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Cerro De Pasco Mines, Peru

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Silver mines

Source of 1879 illustrations: Engineering, 5 Dec 1879[1]

Cerro de Pasco, in Peru, became one of the world's richest silver producing areas after silver was discovered there in 1630. It is still an active mining centre.

Francisco Uville arranged for steam engines made by Richard Trevithick of Cornwall to be installed in Cerro de Pasco in 1816 to pump water from the mines and allow lower levels to be reached. However, fighting in the Peruvian War of Independence brought production to a halt from 1820 to 1825.

Contamination of the environment by lead, cadmium and other heavy metals has precipitated a public health crisis in the city, but a 2006 law proposing to evacuate all inhabitants and relocate the city has not yet culminated in concrete action.

The city is 14,000 ft (4,330 metres) above sea level. The average annual temperature is 5.5°C. The average temperature of the warmest month is 10°C (50°F).

The above information is condensed from the Wikipedia entry for Cerro de Pasco, accessed 11 March 2020.

1868 Steel, Rake and Co of Newport designed machinery to be produced by Kitson and Co, Galloways, and Stothert and Pitt for installation at the mines, with the requirements that all the components had to be transportable on the backs of mules.

1869 'Pumping Machinery.— Mr Davies Trebilcock, Lanner, writes to the ‘West Briton’:- In your last week’s number, under the heading "Hayle Engineering Works of Messrs Harvey and Co.,” I see there is order for some pumping machinery for the Cerro de Pasco Mines, in Peru. For augbt I know, I may be the only survivor of party of fifty persons who sailed for Peru in 1825, with a view to working those mines, but were unable to do so through the failure of Mr Richard Trevithick, Hayle, to work the steam engine which he and Capt. Richard Hodge, of St. Erth, and two brothers called Saunders, and a man called Bevan, had put up. The failure originated in the construction of the machinery. It was not calculated to work at an altitude of 12,000 feet, and where the pressure on the column is only about l0lbs. to the square inch. I not only wish the company every success, but shall be pleased to find the engine, now said to be under construction, do good duty, and thus, by its action, discover in those once celebrated mines of the Incas the great treasures which I am persuaded yet remain.' [2]


'In our number for April 2nd, 1869, page 232, under the the heading of "Higher and Higher" we stated that "Mr. Thomas Harrison, one of the concessionaires of the Cerro de Pasco Railway of South America, has lately visited England. His line will have a summit 14,200 ft. above the sea, or nearly the elevation of Mont Blanc. Approaching from the sea in the direction of the line there are 36 miles of road through and over mountains and precipices, and along which only mules can travel. How are the locomotives to be carried over this road? Everything, it would seem, should be carried in pieces, the boiler separated from the firebox, the tubes in a fagot by themselves, &c. Some clever scheming will be required."

'The solution of this problem was entrusted to Messrs. Manning, Wardle and Co., of the Boyne Engine Works, Leeds, whose reputation as designers and builders of light locomotives for special purposes is well known. The line is 3 ft. 6 in. gauge, and is laid with flange rails of 45 lb. per yard, the radius of the sharpest curve is 800 ft., the steepest incline is 1 in 37, and greatest gross load about 80 tons, so that tbe duty to be performed by the engines was not so exceptional as the difficulty of transporting them for some 70 miles (not 36 as above) upon the backs of mules over the Cordilleras of the Andes mountains. The maximum weight allowed for any one piece or package was 300 lb., and no object was to exceed 7 ft. in length. The engines have outside cylinders 12 in. diameter, and are carried upon six wrought-iron coupled wheels with steel tyres; the tanks are of the "saddle" from resting upon the boiler barrels.

'As we expected, "some clever scheming" has been required to conform to the stipulated weights, of course the boilers, tanks, frames, and wheels, and in fact all heavy parts go out in pieces; for instance, the cylinders and steam chests, usually cast in one, are in this case made in five pieces, the frames are made in sections, and tbe wheels, tyres, and axles are all separate. Messrs. Manning, Wardle, and Co., have also constructed a fixed workshop engine, and boiler, together with a wheel lathe, drilling machine, lathes, blowing fan, and smiths' hearths and tools. In this case the maximum weight allowed was only 150 lb. for each package. This necessitated the fast headstock of the wheel lathe being made in no less than fourteen pieces, and yet these are so contrived that an ordinary observer would not notice anything special about it. A staff of boiler makers nnd fitters in charge of a leading erector have been engaged to go out to Peru to erect the engines on their arrival. So far as we know these are the first locomotive engines which have been sent out from this country in such small pieces. They have been entirely designed and built by Messrs. Manning, Wardle, and Co., and have given every satisfaction to Mr. Edward Woods, tbe consulting engineer to the Cerro de Pasco Railway.'[3]

1871 Article

This place, in the Republic of Peru, is situated on the top of the Andes, on the eastern side of the Western Cordillera. It stands about 15,000 feet above the sea level, and is said to be one of the highest, if not the highest, inhabited place of importance in the whole world.

