On this Day 24th February 1869

The St Just Mining Boom: Profits soar on rising tin prices

“not the least interesting part of the harmonious and, in many respects, instructive chat over the walnuts and wine was the way in which the health of the agents was proposed and acknowledged.”

The Botallack agents had just given an optimistic report on the progress and prospects for the mine and concluded by saying that they saw no reason why the present returns should not continue. This was good news as the purser had just declared a profit of £2357 for the quarter with a dividend of £10 per 200th share. Henry Boyns, speaking for the agents, gave the Adventurers an insight into the volume of work which went into producing these returns. During the last quarter, he said, they had broken 1290 fathoms of ground, six feet high by an average of three feet wide. During the past year they had:

Crowns Mine, Botallack

  • broken five and a half miles of ground to the same dimensions

  • raised, stamped and dressed 20,700 tons of tin ore

  • raised and dressed 300 to 400 tons of copper ore

The whole of this ground had yielded £5-14-3d per fathom, the tin-stuff raised having yielded almost 425 tons of black tin which had sold for £27,750.

In the event this account probably marked the high water mark of Botallack fortunes. By 1872 the mine was in deficit and at account meetings the wine flowed less freely, the nuts were less tasty and the toasts were less hearty. Warrington Smyth, writing at the end of 1872 gave his assessment, “On the whole, however, I cannot but regard the situation of the mine as precarious …...”

Emigration, said Warrington Smyth, was not helping matters. But, to return to the prosperity of 1869, alongside its fulsome account of the Botallack Count House dinner the Cornish Telegraph of 24 February 1869 gave a similarly glowing account of affairs at Wheal Owles where the policy of the purser had just been vindicated by the handsome profit realised on the recent sale of stockpiled black tin. Congratulating the purser on his wisdom and nerve, Samuel Higgs, speaking on behalf of his fellow Adventurers, was in boisterous and Nationalistic mood. He gave it as his view that Cornish mines are best managed by Cornish men and there are no better Cornish men than St Just men and PURSER BOYNS IS A ST JUST MAN! The purser was then presented with a piece of plate to the value of 100 guineas in recognition of his achievement. Wheal Owles had just declared one of the biggest dividends ever seen in St Just, a clear 50 guineas per share.

West Wheal Owles, now famous as Poldark's Wheal LeisureAs with Botallack, this was the high water mark. Dividends were declared at the next three or four accounts but a series of underground collapses and escalating expenses as the management sought to invest the newly won wealth back into the mine, saw Wheal Owles in deficit by November 1872. They were also sinking an incline shaft and, as one noted mining authority in St Just has said on several occasions, “an inclined shaft is inclined to drive a mine under.”

Wheal Owles never declared another dividend, there were false dawns and tin stocking and short-lived rich discoveries but in the end, defeated by cheap foreign tin and difficult conditions, Wheal Owles was finally closed by the disastrous inundation of 10 January 1893. On 18 March 1895 Botallack followed Wheal Owles, no dividend for over twenty years and finally brought to the point of closure by an inundation of water. As at Wheal Owles, the flood water had its source in the abandoned workings of the mine itself.

Sources

Cornish Telegraph 24 February 1860

Cyril Noall, Botallack, Dyllansow Truran, 1999

Cyril Noall, The St Just Mining District, Bradford Barton, 1973




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