Deep shaft mining

The main period of open cast working came to an end at about the same time as Thomas William’s death in 1802. In 1811 a new company began to explore the mines. A number of Cornish men were brought in and deep mining with shafts was started. The remains of some of these shafts can still be seen on the mountain today.

Most of the shafts were around 6-foot square and had sides that were boarded with timber to prevent falls. Ladders were attached to the side of the shaft for access. In 1819 Faraday visited the Mona mine and described his decent down one of the shafts.

     “We followedCaptain Leaman ( Treweek) to a small shaft and a little distance from theoffice and in such true miners 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 … 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 solarge 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 thecandlelight and immediately disappearing above are so peculiar in their effectas 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 toanother 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 highprice 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 no tthink 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 pumpworks. 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.