'From Callao to here is a distance of 160 miles, but, in consequence of the rapid ascent in such a comparatively short distance, it is considered a quick journey if mules make it in six days ; it more frequently takes them a week, and at times, during the season of snow and rain, the pampas, which are the table lands these mountains, are impassable for several days together. These pampas bear no vegetation but a stunted kind of grass, which merely keeps alive, but never appears to grow, and the only animals which subsist on it with any success are the llamas. These are woolly and ruminating animals, with slender legs and cloven hoofs, with head and neck resembling a camel, and about the height of a donkey, but have smaller bodies. They are also beasts of burden, and are frequently termed the camels of South America.

'The town of Cerro de Pasco, which at present numbers 10,000 souls, is of no small importance, considering its great altitude and inconvenient distance from the coast, but it lacks order and design in every part. The streets are crooked and uneven; and the houses are stuck about anywhere and everywhere, with the greatest display of uneducated taste that I have ever before witnessed ; moreover, it would difficult to find another such place so equally dirty. The dogs are so numerous that the authorities compel periodical poisoning of them. A man is sent about the streets with lumps of food containing poison, which he throws to all the dogs he meets with, and wherever they fall down and die through this medium, quite a number of them are allowed to remain until they disappear through the slow process of putrefaction. There are also other kinds of filth, too vulgar to mention — in fact, it abounds in all the stinks.

'The food we get is extremely poor and coarse ; the beef is so tough that a person might with very little stretch of the imagination fancy himself to chewing uncooked tripe. The mutton is ditto, with the exception that it has more the flavour a he goat that died during hot weather. Practically speaking, tho diet is not sufficient to sustain European nature.

'It rains and snows on these heights with not much cessation for about six months in the year, and in what is termed the dry season there are also frequent falls of snow. Furthermore, water boils at 180 deg. Fahr. instead of at 212 deg., as with you ; consequently, it requires six minutes to cook an egg.

'The majority of the inhabitants are a low type of Indians, who are small in stature and mind, but are large in cunning, and have exceedingly plain features — not possessing the slightest trace of the noble features and bold simplicity of the Indians of the North. They are, too, extremely dirty in their habits; they seldom ever wash themselves, because they say it produces sickness, nor do they ever comb their heads, and, barring the rags which partly cover them, may be said to be in a rather primitive state of existence, but their teeth are beautifully white, well-shaped, and regular. A great number of the women of this class of people have a leaf or a small piece of paper, about the size of a halfpenny, stuck fast under and sometimes over the eye; its appearance forcibly reminds one of its resemblance to a postage-stamp, and is worn, I am told, as a charm.

'Any person acquainted with minerals and mining coming up to Cerro do Pasco would fancy that tho whole town was built the back of one huge lode; go where-ever one may, through the streets, or the outskirts of the town, and even up to the slopes of hills surrounding it, he finds it to be all lodestuff everywhere ; its composition is what we Cornish miners generally term an iron gossan.

'The greater portion of this mineral spot is parcelled out into setts or grants, which consist of pieces of ground 60 yards in length by 30 in width, giving to the place no less than 664 mines. At present there are no more than 78 of them at work, and only 63 of which are producing ore, and the united returns amount to 2,000,000 ounces of silver per annum. Each owner or company have roads issuing down to their mines, formed of steps cut out of the rock, dipping at angles varying from 30 to 60 degrees. When you have descended to the depth of the mines the levels or holes leading to many of them are so small that one has to drag himself along snake fashion until he reaches the main excavation. The miners break down tho silver ore with pointed bars of iron, and then shovel it into bags made of hide with the shoulder-bone of some animal; after which the stuff is carried to surface on men’s and boys’ backs.

'When all the mineral has been extracted there remains immense excavation, and in consequence of the roof not being properly supported with timber, one risks his life in entering it. Heavy falls of rock frequently occur, and by which means vast number of persons are annually killed. One day in the last century, at the mines of Matagente (which word means killed people ), which are situated in the rising ground on the northern side of the town, and while a great number of men and boys were at work the roof of one of these immense chambers, consisting of many thousands of tons, fell in without giving least warning, and in the twinkling of eye the souls of 300 Peruvian miners rushed into the presence of their Redeemer. Their bodies have never been exhumed, and their shattered bones, still remaining, will bear evidence of the catastrophe to future explorers. An adit has been driven through the district, beginning at the Lake Quiulacocha on tho south-west, and terminates at the mines of Ganocaucha on the north. The entire length of the adit, including its branches, is about 3 miles, and its average depth from surface 50 fathoms. Three perpendicular shafts, situated at about 600 yards apart, have also been sunk from surface to a short distance below the adit.

