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Chapter III: Gold, Fools and Gambled Fortunes

Mr. Scanlan (?) washing quartz for gold in front of a water-powered chrusher at Brigus on August 13, 1886. (III/3.)
As word spread of the mining fortunes being made in Notre Dame Bay, the whole of Newfoundland became infected by the prospecting bug. Gold, iron, copper, manganese, lead, chromium, pyrite, gypsum, pyrophyllite, asbestos and molybdenum mines sprung up across the Island between 1864 and 1918 and provided the Newfoundland mining industry with a diversity that belied their poor production record. Many Notre Dame Bay mining personalities - Charles Bennett, Francis Ellershausen, Adolph Guzman and Philip Cleary to name but a few - became involved in these other mines, lending their illustrious or infamous names to the ventures.

Some mines occurred on the Avalon Peninsula, others along the south coast. The majority, however, lay upon Newfoundland's northwest and west coasts, referred to at the time as the "French Shore".

French Shore Mines

Few countries in European history have waged such chronic and intermittent warfare as have France and England. The settlement of North American by both nations did not diffuse the antagonism, but simply enlarged the battlefield. Newfoundland with its bountiful fish resources became a contentious issue in assorted treaties between the two countries. One of these, the 1783 Treaty of Versailles, restricted French fishing rights in Newfoundland to the coastline from Cape St. John to Cape Ray; however, it also prohibited all English fixed settlements upon the so-called French Shore on the grounds that they might hamper French fisheries.(1) It soon transpired that the French navy considered 'fixed settlements' to include mining piers, shafts, ore ships and tramways; and until the treaty's abrogation in 1904 French complaints curtailed so many French Shore mining ventures that geologist James P. Howley felt moved to write about the "bungling old fossils of statesmen"(2) who had given away the key to the door of Newfoundland's mineral treasure house.

Lead Cove Mine

Some of the original claims along the French Shore belonged to Charles Bennett, who, during his term as Newfoundland's premier (1870-74), eased restrictions on mining in general and on French Shore claimstaking in particular. The relaxed regulations encouraged the Anglo-American Telegraph Company to hire Captain Andrew Harvey in 1873 to prospect upon the Port au Port Peninsula, where both the company and Bennett had claims. Harvey was about to return home at the end of the summer when he saw an outcrop of high-grade lead ore - not on the telegraph company land, but on one of Bennett's claims.(3) Bennett heard the news and coerced Harvey and twelve other men into developing a lead mine near the discovery site, which later became known as Lead Cove.

The mining crew came to Lead Cove early in 1874. Within a month they had built accommodations, a pier, storehouse and forge. After driving an adit into the limestone cliffs along a lead vein, they excavated the ore and placed it on the beach, anticipating the arrival of an oreship. To their dismay, the first vessel to great them in the summer of 1874 was a French man-o'-war skippered by Capitaine Aubrey, who cast a supercilious eye over the mine site and informed the British navy that the pier obstructed French fishermen. The British commander sent to investigate the complaint reported: "The removal of Mr. Bennett's premises would, by parity of reasoning, render necessary the removal of every English house and settlement along the entire line of coast along which the French are allowed to fish."(4) Boosted by the commander's opinion, Harvey refused to budge and ignored his insistent French visitors. The Colonial Secretary of Newfoundland, however, feared to incur French disfavour and told Harvey to dismantle the mine site. The miners departed in 1877, leaving the ore pile to disperse with storm and tide.