1888 Naturalists, rain and goldmines

Gwynffynydd mine
Gwynffynydd gold mine taken in 1983 by Malcolm Street (Creative Commons licence)

 

We return to the year before the visit of Queen Victoria, and the months following the unexpected and regretted death of Thomas’ employer Henry Robertson.  Fortunately, his son, Henry Beyer Robertson and his sisters were happy to follow their father’s precedent of encouraging Thomas in his geology and botany, and so in June 1888 Thomas fulfilled his promise to the Severn Valley Field Club to lead an expedition in the Dolgelly area.  Unusually for his expeditions, there was bad weather to contend with, but Thomas and his group of amateur natural scientists managed to enjoy a successful, if curtailed expedition over two days.

Thomas was initially to meet his contact from the Society, Mr. Wanstall in Barmouth, and so took advantage of spending the first part of his day there with his wife and daughter.

Tuesday the twenty sixth [June 1888]. Francis and I went by the first train to Barmouth for the day. Some time ago I promised to Mr Wanstall, vicar of Condover, and secretary to the Severn Valley Field Club, that I would act as the guide to the members during a three days visit to the neighbourhood of Dolgelly; and as the members were to visit Barmouth first on this day, I promised to meet them there. I thought as I had to go that I might as well get Frances with me for an outing, and we took Francie with us to be a little companion.

I left my luggage at the Royal Ship Hotel at Dolgelly when passing in the morning. The tide was low when going, so that I could see the salt marshes covered with sea pink and other plants.  I also saw the sea aster, and there were flocks of ducks very like teal ducks swimming on the estuary.  I also saw the greater black backed gull, several curlews, the Shieldrake  and other birds.

……………………..

Frances and I went to the station to meet the 12.30 train, by which the Severn Valley people were to arrive.  My friend Mr. Wanstall was very pleased to see me on the platform and then introduced me to the principal members of the club.  I first met Mr. Wanstall at Dolgelly three years ago, when I acted as guide to the members of the Caradoc Field Club and Mr. Wanstall was one of the party.  The most scientific members could not get to Barmouth but were to be at Dolgelly in the evening, so Mr Wanstall said the best thing I could do would it be to collect the interesting plants of Barmouth for the evening.

I parted with Francis and Francie at Dolgelly, they came home and I stayed with my friends at the hotel. We all dined together, and I was introduced to those who stayed at Dolgelly, namely Dr Callaway, the President, and the Reverend J A Panter, Vice President. I was very kindly treated  by all of them, and we spent a very pleasant evening together. I had to name all the plants collected at Barmouth and also a few collected by Mr Panter at a Dolgelly. Mr Panter and the ladies tried to puzzle me with the flower of a potato which I named solanum tuberosum, which puzzled them in turn, for they did not know scientific name.

I was very pleased to have Mr Panther with me, for he was the best botanist I had the pleasure of guiding for some years. Dr Calloway has been devoting most of his time for a few years to the Precambrian rocks. I was very much delighted to be in his company, and he gave us a short address on the geology of the Wrekin and Cader Idris. Mr Hodgson Is also a geologist and FGS. We had five parsons with us namely Mr RC Wanstall, Rural Dean and Vicar of Condover,  Mr. John Arthur Panter, Vicar of Saint Georges near Wellington, Mr Thomas Owen, vicar of Christ Church Wellington, Mr John Hodgson, rector of Kinver, Stourbridge, Mr R. Woods, Victor of Malinslee Shropshire.  Dr Calloway has his title from Dr of science. Dr Calloway is so short stature (about 5 foot seven), sallow complexion, Dark hair, thoughtful, but has much quiet humour. Mr Wanstall, about same height, but full of talk and fun. Mr Owen, same height, full of wit and talk. [28]  Mr Panter is about 5ft 9inches, very pleasant, amiable and a devoted botanist. Mr Hodgson, about same height, evidently a forcible character, and energetic. Mr Wood (the brother-in-law of Mr Wanstall) about 5‘8“ dark complexion, quiet and thoughtful.  Mrs Wood, amiable and witty. Mr Knowles, very highly respected solicitor of Wellington, tall five ft 9 inches, bulky quiet but shrewd.

