Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Maitland Mines

The Maitland Mines are several disused lead mines located on the Maitland River on the western outskirts of Port Elizabeth. Geologically the mine is located in rocks of the late PreCambrian Gamtoos Complex, which is related in time to the limestones hosting the Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn.

Main picture: The late Brain Waspe at the Maitland Mines

Discovery and exploration

The first person to discover the valuable minerals in the Maitland river Valley on the farm De Stades River was a Major Van Dehn, an officer of the Dutch colonial government at the Cape. According to old records, Van Dehn prospecting in the area in 1792, extracted a quantity of earth from one of the caves and found that it contained a large proportion of pure lead and between 200g and 310g per ton of silver. This excellent find came from a rich vein close to the surface. My grandfather, Harry McCleland used to farm somewhere in the De Stades valley but was bankrupted by the rinderpest when all his cattle were killed.

Five years later, John Barrow, a famous explorer, visited the mine to investigate the potential of the lead deposits and later wrote that the mine had promising prospects as galena (sulphide of lead) was present. Unfortunately nothing more was done about the mine as many pointed out that lead imported from Europe was cheap, and exploitation at Maitland would be too expensive.

Interest in the mine was revived when Dr John Lichtenstein wrote accounts of it in his book Travels in Africa in 1803. Lichtenstein tells how he happened to be travelling with a convoy of ox wagons from Cape Town to Algoa Bay (Port Elizabeth) in 1805 when the group came across a peaceful, scenic valley. Here they met up with an old black man who was living in the charred remains of a farmhouse. He told Lichtenstein about the many “glistening” boulders in the Valley. After a search was made, a quantity of lead was found.

The area were again explored during the office of Governor Janssens. In 1856 A. Wyley reported ‘a considerable amount of underground exploration without any apparent measure of success‘. Nonetheless the deposits were again examined between 1924 and 1931. These revealed small veins and deposits of ore, with no lode or body of ore promising commercial success.

Geological description

The dolomitic limestone carrying the ore is in the shape of a simple syncline, both legs dipping towards the Maitland River. The trough of this syncline was regarded as the most promising site, but after much drilling did not fulfil expectations. The ore consists of argentiferous galena, chalcopyrite and chalcocite with malachite and azurite, in irregular stringers and elongate nodules, indicating development of minerals along crush zones.

Maitland Mining Company

Finally in January 1846, a company which took the name of then Governor of the Cape, Sir Peregrine Maitland, was formed; the Maitland Mining Company. An article announcing the formation of the company appeared in a South African financial paper and also advertised 200 shares at the handsome sum of £50 each, but it seems that the Maitland Mine was doomed never to get off the ground. After a little silver was unearthed, and the lead was not found in viable quantities, the company folded. Had it survived, it would have been the oldest joint stock mining company in South Africa.

Subsequent attempts at mining

Mining companies were formed periodically until 1925 when all hopes of working a profitable mine were abandoned. All the money sunk into these ventures had brought no riches to anyone. Nevertheless intermittent attempts are made.

Apparently in 1981, a mining company offered Mr Henry Barnard, the former owner of the farm known as Maitland Mine, R100 000 plus R200 a month for mining rights on the property. Shortly afterwards, several companies, both local and foreign, took samples from the mine and indicated that they looked promising. Mr Barnard, who until then had no idea that the mining rights for the Maitland Mine came with the farm for which he had paid R30 000 seven years previously – let alone that the mine might yield untold riches – was ecstatic. He was longing to retire and the offer from the mining company would make this possible. But by March 1982, Mr Barnard had heard nothing from the mining company.

When ex-SAA pilot, Michael Copeland, mentioned the magical figure of R100 000 in his offer, he jumped at it. Until 1978, Mr Copeland was a pilot on South African Airways international routes but was then grounded for medical reasons. At the age of 36, he decided to go into early retirement and become a farmer. With his wife and four children, he moved to a smallholding at Hennops River, near Pretoria, where he started farming rabbits. To have a farm at the coast was, however, what Mr Copeland wanted most, so three years after moving to Hennops River, he set off for Port Elizabeth on a coastal land-hunting campaign. Maitland Mine farm was offered to him and he happily agreed to take it. April saw the Copeland family settled in their new home.

Future of this area

Mr Copeland was adamant that he was not interested in mining. Instead he breed cattle and grew vegetables. He vowed to leave the wild beauty of the valley untouched as far as possible than allow it to be ravaged by mining exploration and exploitation.

Whether future owners will be as altruistic especially when a handsome wad of cash is dangled in front of them, is moot. Most individuals would rather make a quick buck rather than protect a valuable ecological area.

My fervent wish is that this pristine area is safeguarded for future generations and not irreparably destroyed by mining or commercial / residential development.

 

Article on the Maitland Mines in the Weekend Post in 1982

Sources

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)

https://www.mindat.org/loc-53791.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maitland_Mines

The Mystery of Maitland Mine by Wendy Faernkel from Weekend Post dated 22nd May 1982

https://macrostrat.org/map/#12/-33.9617/25.2850

http://www.sahra.org.za/sahris/sites/maitland-mines

Thanks to Donald Davies for providing the article in the E.P. Herald

 

The Mystery of Maitland Mine

Eastern Province Herald 22nd May 1982 by Wendy Faernkel

Only 35kms from PE is a hillside in which silver, copper and lead were mined 200 years ago.

