Visit by Julia Pardoe

to a Silver Mine in Hungary 1841

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‘Internal View of the Silver Mines

near Schemnitz in Hungary’

Engraved by T. Wallis

after a picture

by W. M. Craig from

A Complete and Universal Dictionary

(Bright & Kennersley) 1812

© Image courtesy of


The following account appeared in Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal No. 469 Saturday 23rd Jan 1841, pp 5-6.

Miss Pardoe, in the course of her interesting tour in Hungary, which has already been noted in these pages, visited the celebrated silver mine of Bacherstollen, at Schemnitz, of which she gives the following vivid account. She was accompanied by M. de Syaiezer, the supreme count of the mines of the district:-

Our first object was, of course, a descent into the subterranean wonders of which M. de Syaiezer was the guardian; and the entrance nearest to the city being by the mouth of the extensive mine called Bacherstollen, it was at once decided that we should visit on the morrow; and, meanwhile, we learned that there existed a communication throughout the whole chain, extending for nearly fifty English miles; the mines of Bacherstollen alone occupying a surface of about one thousand square fathoms; its depth being two hundred and the average number of miners from three hundred and fifty to four hundred.

By six o’clock the following morning we were all astir; and armed with a change of clothes for me, we sallied forth to the accountant’s office, where we were to be furnished with miners dresses for the gentlemen, and our guides with lamps for our underground journey. There we were joined by a young Milanese count, a student at the university; and although three handsomer men will rarely be seen together than the companions of my intended expedition, yet when they came forth in their leathern aprons, black caps and coarse jackets with padded sleeves, all encrusted with yellow clay, I began to fancy that I must have suddenly fallen among banditti; nor was the conceit diminished when the miners, who were to accompany us, joined the party, with their smoking lamps in their hands, and (if possible) ten times wilder and filthier looking than the gentlemen.

Away we went however, and ere we had taken a hundred steps we were in utter darkness. A low door had been passed, a narrow gallery had been traversed, a few stairs had been descended, and we were as thoroughly cut off from the rest of the world, as far as our outward perceptions were concerned, as though we had never held fellowship with them. We were moving along a passage, not blasted, but hewn in the rock, dripping with moisture, and occasionally so low as to compel us to bend our heads in order to pass; while beneath our feet rushed along a stream of water which had overflowed the channel prepared for it, and flooded the solitary plank upon which we walked.

But this circumstance, although producing discomfort for the first few moments, was of little ultimate consequence, for the large drops which exuded from the roof and sides of the gallery, and continually fell upon us as we passed, soon placed us beyond the reach of annoyance from wet feet, by reducing us to one mass of moisture.

So far all had been easy; we had only to move on in Indian file, every alternate person carrying a lamp, to avoid striking our heads on the protruding masses of rock, and endeavour not to slide off the plank into the channel beneath, and thus make ourselves more wet and dirty than we were. But this comparative luxury was to soon end, for ere long we arrived at the ladders which conduct from one hemisphere to another, and by which the miners ascend or descend to their work. Then began the real labour of our undertaking. Each ladder was based on a small platform, where a square hole sawn away in the planks made an outlet to arrive at the next; and as these had been constructed solely for the use of the workmen, it was by no means easy to secure a firm footing upon all of them, particularly as the water was trickling down in every direction, and our hands stuck to the rails which were covered in soil.

When we arrived, heated and panting, at the bottom of the first hemisphere, the chief miner led the way through an exhausted gallery, whence the ore had been long since removed, and which yawned dark, and cold and silent, like the entrance to the world of graves. The half-dozen lamps which were raised to show us the opening, barley sufficed to light the chasm for fifty feet. The distance defied their feeble power; but the jagged and fantastic outline of the walls, partly blasted, and partly hewn away where the practised hammers of the workman had followed up a vein of ore, to my excited fancy to take strange and living shapes as the heavy smoke of the lamps curled over them – bats and serpents clung to the ceiling – phantoms of men and beasts supported walls – and in the midst moved along a train of wizard beings, neither men nor demons.

To the right of this gallery opened another vast cavern, cumbered with large masses of rock, but of which we could see the whole extent. This was what is technically called in the mines a ‘false blast’, where, after having made an opening, the miners ascertained that the ore had taken another direction, and that this was mere rock, which it was useless to work further. Hence we passed through another gallery similar to the first, except that it had been produced by blasting, and that the various nature of the rock had rendered it necessary to line it in many spots with stout timber.

There are five distinct methods of doing this; and they are applied according to the degree of strength required to resist the superincumbent and surrounding mass; sometimes the planks are placed perpendicularly, and roofed over with flat boards, like a hovel; at others the formation of the gallery resembles a low Gothic crypt. In many instances the timber is arranged transversely - in others horizontally; and, finally, there are particular places where blocks are driven into the solid rock like piles of a bridge, and support a perfect erection, shutting out every glimpse of the rock itself.

