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ST. AUSTELL PARISH

Life in the Parish

 

THE DUTIES OF MINE AGENTS

from TALES OF A CORNISH MINER By John Vivian
(J. Mosman, OPC)

 

All the practical operations of mining were controlled by a number of under-managers called agents or captains. A large mine might employ as many as three or four underground to supervise the work of tributers and tutmen, whilst others kept watch on the dressing floors at grass. These agents were invariably chosen from among the working miners themselves, being selected for their shrewdness, ability and knowledge of mining.

 

The captains affected a peculiar type of uniform, singularly unfitted for their work, one would have thought, consisting of high pole hats and white drill coats. Their duties were manifold and arduous; and the respect in which they were generally held was more than merited.

 

Their position in the mine was made all the more difficult in that they were intermediaries between management and men, and thus responsible for enforcing sometimes unpopular decisions and policies upon the working people. Indeed a good mine agent needed to be more than a little of a diplomatist. Above all however, if he were to succeed in his profession, he must achieve satisfactory returns of tin and copper ore at the minimum of expense, a requirement which meant constant vigilance in every respect of the mine's working. A clear idea of what an agent's duties entailed is afforded in a manuscript letter written on November 21st 1864, by Henry Boys, who for several years served as agent at Bootblack mine under the great Stephen Harvey James. In this he stated:

 

"Since I heard so much about the duties of agents at your meeting on Friday, and what is expected of them to meet the wants of the times, I have taken stock of my own doings, just to see how it would tally and what I have been about under ordinary circumstances.

 

For the last 12 months ending September. I have taken charge and looked after on an average 154 men Tut & Tributers per month which broke on an average 302 fathoms per month. See that they were all working, answer all questions, order and arrange all tramming, two steam whims, one working the skip about 18 hours per day the other about 9 hours, 3 timbermen with their assistants, and see that all shafts (and) tram-roads are kept in good order for the carrying out of the work. In referring to my workbook for the year I find I have been underground 190 days, go everywhere down & up throughout the mine and 'old myself ready to give an opinion on every thing that takes place in the mine, the whole of the tutwork and measurements, not to trifle to keep the underground book right of 120 pairs of men with marks and prices. Keep account of the smithwork relating to the underground men, being better prepared to check evils that may be practiced, examine every sample of tin stuff and be satisfied it is right before it is settled for, make & keep up all plans for the working of the mine and dealings, arranging and designing new work for keeping up the wear and tear, filled with concern about the whole that they be successful, not forgetting the price of Tin."

 

Having a fund of hard won knowledge, they served their county well, and created much wealth in it, most of which alas, passed to others, for their salaries were usually pitifully inadequate for the exacting work they had to perform!

 

Captain Tom Yelland, at Carloggas Clay Mine circa 1898

 

Provided with the help of Bob Trevethan, from the Rootsweb Cornish List

 

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