Saturday, 14 February 2009

Journal of a Route to the Neelghurries from Calicut. Part 3.

In the following extract, Thomas Baber describes the local gold mining and panning activities that he had observed as he reached the summit of the ghats.

"The following information I also gathered from the chetties and a putter Brahmin, in the service of the waranoor, respecting the situations where, and mode in which, golden ores was extracted in the Nambolacotta hobeley. The whole of the soil in the mountains, hills and paddy fields, and beds of rivers, is impregnated with this valuable metal; but it is only in or near watercourses, and consequently in the cholas, nullas, ruts, and breaks in the mountains, and in the beds of rivers, that gold was dug for. The operations commences by removing the crust of black earth; when the soil becomes reddish, it is dug up, and putty into a patty (a kind of wooden tray hollowed in the centre) which is then submerged in water, just enough to overflow it and no more, and kept in an undulating motion with one hand, while the earth is stirred up with the other, until all the earthy particles are washed nearly out of it; a black sediment is left in the hollow, consisting of a mixture of black sand, iron, and gold particles. The patty is then taken out of the water, and one end of it being elevated, the other resting on the ground, the sand, &c. are separated from the gold, by throwing water gently with the hand down the board. The golden particles are then obtained by amalgamation with quicksilver, and in this state are enclosed in a piece of wet tobacco-leaf, which being placed in a crucible, or more generally, between two pieces of lighted charcoal, the heat causes the quicksilver to evaporate, and simultaneously to consolidate the particles of gold. When the gold is found in small lumps, which is often the case in the beds of rivers, there is no occasion for the use of quicksilver or heat. Two persons are employed to each patty, one to dig the earth, the other to hold the patty, wash the earth away, and extract and unite, by means of quicksilver, the golden particles. Each patty pays a tax to government of 3 rupees per month, which, my informers added, absorbed two-thirds of the nett profits; and from the wretched appearance of the persons employed in working the patties, it is evident they are miserably paid. There are remains of pits in which gold was extracted formerly, but they are in utter disuse, owing it is said, to the danger from the earth falling in, not having the skill to support the earth. Gold is to be met with in the beds of rivers, both above and below, to the west and south-west side of the Neelgheerie and Coodanad mountains, as well as in the mountains; nothing , however, is known of its geonostic habitudes, or even localities, as far as regards veins, than that it is found in red earth, as far as the strata extend, in high grounds; and in white earth, below the black crust, in swamps and paddy fields; also in stones dug up at a great depth in beds of rivers. But the most productive places are small nullas, or rather ruts and breaks in the ground, into which the course of the water is most likely to drive the metal during the rainy season. Hence it is that more patties are worked in the rainy, than in the fair season. From the above description, the following conclusions may be drawn; -- first, that golden ore is homogeneous to the soil in the mountains and hills; and, secondly, that what is found in beds of rivers, and water-courses, has fortuitously been brought down by the rains. The very existence of gold would seem to call for a more extended examination, as it might lead to the most important results, both in greater quantity and better quality than any yet met with."[1]

[1]Pages 313-314, Journal of a Route to the Neelghurries from Calicut, Asiatic Journal (New Series) III.

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