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Sweden 1830

A description, by the author, of his journey in a basket down into the iron mine at Dannemora:

‘These pits are deep excavations, like gravel pits … The inspector of the mines accompanied me; I was accommodated with a chair, but he seated himself on the edge of the bucket, extending his legs, in order to maintain our equilibrium. He had a stick in his hand, with which he occasionally pushed us off from the edges of the rock, when we were in danger of striking against them. We were above five minutes making this perilous journey. The depth descended was 500 feet. Whilst I was thus descending, and hung in mid air, another bucket was ascending. I was so giddy, that I did not dare look down; but as it passed us, I observed three girls in it, or rather on it, as they were each standing on the edge of the bucket, with great unconcern, and knitting all the while, quite at their ease.’

The Mine by Isaac Taylor 1830 (John Harris) pp. 92-93

India 1830

A description of the methods of searching for diamonds at Coulour, near Hyderabad:

‘The importance of this mine appears in the numbers of persons employed in it, being frequently as many as sixty thousand. Their manner of operating is as follows; when, on examining the ground, they find a spot, which to those accustomed to the search, appear likely to afford diamonds, they begin, in some places near at hand, to form a cistern, or pool, with clay; into this the women and children bring the earth, which the men have dug out of the appointed spot. Here, with water they loosen the earth, breaking the clods, and permitting the lighter mud to run off. The stony substances, which remain after the earthy particles are washed away, are carefully sifted, and then examined in a bright noon-day light. Those who are accustomed to it, will discover diamonds by the nice feeling of their fingers.’

The Mine by Isaac Taylor 1830 (John Harris) pp. 35-37

Malaysia 1935

In the Main Range of mountains that divides Pahang from Selangor, the tin lodes near Sangka Dua were first discovered by ground sluicing. This work is done by women, some being employed by miners to concentrate ore in the sluices, while others work on their own in streams and rivers. The method is simple but requires some skill. A shallow wooden dish, about 30” in diameter, and 3.5” deep in the centre, is dug into the sluice or stream bed, and a quantity of sand and water is thus put into the dish. This is now subjected to a peculiar motion, more or less of the nature known as vanning, by means of which the waste material is washed over the edge and the ore remains. It is arduous work in the heat of the day, entailing as it does continual standing in water with the back bent. These women employed in the large hydraulic mines are, however, sheltered by a roof. Tin ore, sold by ‘licensed’ Dulang women from 1928 to 1935 was 16000 to 31500 Pikuls per year.

7,800 Dulang women were employed in 1935, mostly from Kheh Clan from China. They have a very hard life, standing in the water all day, washing for tin ore, and it is no unusual thing to see a woman work with a baby strapped on her back. Their bright sarongs are a very attractive sight. In the evening they cut firewood, cook the food, and do the housework.

Mining in Malaya, Malayan Information Agency 1936 pp. 48, 70, 73

Bolivia 1884

At La Salvadora Tin Mine, Cochabamba 800 Quechua labourers were employed in 1894:

‘The workers’ women soon joined their husbands, and Patino lost no time in persuading them to work beside their husbands. He was delighted when women showed a particular talent for sorting ore, and for the next half century he employed them at this and other jobs. In 1933, during a manpower shortage caused by the Chaco War, Patino actually ordered women into the deep pits to do the heavy, killing work of male drillers.

Like Moonlight on Snow; The Life of Simon Iturri Patino by John Hewlett (McBride 1947) p. 128-9

Egypt 200 B.C.

H. C. Hoover (in footnotes in de Re Metallica) quoting Booth’s translation of Diodorus (London 1700 p. 89) of Egyptian gold mines at the time of Agartharchides:

‘In the confines of Egypt and the ‘neighbouring countries of Arabia and Ethiopia there is a place full of rich gold mines, out of which with much cost and pains of many labourers gold is dug. … For the Kings of Egypt condemn to these mines notorious criminals, captives taken in war, persons sometimes falsely accused, or against who the king is incens’d; and not only themselves, but sometimes all their kindred relations together with them, are sent to work here, both to punish them, and by their labour to advance the profit and gain of the Kings. There are infinite numbers upon these accounts thrust down these mines, all bound in fetters where they work continually, without being admitted any rest night or day, and so strictly guarded there is no possibility of escape. … There a little boys who penetrate the galleries into the cavities and with great labour and toil gather up the lumps and pieces hewed out of the rock … and carry them forth and lay them on the bank. Those that are over thirty years of age take a piece of the rock … and pound it in a stone mortar … til it be as small as a vetch; then these little stones are taken from them by women and older men, who cast them into mills …, and two or three of them being employed at one mill they grind … it until it is as fine as meal.’

De Re Metallica by Agricola (Translated by H. C. and L. H. Hoover) Dover 1950 p. 279-80



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