Down A Tin Mine in 1878


This is a fascinating story written by a professional climber who was afforded the opportunity to go down a Cornish mine in 1878

" Well, sir, you never had a piece of climbing like coming down that chain before, I expect!" said Captain R. " Well, not exactly like that perhaps, " I said, " but on a mountain in Switzerland, the Matterhorn, where an iron chain has lately been put up, there is something similar. There, however, when I was on the mountain a few months ago, the rocks were glazed with thin coating of ice, my gloves froze to the iron chain the moment I grasped it, while below me a snow slope led gently to a precipice some thousands of feet deep. " I then described the ascent of a steep wall of ice on the Col du Geant which had to be effected by climbing up the shoulders of a herculean porter, and then being pulled at the end of a rope over a steep little piece of snow-slope like a bale of goods. In fact, I laughed calling the descent by the chain that hung above us climbing at all; but, in truth, all the while I was in a state of nervous trepidation, wondering if I should ever get up into that dirty level again. I managed it, however, and in five minutes my friend and I again stood in the dirty water of the " 110”. Now I think we'll get away to the ' 130' by this winze, " said my good conductor, after a few minutes' breathing space, as he opened a trap-door and proceeded to squeeze some fourteen stone through hole about a foot and a half square. "Lead, and I follow," I answered meekly. Down, down we went, the rickety old ladder creaking with our weight. " Hello!" cried, as I suddenly found one of my legs feeling vaguely about in empty space. " Hello! where's the ladder gone to? " " Put your foot further west," bawled Captain R. from below. " Oh yes, further west, " I replied, observation conveying about as to my mind as it would to a kangaroo of ordinary intelligence. After a minute of anxiety, during which time my leg was waving gracefully about, I called out with seeming indifference, "By the way, which leg? " At this moment, however, I solved the question myself bringing my left leg with considerable force in contact with the miming ladder, which was some little distance to the left of the one was on. Descending this, I joined friend at the " 130. " "Be careful here, sir, " he observed ; " there are about fourteen fathoms of ' bottoms' excavated below us ;" and at once walked off along a narrow board, black darkness yawning below him. When he had passed, he kindly turned and threw the dim light of his candle on the narrow bridge, while I, with a curious sinking sensation near that part of body which a waistcoat ought to have covered, crept slowly and steadily over.

We had only advanced a few fathoms further, and I was just congratulating myself having passed over those "bottoms" in safety, and determined not to trust myself again to that board, if I had to live the rest my days in the " 130 W, " when our lights were both extinguished, and a noise, as if a dozen "Woolwich infants " were being fired off at once seemed to stun me.
" What's that I cried. " Has the mine blown up?" My first impulse being to drown myself in the three inches of mud which lay in the bottom of the level. "That, sir, is the effect of dynamite," said the Captain, who seemed to treat the affair as a matter course. " The men have just blasted a hole in the end. We shan't able to go in there now, as the place will be full smoke. I think we had better avoid going down this winze. " Accordingly dived through another trap-door, shutting which I completely finished off my candle, and then proceeded by a series of ladders almost to the bottom of the mine. Here some splendid tinstuff was being worked on tut-work, by which system the men receive so many pounds this case as much £20, as the ground was very hard and the air close) for every fathom they drive. The miners were working bare to the waist, and well they might: the heat was terrific, a thermometer stood 96 deg. Fahr. Whenever I think of that spot I nearly faint. One old miner here, however, told me that it was " what he called warm, " but that he once worked in a hot place. This was in the United Mines; cold water had to be continentally poured over the men as they worked, and not infrequently one of their number was taken with a dead faint, and had to be carried to the nearest tank. I mentally resolved not to visit the United Mines. After staying here about ten minutes, we prepared to start upwards, Captain R. proposing to visit en route some of the workings of the "old men, " as the miners of days gone by arc termed. One great feature of these workings was a place where a huge irregular deposit of tin-stone had been worked away for more than twenty fathoms in height. We were here long standing and endeavouring to pierce the smoke and darkness which filled this gloomy cavern, I in front and Captain R. some few feet behind me. Suddenly drop of water falling from above extinguished my candle (a new one which had only been put out about ten times before). Immediately a weird phantom figure stood before us in the thick gloom of the huge excavation. Raising my arm, I pointed this out to my companion. He was astonished; I will not say frightened. The figure stood motionless with outstretched arm. Captain R. advanced towards me; the figure grew, and seemed to approach us, till it filled the whole excavation. My friend, with no very steady hand, lit my candle; at once the phantom vanished, as if by the wave of a magician's wand. The explanation the appearance of this ghost, as of most ghosts, was of course simple. The phantom was nothing more than my shadow projected on the thick smoky air friend's candle. I explained to the good Captain, but he shook his head doubtfully, and evidently thought that whatever the reason or the cause might be, " the old men's workings were uncanny places."
We now make our way to the shaft by one of the old men's levels a narrow gallery about four feet high along which I had to shuffle in a doubled-up posture, like an S suffering from indigestion. Here and there thick beam of timber was thrown across the top to " keep the ground abroad. " the satisfaction of knocking myself down into about foot of slushy mud by running my head against one of these pieces of timber had not been protected by my miner's hat I should probably have had the additional pleasure knocking out my own brains. As it was we reached the main shaft again in safety, and Captain R. here expressed his sorrow at having nothing more to show me. I manifested great grief, and felt extreme joy.
All that now remained was to crawl to surface.
I had not particularly enjoyed the descent by perpendicular ladders. positively disliked the ascent. And yet in nearly all our Cornish mines the miners have to struggle to surface up such ladders, after a hard day's work. The pull on a man's strength to climb by ladder some hundred or hundred and fifty fathoms is enormous. In some of our deepest mines, however, man-engines to take the men to and from work have been introduced. We had, however, to trust our own strength to land us at the surface, and when, wet and dirty, we set foot above ground, one of least was heartily glad see once more the light of day.


Staff member
wow this is soooo fascinating, really never thought of what it would be like down there, (well I have an idea) but the above is very detailed, a really good read :) xx
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