Chilean Copper in 1872

James Douglas Jr., “The Copper Mines of Chili,” Engineering and Mining Journal 1872.

James Douglas Jr. was the son of a Scottish-born Quebéc physician and member of the Royal College of Surgeons. Born in 1837, Douglas was drawn to study the metallurgy of copper after working at a mine his father owned a share in. In 1869, Douglas and Dr. Thomas Sterry Hunt published the “Hunt and Douglas” process of reducing copper using salt. This process was used successfully in North Carolina and Chile by the early 1870s. In 1871, Douglas apparently traveled to Chile; probably to help establish his extraction process. His account of Chilean copper mining appeared in the April edition of London’s Quarterly Journal of Science and in installments, with “revisions and corrections” in the 1872 E&MJ, beginning with the May 21 issue. In 1881, Douglas began his career at Phelps Dodge by going to Arizona to investigate what became the Copper Queen Mine.

Douglas begins his first installment of the article with a review of Chilean copper mining, acknowledging the fact that “As the produce of the Chili mines now regulates the price of copper all over the world, and all speculation as to its future price must depend on the probable future yield of these mines, their condition is a subject of prime importance to all interested in the copper trade.”

Nearly “all the copper comes,” Douglas says, “from the coast range, and from within 30 miles of the sea; and nearly two-thirds of it from the three great mineral districts of Tomaya, Carrizal, and Chañaral.” A little copper comes from the “Cajon de Maipu,” and the “Condes Mines” in the cordillera “produce 200 tons or so of 23 per cent. ore annually.” Othe cordillera mines are the “Cerro Blanco…a little south of the Copiopó…and the Esploradora mines of Mr. Sievert, in the Atacama Desert, 120 miles inland.” Generally, transportation difficulties and the lack of high-yield deposits prevent mining inland.

Starting in the south, Douglas lists the Chilean mines. South of Santiago, he says, “a number of small mines are worked both in the Cordillera and the coast range; but their total yield falls short of 1,000 tons of fine copper annually.”
Is the site of Braden’s find (El Teniente) being worked by small-scale miners?

“Crossing the line of 33 deg. S. latitude,” Douglas mentions “mines on both sides of the Melon Valley and the Catemo and San Felipe mines.” He describes the ores (“The San Felipe ores are of grey sulphides; but as a rule the lodes are narrow.”), indicating that he’s studied them first-hand in some detail. The “Paral mine on one of the Coimas group of lodes, where a lode of a yard wide yields on an average a 30 per cent. ore,” is an exception, but “the mine is very badly worked…twice as many men are employed in pumping as in breaking the ore.” About 3,000 tons a year from this district “is made into regulus and bars at smelting establishments in the Melon and at Catemo. In the San Felipe Valley, Urmeneta and Errasuriz [sic] have attempted to use the peat—which is here abundant—for smelting, but as yet without advantage.”
There’s an article in an earlier number of the E&MJ about using peat for fuel in Britain and the US – apparently U&E are up to date on the latest doings.

In Aconcagua and southern Coquimbo provinces, Douglas sees evidence of long and extensive mining. “The hills are so saturated with copper that a
desmontes or refuse heap enters as a conspicuous object into almost every bit of mountain scenery, and innumerable slag heaps in many a nook and corner mark the spots where furnaces smelted the ore from neighboring mines till the hill sides, to the serious detriment of agriculture, had been denuded of timber.” Suggests that not only mining but smelting is an old and widely distributed practice. Note it was done with wood, until the local timber was exhausted. And the degree to which it impacted agriculture might shed light on the development of ag policy & adversarial tone of farmers.

“When we reach the river Limari, near Ovalle, we come in sight of the Hill of Tomaya, the most southerly of the great Chili
minerales. It is an isolated mountain, some 3 to 4 miles long, whose summit is 3,000 feet above the level of the plain, and 4,200 above the sea.” From a distance, Douglas can see “long white streaks reaching far towards its base, the enormous piles of desmontes, whose total amount probably exceeds 200,000 tons.” Douglas proceeds to give a detailed account of the mountain and its mines. He notes that “There is not a spring of water on the hill, and the mnes are so dry that they do not supply the needs of the establishments.” “A railroad 36 miles long, connects the mines with the coast at Tongoy.”

On the western slope is the lode from which “Mr. Urmeneta commenced amassing the fortune which the Piké mine has helped to swell.”
A matter-of-fact reference to the fact – forgotten in later generations—that Urmeneta was a successful miner before the Pique find. Not “el loco del burro.”

Douglas notes that “It is…from this isolated hill that a great proportion of all the Chili copper came from the years 1860 to 1865.” The most productive mine on the hill has always been Pique, “owned by Don José Tomás de Urmeneta, whose perseverance in prosecuting the work upon it during years of heavy expenditure and disappointment has been rewarded by raising him to the highest rank among successful miners, and by enabling him to confer vast benefits on his country; for Urmeneta was the first man to introduce into Chili first-rate hauling and mining machinery.”