Wednesday the 27th   The programme for this day was to go to the Torrent Walk, then onto Minfford, from here some of the ladies and gentlemen were to ascend Cader Idris under my guidance, those who did not wish to do mountaineering, were to go on to Talyllyn, and return the same way. But rain and mist stopped the Cader part of the programme. I got up early and went for a ramble up the lane leading to the abbey, and passing at the back of the mansion Hengwrt, but I only went to the top of the hill. It was a beautiful sunny morning, very warm and liked it to be fine, but appearances in the weather are deceptive.

Indeed, Thomas’ day was to be very much curtailed by rain, and although those of his party who wished to ascend Cader Idris were still hopeful of doing so, but Thomas had to dissuade them for safety reasons, and plan an alternative  visit on lower ground.

It was about 10 o’clock before we started in two brakes. I sat on the box with Mr Wanstall on the first brake, and the others followed. We entered the Torrent Walk near Dolserau, and followed the stream, plant hunting and admiring the cascades and gorges till we arrived at the top; here it unfortunately began to rain, which rather upset our plans, but we pushed on to the Cross Foxes, and got out and had our luncheon there, so as to wait to see if the rain would ease.  The rain kept on, and great masses of mist shrouded the tops and flanks of the mountains. There was a little sunshine, and as the rain got lighter, we again pushed on towards Talyllyn.  It was pleasure hunting under difficulties, but we kept going. On passing the lake of the three pebbles, I pointed out the pebbles, which the Giant Idris cast from his shoes. The said pebbles are large angular fragments which had fallen from the neighbouring rocks, or else pushed down with the ice in early times.

The pass called Bwlch Llyn Bach is shut in on both sides with great bosses of rock, those on the south side being overhanging, and broken up into pinnacles and pillars. The rock is composed of columnar feldspathic ash, some of the overhanging masses seem to be almost detached. Going to the rain there were several pretty cascades gliding down the rocky masses and the rocks and Cader being partly shrouded in moving mist, had a curious weird-like appearance.

On arriving at Minfford, Those who were to ascend a Cader alighted and took bearings but I strongly stood out against the attempt, for it would have been madness, and indeed highly dangerous. I could never keep them together in the thick mist, and someone might fall over the rocks, and there would be no view from any part.  The botanists were much disappointed, especially Mr Panter. There was nothing for it but to go on to the hotel at the outset of the lake of Talyllyn, so we went in the rain, skirting in the south margin of the lake until we got to Tyn-y-Cornel hotel.  This is snuggly situated a short distance from the outlet, and at the base of a steep green sloping hill called Craig Coch. It is a plain rambling building, very much frequented by anglers, for whom every preparation is made. I saw five boats there, and there are long shelves in the room on which the rods, full mounted can be placed. 

Thomas then explored Tallyllyn Church and churchyard, and as usual, found items of interest there.

Tallyllyn Church is just opposite Penybont, the stream dividing the hotel and church. The church is very plain, built of local shale, rock and the weather has eaten out all the mortar in the west end which allowed ferns and cotyledon to find root hold in the spaces between the stone courses. The Cotyledon was in flower, and nearly covered the end. There are two very curious Lytch gates covered over as usual, and having seats fixed on each side. The houses are few and far between in the district, but the churchyard is choked full of tombstones, which seems strange.            

I copied the following from a memorial cross over the grave – “I will never leave nor forsake thee” Jenny Jones, born in Scotland, June 17 89, died Talyllyn April 11, 1884.She was with her husband of the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers at the Battle of Waterloo, and was on the field three days.  Jenny Jones must have travelled much and must have witnessed many harrowing scenes; after all hardships and dangers go to her eternal rest quiet out of the way place like Talyllyn.  There are slate slabs left into the churchyard wall in two places to form steps, so that access can be gained to it without unlocking gates.

Tallyllyn Church, photograph by Nice McNeil via Geograph

After an exploration of a small part of the lake, the party headed for the warmth and dry of the Ship Hotel, where they spent a convivial evening.

The rain scarcely ever ceased, so we started for Dolgelly between three and 4 o’clock.  It rained most of the way, so that we were glad to get to the hotel. We were rather wet, but after a change we sat down to an excellent dinner, which comforted us very much.  Two English South Africans had dinner with us, and talked much about gold mining. They knew much about it, and were going to visit Mount Morgan or the Gwynfynedd mine on the following day. Both had gold bearing rock on their estates in the Transvaal, and as they were in England, on business, they wished to see the much talked about Mount Morgan mine.

