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Lidjessy, Türkiye (Turkey)

Unless otherwise stated, all content is © Sharron P. Schwartz and may not be reproduced without permission
 

 

Cornish Mineworkers at the Wild and Remote Lidjessy Silver-Lead Mines, Asia Minor

The Lidjessy (Licese) Mine is located in the Province of Giresun in north-eastern Türkiye. It is sited on the eastern slope of Eĝri Bel mountain in the Eĝri Bel pass between the villages of Licese and Asarcık on the modern D865 road from Şebinkarahisar to the Black Sea port of Giresun. In the nineteenth century the mine lay in the Province of Sivas. The town of Şebinkarahisar was known as Kara Hissar, and the port of Giresun was named Kerasunda or Kerasunta.

The mineral wealth of this district is phenomenal. Copper silver, lead, gold, bismuth, antimony, iron manganese, alum and borax occur in enormous masses, and mining for alum (a salt of sulphuric acid) goes back to antiquity.

In the late-nineteenth century, mineworkers were noted to have happened on scores of old mine workings several miles in extent which they simply covered over with corrugated iron and left. According to Mr Edwin Habben, the secretary of the company working the mines in the late-nineteenth century, archaeological discoveries in the vicinity of the Lidjessy Mine prove the region was worked for alum during the Roman period.

In the Middle Ages the alum mines in this region were noted to have been of the highest quality in the world and supplied the Genoese and Florentine Republics. After the Islamic conquest of the area, the Ottomans diverted the alum production for the domestic market, and for several centuries the alum mines near Lidjessy provided an important income for the region and the state. It was not until alum production waned in importance in the nineteenth century due to advances in the chemical industry, that metalliferous minerals, including silver-lead, became more important.

The Lidjessy Mine was first mentioned in 1838 when the ore raised was smelted at a location five hours from the mine and sold in the market of Kara Hissar. Later the Sublime Porte (the Ottoman Government in Constantinople) unsuccessfully worked the mines which were afterwards exploited by the mine managers and local people, which caused no end of strife between the Greek and Armenian entrepreneurs, leading to a halt in the works.

In 1863, the government put the mine out to tender and it recommenced operation in 1864 under a partnership which flourished after the rise in silver prices in 1868. The mines were then employing some 580 people, the number of smelting furnaces reached 34, and the annual net income from production was £3,000. It was said that the whole of the silver used in the coinage both of Turkey and Greece came from one of the mines in the Province of Sivas, probably Lidjessy.

In the early 1870s, the mine was sold to Abraham Todoridi and David Savalan, who set about building a new smelter in the village of Uzundere in the mountains between Kara Hissar and the Black Sea port of Kerasunda. Todoridi soon sold his entire share in the mine, worth £4,500, to Savalan. In March 1872, the Imperial Government of Turkey granted Savalan a 99-year concession to mine over six square miles, subject to a royalty of five per cent and an export duty of one per cent on a valuation of the ore, as arranged from time to time with the Government, and subject to a land tax of about £12 per annum.

Shortly after he received the concession, Savalan entered negotiations with George Ernst Rittershausen, a director and shareholder in the Orientalische Bergbau-Gesellschaft (Oriental Mining Company) based in Hamburg, and he requested permission to sell his concession to this German company. The mining industry had been given an additional boost by a change in Ottoman mining laws that enabled foreign enterprises to be granted concessions to mine in the Ottoman Empire. The Germans invested £30,000 in the concern, and in December 1879 was granted the concession. About 3,000 tons of ore were raised from late-1879 to April 1881, 750 tons of which was roughly hand-dressed and shipped to England to be sold by Messrs. J. Henry Schröeder and Co., of Liverpool.

The account sales showed an average of above 45 ozs. of silver per ton and 63 per cent of lead, and an average price of £16 10s. 5d. per ton. The last consignment of about 50 tons had sold in October 1880 for £19. 14s. 7d. per ton.

Owing to a lack of capital to more fully develop the property, the German company decided to sell the concession, mine, land, buildings, plant, machinery, stores, tools, and 2,200 tons of partially dressed ore at the mine, for £40,000 in fully paid-up shares and £11,600 in cash. The purchaser was the Asia Minor Mining Company Ltd., an enterprise set up in London in April 1881, with a capital of £120,000 in 120,000 shares of £1 each. 

The prospectus published in the Mining Journal informs us that one of the seven directors of the Asia Minor Mining Company was Cornish-born Colonel Samuel Graham Bake (1823-1890). His father Robert owned the Delabole Slate Quarry for a time, and Bake was a deputy-controller with the military. At the time of the formation of the company he was living in Bodmin, where he served as mayor in 1879. During the Crimean War (1853-6) Bake had charge of the Commissariat of the Turkish contingent, hence he had acquired invaluable knowledge of Turkey. Cornish involvement with the Asia Minor Mining Company Ltd. was therefore evident from the very start.

