United States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce.

Consular reports, Issues 224-227 online

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clined, at first slowly and then after 1800 rapidly. The industry
revived in the years following the independence of Brazil, in 1822,
with the introduction of foreign capital and underground mining.
While modern production has never been as extensive as that of the
last century, it has been and continues to be fairly profitable and

The earliest mining was from the placers in the beds of the small
mountain streams. These were exploited in a manner substantially
similar to that described above as used for diamonds. At first, the
gravel was washed in small wooden or metal plates and the gold
picked out by hand. Later, the **batea,"a large wooden pan 2 feet
or more in diameter, was introduced, probably from Africa by slaves.
In this, a fairly complete separation of the metal was possible by the
use of water and the familiar gyratory motion. When the bed of
the stream was exhausted, the miners went up the sides of the valley
finding deposits left in abandoned beds of the river or higher up the
flanks of the hill. In following the lines of the mineral yielding
gold, the miners finally came to the mother veins. In Brazil, these
are often of friable material, which can easily be pulverized with the
aid of running water, and the country rock on either side of the vein
is also frequently of the same character. Where such veins were
found, we encounter the ancient open mines that are so character-
istic of Brazilian gold mining. Near Diamantina we visited some
typical examples. It is evident that the old miners knew nothing
of underground mining, and, except in rare instances, their excava-
tions are open to the top. These great gullies were made with the
assistance of running water, brought from considerable distances in
canals carried along a high level of the mountain flank. The water
was conducted to the point where the lower outcrop of the vein began,
and, as it flowed, with the aid of a pick and shovel, the ore and sur-
rounding material was cut away. This process was continued back-
ward up the hill until the gully became so deep that the debris was
unmanageable. The extent of some of these excavations is enor-
mous. One at Sao Joao da Chapada, a few miles south of Diaman-
tina, is 150 feet deep, 1,000 feet wide, and 2,000 feet long. The
mass of material washed down was concentrated in the rudest con-
ceivable manner. Even the use of the sluice was not understood,
and in its place the gravel was given its first wash in a **canoa."
This is merely a level section of the canal in which the gravel and
debris is carried down. The water is allowed to fall into this level
space over a lip a few inches high, and a workman stirs with a sort of
rake the gravel at that point. Below the **canoa" there is an inclined
No. 226 10.

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plane covered with hides laid with the hair up, in order to catch
the gold that does not sink to the bottom. In addition to the loss of
gold inevitable with such a system of washing, the miners labored
under the disadvantage of being likely to lose their vein by the fall-
ing in of the side rock. And not only did they lose the clue, but it
is lost forever. Many of these old mines are undoubtedly still rich,
but the veins are so covered up by the debris that their outcrops can
not be found and traced.

An interesting feature of the larger hillside mines are the **mon-
deas," rectangular masonry reservoirs 50 to 80 feet square and 10 to
20 feet deep, made to catch and hold the material washed down by
the canal from the mine until it could be conveniently worked.
They were necessary where the amount of water was large. In the
few instances where the old miners exploited veins for which no
water was available, they simply dug a hole open to the sky, carry-
ing out the mineral and earth upon the heads of slaves. They were
almost never willingto lose sight of the vein.

The running of underground galleries and scientific mining did
not begin until the Baron de Eschwege, a German expert sent by
the Portuguese Government in 181 5 to examine and report upon the
mining industry, came to Minas and devoted himself to its develop-
ment. While the enterprises he set on foot were not successful,
he gave to the scientific and mining world valuable information
concerning the gold deposits of Minas. After 1822, when Brazil be-
came independent, the laws were made more liberal, and foreign com-
panies were permitted to enter the field. With the formation of the
Imperial Brazilian Mining Association in 1824, the company that
afterwards owned the celebrated and rich Gongo Soco mine, began
the introduction of foreign, and especially of English, capital. The
major part of the exploitation since has been by foreign companies.

