Mine Agents




Mine Agents

John was described as a Mine Agent. The nature of the job is well described in the book "Tales of Cornish Miners" by John Vivian from which the following is an extract.

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 elected 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 both 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 the intermediaries between management and men, and thus responsible for enforcing sometimes unpopular decisions and policies upon the workpeople. 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 giving constant vigilance to every aspect of the mine's working.

A very clear idea of what an agent's duties entailed is afforded in a manuscript letter written on November 21st 1864, by Henry Boyns, who for several years served as agent at Botallack 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 Sept., 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 Timber men with there assistance, and see that all shafts (and) Tramroads are keept in good order for the carrying out of the work. In refering to my report Book for the year I find I have been underground 190 days, go every weare down & up throughout the Mine and 'old myself ready to give an opinion on every thing that take place in the mine, make up the whole of the Tut Work and measurements, not a trifle to keep the underground Book right of 120 pairs of men right with marks & prices, Keep the account of the smith Work relating to the underground men, being better prepared to cheeck 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 & dialings, aranging and designing new work for keeping up the weare & tear, filled with concern about the whole that they be successfull, not forgetting the price of Tin. '

"Yours very truly,

"H. Boyns."

Despite his obvious failings as a grammarian, the lucidity and conciseness of Boyns' style show him to have been a man of some intellectual power. Trained in the hard school of practical experience, such agents as he were indeed the very backbone of Cornish mining. With a minimum of education but 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.

- The Trenear-Harveys of St Just-in-Penwith -