 

 

Getting There 

From London, travellers took an overland route to the port of Varna (in modern day Bulgaria) where they took ship to Constantinople (Istanbul). They then caught another vessel to the Black Sea port of Kerasunda (now called Giresun). Later, it was possible to embark a steamer from Liverpool to Kerasunda. From Kerasunda lay an overland journey some 50 miles (80km) south to the mines via mule on a narrow bridle path. In the early 1880s, the Turkish Government pressganged local villagers to begin building a military road from from Kerasunda to Kara Hissar.

In 1887, the road had been constructed for 48 miles and had 66 bridges and a gradient of 7 degrees. A five mile stretch was still to be completed owing to a dispute between the vilayets (provinces) of Sivas and Trebizonde (Trabzon). The road passed right by the mines and dressing floors, and the mining company aided the Turkish government in its construction, because it made transportation of their ores and other materials speedier, more convenient and cheaper as carts could be utilised.

 

British War Office map extract showing location of the Lidjessy Mines and Dressing Floors
British War Office map extract showing the location of the Lidjessy Mines and Dressing Floors

 

 

A Cornish Mining Inspector Calls

Prior to floating the company on the London Stock Exchange, an experienced mining inspector, Captain Samuel George of Radnor House, Green Lane, Redruth, was sent out to inspect the mines and provide a detailed report. Captain George commenced his journey to Asia Minor from London on 21 June 1880 accompanied by Mr Escherich, the German manager who held 20 percent of shares in the former Orientalische Bergbau-Gesellschaft. At that time, Captain George was venturing into a remote part of a vast country that was almost entirely unknown to British people and where the map was vague to the last degree. His report, complied on return to Redruth, was dated 24 August 1880.

On arrival at the mines, he found the lodes aligned north to south, traversing a varied but congenial geology consisting of granite, limestone, hornblende and feldspar. The mines were situated in a mountain 1,200 feet above a ravine and some 5,500 feet above sea level. George recorded how three principal lodes traversed the property: the Salavan and two Papa Sawa Lodes. The champion lode, the Salavan, named for the previous mine proprietor, was the only one from which any levels or galleries had been driven. Five adits (Arthur, Hamburg, Petri, Salavan and Durfield) had been opened to intersect it; the lowest (Arthur) was 170 feet above the ravine. The most important adit was No 3, Petri, that had been driven for 1,400 feet into the mountain and which ventilated the workings above it. A tramroad had been laid within it leading to the dressing floors. The Papa Sawa Lodes were located 1,500 metres east of the Salavan Lode and had been proved at surface. Captain George believed these would form a junction underground.

Captain George found a mine with a collection of substantial buildings constructed of stone and brick, including offices, mine captain’s and official houses, carpenters’, blacksmiths’ and engineers’ shops, a powder magazine, dwellings for 250 workpeople, and stabling for 40 mules.

“Very few properties I have visited are so well provided… and the mine is also well supplied with all mining tools and implements, I may say, of every description.”

Timber was plentiful and moderately priced for use as a fuel and for underground use, but as the mines were largely driven into competent rock (chiefly granite), there was not a great need for timber stull work or shuttering.

The ores were conveyed to the coast by mule at a cost, depending on the season, of £2 to £3 5s per ton. The government had commenced building a road to Kerasunda and the German company had taken an active role in this by providing many of its workers and engineers. When completed, Captain George noted that this road would undoubtedly lower the carriage price of ores and materials. Labour was abundant and cheap, with miners obtainable at 1s 6d to 2s per day, and labourers at 1s to 1s 6d per day. Victuals could be had at a reasonable price, and the climate was healthy even if the temperature in winter averaged between zero Fahrenheit (-17 Celsius) to 50 Fahrenheit (10 Celsius).

 

Visiting Americans on the Katran Dagh ridge 7,000ft above the mines with one of the company's employees.
A visiting American on the Katran Dagh ridge 7,000ft above the mines with two of the company’s employees. The Lidjessy Mine was in a remote mountainous area with brutal winters. Image courtesy of the UCLA Online Archive

 

 

As the workings were driven into the side of a mountain, there was no need for costly pumping and winding machinery, as the water found its way down through the workings to the lowest level and the ore stuff could be trammed from the workings by mule or men. There was an abundant supply of water at the foot of the mountain that could be used to turn a waterwheel for cleaning and dressing the ores. Captain George recommended an improvement to the dressing floors, as he considered the ores to have been imperfectly processed, and advised that new machinery was essential to improve recovery rates.

He also noted that a smelting works had been erected on the property many years beforehand, but with little consideration as to economy and location. The works had been built some distance from the mine (at Uzundere) and the site of the proposed new dressing floors. Captain George recommended pulling the smelting works down and utilising the building materials in the erection of new works close to the mine and adjacent to the proposed new dressing floors at the foot of the ravine:

“… the development and prospects of the mine fully justify their erection, so that its produce may be exported in the form of pig-lead instead of crude ore, by which, to say the least, a great saving in carriage will be effected.”