The sight of these precautions gave me an uncomfortable feeling, for their very necessity implied a certain degree of danger; and although cowardice is not my besetting sin, I confess that I should not like to occupy quite so capacious a grave as the mine of Bacherstollen.

Another set of ladders, as steep and sticky as the last, admitted us into the second hemisphere; and on reaching it we came almost immediately upon a gallery in which the ore had been followed up until the vein had become exhausted. In order to enter it, we clambered over the large masses of stone which had been severed from the rock by blasting; and when we were fairly gathered together in this gloomy cavern, for such it was, and when our guides raised their lamps, and moved them rapidly along the roof and sides of the chasm, it was beautiful to see the bright particles of silver flash back the light, and to follow the sinuous course of the precious metal, which was so clearly defined by those glittering fragments.

Many large lumps were also strewn beneath our feet, which appeared to pave the earth with stars, but they had not been considered sufficiently full of ore to render them worthy of being transported to the surface. These exhausted galleries are gradually refilled with soil and stone in the process of mining, as the rubbish removed in each new excavation is flung into them, by no means a disagreeable reflection, I should imagine, to the inhabitants of Shemnitz, whose dwellings stand immediately above a portion of Bacherstollen.

It was curious enough, when on one occasion we came upon an immense iron pipe cutting through the side of the gallery along which we were passing to see M. de Csapoj stop before it, and announce that it was that of the town pump, in the centre of the square which we had traversed in the morning; and that a little farther on, we were standing under the house the supreme count, with whom, on our return to the surface of the earth, we were to dine.

Shortly after passing this pint, I perceived that a very earnest discussion was taking place among my conductors, nor was I long in discovering, from the frequent hesitating glances which the chief miner turned upon me, that I was its subject. As a matter of course, under these circumstance, I begged to be made a party in the consultation, when I ascertained that some doubt had arisen whether I could be permitted to descend lower, as I had now arrived at as great a depth as any lady had yet attempted; but I had no inclination to stop short so soon in my undertaking, and when I found out that I was the first English woman who had ever entered the Bacherstollen, I pleaded my privilege accordingly; but it seemed that they feared the displeasure of M. de Syaiezer, as the miners below were employed in blasting rock in every direction.

As it was, however, quite impossible that I should consent to leave the mine without witnessing this, the grandest exhibition that it could offer, I only insisted the more strongly on the assurance which I had received from himself, that everything should be done that I desired; and satisfied, when rid of the responsibility, the miner once more led the way to the ladders, and we commenced our third descent – the only variation being produced by an intense feeling of heat, increasing as we got lower, and a suffocating smell of sulphur, the natural effects of the work which was going on, two hundred explosions having already taken place since sunrise. This result of the blasting, as regarded the ore, had not yet been fully ascertained, but there was every reason to believe that it had been very satisfactory.

When we arrived at the bottom, the sensation was all but suffocating; the dense vapours seemed to fold themselves about our wet garments, and in a few seconds we were enveloped in a steam which produced intense perspiration, and a faint sickness that compelled us to disburden ourselves of all the wraps by which we had sought protection against the damps above.

For a time we all stood still, quite unable to penetrate farther; and even those of the party who were accustomed to encounter the confined air of the galleries, were glad of a moment’s rest; for the explosions had followed each other with such rapidity, that the atmosphere had as yet had no time to relieve itself of the sulphurous vapour with which it was burdened, and which created an exudation from the rock, that brought water down upon us in tepid drops in all directions.

We spent upwards of an hour strolling through this section of the mine, in order to give time to the workmen for completing a bore on which they were labouring, to enable me to witness a blast – our conductor obligingly putting more hands to the work to expedite its completion; and during this hour we only encountered three miners, although nearly three hundred were at the moment employed in that particular hemisphere – a fact that will give you a better idea of this subterranean wilderness than any attempt to describe its extent.

There was something almost infernal in the picture which presented itself, when we at length returned to the spot where the next blast was to take place. A vast chasm of rock was terminated by a wooden platform, on which stood the workmen, armed with heavy iron crowbars, whose every blow against the living stone gave back a sound like thunder. One small lamp, suspended by a hook to a projecting fragment, served to light them to their labour; and it was painful to see how their bare and sinewy arms wield the ponderous instrument, which at each strike sent a quiver through their whole frame. I ascended this platform, which was raised about six feet from the rock-cumbered floor of the gallery, in order to see the process of stopping the bore, and thence I had a full view of the frightful scene presented by the vault.

