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 Pre-Cambrian Gamtoos Complex, which is related in time to the limestones hosting the Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn.

Main picture: The late Brian 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 William McCleland used to farm somewhere in the De Stades valley closeby but was bankrupted by the rinderpest when all his cattle were killed.

Five years later in 1797, John Barrow, a famous explorer and then Private Secretary to Earl (later Lord) Charles McCartney Governor of the Cape,  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. 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.

Maitland Mining Company

However, no attempt was made to mine the deposits until the beginning of the 1840s. On Friday 16th January  1846 the Cape of Good Hope and Port Natal Shipping and Mercantile Gazette carried the glowing prospectus of the Maitland Mining Company with many prominent Port Elizabeth citizens as directors. This company which took the name of then Governor of the Cape, Sir Peregrine Maitland,  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. Despite sinking several shafts deep into the hills, only 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.

The defunct company was finally placed into liquidation in 1875 after having had several unsuccessful owners over the years.

Geological description

The dolomitic limestone carrying the ore is in the shape of a simple syncline [a trough or fold of stratified rock in which the strata slope upwards from the axis], , 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.

Subsequent attempts at mining

 In 1856 A. Wyley reported ‘a considerable amount of underground exploration without any apparent measure of success‘. 

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 bred 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

Prospectus of the Maitland Mining Company

On Friday 16th January  1846   the  Cape  of  Good Hope and Port Natal Shipping and Mercantile Gazette carried the following announcement in its leader columns: 

Maitland Mining Company:

Capital £10,000 in 200 Shares of £50.0.0 each.

Provisional Committee of Management:

Smith Esq. – Chairman

Messrs. Andrews, Bevan, Fleming, Harries, D. Phillips

Andrews, Esq. – Treasurer.

Eastern Province Bank – Bankers.

This Company has been formed with a view of working the valuable MAITLAND MINES in a more efficient manner than could be accomplished by a private individual.

The Committee has made arrangements with the present proprietor, Mr. Bevan, for taking over his purchase at prime cost, he re­ceiving a bonus in shares only.

The Estate is 6000 acres in extent and the purchase money will amount to £ 1600, being its value considered only with reference to its capabilities as a farm.

The Mine, which is situated at a distance of about 20 miles from Port Elizabeth by a good level road, was first favorably noticed by the intelligent traveller, Barrow, and an assay of some of the Ore was made with a very encouraging result by Major Van Dehn, at the instance of. the Dutch Government, but the Mineral Treasures which this tract of country contains were never fully or satisfactorily  ascertained, until it came into the hands of the present proprietor.

Extensive veins, cropping out in various spots on the surface afford certain indications of a rich bed of metal beneath, and an experienced geologist has pronounced a decided opinion as to the vast extent of the metalliferous limestone Formation.

Specimens of the Lead and Copper are undressed and unwashed, extracted in both instances nearly from the surface have been sent to England – the result of the assay of the first gave 60 per cent of Lead, and 26 oz. 5 dwt. of Silver in the ton of Lead, and 12 oz. to the ton being the average of the mines in the North of England. The Specimens of Copper, which are very inferior to those since obtained, yielded 2½%, that however, being higher by one per cent than the produce of the celebrated Swedish mines of Fahlun. An offer of £11.10. 0 per ton was made for the Lead Ore. The Committee entertain no doubt that the ore extracted at a greater depth will be found to be much richer in quality.

The facilities for working the Maitland Mines cannot be surpassed. The character of the ground is so undulating, and the ore lies at such an elevation on the very surface, the adits [a horizontal passage leading into a mine for the purposes of access or drainage] can be opened at a depth of 200 feet (one being now in progress) and all the difficulties incident to mining operations from the drainage of water will be obviated without the use of machinery. There is abundance of Fuel & Lime on the spot for smelting purposes, two streams of excellent water unite in the vicinity of the Mine, and the land being of superior quality for pasturage and agriculture, is capable of supporting a dense population.