The Pique lode is “yellow sulphuret, mixed with quartz, carbonate of lime, and specular iron. The yeld of the lode from wall to wall is from 8 to 10 per cent, and its average size varies from 3 to 6 feet…The greatest riches of the Piké were derived from some enormous stopes at about the 60-fathom level, where the lode expanded to over 20 feet in width, and yielded a purple ore, which, as it came from the mine, averaged 30 to 35 per cent. It is supposed Urmeneta netted in one year at that time from this mine alone $1,100,000.”

Douglas describes Pique in detail, mapping out the underground sections and explaining which levels “have been abandoned to
piqueneros or tributers,” and how ore is raised “by means of a Corliss engine and admirable machinery fitted with friction gearing, through three inclined shafts, which attain a depth of 80 fathoms below the end of the adit,” but that the mine’s bottom is 60 fathoms lower, and ore from here “is raised this last 60 fathoms on the backs of apires (or carriers) and by hand winches.”

In 1864, Urmeneta bought an adit on the south flank of the hill, “commenced as far back as 1840 by Don Ramon Lecaros…It was driven but slowly and irregularly until 1864, when Urmeneta bought the work already done, and continued it more vigorously.” Douglas explains how the adit runs beneath a neighboring mine, the Chalaca, also owned by Urmeneta. Pique employs 50 miners, “but a larger number of tributers find employment in the upper workings.” The tributers are productive: of the 1,250 tons taken from the hill daily, “about half comes from the Piké, and of this half may be said to be extracted from the regular workings below the adit level, and half by tributers from the abandoned stopes or by pickers from the refuse heaps.”

Douglas is particularly interested in the machinery used by Urmeneta and others. Pique’s “concentrator” uses “a pair of Huot and Guyler’s beautiful piston hutches [and] twenty English hutches to be worked by hand and twenty by steam.” Most of the mines use a
Blake breaker, an the older Pique “establishment” uses Petherick hutches, “but they do not give satisfaction.” “At the Rosario, Mr. Lipkin collects the concentrated stuff on the sieve,” which is a variation on the standard process. Douglas speculates that a Rittinger Pumpseize might work well, and remarks on the Krupps steel jackets used on all the rollers, which “remain in perfect working order after a twelvemonth, neither pitting nor wearing inequally.”

desmontes are enormous,” says Douglas. “Those of the Piké are the largest and probably the poorest. They originally yielded from 6 to 7 per cent., but having been picked over four times probably do not now contain over four per cent.” So even then, it was already taken for granted that fortunes could be made from the slag of earlier, less efficient operations. But then, Lambert did this a generation earlier…the point is, it was known by North Americans.

Finally, Douglas addresses the labor issue. “The hands employed in this
mineral,” he says, “in every capacity number about 4000. As all ages and sexes work, this represents a population of about 8000. Urmeneta employs about 600, and as many more work on his property as tributers. So, Urmeneta doesn’t own the entire mountain – although he may process all the ore that comes from it… “The rate of wages is for common labor 12 dols. a month and rations, worth 15 cents a day. For miners (native) 18 dols. a month, and rations of 15 cents a day. The same high rates approximately rule throughout all the mining regions of Chili. Cornishmen alone can be trusted with the timbering, and they are even better paid; so that it is evidently a mistake to suppose Chili owes her mining importance to cheapness of labor.” This was the basis of protectionist claims, leading to the tariff act, 1869 (see also)…I’ll need to look into this soon…

Part 2 (May 28 1872):

The next site Douglas describes is the “monster lode of Panulcillo…The Tomaya people say that Providence placed these great deposits almost side by side , that the ores of the one might serve to flux those of the other, but human perversity and English stupidity interfered to frustrate the kind intention.” The old smelter at the mouth of the mine was replaced in 1870 by a new establishment at “the railroad terminus in the valley…[and] consists of ten large reverberatories, and four blast furnaces, erected last year by Charles Lambert, jun.” The mine “is the only property in Chili worked by an English Joint Stock Company with an office in England…with Mr. Heatley in Valparaiso, and Mr. Wier at the mine, and a good price for copper, the enterprise ought to take a new lease on life.”

“A branch of the Coquimbo and Ovalle Railroad terminates near the smelting works.” It used to carry large cargoes from “Las Cardas, Cerillos, Tambillos, Andacolla,” but they have all dried up. The next large mine is “the Brillador, belonging to Charles Lambert.” Only three miles from the “northern sweep of the Bay of Coquimbo…[it was] more extensively worked than any other mine in the Indian and Spanish periods…Stone and copper hammers are still turned up in the refuse heaps…identical…with those from the Indian workings in the Lake Superior mines.” The vein was still productive in modern times. “Mr. Lambert, in 1847, is reported to have made $1,000,000 profit” at Brillador.