After dinner all the Severn Valley folks returned to the drawing room, and were tolerably comfortable with a fire. Dr Calloway gave us an interesting Address on the geology of the Wrekin and Cader Idris, some business was transacted, and a vote of thanks giving to their late President who had resigned through illness. Dr Calloway very kindly referred to the valuable assistance I gave them. We spent a most agreeable and instructive evening together, and then retired to rest.

 Thursday the 28th.  I got up early as usual, found the South Africans at breakfast, so as to make an early start for the gold mines.  It was after 8:30 before we had breakfast, and as the weather was still dull and threatening, we were slow and undecided about starting for the waterfalls and gold mine, this being our programme. I was asked by Mr Wanstall to have a look out and to decide about going.  I concluded that the day would be tolerable, so the brakes were got ready and we started off at 10 o’clock.

We soon got up our spirits, the weather clearing up as we went on.  We first pay it paid a visit to Cymmer Abbey as the Caradoc party did three years ago.  ……..From the abbey we went straight to Tyn y Groes Inn.  Some of us got out at Tyn y Groes and walked on,  Mr Hodgson and Mr Panter walked on with me to Rhaiadr Ddu, got some plants on the way and saw the cascades. We got into the brakes again and went on to Pont yr Eden, here we all had to get out and walk to the gold mine and waterfalls. The distance is about 2 miles, but the route is so beautiful and interesting that we did not think the way long.  We got to the gold mine at midday, or rather the gold mill; this is situated on the corner between the junction of the rivers Mawddach and Cain.

When I was there three years ago, the old crushing and washing works were all in ruins, now all was bustle, and there was going a large waterwheel, and all the machinery for crushing and washing the  gold bearing rock. Perhaps the present buildings and machinery may be all in ruins in three years after this again.  Such is the usual rise and fall of Welsh gold mining. We examined the machinery with a much interest, but we only saw three or four specks of gold, although we examined much quartz.  The specks we saw were on a show block at the office door. We asked the men if they could show us any gold in courts; they said they never saw any, and one man said he thought Mr Prichard Morgan must be ‘salting’ the rock with foreign ore, for they could see none in the rock.

I next conducted the party to the foot of the beautiful cascade of Pistyll y Cain.  The previous day’s rain made the Cascade much more beautiful than I ever saw it before.  All of the members were delighted with it, and watched the foaming waters fall from the heights above into the deep dark pool at the bottom, and then rush on between walls of rock in an narrow passage until they united with the Mawddach.  We next examined the Mawddach fall; this is not of much height, but there is usually a large volume of water, and there is a very deep and wide circular pool at the foot of the fall.

We next visited the hill where the gold quartz is found; here some levels are driven into the hillside, and the quartz is taken nearly a mile in trucks to tramway to the crushing mill, where it is crushed and washed.  There were heaps of quartz about which we examined with much care, but we could only see a little lead and blende ore, and some iron pyrites, the latter was shining like gold, and would easily deceive any bad experts. We soon came to the conclusion that all was not gold that glittered. The mine has been so puffed in the principal London newspapers, and other journals, that it has quite set in a gold fever as it did some years ago, which many have rued, and no doubt many will rue investing in the present Gwynfynydd or Mount Morgan mine.

A mining “Captain” said to me once, there is gold in North Wales, just sufficient to tempt people to spend capital in working it, it will take 25 shillings to extract 20 shillings from the rocks. This is quite true.  *(added later by TR) The late Sir W.W .Wynne said the same to the Rev CH Drinkwater of Shrewsbury as he told me, May 20, 1908

We had a pleasant drive all the way back to Dolgelly where we had a good luncheon, I had a chat with the South Africans in the hotel. They were pleased to see them mine, and said they went into the underground workings where they saw wonderfully rich gold, but still they had no great faith in the affair

.After luncheon, I assisted Mr Wanstall in preparing a report of the excursion for the Wellington Journal, and after that I arranged with him to send him some notes for a report for the Shrewsbury Chronicle.  I dined with the members, and then prepared for returning home. One and all of them were most amiable and kind to me, and I felt quite at home with all of them. Mr Wanstall did everything he could for my comfort and hoped I did not find any of the party “starchy”.

I got home here safely and found all well, I had much pleasure from my outing.  Mr Robertson and his sisters made many enquiries about my outing, and wished to know if I enjoyed myself. Indeed they were very kind to me over it all. I was indifferent about going until they strongly urged me to go, saying that as I seldom met educated people in this part, I ought to go as it would be a nice change for me.

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