The gold-bearing mineral of Minas is principally of two kinds —
quartz in veins and itaborites, or **jacutinga," a nearly pure per-
oxide of iron in beds. The quartz is sometimes of the ordinary free-
milling varieties, white or smoky in color and little mixed with other
mineral, or else in the form of quartzite. The principal mines in this
kind of quartz are the Boa Esperanca, Carranca, and Juca Vieira,
near Caethe, and the Banderinha, near Diamantina. The Juca
Vieira has lately been producing about 600 ounces annually and the
Carranca half as much. The other mines are even less important.

Of far greater importance than the free-milling quartz mines are
those in veins where the quartz is mixed with pyrites. The vein of
the Morro Velho, the largest mine in Brazil and one of the great
mines of the world, is of this character. The ore is composed of fine-
grained quartz and iron and arsenic pyrites, mixed with magnetite

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and copper pyrites, siderose, and calcite. Over 2,000,000 ounces of
gold have been extracted from this mine by the Saint John d'El
Rei Company, an English corporation formed in 1830. Brazilians
worked it during the last century, employing the old open method.
It is related that when powder could not be obtained, fires were built
and the hard quartz cracked by throwing cold water upon it. In
1818, the mine had been abandoned ; but about 1830 it was bought by
an Englishman, who sold it in 1834 to the present company for
^56,000. The mine came into full operation in 1842, and from then
until the great disaster of 1867 an annual dividend of 25 per cent
was paid upon the capital of ^£^135, 000. In 1867, the shafts had
reached a depth of 1,200 feet, but operations were interrupted by
the burning out and falling in of the mine. The destruction was so
complete that it was found necessary to sink two new shafts to the
same depth as the former ones in order to reach the vein. The cost
was ^^87,000, the capital stock being increased to ^^233, 000 for this
purpose. In 1874, the payment of dividends was resumed. They
averaged 31 per cent until 1882, when difficulties with water began to
be met with on account of the great depth (nearly 1,900 feet) the mine
had reached. The ore also became less rich. In 1886 the whole
mine once more fell in, and-the ruin was again so complete that for
the second time entirely new excavations had to be made. Mr. G.
Chalmers, the present manager, undertook the work. He built a
horizontal gallery 1,100 feet long and two new shafts, one 2,190 and
the other 2,310 feet deep. These reach the vein 40 feet beneath the
bottom of the old mine. Mr. Chalmers abandoned the old milling
machinery and has installed a loo-stamp mill of California design
and an extensive chlorination establishment, which has proved effect-
ive in reducing the refractory portion of the ores. Power is fur^
nished by Pelton wheels operated by water collected by artificial
canals from a wide area of mountain. At times this proves insuffi-
cient, and it is helped out by steam engines which burn wood cut in
the neighboring forests. Since 1890, the mine has once more been
profitable and the new capitalization of ;^233,ooo completely freed.
The ore now being extracted yields, under the scientific treatment
employed, six-tenths of an ounce per ton. The annual output is
about 50,000 ounces. The form of the ore body is interesting to
mining engineers. It consists of an oval swelling in a vein. The
vein itself is vertical and the ** chimney " is inclined at an angle of
45° in the vein. At the surface its outcrop is 800 by 60 feet and it
varies considerably in size as it descends, but always maintains an
ample width. The average dimensions of the **chimney" are about
50 by 500 feet. Having such a large ore body in a single mass, the
mine is unique in the tremendous extent of the open excavations
from which the mineral has been taken.

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This mine is situated 15 miles south of Bello Horizonte, the State
capital, and may be reached from there on mule back over a romantic
mountain trail. A more convenient route is from the nearest sta-
tion on the Central Railroad, from which it is distant only a few
miles by a wagon road. Of the employees, some seventy-five are
English, and they have their tennis and cricket as if they were at
home. Before the abolition of slavery, the company owned slaves.
Thereupon an interesting question arose as to the propriety and
legality of an English corporation's owning human flesh and blood,
and it was even subject of diplomatic correspondence. But human-
itarian scruples did not prevail against the desire to make large

