صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

that the gold is originally deposited in the gneiss and quartz rock, and separated with the sand itself by attrition of the boulders together. This would account for the extreme minuteness of its particles, which are literally dust. All my enquiries however failed to ascertain the discovery at any time of a particle of gold adhering to any fragment of rock.

At Teera the course of the Beyass lies between mountains. At Ray it emerges into the plain, having hills on its north-eastern brink. Here it divides into many streams scattered over a cultivated channel more than a mile in breadth. The gold finders are a few poor natives who have no more lucrative subsistence. The labour is severe and the profits poorly remunerate them.

Process. The spot selected for the washing was close to the main stream of the Beyass. The larger boulders and fragments being thrown aside, the coarse sand to the depth of a foot is abraded and carried in baskets to a trough upon the brink of the stream.

This trough, which is a hollowed block of timber about four feet in length by a foot in depth, and a foot and four inches in breadth, is made to slope toward its outlet in front, a cleft an inch wide, extending from top to bottom. A seive of bamboo staves is laid over the posterior portion, and the sand is laid upon the seive; water is then poured upon the heap, which the pourer stirs about with his hand, until all the sand has been carried through the seive into the trough, when the remaining coarse particles are rejected. This is repeated until the trough is nearly filled. Water is then poured into the sand, which is agitated by the hand. The water carries off the lighter particles. The man who stirs the sand, rakes it back incessantly with his left hand, whilst he pours upon it water with his right hand. In about half an hour there remains only 1} or 2lbs. of black sand, very fine and sparkling. This appears to be either the hornblende, from granite and gneiss rocks, or corundum. It is used by cutlers in conjunction with lac or rosin or pitch to form the wheel with which they sharpen tools and weapons.

This black sand, which is very heavy, is found upon examination to contain a few small particles of gold dust. It is carefully scraped out of the trongh in its wet state, placed upon a plank one foot square and slightly hollowed. Mercury of the size of a large drop of rain is poured into it, and the whole is carefully kneaded with the hands for twenty minutes.

More water is then added, until the mass is fluid. It is shaken with a circular motion, which causes the water and lighter particles to fly off at the circumference. This process is continued, with the continual addition of fresh water until only a small heap remains in the centre, in which the gold and quicksilver appear together as a small globule. This is washed, taken out and put upon a piece of ignited cowdung. The mercury flies off and leaves the gold yellow. In order however that the utmost weight be given to the mass, it is taken from the fire before the whole of the mercury is evolved.

The quantity of gold obtained from a trough half filled with sand, and containing therefore about 2, cubic feet, is about 1 rutties. This employs nine men for about 45 minutes. It is obvious to me that much gold is lost in this imperfect and expensive process. For the outlet of the trough extends to the very bottom, without any ledge to arrest the heavier particles.

Any enterprising native who would work these sands upon a larger scale with machinery turned by the river current, might find it pay handsomely, but only by personal supervision.

I have the pleasure to forward a specimen of the gold dust collected in my presence, and also of the sand previous to washing, and the black sand in which the gold is ultimately found. This still contains its gold dust.

It strikes me that as an accompaniment to the foregoing description of the process of washing for gold in the Beyass, the particulars of my visit to the richest gold mines in the world, (those namely, of Siberia) may be acceptable. And as, in Siberia, a particular succession of strata is considered presumptive evidence of the presence of gold, the same phenomena may possibly prove of similar significance in the regions lately added to our empire. During my mission to Russia, I was detained at Oxenburgh awaiting

answer to my despatches. General Perroffoki, the enlightened governor of the province, anxious to amuse me, afforded me the means of visiting the celebrated fabric of Mines at Zlataoost and the gold and platinum mines of that neighbourhood.

As far as Ufa, a considerable town of a military station, the road lay over an undulating steppe, and at that season of the year the jour

an

ney is delightful, the horses cantering lightly over the springing turf, and the temperature by day and by night being equally pleasant. But after quitting Ufa, the undules swelled into hills, generally of easy ascent, partly forest and partly cultivation, and over these we had reached the summit of the ridge of the Oorahl mountains, without any of the appearances of rock, ravine or precipice, which so usually token the proximity of any considerable mountains. From this height we descended a few hundred feet to the valley, and pretty little artificial lake of Zlataoost, celebrated for its fabric of arms and for the gold mines in its neighbourhood: but much better remembered by myself, for the courtesy, the kind hospitalities, the engaging manners, and traits of patriotic feeling which distinguish its inhabitants.

From Col. Anosoff, a practised geologist and a man of science and sagacity, I gathered the following particulars, which may form a useful introduction to my visit to the mines.

