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Number of mines-laws respecting mines-quantity of sil
ver raised-state of mining operations-condition of mines-smelting-amalgamation.
The kingdom of Mexico in its present state contains nearly 500 places (reales y realitos) celebrated for the mines in their environs. It is probable that these 500 reales comprehend nearly three thousand mines (minas), designating by that name the whole of the subterraneous works which communicate with one another, by which one or more metallic depositories are worked. These mines are divided into 37 districts, over which are placed the same number of Councils of Mines, called Diputaciones de Mineria. ,
In taking a general view of the mineral wealth of New Spain, far from being struck with the value of the actual produce, we are astonished that it is not much more considerable. It is easy to foresee that this branch of public industry will continue augmenting as the country shall become better inhabited, as the smaller proprietors shall obtain greater security for good government and for the enjoyment of property, and as geological and chemical knowledge shall become more generally diffused. Several obstacles have already been re
moved since the year 1777, or since the establishment of the supreme council of mines, which has the title of Real Tribunal general del importante cuerpo de Mineria de Nueva España, and holds its sittings in the palace of the Viceroy at Mexico. Till that period the proprietors of mines were not united into a corporation, or the Court of. Madrid, at least, would not recognise them as an established body by a constitutional act.
The legislation of the mines was formerly in infinite confusion, because, at the beginning of the conquest, under the reign of Charles the Fifth, a mixture of Spanish, Belgic, and German laws was introduced into Mexico ;, which laws, from the difference of local circumstances, were inapplicable to those distant regions. The erection of the supreme council of mines, the head of which bears a name celebrated in the annals of chemical science, was followed by the establishment of the school of mines, and the compilation of a new code of laws, published under the title of Ordonanzas de la Mineria de Nueva España. The council or Tribunal general is composed of a director, two deputies from the body of miners, an assessor, two consultors, and a judge, who is head of the juzgado de alzadas de mineria. On the Tribunal general depend the thirty-seven councils of provincial mines or diputaciones de mineria, of which the names have been already mentioned. The proprietors of mines (mineros) send their representatives to the
provincial councils, and the two general deputies who reside at Mexico, are chosen from among the deputies of the districts. The body of miners of New Spain has, besides, apoderados, or representative proprietors at Madrid, whose business it is to treat immediately with the ministry, as to the interest of the colonies, in whatever respects the inines. The students of the colegio de mineria, instructed at the expense of the state, are distributed by the Tribunal among the head towns of the different diputaciones. It cannot be denied that the representative system followed in the new organization of the body of Mexican miners, possesses great advantages. It preserves public spirit in a country where the citizens, scattered over an immense surface, do not sufficiently feel the community of their interests; and it gives the supreme council a facility of collecting considerable sums, whenever any great or useful undertaking is proposed. It is to be desired, however, that the director of the tribunal should possess more influence on the progress of the operations in the provinces, and that the proprietors of mines, less jealous of what they call their liberty, were more enlightened as to their true interests..
The Supreme Council possesses an income of more than 40,000l. sterling. The king granted it on its establishment two thirds of the royal right of sig. niorage, which amounts to a real de plata, or about sixpence per troy ounce of silver delivered in to the
mint. This revenue is destined for the salaries of the members of the tribunal, the support of the school of mines, and to raise a fund for assistance or advances (avios) to the proprietors of the mines. These advances, as we have already observed, have been given with more liberality than discernment. A miner of Pachuca at one time obtained 36,0001. ; and the share-holders of the mina de agua of Temascaltepec, received 46,4001.; but this assistance never produced any results. The tribunal during the last years of the war of Spain with France and England, was compelled to make a gratuitous present to the court of Madrid, of 104,2001., and to lend it 625,0001. besides, 250,0001. of which have never been repaid. To support these extraordinary expenses, they were compelled to have recourse to borrowing ; and at present the half of the revenues of the supreme council of mines is employed in paying the interest of that capital. They have increased by one half the signorial impost, till the period of the liquidation of the debts contracted by the tribunal; and in place of thirteen grains, the miners are obliged to pay twenty per ounce of silver. In this state of things the tribunal can no longer make advances to the miners, who for want of funds are frequently unable to carry on useful undertakings. Great capitals formerly employed in mining, are now destined to agriculture, and the proprietors of mines would again require those establishments (bancos de plata, compañias refac
cionarias* Ò de habilitacion y avios) which advanced to the miners considerable sums of money at a large interest.
All the metallic wealth of the Spanish colonies is in the hands of individuals. The Government possesses no other mine than that of Huancavelica in Peru, which has been long abandoned; it is not even proprietor of the great levels, as several sovereigns of Germany are.
From the information given by us in this chapter, it is almost unnecessary to agitate the question, whether the produce of the silver mines of Mexico has attained its maximum, or whether there is any probability that it will still augment in the time to come. We have seen that three mining districts, those of Guanaxuato, Catorce, and Zacatecas, alone furnish more than the half of the whole silver of New Spain, and that nearly one fourth of it is furnished by the mine of Guanaxuato. One mine which has only been known for forty years, that of Valenciana, has sometiines alone furnished in one year as much silver as the whole kingdom of Peru. It is but thirty years since the veins of the Real de Catorce began to be worked, and yet by the discovery of these new mines the metallic produce of Mexico was increased nearly one sixth. If we consider the vast extent of ground occupied by the
* Real cedula sobre la compañia refaccionaria propuesta por el Genoves Domingo Reborato, del 12 Marzo 1744.—Don Josef Bustamente, Informe sobre la habilitacion de los Mineros, 1748.