Chapter II: Fever of the Copper Ore (continued)
What Betts Cove lacked in refreshments it made up for in 'copper fever'. Copper formed the main topic of conversation. Everyone knew someone who had found a deposit guaranteed to become a mine. Prospectors wandered about town with ore-filled pockets willing, for a price, to conduct people to the original outcrop. Betts Cove even had a dog that retrieved pieces of discarded copper ore. He occasionally disappeared into the hills for days, leaving villagers convinced that he prospected for copper. Their assumption was not as far-fetched as it may appear, for some modern Swedish mining companies use specially trained German Shepherds to smell out sulphide minerals.
While operating the Betts Cove mine, Ellershausen began to transfer some Betts Cove men and machinery to the Little Bay deposit in 1878. Even so, the two mines might have been able to co-exist under the Betts Cove Mining Company had he not at this time embarked upon an uncharacteristically foolhardy scheme.
In the summer of 1879, Ellershausen formed a company to drain Lake Ainslie on Cape Breton Island preparatory to drilling for oil beneath the lake bottom. He reasoned that, should oil not exist in economic quantities, he could turn the exposed ground into fertile farm lands. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm overrode his ethics: in the fall of 1879 he exploited the name and subscription of a Boston lawyer, who angrily withdrew backing from the company and advised others to do likewise.(13) Failure of the Lake Ainslie project and the concomitant 20 per cent drop in copper prices threatened Ellershausen's financial stability and made him reconsider his future in Newfoundland.
Then in the summer of 1880 William Dickson, Ellershausen's close friend and associate in the Betts Cove Mining Company, died suddenly. Ellershausen, overwrought and shaken, decided to liquidate the Betts Cove Mining Company and sell its holdings. After initiating negotiations with some New York capitalists, he spent two weeks showing the Notre Dame Bay copper properties to one of the representatives. The man's favourable report led the New Yorkers to incorporate in September 1880 into The Newfoundland Consolidated Copper Mining Company Limited and to apply to buy the land at once. The remaining Betts Cove company director, however, refused to sell, forcing Ellershausen to acquire the entire Betts Cove Mining Company assets in December 1880 for $750,000. One month later he sold them to The Newfoundland Consolidated Copper Mining Company for $2.5 million!(14)
The Consolidated Mining Company inherited the Notre Dame Bay copper mines amid a flurry of notoriety that made the company name synonymous with all that was dishonest and fraudulent. When the furor subsided the company placed most of its energy and money behind the Little Bay mine; the Betts Cove and other mines were viewed primarily as fringe benefits in the deal.
The Consolidated Mining Company possessed none of Ellershausen's mining skills, and gave way to greed. Concerned only with extracting as much ore as possible from Betts Cove, the company began to remove the copper-rich mine pillars. In May 1883 the inevitable happened: a landslide off Betts Cove Hill fell on the mine roof which, being unsupported, caved in. The landslide also took with it buildings and machinery.