not thrown away after having been once over the iron but that which has been acted on in the highest tank is let down into a second where there is more iron and then again into a third, fourth and fifth in all of which there is iron until it is so poor as not to be worth working any longer. The result of this arrangement is the production of copper in these tanks occasioned by the play of affinities which takes place between the substances. The water contains sulphate of copper or blue vitriol to which iron is added and iron having a stronger attraction for oxygen and sulphuric acid than copper has, it takes both these substances from the blue vitriol uniting to them and forming a soluble salt and consequently the copper is thrown out and remains as a sediment in the tank. This sediment is never pure copper but always a mixture with the rust or oxide of iron a part of which comes from the dirty state of the iron when thrown in, and another part from the spontaneous decomposition of the salt of iron which is produced, for you must understand My Dear Girl that the combination first made by the Iron and Sulphuric acid is what is commonly called green vitriol or copperas. Now when the salt is dissolved and exposed to air it absorbs a portion of the oxygen of the air and the Iron becomes more oxidised. In this state as it is not so soluble in the acid as before and therefore a part is deposited as a red powder mixed with the copper rendering it impure, consequently the sediment is always copper mixed with oxide of iron and it is richer in copper from the first tank or the strong water and poorer when obtained from the last tank. It is found from experience that if the sediment yields less than 5 per cent of copper the expense of the iron is more than the worth of the copper obtained so that waters reduced until they yield the mixture of only 5 per cent copper are thrown away. In the first tanks the sediments are so rich in copper as to yield 80 or 90 per cent. These tanks are emptied of their sediments once a quarter. When the substance is dry it is taken down to the refineries and soon rendered fit for market. From 40 to 50 tons of copper are produced annually in this way.
When the water first runs from the tank it is of a fine red colour from the per-sulphate of iron it contains. The pools which receive it and the rivers it forms in passing to the harbour, look as if filled with blood. In the harbour it soon becomes diluted by the sea but the rocks to a great distance are stained by it.
We then walked on to the Parys mine. This is an immense excavation open to today on the other side of the same mountain. An extraordinary accumulation of ore was found in this place which, when worked, proved of immense value and brought in enormous incomes to the proprietor. It appears that 3 or 4 veins of copper here converge together and caused a single disposition of ore which has made the place so deservedly famous. At present the ore is not so abundant and the mine is worked by underground shafts and galleries like the others though still a little is done above.
In our way from hence to the assay we passed several groups of children who were engaged in searching the rubbish of ancient workings. Formerly the ore was not so perfectly produced as at present and much was thrown away with the slag. Now these heaps of refuse are eagerly sought for the better parts selected and sent to the refineries to be reduced.
At the Assay office we found the Assay master and his assistant busy in ascertaining the relative value of different specimens of ore slag metal etc., and according to his report are workmen paid and the calculation made, I saw nothing very particular there.
Now having viewed everything and spent 4 hours very pleasantly among the works we returned to the mine office pocketed our minerals, shouldered our bundles, bade adieu to our very kind friends Messrs. Irewick and Leaman and again set off on our journeying’s. We endeavoured to find a nearer way from the Mine to Bangor Ferry than we had taken from the ferry to Amlwch and succeeded to a certain extent but the sea was rising over the sands in the bay of the coast and two or three times turned us a little aside. Our walk was much finer than yesterday and contained more coast scenery in it. We frequently had bays on our left. with the waves rolling into them and shipping in the distance and the day was neither so hot nor so misty.