A legacy at Botallack

The count house and workshop at Botallack

In 1835, the shallower workings at Botallack had become exhausted and all hope looked lost for the mine and its workers. Luckily, a man stepped forward to rescue Botallack mine and make his fortune.

Local boy

A Nancherrow man named Stephen Harvey James was to be the saviour of Botallack. He was a keen amateur Cornish wrestler in his youth, and received a good education. At the age of thirteen he began to assist his father who was the local land agent for the Boscawen property, including Botallack mine. James eventually became toller, the person who took a fee on behalf of the owner of the mineral rights for processing the raw materials into a product. During this role, he developed a great love of mining.

Saving the mine

When he heard that the owners were thinking of abandoning Botallack mine, he offered to purchase the license for the group of mines, known as the sett. He was so determined and confident of the undeveloped wealth of Botallack that he rode off at once to Edward, the first Earl of Falmouth, in order to get the purchase confirmed.

Despite his best hopes the mine continued to run at a loss for the next six years. At a shareholders meeting in November 1841, it was decided that if there was no improvement over the next two months then the mine would be abandoned. However, James’ faith in Botallack was soon to be justified because they were just two inches away from a rich amount of copper ore which made a profit of £24,000.

The tin dinner service

The great copper find happened at a time when the price of tin was very low. In 1843, James commissioned a dinner service made of Botallack tin to try and grow the demand for the metal. His order read that the service should be ‘as full of tin as possible consistently with hardness’. It consisted of nine dozen plates, dishes, covers and cruet-sets. The cost of this large service was less than £50, showing that they were extremely cheap to make in comparison to porcelain and china. James had hoped that this would encourage other mine agents to follow his example but as the price of tin continued to rise and fall, ultimately branching into this industry did not catch on. The dinner service can be seen on display at Geevor Tin Mine, on the Tin Coast.

Underground picnic

In October 1862, the Mining Journal described a picnic that had taken place at the bottom of Botallack mine. There was a large dinner at which they toasted to the health of Her Majesty, Stephen Harvey James and the engineers of the shaft. After breaking specimens of copper ore for themselves, they inspected the 165 and 180 fathom levels (over 1,000 feet) where so many riches were previously discovered. This trip probably aimed to satisfy the principal shareholders that their money had been well spent on the shaft.

His legacy at Botallack

Stephen James held office at Botallack for nearly 35 years until his death in 1870, but his legacy lived on at Botallack.  In total, four generations of James’ played a leading role at the mine, the last three effectively being in command of the mine. This mining dynasty was unparalleled in Cornwall. Unfortunately, a serious accident and disastrous fall in the price of tin brought the mine to ruin in 1895 despite the James’ best efforts.