Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 9

The Mining Laws

The Third Attempt, Part 4

Before closing with the Jesuits and their mines and treasure, I will relate three instances of discovered treasure that came to my knowledge. All three finders were personally very well known to me. The first concerned a very rich gold mine in Peru, which we will call the Monte Cristo mine, formerly worked by Jesuits, and abandoned by them when they were expelled from Peru. A captain formerly belonging to an English cavalry regiment was staying at San Francisco a few years ago, and made friends there with a Jesuit Father, who told him he had all the papers relating to the rich Monte Cristo mine, with all directions where to go and how to find it. He said he would hand the captain the papers if he liked, and should he succeed in locating the mine he could denounce it and give the priest ten per cent of the proceeds. The captain gladly accepted on these terms, and eventually found the mine and denounced it.

I must explain here that there are strict rules laid down by all the republics of South America and British Guiana, which have existed for hundreds of years, and which are called the old Spanish Laws of Mines. These rules are meant to prevent mining concessions lying idle, and once ground is applied for, and old mines or new ones denounced, when the concession is granted the mines have to be worked and must not remain idle. Often the owner, who either cannot afford to work the ground or else has no intention of doing so, simply pays up the annual rent to the Government of the country, which is not a very costly thing to do, and then calmly waits for some big Company to come along and give him a good lump sum for doing practically nothing. This happens occasionally, but not very often, as Company owners know the mining laws, and most of them are not in the habit of throwing money away for nothing.

Here are some of these rules:

  1. After a discoverer has denounced a mining property and asked for the concession, a notice shall appear for fifteen days in any newspaper of the district. Should no opposition be made at the end of that time the concession shall be granted.
  2. Forty-two days after the concession has been granted a stone monument at least three feet high, with four corner stones, must be erected, and then possession will be given.
  3. Forty-two days after possession has been given work must be started, two men to be employed to each hectare applied for.
  4. If the discoverer does not comply with these conditions the mine may be re-denounced by anybody, and the original discoverer loses all right to the ground.
  5. Anyone re-denouncing the claim must, after notifying the Minister of Mines or his agent, put an advertisement in any paper published and sold in the district, calling on the original owner to comply with the law within fifteen days, and also paste up a copy in the District Court House. If he does this, and the owner of the claim does not comply with the law and gives no satisfactory reason for his delay to work his mine according to law within the said time of fifteen days, he loses all right, and the mine is then transferred to the re-denouncer.

Two years after the captain had denounced the rich old Jesuit mine, Monte Cristo, he returned ready to start work and re-develop the property, but on arriving there he was disagreeably surprised to find work going on in full swing. He was told by the manager that his discovery had been re-denounced by Don Fulano six months after he left, under the Mining Laws No. 3 and No. 4 quoted above, and as neither he nor his authorized representative had answered the notice as per Rule No. 5 quoted, after fifteen days it was made over to him, and he worked it with a considerable number of men for eight months, and then sold it to a company for £72,000. The manager said the Company gave him a salary of £1,200 a year. He told the captain it was very hard lines on him, but it showed how fatal it was to denounce a rich discovery and apply for a concession, until he was certain of being able to comply with the mining laws. The captain was so disappointed and grieved at his loss that he immediately went on a shooting trip into the forest, where he got malarial fever and died.

A similar thing happened to me once. One year I bought two good saddle mules, hired some cargo animals, two men and a boy, and went shooting guanacos, and vicuñas, and looking for old mines in the Cordilleras. I was away for four months, and during this time I came across a good many Indians who lived there with their sheep and llamas far away from any town, and in some cases miles from the nearest neighbour, and they showed me many old gold and silver mines and one copper mine. I made a note of them all, and took samples from each one. On returning to civilization, I denounced one, not the best, but a good mine, paid the dues, and exactly a year afterwards forfeited the property through not complying with the law respecting labour. The man who re-denounced it put on forty men for six months, and sold it to a Company for £7,000. Personally I think the mining law respecting the proper working of concessions a very good one and most fair. You should always be careful not to denounce unless you know you are going to derive benefit by doing so. There are many people who are quite ready to reap the profits of any rich find, but who would never dream of taking the trouble, and going through the rough preliminary work of finding them.

The second instance I am going to relate refers to a great silver mine in Bolivia, which we will call San Carlos, and which was worked by the Jesuits and subsequently lost sight of for many years when they left Peru. In this case there were two partners concerned, both of whom I know personally; the one was a rich man who found all the money for expenses, and the other a well known mining engineer, who did the rough part of the work, and went to locate the lost mine. After two years among the Indians they showed him the place, and he was guided there by two Indian girls. The mine was opened out and proved to be so rich in silver that in a few years the two men were worth half a million sterling and over. This mine is still in work, and still belongs to the finders, whom we will call Don Alfredo and Don Jorge. Don Jorge died, and left his share to his eldest son, who has extensive properties at home and in Bolivia, is a good sportsman, and divides his time between England and Bolivia and Chili. The other partner is still alive and enjoys the income derived from his half share. Many workmen are employed on this property, and much expensive machinery has been erected. In this case no one received any benefit except the discoverers.

The third case was that of a gentleman whom we will call Mr. Clarke from San Francisco. He got hold of some documents relating to an old Jesuit mine, which we will call San Martin, and which they had worked till they left Peru. There were a lot of silver bars ready for shipment, supposed to be buried in this mine, and he started off with the documents to locate the place. He found nothing but a big high hill; the place to all appearances had been covered over by a slide of earth and stones caused by the earthquake shocks of 1842 and 1867. However, he began the work of uncovering this big mound, with the help of two men and a boy. Clarke had a few thousand pounds to start with, and after working away for fourteen years with a few men, never more than five and sometimes not so many, and being convinced he was on the right spot, he went to the States to see his brother, who had done pretty well with his horses in South America, and try and persuade him to help. His brother, however, did not believe in this old mine hunt and refused to stand in. But Clarke found another man, a manager of a big store, who thought he was on the spot right enough, and offered him £40 a month of his £60 monthly pay, to enable him to employ more labour. In two years’ time he removed the big mound of hill and found the mine. Six months afterwards the bank shipped on Clarke’s account silver bars worth £400,000. He gave his friend £3,000 in cash, and £1,500 a year for life, and continued the working of the mine, which proved a valuable one, making his friend manager with an additional salary of £1,500 a year. Clarke died in London a few years ago, leaving £2,000,000.