The gold mines of the Oorahl mountains are very different from our ordinary notion of metallic mines of any kind. For they are not excavations of the rocky strata of plain or mountain, but mere exfoliations of the superficial soil, varying in depth from one to four feet. Their gold is unmixed with any matrix, being almost pure gold in its metallic form. There is nothing in the appearance of the valleys yielding gold to distinguish them from such as yield none : and the first discovery of the mines was purely accidental, grains of gold having been washed down by the torrents. But by a careful comparison of phenomena, a geologist may now seek them with increased certainty, for, in every case, the gold is found to occur under the following succession of strata, which presents a Geological section across the Oorahl range at Zlataoost.*

The morning after my arrival I mounted the vehicle prepared for me by the attention of Col. Anosoff, and in company with his whole family proceeded to the gold mines. We passed through a forest of small firs and cedars feathering the high ground above the lake, and after coursing over some 8 or 10 miles of undulating steppe clothed with rich grass and beautiful wild flowers, entered a very extensive but shallow valley, bounded on all sides by scarcely perceptible acclivities of the same steppe. The abundance and beauty of the wild flowers enamelling the turf redeemed the monotonous character of the landscape.

[ocr errors]

* See plate

It was one of the poetical phases of the steppe, oftener spoken of than encountered, and probably never seen south of the Oorahl river. At some distance onward we came upon a party of diggers for gold.

There was nothing in the spot they occupied to distinguish it from the steppe around. It was covered with turf and wild flowers springing from a black vegetable soil. It was not even the bed of a watercourse ; although such are very generally selected, owing to the gold being there brought to light by the action of torrents. The workmen dug away the superficial crust of black soil, working very carefully as they neared the bottom and leaving a layer about three inches thick untouched. When a considerable space had been thus prepared, they commenced excavating the soil to be washed for gold. This was done by digging through the thin layer of black soil not hitherto disturbed and to the depth of about one foot into the substratum, which is a hard table of clay and sand with fragments of schists and serpentine. The gold appears generally to lie upon the surface of this, but is sometimes found beneath. The whole of the earth now excavated is carried in barrows to the washing-house, where seives of different degrees of fineness are shaken by water-work under the current of the stream. From the residue the gold is carefully extracted. It is generally of such size as to need no aid from mercury. The machinery appeared to me simple and well adapted to the process. It was not possible for me to make notes : but my impression is that the profits amount to about 75 per cent. in these the good washings: and the small price of labour, and the richness of the masses exhibited, as that year's collection, made me easily credit the account. These are the richest gold mines in the world, and appear to be inexhaustible, every year leading to the discovery of fresh riches, although they are supposed to have been worked from very ancient days; the name Zlataoost signifying mouth of gold.

The phenomena of these golden debris (for mines they can scarcely be called) are peculiar and lead to speculation. The gold dust so often found in the sand of rivers, streams and torrents, is generally attributed to some rocky veins in the higher sands. Here, there is no appearance of such an origin. Previous to the growth and deposit of the present black vegetable soil, the gold seems to have lain strown like pebbles, over the surface of the hard clay and schist stratum : not particularly in the channels of torrents, but as if it had fallen in a general shower.

[ocr errors]

The higher sands are very remote from the spot. The ascent to them is scarely perceptible, and at the foot of those heights are valleys and ravines which would have caught and detained any debris washed down from their sides or summits.

The gold itself is of almost virgin purity. A small quantity of silver alloys it. It lies in granules, precisely similar to those formed by pouring upon water molten lead ; and immediately suggests the idea of having been cast molten upon the hard stratum on which it is found. The strata however, hereabouts have no volcanic character, and it is evident that the gold has been cast in its present position, since the deposit of the clay on which it rests ; its own great specific gravity otherwise giving it a lower rest.

When the gold has been worked it is laid up in heaps, which are transmitted to St. Peterburgh. The average size of the grain is that of a barleycorn : but masses of the size of pistol and gun

bullets are not uncommon, and much larger masses are occasionally found. The appearance of all will be familiar to any one who has thrown fused lead upon water. When the late Emperor Alexander visited these mines he turned up a spadeful of the earth by way of example. We had scarcely quitted the spot, when an immense mass of gold, larger than a man's foot was found beneath the imperial footprint. The very genuineness of such a natural mass in such a position becomes doubtful.

Several of these gold mines are the property of or farmed by individuals who sometimes make immense fortunes upon the profits.

Col. Anosoff spoke confidently of the uniform succession of the strata on which gold is found, and as gold occurs in many and distant portions of the Oorahl chain, this circumstance is very remarkable, there being no imaginable connection between the gold itself and any of the substrata.

The supply does not seem to cease with the Oorahl mountains, for at the north-west foot of the Altai range it is gathered in considerable quantities. There however it is found in quartz, which is pulverized for its extrication. If I recollect right a few of the masses of gold of these washings was found adhering to fragments of quartz.

After examining these works we proceeded with fresh horses to Mias, where there are other gold mines. Platinum was here shown me in

« السابقةمتابعة »