At length the bore was completed, and a small canvass bag of gunpowder was inserted into the hollow, nothing remaining to be done but to add the fire by which it was to be exploded. This is applied in a substance which it requires some seconds to penetrate, in order to give the workmen some time to retreat to a place of safety. We, of course, declined to remain for this latter ceremony; and made our way, before the insertion of the inflammable matter, to the spot which had already been decided on as that whence we might safely await the explosion – a large opening, situated behind an abrupt projection, where an exhausted gallery terminated, and where no mass of rock could reach us in its fall – and we had scarcely crowded together in our retreat, ere we were followed by the workmen at the top of their speed, who, after having secured the aperture which it had cost them so many hours of labour to effect, had rushed to the same spot for safety form the effects of their own toil.

There we remained for full three minutes in silence, listening to the quick panting of these our new associates, ere the mighty rock, riven asunder by the agency and cupidity of man, yielded to a power against which, after centuries of existence, it yet lacked the power to contend, and with gigantic throes gave up the hidden treasures it had so long concealed. Surely there can be no convulsion of nature produced by artificial means, so terrible and overwhelming in its effects as the blasting of a mine. First comes an explosion, as though the artillery of an army burst upon the ear at once, and the vast subterranean gives back an echo like the thunders of a crumbling world; while amid the din there is a crash of the mighty rocks which are torn asunder, and fall in headlong ruin on every side – each as it descends, awaking its own echo, and adding to the uproar; then, as they settle in wild ruin, massed in fantastic shapes, and seeming almost to bar the passage which they fill, the wild shrill cry of the miners rises above them, and you learn that the work of destruction is accomplished, and that the human thirst of gain has survived the shock, and exults in the ruin that it has caused.

So strange and exciting an effect does this phenomenon produce, that I actually found myself shouting in concert with the poverty-stricken men about me, governed by my nerves rather than my reason, and with as little cause for exultation as themselves. To me it was nothing that another portion of the earth has been torn asunder, thews and sinews, and scattered abroad in fragments; it could not operate upon my individual fortunes; and the shirtless wretches about me, who had raise a wild clamour, that would have seemed to indicate that they rejoiced over a benefit obtained, like myself had only obeyed their excited senses; for they were poor, and overtoiled, and shirtless as ever, even thought the rock which they had just riven should have opened a mine of wealth!

I need not explain that this last explosion had by no means improved the nature of the atmosphere, and we were accordingly not slow in preparing to depart. But my entreaties to descend yet lower proved abortive; not an individual of the party would listen to me; and I found myself compelled to obey, from sheer incapacity to persist; and I knew, moreover, that I must husband my powers of persuasion in order to induce my companions to permit me to ascend by the chain, an operation so formidable that it had never yet been contemplated by one of my own sex.

To me, the ascent by tiers of six and thirty ladders appeared infinitely more distressing than any process where violent exertion was rendered unnecessary by machinery; and I consequently felt no inclination to retreat when I was requested to look up and down the shaft, near the centre of which I stood, and to examine the chain by which I was to be drawn up, and the leathern strap upon which I was to be seated.

There could be no positive danger where both were solid; and it was perfectly clear, that if barrels of ore could be drawn up by the same means, my weight and that of the miner who was to ascend with me, must be very inconsiderable in comparison. I therefore only requested that the apparatus might be got ready; and amid the wondering murmur of the men who steadied the chain, took my seat upon the sling, and having been raised about six feet above the mouth of the trap, hung suspended until my companion followed my example.

We then commenced our ascent; and although the sensation was very peculiar, it did not strike me that it was one calculated to create terror. All was dark above, and, save the lamp attached to the arm of my companion, all was dark below; consequently there was nothing in the aspect of the shaft to shake the nerves. The only inconvenience arose from the occasional twisting of the chain, which from its great length (nearly six hundred feet), occasionally swung us suddenly round, and then righted itself with a jerk, when we had to guard our knees from contact with the timbers which lined the side of the pit; but save this temporary drawback, the motion was rather agreeable, and wet and weary as I was, I should have preferred ascending thus half a dozen times, to braving the fatigue of the ladders.

It is impossible to imagine what scarecrows we were when the light of day once more shone upon us, now how oppressive the heat of the sun appeared when we emerged from the mouth of the mine: as for me, I could scarcely move under the weight of my clinging garments, and did not recover form my exhaustion until I had plunged in a tepid bath; by whose beneficial effects I was, after an hour’s repose, enabled to prepare for M. Svaiczer’s dinner.

I wish that I could do justice to the courteous urbanity and kindness of this talented gentleman; but feeling how inadequate any praise of mine must prove in such a case, I can only declare, that among my most pleasant and enduring memories will be the obligations which I am under to him, both as a traveller and a stranger.

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