Mystery still shrouds the 18th century Maitland Mine, one of the oldest mines in South Africa, which is situated in a hillside about 35kms from Port Elizabeth. Is it really rich in silver, copper and lead? Or have the assorted mining ventures over the past 200 years been a waste of time and money?

The trail to the mine leads to a lovely valley not far from the mouth of the Maitland River, on a farm owned by ex-South African Airways pilot, Michael Copeland.

The valley is not easily accessible and is happily still unspoilt. The hillsides are thickly covered with indigenous bush which gives shelter to a wealth of bird life and small buck. The thick vegetation hides the numerous tunnels that burrow deep into the hillside to form the mine’s complex of man-mad tunnels and natural caves. In them are still found long-abandoned mining and drilling equipment, reminders of the fruitless searches for precious minerals. One of the caves is aptly called Bats’ Mine – it contains thousands of these winged creatures.

Along the main tunnel, smaller tunnels branch off and some of these end in shafts where miners in days gone by have tried to trace the course of the ore body believed to contain lead, silver and copper. In recent years geologists seem to have decided that the ore body is U-shaped and that if any real wealth exists in the mines, it is very deep down in the earth. If this is the case, modern methods, instead of old-fashioned wheelbarrow mining, might yield some mineral wealth.

The first person to discover the valuable minerals in the Maitland river Valley was a Major Van Dehn, an officer of the Dutch colonial government at the Cape. According to old records, Van Dehn prospecting in the area in 1792, extracted a quantity of earth from one of the caves and found that it contained a large proportion of pure lead and between 200g and 310g per ton of silver. This excellent find came from a rich view close to the surface.

Five years later, John Barrow, a famous explorer, visited the mine to investigate the potential of the lead deposits and later wrote that the mine had promising prospects as galena (sulphide of lead) was present. Unfortunately nothing more was done about the mine as many pointed out that lead imported from Europe was cheap, and exploitation at Maitland would be too expensive.

Interest in the mine was revived when Dr John Lichtenstein wrote accounts of it in his book Travels in Africa in 1803. Lichtenstein tells how he happened to be travelling with a convoy of oxwagons from Cape Town to Algoa Bay (Port Elizabeth) when the group came across a peaceful, scenic valley. Here they met up with an old black man who was living in the charred remains of a farmhouse. He told Lichtenstein about the many “glistening” boulders in the Valley. After a search was made, a quantity of lead was found.

Later the author noted that an entire hillside in the valley consisted of “shimmery” stone. He also discovered that many boulders had a high lead content. Sad to say, in the years that followed only bits and pieces were mined by a variety of people. There was little of great value. The expense of mining at Maitland – too great for the private individual – was probably what led to these failures.

Finally in 1846, a company which took the name of then Governor of the Cape, Sir Peregrine Maitland, was formed. An article announcing the formation of the company appeared in a South African financial paper and also advertised 200 shares at the handsome sum of £50 each, but it seems that the Maitland Mine was doomed never to get off the ground. After a little silver was unearthed, the company folded. Had it survived, it would have been the oldest joint stock mining company in South Africa.

Mining companies were formed on and off until 1925 when all hopes of working a profitable mine were abandoned. All the money sunk into these ventures had brought no riches to anyone. But recently, there have been signs that Maitland Mine may yet be exploited. I was told that a mining company last year offered Mr Henry Barnard, the former owner of the farm known as Maitland Mine, R100 000 plus R200 a month for mining rights on the property. Shortly afterwards, several companies, both local and foreign, took samples from the mine and indicated that they looked promising.

Mr Barnard, who until then had no idea that the mining rights for the Maitland Mine came with the farm for which he had paid R30 000 seven years ago – let alone that the mine might yield untold riches – was ecstatic. He was longing to retire and the offer from the mining company would make this possible. But by March this year, Mr Barnard had heard nothing from the mining company.

When ex-SAA pilot, Michael Copeland, mentioned the magical figure of R100 000 in his offer, he jumped at it. Until 1978, Mr Copeland was a pilot on South African Airways international routes but was then grounded for medical reasons. At the age of 36, he decided to go into early retirement and become a farmer. With his wife and four children, he moved to a smallholding at Hennops River, near Pretoria, where he started farming rabbits. To have a farm at the coast was, however, what Mr Copeland wanted most, so three years after moving to Hennops River, he set off for Port Elizabeth on a coastal land-hunting campaign. Maitland Mine farm was offered to him and he happily agreed to take it. April saw the Copeland family settled in their new home.

Mr Copeland says that he is not interested in mining. Instead he intends breeding cattle and growing vegetables. He would rather leave the wild beauty of the valley untouched as far as possible that allow it to be ravaged by mining exploration and exploitation.

Yet, who knows, perhaps one day Maitland Mine will still produce the vast wealth Van Dehn predicted so many years ago.

Edward and Harriet Johnson, and three of their daughters. The Johnsons farmed at Maitland Mines


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