Mining schools and Institutes

The organisation and vastly increased capitalisation of the industry was accompanied by a movement from philosophy to science. Cornwall, during the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth century was somewhat remote in terms of communication with ‘England’ and under-developed in education and public services. By 1800, however, it had become a scientific and intellectual powerhouse, with no less than five Fellows of the Royal Society: Philip Rashleigh (1729-1811), John Hawkins (1761-1841), Sir Humphry Davy (1778- 1829, President Royal Society 1820-1827), Joseph Carne (1782-1858), and Robert Were Fox (1789-1877). Mining had become established as the cornerstone of Cornwall’s prosperity and assured its place in British and world industrial history. New institutions characterised a new culture:

The second oldest geological society in the world was founded in Penzance in 1814 as the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall. The Royal Institution of Cornwall in Truro was co-founded by Sir Humphry Davy in 1818. In 1833 The Polytechnic Society was founded in Falmouth by Robert Fox and his two daughters Anna Maria and Caroline. This marked the establishment of the first polytechnic in England, partly to stimulate the ingenuity of the young, to promote industrious habits among the working classes, and to elicit the inventive powers of the community at large and partly to promote the ideas and inventions of the Fox family’s Perran Foundry workforce.

Robert Were Fox (1789-1877) proved that the temperature within the Earth increases with depth, a phenomenon now known as the geothermal gradient. This was made possible by direct observation in some of the deeper mine workings in Cornwall. The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society devoted most of its energy to the improvement of the mining industry, particularly the welfare of its workers. It held annual exhibitions and awarded premiums or prizes for inventions.

Perhaps the best known was that for Captain Michael Loam’s ‘Man Engine’, finally installed at Tresavean Mine in 1842. It proved an immediate success and 391 miners wrote to the Polytechnic thanking them for the best day’s work ever done for them. Alfred Nobel gave the first demonstration of the use of nitro-glycerine as an explosive in 1865, the year of his patent.

The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, 1882. © The Cornwall Centre.

The technical education of miners was facilitated by a number of local organisations such as the St Agnes Miners’ and Mechanics’ Institute, the St Just Miners’ Institute and the Carharrack Institution.

On a more regional scale there were organisations such as the Miners’ Association of Cornwall and Devonshire (1859), the Mining Institute of Cornwall (1876) and the Mining Association and Institute of Cornwall (1885).

The Camborne School of Mines and its influence on the world-wide mining community

Camborne School of Mines began life in 1896 at a time when the mining industry saw the need for well instructed miners with both theoretical and practical skills to improve the efficiency of the mining process. Many unsuccessful attempts had been made to establish such a school. However, by the end of the nineteenth century three full-time mining schools had been established in the prominent mining areas of the day; Redruth, Penzance and Camborne. By the early 1900s it had been decided to amalgamate the three schools under one name: the School of Metalliferous Mining.

Student surveyors at Botallack Mine, St Just. Many mines in the St Just area had workings that ran under the sea-bed. The foreshore of Cornwall was awarded to the Duchy of Cornwall in 1858, by which it was entitled to royalties on any minerals produced. © Trounson-Bullen Collection.

Camborne was by 1890 the largest of the schools. Mr Pendarves, a local mineral owner was able to report that the school had a total of 189 students, and the whole of the other mining schools of Cornwall could not come up to anything like that, if they were all put together. At the time of the amalgamation, the Camborne School had several facilities at its disposal that included classrooms, offices, chemical and metallurgical laboratories and a geological museum plus lecture rooms. King Edward mine had been acquired by 1897 for practical training in both underground and surface work. Many of the facilities had been paid for in part by local mineral owners such as the Bassets and the Pendarves’; this patronage by respected local families continued up to the twentieth century. Mining engineers and surveyors who learnt their trade in Cornwall were to be found worldwide.

Mining students underground at King Edward Mine (Camborne and Redruth Mining District) c1900. © Trounson-Bullen Collection.