During the speculative boom of the early 19th century about forty new copper mines were opened but only about a dozen were still active in 1830. One of these, South Wheal Basset, ( which in future is known as Wheal Basset) was the most productive and still going strong in 1855. (Rowe 1993: 139). Between the years 1815-56 it produced 7,200 tons of copper worth £614,243. (Phillips and Darlington 1857: 256-265). This mine lies where the old Carnkie Bal used to operate and here lies some confusion.
According to Hamilton Jenkins (1964 X1: 17) at the same time as this there was mine in Porthtowan called Wheal Basset which operated until 1833 when it amalgamated with it’s neighbor Wheal music and became Wheal Ellen. It seems clear that when Lady Basset granted a new lease to the mine at Carnkie in 1832 Wheal Basset was still an operational mine so the lease was renewed under the name South Wheal Basset. This state of affairs lasted until 1851 when a new twenty one year lease was negotiated and the mine formally became Wheal Basset. To add to the confusion Wheal Basset appears to have been worked as a north and south mine and in 1857 a separate set, near the hill top at Four Lanes, was worked and called South Wheal basset. (Morrison 1983: 294-296). This is not to be confused with the original South Wheal Basset and any future reference will be to this mine and similarly any future reference to Wheal Basset will include the original South Wheal Basset. The nomenclature of Cornish mines can be somewhat confusing which is slightly unfortunate because Wheal Basset was one of the great Cornish mines.
From the time that the new lease was granted in 1832 until 1895 when it ceased operating under the name of Wheal Basset the mine was the greatest producer of copper in the area and second only to West Wheal Basset in the production of black tin. Within this time frame fifteen shafts were sunk. These were, Grace’s 180 fm below adit, Lyle’s 230, Mitchell’s 50, doctor’s 70, Marriott’s 80, Boundary 45, Sampson’s 115, Carnkie 115, Richard’s 100, Theaker’s 110, Old Sump or Engine 160, Steven’s 112, Fisher’s 55, Dennis’s 80 and Magor’s 80. The mine had two distinct phases. Up until 1880 it was worked mainly for copper at relatively shallow depths from the steep dipping lodes down to 100fm but later, having at last located the Great Flat Lode, concentration was focused on two shafts, Lyle’s and Grace’s, (North Wheal Basset ), which were sunk to greater depths.
It’s heyday as a copper mine was 1854 when it produced 8,378 tons but it was still going strongly in 1864 when Spargo (1865) reports that at the time the mine employed 248 men, 46 females and 63 boys (total 357). Pumping engines, 72 and 36 inch. Stamping-engine, 18 inch (24) heads. Winding-engines, 19 and 18 inch. Winding and crushing-engine, 20 inch.
The copper industry collapsed in 1866, mainly due to the financial crisis at the time, although Wheal Basset limped on until 1880. Although this date has been identified as the final nail in the copper coffin, the writing had been on the wall for some time. Falling output in Cornwall and the increasing productivity abroad in Chile, Cuba, the United States and S. Australia, where there appeared to be unlimited prospects for expansion, made the collapse in Cornwall inevitable.
Inevitably all of this meant that if the mine (and other mines in the area) was to continue as a profitable concerns new investment and development was essential. In 1863 the working shafts were Richards’, Carnkie, Fisher’s, Denis’, Sampson’s, Old Engine, Steven’s and Old Sump. In May 1866 the Richards compound engine was rebuilt as a simple 50 inch . Around the same time a new skip road was installed in the Carnkie shaft, boilers replaced at both Richards pump and the stamps engines and the pitwork at Old Sump shaft changed from 6 inch to 8 inch. In late 1867 construction started on new steam-driven stamps on the northern slopes of Carnmenellis, sometimes known as East Stamps, and they came into operation in August the following year. A substantial part of these and the Associated dressing floors still remain. (Palmer & Neaverson 1987: 24-5).
Developments were continuing apace with perhaps a tinge of desperation about them. At Theaker’s shaft 15 buddles and two small buddles were constructed and in February 1869 an additional 32 heads and a third boiler had been added to the stamps. An Oxland and Hocking calciner was erected below them that had a cylinder 28 feet in length and 4 feet in diameter mounted at an inclination of 1 in 16; it rotated at 4 rpm and processed 7 tons of concentrates in 24 hours , burning 17/18 cwt of coal in the period. ( Palmer & Neaverson 1987: 26).