'The whole of the machinery for the mines in question, which are being made and dispatched by Messrs. Harvey and Co., of Hayle, Cornwall, consist of four steam pumping-engines, six boilers, four iron main beams, four balance ditto, and also a sufficient quantity of 24-in. pitwork for both shafts. No single piece of all this cumbrous machinery must weigh more than 300 lbs., in consequence of its having to be transported on the backs of mules from the coast to this mountainous region. Although the main distance be no more than 160 miles, those beasts with their burdens have to climb an altitude of 15,000 feet before they reach their destination. Moreover, the passes in ascending the Andes and Cordillera can only be correctly imagined by experienced travellers. Some of the defiles are not much wider than a sheep - path, and with a thousand feet below you a roaring cataract, and thousands of feet above you snow-capped over-hanging mountains, looking so dreadful that the awe-struck stranger in the pass fears that the next peal of thunder will cause them to topple.

'I observe in paper which is now before me, entitled "The introduction of the Steam Engine in the Peruvian Mines, by Richard Trevithick, in 1816," that when Captain Trevithick arrived at Lima on board the ship Asp, with sundry small engines for the draining of the mines of Cerro de Pasco, he was immediately presented to the Marquis de Concordia, then Viceroy of Peru, was most graciously received by the most flattering attention of the inhabitants, and subsequently the Viceroy ordered the Lord Warden of the mines to escort the great man with a guard of honour to tho mining district. In contrasting the two epochs, that of Trevithick in 1816, with this of Wyman and Harrison in 1871, one is led to exclaim that there were gentlemen in Peru in 1816, and they gave unto Caesar that which belonged to Caesor.— W. R. Rutter, in Mining Journal '[4]

1875 Article

At the Messrs. Harvey's Foundry, (Hayle), the word difficulty seems to be unknown. At any rate there appears to be none in turning out the most powerful engines that are required. But occasionallv it happens that other considerations besides mere size and weight have to be taken into account. We have said that Trevithick was the inventor of the high pressure engine. Sixty years ago there came to England from Lima a certain Don Francesco Uville, in search of steam machinery for the mines of Cerro Pasco — l3,400 feet above the sea — among the summits the Cordilleras. He consulted Boulton and Watt, but they gave him no hope. They did not see how they could make engines that could be carried over the mountain passes to a height of 20,000 feet on mule back. Moreover, their low pressure engines could have been of very little use in the Cordilleras, where the atmosphenc pressure instead of being 15 lb. to the inch is only 10. So Uville was in despair, until by accident he saw in a shop window in London a working model of one of Trevithick's high pressure engines. He bought it, took it to the mines, found that it worked admirably, came back with all speed to England, found Trevithick, at once arranged with him, and fifteen months afterwards — Sept., 1814 — went back to Lima with nine of Trevithick’s engines.

'The great engineer followed a couple of years afterwards; and from that time down almost to the present day the mines of Cerro do Pasco have depended entirely for their power on the products of Trevithick's skill. Indeed two of his engines were still working in 1872. And now comes the sequel. By degrees the mines, becoming deeper, got beyond the power of the existing machinery, and again Cornwall was appealed to. The conditions were onerous. No part of the engines was to exceed 300 lbs. weight, to be more than 2 ft. 6 in. broad, or 5 feet long. The engines had to carried to their destination on mule back through mountain passes, where the path frequently consists of mere shelf in the mountain side, little more than a yard wide. Messrs. Harvey undertook the work, and from Mr. Husband's designs four engines were made, condensing, with 37-inch cylinders and 7 feet stroke. Each of the cylinders is in 22 pieces, made up of 11 rings, each divided into two. Each piston-rod is in two pieces, and each cylinder cover in four. Every joint is metal to metal, and so truly is everything finished that they have never had a single leak. A man in the employ of the firm, named Hodge, was sent out with these engines.— Morning News.' [5]


'The end of the Cerro de Pasco Company came when recently the water race and dam, which cost £ll,000, were sold for £65. This is not an unusual termination of a well trumpeted concern. What has been left of many a Cornish mining company’s property has fetched no more. The buildings on mining property which cost so much often fetch nothing all. Mine engine houses and adjacent buildings dot our landscape, disfiguring it; while many stand out as enduring mementos of blown up schemes commenced without proper bases and continued long after they ought to have been abandoned, having towards the end been used solely for the benefit of officials.' [6]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Engineering 5 Dec 1879
  2. Cornubian and Redruth Times, 31 December 1869
  3. [2] Engineering, 26 Nov 1869, p.232
  4. The Cornish Telegraph - Wednesday 10 May 1871
  5. The Cornish Telegraph, 28 April 1875
  6. Cornubian and Redruth Times, 9 February 1894