The Committee does not anticipate that more than £5000 will be required to enable them to work the Mines with every prospect of a lucrative return to the Shareholders and it is calculated that considerable advantages, will be derived from smelting the ore at the Mines and supplying the wants of the Colony, as well as the Mauritius and Eastern Markets with the pure metal.

The Committee proposes to send immediately to England for a gang of practical Miners, and a scientific Superintendent, for whom they hope to· obtain a gratuitous passage under the Government regulations.”

A Deposit of £1. 0. 0. per share will be required immediately, and an instalment of £:  5.0.0. per share on signing the Trust Deed. Due notice will begiven of all future calls.

Applications for the unappropriated Shares will be received by letters (prepaid) addressed to the Hon. Secretary until the 31st Inst. at· whose office Specimens and Analyses may be seen.

M. Harries, Hon. Secretary, Port Elizabeth,

7th January 1846.

Comments by Sir John Barrow

In his book, An Account of Travels Into the Interior of Southern Africa in the Years 1797 and 1798, on pages 141 to 143 Sir John Barrow makes some lengthy remarks about the potential supplies of lead as will be seen from the following quotations:

About twenty miles to the westward of Zwartkops Bay commences another wide, open, unsheltered indent in the coast called Gamtoos Bay, into which fall the Kromme River, van Staden’s river, and several other inferior streams. At the mouth of the Kromme river two or three ships may ride at anchor in tolerable good shelter from most winds except the south-east. The country that surrounds this large bay is covered with thick brushwood, and in places with clumps of forest-trees. Near the mouth of Van Staden’s River we found, in the steep sides of a deep glen, several specimens of a lead ore. It was of that species known by the name of galena, which is lead mineralized with sulphur. The masses had no appearance of Cubin crystallization, but were granular and amorphous in some specimens, and the surfaces in others were made up of small facets. This fort of galena is sometimes called by mines white silver ore, on account of the large proportion that it has been found to contain of that metal. It is well known that all galenas contain more or less of silver; and it has been observed that those whose configuration is least distinct have the greatest proportion, the heterogeneous metal having disturbed and obstructed the natural arrangement of the particles, which would be that of a mathematic cube if perfectly pure. The vein of the ore was about three inches wide and an inch thick, and it appeared to increase both in width and thickness as it advanced under the stratum of rock with which it was covered. The gangue or matrix was quartoze sand-stone of a yellowish tinge, cellular and fibrous, harsh to the feel, and easily broken.

Some experiments were formerly made, in a rough way, at the Cape of Good Hope, upon specimens of this identical vein of lead-ore, by Major Van Dehn, an officer in the Dutch service, and the result of these proved it to be uncommonly rich in silver. According to this gentleman’s statement of the assay, two hundred pounds of the ore contained one hundred pounds of pure lead and eight ounces of silver. Should this on a more accurate trial turn out to. be the case, it may hereafter prove a valuable acquisition to the colony. Lead mines, it is true, are generally very deep below the surface of the ground, and the working of them is both troublesome and expensive. But at this place a vein of rich ore showing itself at the surface, gives reasonable grounds for presuming that the large body of the mine is at no great depth, and if so .it might be worked with great advantage. The surrounding country is particularly favourable for the prosecution of such an undertaking. Wood is in such abundance both for building and for fuel, that it could not be exhausted in an age. Two streams of water unite in the bottom of the glen. The country would support with cattle and corn any number of people that might be required to carry on the works; and the distance of the mine is only five miles from the mouth of Van Staden’s river in Gamtoos Bay.

Implications of Barrow’s comments

It will be noticed that the terms of the Maitland Mining Company’s offer are couched in very much the same words as Barrow. There is a reference in the offer to the fact that “two streams of excellent water unite in the vicinity of the mine” while Barrow writes “two streams of water unite in the bottom of the glen” and it is quite obvious that much of the wording of the Maitland Mining Company’s prospectus is copied from Barrow.