Despite all of this the outlook was not optimistic. In 1870 pumping was stopped at the Carnkie shaft after a fire destroyed pitwork but a very important event did occur on the 18th July 1871. A lease was issued granting the combined Wheal Basset set and part of the North Basset set for the consideration of £20 per year for 21 years. At the time the mine employed 184 at the surface and 198 underground. ( Palmer & Neaverson 1987: 26).
In 1875 an old enemy caused further major disruptions. It has already been noted that drainage was a serious problem, and in fact the mines around Carnkie were some of the wettest in Cornwall. This was caused not only by fairly high rainfall but also from drainage from adjacent mines and upwelling ground water. That year heavy rainfall caused the drainage adit to collapse; not helped by the fact that South Francis were in arrears in their contribution to its maintenance and the closure of the East Basset sett meant additional pumping.
By now it was becoming increasingly obvious to the adventurers that they were fighting a lost cause and that the mine was becoming exhausted. They decided to abandon the original shafts and to concentrate on Lyle’s, Grace’s and Miner’s shafts, recently acquired from North Wheal Basset. By doing so they hoped to locate the Great Flat Lode. Substantial amounts were spent on the development and the remains can still be seen today.
Palmer & Neaverson (27) describe in detail the new engine pumping house constructed at Lyle’s.
“The engine house contained an 80 inch pumping engine designed by Hocking and built by Harvey’s of Hayle. This had three plunger and two drawing lifts in the shaft and the mine was in fork down to 100fm by February 1980. The winding engine house , also on Lyle’s shaft, for a 26 inch engine with steam capstan attached was similarly specified; in this case stone was to be employed
from Theaker’s and Dennis’ winder houses on the Basset set for completion within eight weeks of foundation. This winder drew from a double skip road and was operative by August 1880 raising stone produced using four compressed air Darlington rock drills then in use in the workings. Development also proceeded in Grace’s shaft which had ladder roads and a double skip road. Drainage was Improved by learing the Penventon adit and by crosscutting at the 112fm level
Into the old South Carn Brea workings. A flat rod connection was made in 1880 From Lyle’s to grace’s shaft, which was drained down to 130fm with a view to
further sinking and development.”
Lyle’s shaft eventually discovered copious amounts of black tin at the 190fm level and a short period of relative prosperity ensued although the mine continued to be plagued with problems. Worn out machinery had to be replaced and the perennial problem of water drainage was getting worse. In 1894 it was estimated that over 1 million gallons per day were being lifted to keep the mine in fork. To finally compound the problems around about the same time the price of tin collapsed. The story can really be summed up by looking at the production figures from 1876- 1890.
Copper ore (tons) Black tin ore (tons)
1876 759 147
1877 445 164
1878 230 208
1879 101 23
1880 30 8
1890 3 396
Morrison 1983: 307-8.
Problems continued to abound and a general meeting of shareholders was called on the 10th September 1895 and the upshot of this meeting was the approval of a new limited company to be known as Basset Mines Ltd which commenced trading in February 1896 while at the same time Wheal Basset was formally liquidated.
Between 1832 and 1895, Wheal Basset produced 128,370 tons of copper ore and 9,320 tons of black tin in return for an investment of £78,298 and dividends of £341,709 were paid out. (Morrison 1983: 306).
Jenkin Hamilton, A.K., The Mines & Miners of Cornwall X, Worden Ltd, Marazion, 1964.
Morrison, T.A. Cornwall’s Central Mines; The Southern District 1810-1895, Alison Hodge, Penzance, 1983.
Palmer, M. & Neaverson, P., The Basset Mines: Their History & Industrial Archaeology, Northern Mine Research Society, 1987.
Rowe, J., Cornwall in the Age of the Industrial Revolution, Cornwall Hillside Publications (Second Edition), 1993
Spargo, T., The Mines of Cornwall; Statistics and Observations, 1865. Republished Barton, D.B., Truro, 1960.
Also see: CARNKIE TIN MINE; BASSET MINES; LYLE'S SHAFT; WHEAL BASSET STAMPS; WHEAL BASSET TRAMWAY.