On this Day 29th October 1869

Lords Leave Levant Leaseless

In the autumn of 1869 a committee of Levant Mine adventurers was attempting to negotiate a new lease with their landlords. The existing lease would expire in early 1871 and urgently needed investment was unlikely to be forthcoming if the future of the enterprise could not be secured. Since Levant represented a good source of income for the Lords, it seemed reasonable to expect a fairly rapid new agreement, as had happened in the past.

Levant Mine in 2010 (photo; Ted Mole)This time however it was proving more difficult. The Lords' agents had already told the committee that their clients required serious work to be done to secure a submarine part of the mine, known as the 40 Backs, before they would discuss a new lease. In effect they wanted the investment to be made before the security of the new lease was in place.

The 40 Backs was a stoped out area which had been worked in the mid 1850s. The stoping worked up from the 40 fathom level a distance of about nine fathoms towards the seabed. As a consequence of a substantial ingress of sea-water work in the 40 Backs was abandoned and area secured. In 1865 the 40 Backs was in the news again when the management was tempted by some promising mineralisation and work began again. Heavy water flow saw the men refuse to go underground and application was made to the Lords for an inspection and report.

The 40 Backs was inspected by Warrington Smyth, chief mineral inspector for the Duchy of Cornwall and an experienced mining geologist. Smyth's recommendation was that work in the 40 Backs should come to an end and that further reinforcing should be added to that put in place 12 years before. His advice was heeded but the cat was now out of the bag and the Lords were demanding more serious remedial work be undertaken before negotiations for a new lease could begin.

As part of their effort to negotiate a new lease the Levant committee commissioned a report on the 40 Backs from from Captain Joseph Vivian than whom no man in Cornwall has been more frequently consulted on the part of Lords as well as shareholders on questions relating to the working on mines in this county.

Captain Vivian's finding was succinct:

I consider these workings perfectly secure and had I the superintendence of the property as Manager of the Mine or Lords' Agent I should think it quite unnecessary to take any further precautions to render the mine safe from the sea. I should not however stope any more tin ground in the back of the 40 nor drive the level further.

Vivian's report had been forwarded to the Lords' agents and on 29 October 1869 Rodd and Cornish, the agents, replied in dismissive manner:

Dear Sir

In reply to your note of 26th Inst. We can only say that when the mine is put in a proper state of repair in accordance with the requirements of the reports furnished to you by us the Lords will be ready to entertain any application for a new sett.

At the Account held on 26 November 1869 the meeting considered this reply, interpreted it as meaning no new lease was likely to be forthcoming, and instructed the purser and agents to carry out a valuation of the materials on the mine and prepare for winding up the business. Over the next year the business was wound down, men laid off and maintenance ignored. The last account was held on March 13th 1871, followed by a special meeting of the Adventurers on April 3rd which set in place plans for the cleaning up of the tin floors and the stamping of remaining roughs. An additional four months was to be allowed by the Lords for this work to be completed. A further meeting to complete the winding up was held on September 11th 1873 and the final dividend distribution of £1-3-6d per share notified to shareholders on August 31st 1875.

Extract from the June 1869 Cost Book showing part of the report of the committe set up to negotiate a new lease. The extract includes the report of Captain Joseph Vivian and the terse response from the Lords' agents. (Inage: Ted Mole, from the original Cost Book held by Cornwall Record Office)

Extract from the June 1869 Cost Book showing part of the report of the committe set up to negotiate a new lease. The extract includes the report of Captain Joseph Vivian and the terse response from the Lords' agents. (Inage: Ted Mole, from the original Cost Book held by Cornwall Record Office)

By 1875 a new company had already been up and running for almost four years and the mine was well on the way to a new period of prosperity. On August 21st 1872 a new pumping engine had been set to work to drain the partially flooded mine and about the same time the stamps engine and the man engine were both overhauled. No sooner had the old company been wound up than a new company, with many of the same shareholders, had sprung into life and the issue of the 40 Backs seems to have faded away.

The last entry in the Cost Book of the Levant Old Company, 31 August 1875 (image: Ted Mole, from the original Cost Book held by Cornwall Record Office)

 

So what was all this about? A review of the shareholder lists of the old and new companies reveals some interesting changes. Ever since the restart of the mine in 1820 the biggest shareholders had been the Daubuz family but they are not present among the shareholders of the new company. In 1850, following the failure of Batten & Sons, the Daubuz interest had brought in Henry Borrow as purser, Borrow resigned in October 1869. Daubuz and Borrow had brought in James Evans, who had worked with Borrow around St Agnes, as chief agent, he too was soon gone.

None of these were local men, but possibly more to the point is that ever since the deaths of old Louis Charles Daubuz and his eldest son in 1839 the family's Cornish interests had been in decline. L.C. Daubuz had run Levant through John Batten, a local man, but his successors, possibly lacking local insight and contacts, replaced Batten & Sons with an outsider and after an initial flurry of activity the enterprise seemed to settle into a pattern of slow decline. It seemed to lack leadership.

Had the shareholders had enough of the Daubuz regime by 1869? Was the winding up of the company, precipitated by the issues of the 40 Backs and the new lease, simply the most convenient means of effecting a regime change? There was no certainly no problem in attracting investors in the 5000 shares in the new company which, it must be said, had its power base among the traders, merchants and professional men of Penzance and St Just.

And what of the 40 Backs? Sometime after 1935, by which time Levant had closed, the 40 Backs collapsed and the sea took over the mine. When Geevor took on Levant the first challenge was to plug the hole in the seabed and pump out the mine. That, as they say, is another story.

Sources

An account of the end of the Levant Old Company and the setting up of the New Company can be found in Cyril Noall's Levant; The Mine Beneath the Sea, Bradford Barton, Truro, 1970 

The primary evidence can be found in the Levant Cost Books for the period June 1869 to February 1872. The last few entries, which extend up to August 1875 are all to be found together with the February 1872 records.




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