On this Day 17th August 1868

Botallack: Tourist Destination of the 1860s

Botallack Mine, even before the Royal visit of 1865, was such a popular tourist destination that a Visitors Book was maintained in the Count House. That Visitors Book is now in the care of the Royal Institution of Cornwall in the Courtney Library.

On 17 August 1868, among other entries, is Mr and Mrs R.M. Ballantyne, Edinburgh. Ballantyne was the celebrated author of Coral Island and this may well have been one of several trips made to Botallack made by the author whose book based on his experience of the mine, Deep Down, was published later in 1868. Ballantyne is said to have spent three months in St Just researching his book and the research paid off with a good reception and good reviews.

R.M. Ballantyne's entry is the Botallack Visitors Book, August 17, 1868, note the three Oxford Dons in the entries above (Photo Ted Mole, courtesy of the Courtney Library, Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro)

R.M. Ballantyne's entry is the Botallack Visitors Book, August 17, 1868, note the three Oxford Dons in the entries above (Photo Ted Mole, courtesy of the Courtney Library, Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro)

Deep Down is a book about mining in the challenging conditions and remote landscape of St Just and possibly the most complimentary assessment Ballantyne could receive is this, “Many books have been written about the area but possibly the most informative and accurate on the lifestyle and techniques of 19th century miners is a work of fiction! Try and find a copy of Deep Down by R.M. Ballantyne”. This was not written by a reviewer or literary man but by ex-Geevor miner Geoff Tresedder, a man not easily impressed by literary attempts to represent the mining business. Take a bow Mr Ballantyne!

Ballantyne was one of about 278 people to visit Botallack in 1868, mostly between March and October. While no actual charge was made Botallack was a trail-blazer in hosting the free tour for which the visitor was encouraged to make a donation, in this case half a guinea. Cyril Noall writes that a ledger was kept in the count house which recorded all these donations but there is no sign of them in the Visitors Book.

An early picture of the incline going down into the Crowns Mine, possibly while the trestle was being completed in 1862. This the route most of the visitors took into the mine until the Crowns was abandoned in 1874. Also shown is Wheal Button headframe. (photo Malcolm McCarthy Collection)An early picture of the incline going down into the Crowns Mine, possibly while the trestle was being completed in 1862. This the route most of the visitors took into the mine until the Crowns was abandoned in 1874. Also shown is Wheal Button headframe. (photo Malcolm McCarthy Collection)

The Visitors Book covers 1852 – 1874. The first names to appear belong to Mr Frederick Boyce and Mrs Henry Boyce of Mitcham in Surrey who visited the mine on September 17th 1852. Visits from the home counties were common but more surprising was the number of women among the visitors and also the number of clergymen. Mid-Victorian ladies were clearly quite adventurous and two of them annotated their entry in the Visitors Book with a note to the effect that they left their crinolines above ground. What of the clergymen? Well, they were in the habit of paying each other visits and those employing a curate could certainly afford the time. In fact, being habitual diary keepers, these clerical journeys often provide interesting records of the places visited. The visit of the Reverend Symon to Poltair in 1836 is one such and provides an interesting view of Levant, including the observation that copper is shipped from the mine “in sacks about as the thick part of one's thigh.”

The visitors to Botallack came from all over the world, just as they do today. C.C. James, who used to own the Visitors Book, lists: France, Holland, Belgium, Saxony, Prussia, Russia, India, China, Borneo, South Africa, USA, West Indies, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Australia, New Zealand and South America. The very last visitor in the book, on November 21, 1876, is W. R. Sarkett from Saratoga Springs, New York State. Sarkett signed the Visitors Book more than two years after the previous visitors who made the much shorter trip from Alma Villa in Nancherrow, on June 19th 1874.

Why were there no further visits apart from that of Mr Sarkett? By 1872 Botallack was running at a loss and on February 25th 1874 it was decided that the whole of the Crowns and Wheal Hazard sections should be suspended. The Crowns was where most of the visitors went, taking the skip ride taken in 1865 by the Prince of Wales. With the Crowns flooded visits would either have to end or go to another section of the mine. By August 1874 severe economy measures had reduced expenses by nearly 50%, the mine made a small profit but it has to be assumed that an end to entertaining visitors was one of those economies.

Sources

The Botallack Mine Visitors Book, Courtney Library VBB/1

Visitors to botallack, C.C. James, Old Cornwall vol 5, no 2, 1951

Botallack, Cyril Noall, Dyllansow Truran, 1999

Reverend Thomas Symonds (1773-1945):   An account of his visit to Cornwall in the summer of 1836Warwickshire County Record Office, CR2855

Geoff Tresedder's quote can be found at: http://www.carnmetals.co.uk/mines.htm

 




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