History of Mining: The evolution of shaft sinking systems in the western world and the improvement in sinking rates (Part 3 of 7) – by C. Graham and V. Evans (CIM Magazine – November 2007)


Shaft sinking from 1800 to 1900: Cousin Jacks

During the latter part of the reign of the Tudors in England (1485–1603), Saxon technicians were brought to England to teach Cornishmen to sink shafts and mine Cornwall’s extensive tin and copper deposits. This worked so effectively that by the early 19th century Cornwall possessed some of the best contemporary European mining technology.

Beginning about 1840 and repeating in 1865, Cornish mining prosperity slumped disastrously for a number of technical and economic reasons. The discovery of rich overseas copper deposits coupled with a degree of mismanagement in the Cornish mines worsened the situation, throwing Cornish shaft sinkers and miners out of work. At the same time, the 1800s saw a great deal of British capital investment in overseas mining ventures.

These British-owned mining operations recruited their skilled labour from Cornwall and by the mid-1820s, Cornish miners, or “Cousin Jacks” as they were called, were to be found all across Latin America sinking shafts and developing mines. Cornish miners were also brought in to develop and mine lead deposits in the United States, as well as in Norway and Spain.

Copper was discovered in Australia in 1848 and more Cornish miners emigrated to that area to develop the mines there. Additional mineral strikes across the Americas and Australia followed, which attracted Cornish miners. By 1850, there were an estimated 7,000 Cornish miners and dependents in the upper Mississippi region.

Their skills enabled them to construct the deep shafts necessary in that region as well as run the surface “diggings.” Some of the Cornish miners crossed into Canada to work at the Bruce Mine in northern Ontario, which was acquired in 1847 by the Montreal Mining Company and became the first successful copper mine in Canada. The shaft was sunk and the mine operated until the 1860s, with every shaft sinker and miner being Cornish.

The discovery of gold in South Africa in 1880 provided another area where Cornish expertise in shaft sinking and mine operation was required. In the Transvaal, prior to the Boer War, an estimated 25 per cent of the white workforce was Cornish. It can therefore be seen that most of the shafts excavated during this period were sunk using very similar equipment and probably with similar advance rates.

The underground miners of Cornwall were divided into two classes—tutmen and tributers. The tutmen did “tut” work, which consisted of specific excavation projects, let out by contract to a party offering the lowest bid. A tut party consisted of a number of men, normally divided into three gangs, each of which would work an eight hour shift, so that work proceeded around the clock.

When a new mine was being opened up, tutmen were employed to sink the shaft and run the levels in preparation for working the ore body. Once the ore body was reached, it was common to shift to tribute work. The work of tribute miners was organized by the regular mine supervisors. The tutmen were, in effect, shaft sinking contractors being paid according to their contract.

For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.cim.org/en/Publications-and-Technical-Resources/Publications/CIM-Magazine/November-2007/history/history-of-mining.aspx