Adventures in Peru, Chapter 17

Fossil Fuel

Gold, Silver, Emeralds, and Pearls, Part 6

Before closing my narrative of the many fabulously rich mines of Peru and the tremendous fortunes made out of them, I ought to just mention one Dr. Neal of Iquique told me about. I refer to the great silver mine of San Pedro and San Paul. It was worked by the Incas, and after them by the Jesuits until they were turned out of Peru. Then it stood derelict for a number of years, and, as was only natural, got covered over with sand. The great earthquake of 1868 completed the bottling up process. One day an American named Chase got hold of a document that purported to give the exact locality of the long-lost mine. He was much impressed with what was set down, so went and started work at the spot indicated. He grubbed away for fourteen years, removing debris until he had exhausted all his capital. Then he appealed to his brother. But that good Christian man wasn’t “having any” as the saying goes, and made it quite clear that he was going to have no truck with any poor relations. Chase next approached a storekeeper named Harris, and here touched lucky, so was able to resume work again.

Another two years of hard graft passed, and then one day, as he was preparing dinner for himself and his two men up at his shack, one came rushing in to announce that the entrance had been at last uncovered. Chase left the dinner to cook itself, and followed the messenger hot-foot to the mine. There he feasted his eyes on a great accumulation of silver ingots which had been piled up by the Jesuits ready for removal in days of long ago. Out of this hoard he banked £700,000 within the next six months!

Soon after he was lawsuited by McKinna—a man associated with the late Colonel North in several ventures—the owner of the adjacent silver mine. McKinna claimed that what Chase had unearthed was on his (McKinna’s) property. The fight was a bitter one, but Chase won in the end, and returned to England where he bought two houses in the Cromwell Road, London, and turned them into one.

His lawyer advised him to make his will. Said he, “If you don’t, that beautiful brother of yours can step in at your death and collar the lot.” Chase was impressed and did as his legal adviser suggested; moreover, to further provide against contingencies, he married Colonel Harris’s daughter.

One day whilst staying at the Hotel Cecil, his brother, who had meantime gone broke, was announced, and Chase treated him to a dose of his own medicine. His wife bore him two daughters and then died. Chase did not long survive her. He left four millions.

Of all the copper mines of Peru, Cerro Pasco is the most famous. I have already referred to it in connection with a man named Gallo. In my opinion it doesn’t come up to the one I visited a few years ago at Chuquicamaca in the Atacama desert. Cerro Chuqui is 9,700 feet up. Some leagues away in the same province are other mountains in which Cerro San Pedro and Cerro Volcan are situated. Chuquicamaca is more like a small town than a village, what with a church, the manager’s fine house and many tenements for workmen. An American mining engineer told me the mills at Cerro Chuqui crush 17,000 tons of ore every twenty-four hours. I thought the tale a bit tall, for 7,000 tons would be pretty good work. However, there it is, as he told me.

The mountains in the vicinity of this great mine yielded me some very rich samples of silver and copper. It seems rather extraordinary to find mountains full of precious metals in the midst of a tremendous desert. But so it is.

One curious feature of this wilderness is the vast quantities of lumps of fossilized wood one meets with on all sides. Apparently they are relics of prehistoric times, and were once a kind of shrub. A great trade is done in these chunks at Antofagasta where they are used as fuel.

Some of the finest emeralds in the world are found in Peru. A few years ago a Peruvian engaged in constructing limekilns not many days’ ride from the Jura baths, struck a vein rich in emeralds. I read the full particulars of his find in a paper published only a few weeks after I had left the district. Strange to say, I had been all round there guanaco hunting. The Peruvian obtained £40,000 for his concession. I know of several localities where I believe emeralds are to be found. Those found in Peru are light green in colour—the rarest of all emeralds. They are second only to those found at Bogota in Colombia.

On several occasions I met members of the Holquin family and Mr. Ecchevaria. They were all interested in this exquisite stone. I travelled with Ecchevaria several times. The last time was on the Tagus. He then told me he had lost his emerald lode, and although he had had forty men working round for two years trying to pick it up again, success had not attended their efforts. If I would superintend the operations, he said he would be quite willing to pay me a good commission to find it, plus all the exes. attached to twenty Indian workmen. I could not, however, accept this attractive offer because I was working for Penny and Minchin at the time, and I had to convey eight horses and four mares safely to Peru.

It may not be generally known, but extremely fine pearls are found off the coast of Peru.

A Lima friend of mine once fixed up with the owner-captain of a three-masted schooner, and paid £400 towards the expenses incurred in employing divers. The venture proved eminently successful. Lots of pearls were found. One of the first little parcels forwarded to my friend by the captain, was valued at from £700 to £1200, and another lot included a pearl which was disposed of for £400.