Chapter I: Dawn of Mining Days (continued)
Across Placentia Bay from the La Manche and Stoney House mines lay the eastern edge of Charles Bennett's one-million-acre grant that covered most of the Burin Peninsula. Liberal decrees to the contrary, Bennett persisted in considering the entire grant as his property and accosted those men who dared to exploit minerals within its boundaries.
The Newfoundland government unknowingly aroused Bennett's territorial instincts in August 1860 by giving the mineral rights for a lead deposit near Lawn on the Burin Peninsula to a St. John's land surveyor named Frederick Page and a Burin farmer named Isaac Collins. Page and Collins approached Harry Verran, who had just left Stoney House, and he agreed to develop the claim. However, when Bennett learned of their intentions he confronted the men with orders either to accept him as the controlling partner or to expect court action. They capitulated to his forceful character and gave him a controlling share in the mine.
Excavations at the Lawn mine consisted of a small adit reaching into the cliff along a lead-bearing fluorspar vein. In the process of following the lead ore, miners struck and shovelled aside what appeared to be sand and gravel. A few rainy days later they noticed that the washed-out debris contained lumps of native silver: lumps that were small enough to be pilfered behind Verran's back and large enough to fetch hefty prices from jewellers in St. Pierre and St. John's.(23) The miners depleted what little silver existed in the claim, leaving the mine to collapse figuratively for lack of ore and literally when a landslide buried the workings.
Verran neglected mining temporarily after 1862 for marriage, children and a job with his in-laws, the merchant family of Sweetman. However, whether because he disliked trade or because he missed mining, he remained with his young family only four years longer. In 1866, he left Newfoundland for mining jobs in Africa and Spain and never returned. Tragically, he fell victim to his chosen way of life by contracting silicosis, and died alone in England in 1869 at the age of 38.
Smith McKay, like Gisbourne and Verran before him, became entangled with Charles Fox Bennett. In March 1859, McKay obtained a license to mine the Terra Nova deposit; and in April 1860 he, Bennett and a number of St. John's and Boston financiers incorporated the Terra Nova Mining Company. William Hoskins (an uncle of Harry Verran) was engaged as mine captain. Hoskins and the miners installed impressive surface facilities, including a pier at Baie Verte and a railway from the pier to one of the five shafts. However, they did not realize that Terra Nova ore occurred in irregular lenses rather than in true veins and so worked the mine incorrectly, extracting about 200 tons of ore between 1860 and 1864.