The second largest mine is the Passagem, near Ouro Preto.
This city was formerly the capital of Minas, and the region of which
it is the center was the richest in Brazil. The Passagem has also
been worked since the last century. The ore contains a large pro-
portion of arsenical pyrites, and it is from this that most of the
gold is obtained. The quality is variable, and the mine has had a
checkered history. In 1863 it was bought by an English company,
and by 1873 they had extracted 23,500 ounces from ore yielding
one-fourth of an ounce per ton. This was not profitable, and the
company went into liquidation. In 1884 a new company, the **Ouro
Preto Gold Mines of Brazil," bought the mine, and, with better
methods of exploitation and reduction, the Passagem has justified
its old reputation of being one of the best in the country. The ore
averages one-third of an ounce per ton.

The best example of a mine where the gold is obtained from
beds of peroxide of iron, called **jacutinga/' a soft friable brown
mineral, is the Gongo Soco. This mine is situated about 50 miles
east of Morro Velho and high up on the ridge of the main serra.
It was discovered and worked before the middle of the last century.
Stories that sound like fables are told of its marvelous richness. In
1 818, the Brazilian proprietor took out over 5,000 ounces of gold in
one month. In 1826, the mine was sold to an English company for
;^74,ooo. The mineral is found in a bed 300 feet thick, interstrati-
fied between schistose slates and limestones lying at an angle of 45*^.
Much of the ore was so rich that the gold was plainly visible to the
naked eye. Ore of this character was detached with picks, sepa-
rated and powdered by hand, and then washed in pans. This work
was intrusted only to the fifty English miners imported by the
company. Five hundred slaves were employed in positions of less
temptation. The Brazilian tales of the wonderful richness of the
ore were more than verified by the experience of the English com-
pany. In one instance, a miner brought out in his hat half a peck
of **jacutinga" which yielded 310 ounces of gold dust. The hat

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must certainly have been one of the leather hats so universally used
in the Minas mines to-day. The bulk of the ore was crushed in
stamp mills and subjected to a more complicated process than the
selected portions. The upper parts of the bed were the richest, and
from 1826 to 1841 the mine produced largely and at small outlay.
During the following fifteen years the production decreased and the
expense grew on account of the'flooding of the mine. It was at last
abandoned in 1856, after having yielded 400,080 ounces of gold for a
total outlay of ^989,000. During the early and profitable period
the Government levied a tax of 25 per cent of the gross product,
and the company paid into the imperial and provincial treasuries
over ;^333,ooo-

The Maquine mine, near Ouro Preto, the Pitangui, Cocaes, Boa
Vista, and Morro das Almas, all near each other and 20 miles south
of Santa Barbara, were other **jacutinga" mines of considerable
value. None of them are being operated at present. Besides the
Morro Velho and Passagem, there may be mentioned among the
quartz and pyrites mines that of Pari, to the east of Santa Barbara;
Catta Branca, directly south of Morro Velho; Cuiaba, owned by the
Saint John d'EI Rei Company; Faria, near the station of Honorio
Bicalho, on the Central Railroad and owned by a French company;
Raposos, near Sahara and belonging to the Passagem company; and
Vira Copos. Most of these are in operation.

Shortly after the proclamation of the Republic in 1889, a consid-
erable number of Brazilian companies were floated for the purpose
of engaging in gold mining in Minas. The results so far have not
been notable. There are undoubtedly large deposits of quartz and
**jacutinga" yet unexplored, or which have not been worked be-
cause they have been covered up by early operations. Difficulties
often arise on account of the impracticability of obtaining available
water power sufficient to keep the mines free from the great quanti-
ties of water encountered in Brazilian mining. No coal is mined in
Minas, and freight rates do not permit its importation so far mland ;
consequently, steam is unavailable for pumping, and there are no
smelting works. Little Brazilian ore is free milling, and that which
is not must be reduced by chemical processes. A large development
of the mining industry of Minas is probable, but those alone who
employ the safest ^nd most scientific methods of exploitation and
installation, and who command large capital, can reasonably hope
to be successful. Mining in Minas offers few inducements for small

