Real stories even more dramatic than Poldark

Shooting Poldark on the North Cornish coast

If you thought Ross Poldark's story was dramatic, wait until you read these from the Tin Coast...

Stephen Harvey James - a legacy 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.

A local man, Stephen Harvey James, was to be the saviour of Botallack Mine. Once a keen amateur Cornish wrestler, he was in charge of tolls for mineral rights and had developed a great love of mining.

When he heard that the owners were thinking of abandoning the mine, he offered to purchase it. He was so determined and confident that he could make a profit from Botallack, that he rode his horse at once to the Earl of Falmouth to secure it for himself.

Despite his high hopes, the mine continued to run at a loss for the next six years. Just as the shareholders were ready to abandon the mine, they struck upon a mass of copper ore which made £24,000 profit.

James held office at Botallack for nearly 35 years until his death is 1870, but his legacy lived on at Botallack. In total, four generations of James' played a leading role at the mine Stephen saved. 

Francis Oats - from Cornish tin to South African diamonds

Francis Oats was born to very humble beginnings in 1848 near Fowey. He was very bright at school, and started working in the mines from the age of 13. Like other boys, he worked underground fetching and carrying materials and barrowing the ore back to the shaft.

Francis' ambition brought him to Botallack where he swiftly rose through the ranks. By the time he was 21 he was one of the underground captains.

With the falling price of tin, times were hard for Cornish mines. Oats soon joined many of his fellow miners seeking their fortune elsewhere in the world.

By the 1880s, he was engineer and chief shareholder of the Victoria diamond mine in Kimberley, South Africa. His reputation grew as one of the best mining engineers in South Africa, and he came to the attention of Cecil Rhodes who was trying to build his own mining empire.

In 1887, Oat's mine was acquired by Rhodes' new company that would later become the famous De Beers. As part of the deal, Francis managed to negotiate himself a seat on the company's board.

He never looked back, and quickly became one of the most prominent citizens of the Cape Colony. For ten years, until his death in 1918, Francis was chairman of De Beers and accumulated a substantial personal fortune.

He never forgot his Cornish roots and continued to invest in local mines, including Botallack. In the 1900s he came home, bought Cape Cornwall, built his imposing Porthledden House and transformed the wild surroundings with landscaping and greenhouses for growing exotic fruits.