If Barrow had wilfilly or unconsciously  overstated or overestimated the extent of the lead in the mine, the prospectus of the mine some 50 years later was based upon the same flawed basis. Did these future entrepreneurs have the ore assayed or did they merely rely upon the report by the internationally renowned explorer, Sir John Barrow.

Were the shares ever subscribed for?

However, on reviewing the Commercial Intelligence page of the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, it is found that whilst the South African Mining Company was listed among the quoted shares of joint stock companies for the first time on the 27th March, 1846,  the Maitland Mining Company does not appear to have been listed at any time in 1846, or any other year. Twenty-one companies were listed in order of date of establishment, the first one being Exchange Buildings, 1819 and the last being the South African Mining Company 1846. Four Eastern Province Companies were listed, namely, the Eastern Province Bank, the Eastern Province Fire & Life Assurance Company, the Eastern Province Trust Company and the Port Elizabeth Bank, so that obviously this list of companies included all joint stock companies throughout the different parts of Natal and the Cape Colony.

Chimera

Was it all a case of smoke and mirrors, or a chimera in contemporary parlance. Were many ordinary people unwittingly beguiled by a misguided report of extreme wealth derived from a flawed report by Sir John Barrow?

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 Maitland Tin Mining Company by Frank R. Bradlow in Looking Back Volume IV, Number 4, December 1964

An Account of Travels Into the Interior of Southern Africa in the Years 1797 and 1798: Including Cursory Observations on the Geology and Geography of the Southern Part of that Continent, the Natural History of Such Objects as Occurred in the Animal, Vegetable and Mineral Kingdoms and Sketches of the Physical and Moral Characters of the Various Tribes of Inhabitants Surrounding the Settlement of the Cape of Good Hope by John Barrow

The Mystery of Maitland Mine-Unabridged article

Eastern Province Herald 22nd May 1982 by Wendy Fraenkel

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

6 Comments

  1. Thanks so much Dean for this article. I grew up in Beachview and so the “Maitland Mines” have always been a source of intrigue and legend to me. I like the fact that there is a Bat’s Mine, although I personally would have called it the Bat Cave growing up… who needs Hollywood hey?
    Once again, thanks very much for your work on this

    Reply
    • Hi Brian,

      I am glad that you found the blog interesting.
      I am always scounging photos & info on old PE which I can use in my blogs
      Do you perhaps have some photos of the mine or the surrounding area?
      If so, could you please email them to me ar deanm@orangedotdesigns.co.za
      Regards
      Dean McCleland

      Reply
  2. This article is taking me back in time as a kid, hearing all the stories around the fire that my Dad and late Dennis Waspe used to tell.
    They owned the adjacent farm to Maitland mines and Brian Waspe featured in the picture is my cousin.
    The Waspe family still own the farm.

    Reply
    • Hi Tim

      I am related to the Waspes as my paternal grandmother’s mother was a Waspe. My grandmother was a Beckley and she was raised at Draaifontein & the Beckley’s still stay on the original farm. Do you recall any details of these stories and possibly some photos as I would love to include some in the blog on the Maitland mines

      Regards
      Dean McCleland
      deanm@orangedotdesigns.co.za

      Reply
  3. Hi Dean wow what a nice article of the mines. We are the new owners of where the mines are under the name Sleepy Hollow since Dec 1984. My father baught the farm from the Copelands. You welcome to contact me via email (afbothape@gmail.com) or cell phone (0846751348).
    Sleepy Hollow is a resort and people can come and camp there or spend the day etc. You can look at our facebook page Sleepy Hollow eastercape

    Rgrds Anton Botha

    Reply
    • Hi Anton
      I am pleased that you enjoyed the article. Do you perhaps have any other information and photos about this mine?
      If so, I would appreciate it if you could email them to me at deanm@orangedordesigns.co.za or WhatsApp me on 082-801-5446

      Regards
      Dean McCleland

      Reply

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