The legislation in regard to the acquirement of mining property
now in force is liberal, and the restrictions and formalities imposed
are few and reasonable. The owner of land has the first right to
the mineral; but if he does not exercise it, others may explore, after

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giving notice. The discoverer of mineral is entitled to four lots
of 50 meters square, with ground necessary for working. Claims
are freely transferable, but no single person or company may own
more than one hundred contiguous lots. Abandoned claims revert.
The most onerous burden is the State export tax, amounting to 5
per cent of the gross product. The larger mines can not escape the
payment of this tax, but there is much illicit exportation by small
operators. This fact makes the gathering of complete statistics

I investigated the historical data still preserved as to the gold
production of Minas and inquired of the best local sources as to its
probable present amount. Fairly complete statistics exist of the
amount of taxes collected in colonial times. Since the Government
took one-fifth of all the gold produced, the computation is easy.
The output of the larger mines in this century is also known. The
contraband production of the last century and that of the smaller
private mines in this can only be estimated. The gold production
of Minas has been approximately as follows:

Years, inclusive.

Per year. \ TotaL

1700-1713 ....
1714-1725 ....
1726-1735 ....

i736-i75» ••••
1752- 1766 ....
1778 1808 ....












320, uoo















Next to the gold and diamonds, the manganese mines are at pres-
ent the most important in Minas Geraes. They are near the town of
Miguel Burnier, 311 miles from Rio de Janeiro on the Central Rail-
road. The ore is of good quality, containing 84 per cent of oxides
of manganese. It is extensively shipped to the steel mills of Europe
and America, and these mines are among the most important sources
of this mineral, so essential to modern steel making. The best-known
mine, the **Us!na Wigg," shipped 20,000 tons to the Carnegie Steel
Company, of Pittsburg, in 1896 and 1897.

Minas Geraes contains inexhaustible deposits of excellent iron
ore; but the lack of coal prevents its being used, except for the man-
ufacture of soft charcoal iron. Niter is found in considerable quan-
tities in many localities. It has been commercially mined for over a

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century. Mica, graphite, topaz, beryl, chrysoberyl, andalusite, rock
crystal, coal in thin seams, and building stone in great variety are
known to exist in this State. Specimens of all these and of many
others less important may be seen in the museum of the school of
mines at Ouro Preto. Probably, no part of the world contains such
varied mineral wealth as the State of Minas Geraes. It is worth the
practical investigation of American engineers and capitalists.


The agricultural possibilities of the State of Minas are worth
close study. From its southern border as far north as we penetrated
practically the entire surface, except the higher mountain chains, is
arable. Upon the grassy plains of the upper plateaus thousands of
cattle graze. They are large and well bred, and, indeed, I never
saw better oxen than those of northern Minas. Even in the high
serra, sugar cane, indian corn, rice, and bananas flourish in the
sheltered valleys. The Sao Francisco Valley is a wooded plain in-
terspersed with gravelly ridges and clear, continually flowing
streams. Its elevation is from 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level,
and the climate is therefore moderate enough for out-of-door labor
by Europeans. The trees, except along the river banks, are small,
and the forests are open, readily traversed, and easily cleared off.
The soil is productive, although the methods of cultivation now em-
ployed are primitive. Plows and agricultural machinery are not
used. For example, the culture of indian corn consists simply in
burning off the underbrush from a new piece of land, the making of
holes with a sharpened stick, the dropping of the seed therein and
covering it, and finally the harvest. The ground is never cultivated,
and the process is exactly the same as that employed a hundred
years ago. Indian corn sells for about 30 cents a bushel. Sugar
cane also grows without cultivation. Every farmer makes his own
sugar and also manufactures rum. This is as strong as whisky and
can be bought for 3 cents a quart wholesale. Other staple crops
which we saw growing were rice, mandioca (from which the **far-
inha," one of the principal foods, is made), yams, sweet potatoes, and
beans. These last are also universally eaten. Irish potatoes, rye,
barley, and the vanilla bean are said to thrive. Cattle, pigs, and
poultry of all kinds are everywhere abundant, and look as well as
our own. Fruit is plentiful, excellent in quality, and the variety is
very great. Oranges, lemons, bananas, mangoes, cajus, and abacatis
are the most usual and most valuable; but there are dozens of other
kinds. Horses do not thrive as well as do horned cattle, mules,
and hogs. The Minas horses are, as a rule, small, and they are sub-
ject to a severe skin disease during the dry season. Proper care is
said to prevent it. Sheep do well ; but they are not bred extensively,

