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First of all, we repaired to the miner's ward-robe, where, having taken leave of Mr. M—, I prepar ed for my descent, by throwing off my own dress and putting on that of the miners. It consisted of a very large shirt, of very coarse materials, and made like the frocks of the Connecticut farmers; then of a pair of large sailor trowsers, striped across with white and black, of the coarsest stuff which is ever employed for horse blankets, and, over all was a loose coat, which, like the rest of my apparel, exhibited the strongest evidence that it had often been below the surface. I wore a pair of cow-skin shoes, without stockings, made fast by tow strings, passing under the sole and over the instep. Over my head they drew a white cap, which they crowned with an old hat without a brim.
Besides the captain I had another guide, an experienced miner who went before, while the captain followed me each of them carried a supply of candles tied to a button-hole, and, like them, I bore ǎ lighted candle in my left hand, stuck into a mass of wet clay. Although I was preparing, like Æneas, to descend to the shades below, I could not boast of his epic dignity, for he bore a golden branch while I, carried only a tallow candle.
The mines of Cornwall are of much more difficult access than those of Derbyshire, for instead of going horizontally, or with only a gentle descent, into the side of a mountain, we are obliged to go perpendicularly down the shaft, which is a pit formed by digging and blasting, and exactly resembles a well, except in its greater depth and varying size, which is sometimes greater and sometimes smaller, according to circumstances. The descent is by means of ladders; at the termination of each ladder there is commonly a resting place, formed by a piece of timber or a plank fixed across, in the stones or earth, which forms the walls of the pit; this supports the ladder above, and from it the adventurer steps on the ladder next below.
With each a lighted candle, so held by the thumb and fore-finger of the left hand, as to leave the other three fingers at liberty to grasp the rounds of the ladder, and with the right hand devoted wholly to the same service, we commenced our descent.
It was laborious and hazardous, but we did not stop till we had descended four hundred feet. The rounds of the ladders are constantly wet and muddy, and therefore very slippery; many of them, through length of time, are decayed and worn so very small, that they seem on the point of giving way; in de scending perpendicularly with these disadvantages, the utmost caution is therefore requisite, on the part of a novice, lest he should quit his foothold before he has a firm grasp with his fingers, or lést, in the dim twilight shed by his candle, he should make a false aim with his foot or hand, or, take an imperfect and untenable hold with either; not to mention the danger of the giving way of the rounds of the ladder, any of which accidents would send him to a place whence he would not return; for, the resting places at the feet of the ladders, as they fill only a small part of the shaft, would diminish very little, the chance of going quite to the bottom.
Having arrived at the depth of four hundred feet, we came to what the miners call, an adit, or level, that is, a passage running horizontally, or, at right angles with the shaft. This passage had been made through the solid rock, and it was high enough to allow us to pass along stooping, which we did for a considerable distance, when the sound of human voices from below, indicated our approach to the populous regions of midnight; while the rattling of mechanical instruments, employed in breaking off the ore, and the report from the explosion of gun-powder, echoed and reverberated along these narrow caverns with the sulphureous and suffocating smoke, presented a combination of circumstances which might well have give one the impression that he had arrived in a worse place than the mine of Dolgoath.
Proceeding along the adit, we came to another shaft, down which we descended two hundred feet more, and were then full six hundred feet from the surface. This was the principal scene of labour; at about this depth. there were great numbers of miners engaged in their respective employments. Some were boring the rocks, others charging with gunpowder, the holes already made; others knocking off the ore with hammers, or prying it with pick-axes; others loading the buckets with ore to be drawn to the surface; others working the windlasses, to raise the rubbish from one level to another, and ultimately to the top; in short, all were busy and, although to us their enployment seems only another name for wretchedness they appeared quite a contented and cheerful class of people. In their manners they are gentle and uncommonly civil, and most of them paid me some mark of respect as a stranger.
We occupied three hours in exploring the mine, and, in this time, travelled a mile under ground, in various directions. The employment was extremely laborious. We could rarely walk erect: often we were obliged to crawl on our hands and knees, over sharp, rugged stones, and frequently it was necessa ry to lie down flat, and to work our way along by the points of the elbows, and extremities of the toes, like seals on a beach. At one time we descended, and at another, ascended through a narrow aperture, where we could only with difficulty squeeze ourselves through, and we then continued our progress by stepping on the projections of the rocks, as men do in going up or down a well. My perspiration was so violent, that streams literally run from my nose, locks, and chin, and in this state we came to the channel where the water of the mine flows off, through which we were obliged to wade along, half leg deep, for thirty rods. I was upon the whole much gratified and instructed. I saw the ore in its natural state, imbedded in solid rocks, principally
quartz and schistus; the mine produces also some tin, cobalt, pyrites, blue vitriol, and even silver. Very little progress is made without blasting, and this destroys more lives than all the other casualties of the business put together. They exploded one blast while we were there; we of course, retired a proper distance, out of danger.
Having seen all the interesting things of the place, we began to ascend. We were drawn up a small part of the way in a bucket, worked by a windlass, but we went up principally by ladders, in a shaft quite remote from that in which we descended. It was that in which the rod of the steam-engine plays to draw up the water.
This engine is one of the greatest magnitude. The rod, which is made of pieces of timber, and, at the top, cannot be less than five or six feet in diameter, descends perpendicularly one hundred and eighty fathoms, or, one thousand and eighty feet, and motion is propagated through this whole distance, so as to raise a weight of thirty thousand pounds at every stroke, for this is the power of the engine.
The steam engine is now extensively employed in mining, not only to raise the water, but the ore; indeed, without it, the mine of Dolgoath could not be wrought; the strength of horses and of men is a useful auxiliary, but would effect, comparatively, very
At length, after a most laborious and painful ascent, less hazardous it is true, but incomparably more fatiguing than the descent, we reached the surface in safety, at a great distance from the place where we first descended. With joy, with gratitude, I beheld the returning light of heaven, and, although I could not think, that, in my case, the enterprise was rash, I should certainly dissuade any friend from gratifying mere curiosity at so much hazard. The danger is serious, even to the miners, for, by explosions, by falls, by mephitic gasses, and other causes connected with the nature of the employments,
numbers of the people are carried off every year and, on this account, Redruth and its vicinity has an uncommon proportion of widows and orphans.
Immediately after coming again into day-light, we made all possible haste to shelter ourselves from the cold wind, as we were afraid of the consequences of checking too suddenly a very profuse perspiration; the nearest house was our wardrobe, to which we immediately resorted, and performed a general ablution from head to foot. I then resumed my proper dress, and prepared. to return again into more comfortable life. Before taking leave of my conductors, who, with the greatest patience, good-nature, and intelligence, had done every thing both for my safety and gratification, I offered them a small recompense; but, with sentiments of delicacy,' not often found in any country, among people of that grade in life, they declined taking any, alledging that it was not decent to receive money of a stranger for a mere act of civility: and it was not, till after repeated solicitations, that I could induce them to yield the point. Such magnanimity, among people who are buried most of their lives, and who seem to have a kind of right to tax all those who live on the surface, was as unexpected as it was gratifying. It is not true, however, that the Cornish miners live permanently below ground; they go up regularly every night, and down again in the morning, so that they perform every day of their lives, the tour which seemed so formidable to me.