Part 3 (June 4 1872):

“The Panteon Mine, at about a mle distant, once yielded handsomely…the old
desmontes of the Panteon supply the furnaces of the Compañia (Mr. Lambert’s Works, near Serena)…[and] the old Spanish slag heaps are still overhauled. Mr. Lambert built the first reverberatory furnace in Chili, and first smelted sulphuretted ores, which previously had been thrown aside as unserviceable.”

Further “north of Serena is the
mineral of Higuera…smelted at the mines on the coast at the port of Totoralillos.” Crossing into Atacama, Douglas describes “the mineral of San Juan…now worked by Messrs. Harker and Dickson, at Lebrar.” The next mineral, Carrizal, “about six leagues in a straight line from the coast, has always been known to exist, but has been worked vigorously only within the last fifteen years…[it] now sends almost as much ore to market as the hill of Tomaya.” The six main mines, “Mondaca, Remolinos, Portazela or Banzanillo Alto, Tora, Cantado, and Santa Rita” yield “monthly about 4000 tons of 13 per cent. ore.” Partly because they’re newer, these mines are “admirably worked…thanks to the wisdom of the principal owner, Don Ramon Ovalle, and to the skill of the manager, Mr. McAuliff.”

Part 4 (June 18 1872):

Douglas describes the “Portazuela and Bazanillo Alto, owned by Messrs. Gonzales and Templeman.” He mentions that “the loss in picking, when the ore is broken by a Blake, exceeds that incurred when hand labor is employed; hence the tributers refuse to use it.” The mines along the Copiapó River, similarly, suffer from a lack of water for processing the ore.
Labor, technology, transportation, and local resources like water and food are all variables in determining whether a mine can be successful at any given time and place.

Douglas mentions Caleta de las Animas, the port from which “the first shipment of copper from Chili is said by Dr. Philippi to have been made to Europe, in a whaler, in the year 1820. It came from the mines of Las Animas, shortly before discovered by Don Diego de Almeida.” The northern mines send their ore partly to “Mr. Sievert’s establishment at Pan de Azucar, and partly…south” to Lota. Most of the mines are small and remote, in soms cases sending their ore “on mule-back 70 leagues to Tagna, and thence by rail to Arica.”

Douglas sums up the production of these various regions, and discusses their prospects of continuing their current annual output of 48,000 tons of copper. He notes that many of the smaller mines and tributers in large mines will be affected by rising wages. “The Chili
peon can get one dollar a day on the Peruvian railroads, and will therefore no longer work at home for 25 cents…Though the yield from each may be insignificant, their total production is by no means trifling. A great deal of copper smelted at Guayacan and the Copiapó establishments is bought in small parcels of a few cwts. each.” The loss of small producers might be partly offset by new technology for extracting low-grade ores, including the Hunt and Douglas method, being attempted “near Tiltil…nder the management of Mr. Waring, one of the best mechanical and mining engineers in Chili.” The Carlos Riesco mine?

Part 5 (June 25 1872):

All the great
minerales are likely to diminish, Douglas concludes. “Tomaya will doubtless produce less…Panulcillo sails so close to the wind that if copper falls it will inevitably fail…No doubt Brillador could yield more…Carrizal…has seen its best days.” A few mines, like “Chañaral, now that it has a railroad, may be expected to increase its yield.” But discoveries of new lodes are unlikely. “A copper lode in a desert country cannot escape detection, more especially in Chili, where all the inhabitants are directly or indirectly interested in mines…All the great lodes now worked, except, perhaps, those of the Salado and others in the Atacama desert, have been known and worked from time immemorial.”

But Chili will make up for some of the coming decline by processing its own ore. “Twenty-five years ago,” Douglas says, “very little copper was smelted in Chili; whereas, in 1870, only 3.16 per cent. was exported as ore, while 55.35 per cent. was exported as bars and ingots, and 41.48 per cent. as regulus.”

“Mr. Lambert…erected the first reverberatory furnace in Chili about the year 1837…[and] “the Mexican and South American Smelting Company…run from 1848 to 1857…benefited Chili by introducing Napier’s method…There are throughout Chili about ninety furnaces making regulus, and about sixty calciners and furnaces making bars and ingots.” The two largest establishments are at Lotan and Guayacan. “The former is owned by a company, which likewise owns and works some coal beds in the neighborhood
(Mattias Cousino, Concepción)…The Guayacan works, on the Bay of Herradura are owned by Messrs. Urmeneta and Errasuriz [sic], and are among the largest in the world, running ordinarily seventeen triple hearth calcining furnaces, thirteen smelting reverberatories, and two refining furnaces…The same proprietors have furnaces at Cerillos, at the foot of the Tomaya hill…and other works at Tongoi, the port of Tomaya.” Across the Bay in Coquimbo are “the abandoned smelting works of Charles Lambert and of Don Ramon Ovalle and Co., and the active works of Edwards and Co., where such care is taken in the selection and smelting that their bars and ingots bring a better price in the English market than those of either Lota or Guayacan.”