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for the people have a prejudice against eating mutton. The south-
ern part of Minas is one of the greatest cofifee-producing districts in
Brazil. North of the railway lines, it is cultivated only in quantities
sufficient for local consumption. Considerable *'mangabeira " rub-
ber is produced for export, but this industry is as yet comparatively
undeveloped. It is capable of being greatly extended.

Notwithstanding the fertility of northern Minas, the variety and
usefulness of its crops, and its temperate and healthy climate, the
exports of agricultural produce, except of rubber, are insignificant
and are likely to remain so for some years to come. There are two
principal causes — the characteristics of the inhabitants and the defi-
ciency of cheap and efficient transportation to consuming markets.
While hardy and vigorous, the people are conservative, and changes
in their industrial habits and organization will make slow progress.
The present system supplies local necessities, but is not adapted to
extensive production, or for competition with countries which use
modern methods on a large scale. In the districts not supplied with
railways, such competition is clearly impracticable, and even in
southern Minas the cultivation of indian corn for the Rio de Janeiro
market is still in its infancy, notwithstanding the direct railway con-
nection. The existing freight rates on some of the lines are low on
maize and other articles; but the short time they have been in force,
the unsuitableness of the varieties for long shipment, the export
duties, and the lack of proper terminal facilities all tend to make
the success of the experiment doubtful. Further, a large and con-
stant supply of produce is a requisite for permanent cheap rates.
The characteristics of the people and their circumstances make such
an increase improbable. Among the circumstances I refer to may
be mentioned that the '* fazendas " are scattered, that the farmers
have for generations produced only enough for local use, that they
know nothing of machinery, and are not in the habit of paying close
attention to economy in production or to the selection of the right
varieties for export. The people live simply, their wants are few and
easily supplied, and they therefore lack incentives to ambition and to


So far, there has been no foreign immigration of importance into
northern Minas. Its inhabitants are almost purely Brazilian. That
immigration will soon turn to this beautiful and fertile region seems
inevitable. For the present, it should be one of farmers and miners.
It is only a question of time when the Sao Francisco Valley will be
densely populated and immensely productive.

Even under the present relatively unfavorable conditions, the
population and wealth of the State of Minas are rapidly increasing,
and it offers a field for certain kinds of American trade that is well

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worth cultivating. There is a fair opportunity for increasing or es-
tablishing a market for mining machinery, tools, spades, hoes, pick-
axes, powder, lamps, barbed wire, cheap wines, picture frames,
electrical apparatus, shoes, kerosene, cutlery, table and kitchen furni-
ture, wood-burning cooking stoves, firearms, cigarette paper, toilet
soap, writing paper, thread, sewing machines, clocks and watches,
and patent medicines.

The people of Minas appreciate the importance of popular edu-
cation. The centralized system of government formerly prevailing,
the institution of slavery, and, more than all, the widely dispersed
settlement of the population have prevented Brazil and especially
such States as Minas from making as rapid progress as was desired;
but the actual conditions were better tlian I had been led to expect
and are rapidly ameliorating. For example, Sete Lagoas, a town of
4,000 inhabitants, has four primary schools and one normal. I was
told that at least half of the population could read and write, and
that the proportion was increasing. The children of the recently
emancipated slaves participate freely in the educational advantages
afforded. There is no color line in Minas, the bulk of the population
being of mixed African and Caucasian blood, with a smaller propor-
tion of Indian. Graduates of universities are highly esteemed, and
the title of ** doctor" implies the greatest distinction.

Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 224-227 → online text (page 65 of 92)