Adventures in Peru, Chapter 17

Twisting a Peruvian

Gold, Silver, Emeralds, and Pearls, Part 5

Besides the notable mines already mentioned, particular reference to the celebrated San Domingo mine is overdue. It may be approached from Tirapata or Juliaca; in either case a three days’ journey is involved. The manager of the Inca Gold Mining Company, who now own the property, makes Tirapata his headquarters. As I have said before, San Domingo was rediscovered by Major Gibson of the English Guards. This was about 1900. Gibson was on long leave at San Francisco, where he made friends with a Jesuit Father. From him he learnt much about San Domingo—how it had been worked by the Incas, and after them by the Jesuits. To crown all, the Reverend Father had in his possession a document, in which were set down all the particulars necessary to locate the mine. This he offered Gibson, stipulating that the latter in return for it, should give him and his Order 10 per cent. of the proceeds.

Major Gibson lost no time in getting back to Peru, and following the instructions implicitly, soon came upon the mine. It was all overgrown with vegetation, but in almost as sound condition, internally, as when abandoned by the Jesuits. Old John Simpson, who in 1905 went with me to examine the Sapo mountain, accompanied Gibson, and reported on the samples he took. The latter denounced his find in the Mining Department of Peru, together with 200 hectares, as a rediscovered old mine. He then returned to England, where he hoped to induce his friends to put up the necessary funds, so that he might open out the old workings and develop them. Within a couple of years he had scraped together £5000, and returned to San Domingo, intending to commence operations without further delay. Unfortunately, he hadn’t kept his good fortune to himself, but had let his tongue wag in Arequipa and other places. Hence, when he reached the mine, he found it a busy hive of workers. On applying to Mr. Chester Brown, who was pointed out to him as the manager, the latter explained that he had been reported for not complying with the mining laws; as a consequence the mine had passed out of his control.

The man who had denounced Gibson’s lapse was directed by the authorities to advertise in any paper he liked, calling upon Gibson to appear at the Ministry of Mines Department, and show cause why he had not complied with the rules and regulations. The Peruvian took good care to advertise in an obscure little rag, called the Arequipina, which had a very limited circulation. It is true, that a copy of this paper was exhibited in the Public Court House; but none of Gibson’s friends saw it, and it was also overlooked by the British Consul, whom Gibson had asked to act as his agent. Fifteen days passed, and then as Gibson had made no sign, the mine became the property of the Peruvian. This gentleman at once put on the number of men deemed necessary by the authorities, i.e. sixty. Six months later he sold his rights to the San Domingo Company for £72,000!

As an Englishman, one cannot but sympathize with Major Gibson; at the same time, one must admit that the law he failed to observe is a just law, and wisely framed in the interests of the country. It prevents anyone from exploiting the land, and ensures that it shall not stand idle. Poor Gibson was terribly put out, over the downfall of his hopes. He started off on a shooting trip in the forests near San Domingo River, to take his mind off his woes. Unhappily, he contracted a fever and only returned home to die. I had these particulars from John Simpson, who, when reporting on my Sapo mine, said it was much richer than San Domingo. In 1921 I was told that San Domingo was re-sold a few years later for £400,000 to a big company, the Inca Gold Mining Company, as a matter of fact.

Just about the time I was at Lima, i.e. between 1900 and 1907, there was a gentleman nosing around whom I will call “Q.”, the son of a British General, and on an allowance of £400 a year. He did some prospecting, and worked for himself and others. One day he went too far. He came down to Lima, saying he had found a fabulously rich gold mine only three days from Arequipa, and showing some very fine samples. He persuaded a wealthy Peruvian to go back with him to the mine, and pointed out the lode whence he had taken the quartz. He said, “You can drill wherever you like in the lode.” The Lima man did so and found visible gold in large quantities. The Peruvian was so enamoured that he gave “Q.” a cheque for £10,000. “Q.” returned to Lima and cashed it. I was nearly the last man he saw. He declined my invitation to dinner, and offered as his excuse that he was dining with Captain Moffat on the Tu Capel.

Next evening, as I was shutting up my boxes and seeing everything was all right, the Peruvian called, accompanied by a police inspector, and asked if I had seen “Q.” lately. I said, “Yes, yesterday about 6 o’clock. He left here to go to Callao on the Tu Capel.” The inspector said, “Do you remember that mine he spoke about? He persuaded a Peruvian to give him £10,000 for it.” I replied, “He must have been a mug to part with so large a sum without calling in expert advice.” Well, the upshot was the Peruvian found “Q.” had salted the mine, i.e. fixed up samples for greenhorns to find.

I heard later that “Q.” left the steamer at Iquique. Next time I went to Peru with my annual lot of racehorses I was told “Q.’s” father had written the Peruvian, promising to pay him the sum out of which he had been swindled, on one condition, viz., that he did his best to find “Q.” and get him arrested wherever he might be. “Q.” lay low for some years in Iquique, which most folks know is in Chile. That country and Peru were then not on the best of terms, so “Q.” was safe for the time being. What became of “Q.” subsequently I don’t know. But did you ever hear of a bigger fool? Just for the sake of “twisting” the Peruvian, he risked and lost his allowance of £400 a year, forfeited what would have come to him under his father’s will and £25 a month besides, which a well-known company paid him for looking after their interests!