Captain George collected samples of ore from the 5,000 tons at the surface of the mine, which he brought back to Cornwall to be assayed by Thomas Davey of Redruth. The results were favourable for both silver and lead and proved the intrinsic value of the property. One feature that was particular interest, was that the richest samples were obtained from the deepest workings in the mountain which bode well for the mine’s future prospects.

Captain George estimated that a sum of £25,000 was required to bring the mine into working order, and that sum included the installation of crushing machinery and new dressing floors capable of processing 500 tons of ore a month. He considered twelve months would be sufficient to carry out this work, during which time he estimated that  some 1,200 tons of ore could be extracted and 2,000 the following year. He ended his report with this statement:

“In conclusion, I can only repeat that I consider the Lidjessy Mines a valuable property, and well worthy of attention; for I am of opinion if it is worked with sufficient capital, and under judicious management it will give most satisfactory profits.”

Captain George was retained as the company’s consulting mining engineer.

 

The German Management Replaced by the British

The company got off to a bad start, and it quickly became apparent that it was spending a fortune but not covering its costs. In October of 1881, 124 hands were employed which included 101 miners. The company acted on Captain George’s recommendation to build a new dressing floor. A lot of expense had been undertaken creating a dam in the brook controlled by two locks serving two leats to the new dressing floors in order to command a sufficient head of water (3m) to power a waterwheel. The ground for the new dressing floors had been levelled but the area was found not to be sufficient and additional ground was being negotiated for. Work had been further retarded as the workmen had not received the ground plan for the building.

A four-roomed dwelling house close to the offices had been built with four rooms for the captains on the first floor, a large kitchen and mess room for the captains, as well as store rooms, and accommodation for the cooks. A dwelling house consisting of two small rooms had been built for the cavasses (armed guards). A miners’ mess had been constructed and their accommodation had been repaired and slightly enlarged so that close to the offices and Adit 4 (Savalan), 280 hands could be housed.

A smithy and mechanicians shop had been built near the No 3 (Petri) Adit and a new magazine was constructed at a safe distance from the miners’ dwellings large enough to accommodate 12,000lbs of black powder. A dwelling house for two smiths had been erected at Savalan Adit and sheds for the day labourers at Hamburg (Adit 2), Arthur (Adit 1) and Papa Sawa Adits. A new bridge with rails leading out of the Petri Adit to the old dressing floors where a sorting facility that was both heated and lighted to enable work to continue in the winter, was in course of construction.

By January 1882, four new adits had been opened (Durfield A, Hadji Haron’s, Genoese and Michaels), and considerable development work to connect these via shafts and winzes was being undertaken to bring the mine into working order. With work of timbering shafts and laying tramroad still to be done, there had been a deficiency of ore brought to bank and delays in dressing this during the winter. Much of it had been merely handpicked ready for transportation by boys, and come the spring, the management hoped to be able to use camels on the new road to Kerasunda. But in order to do so, they would have to undertake repair to some of the bridges, which was a price worth paying to lower the transportation costs. Costs for ore storage and harbourage at Kerasunda were high, as was insuring the mining property. 

Once the dressing floors were near completion, the company purchased some jiggers, a couple of crushers, and waterwheels. The whole of the machinery took a long time to reach the mines, and once set in motion, a barrage of complaints were made about the suitability of the equipment, the German General Manager Escherich stating that it was no good. This led up to a time when the market price of lead and silver suffered a severe depreciation in 1883.

It appears that due to these complaints, in April 1882 Cornishman, Colonel Bake, one of the company directors, went out to the mines with their consulting engineer, Captain George. With them travelled a representative of the firm that had supplied the dressing machinery and some newly recruited staff. The party was gone two months and ran up £160 in fares as well as a further £200 on hotels and living expenses.

They ascertained that it was not the machinery that was defective. The stuff taken from the mine was sent straight to the dressing floors without first having been sorted. At times the ores brought to grass from the various adits, particularly the Salavan, were carelessly stored on the burrows prior to dressing, and got mixed up, necessitating additional assays. Moreover, the ore was highly mixed with iron pyrites and the natives had no experience in ore sorting. Rich ore was therefore mixed with gangue and after crushing, a lot of it was lost in fine slimes which were not treated to recover the ore in suspension.

In 1886, Thomas Swan, a mining engineer who had been instrumental in setting up the failed Imperial Ottoman Mining Company Ltd in 1869 (its Pelidli Mines 28 miles from Constantinople were inspected by Cornish mine captains, Thomas Richards, James Pope and John Vivian, and the mines employed Cornish labour), wrote scathingly of the Asia Minor Mining Company. Writing from Constantinople in a letter published by the Cambrian News, he reported how a few years back the company was judged to have been a fiasco, as it was expending large sums of cash without any appreciable return. Minutes of the shareholder’s meetings ceased being published in the press and little information could be had about the concern. Swan opined that the Asia Minor Mining Company had given mining in the Vilayet of Sivas a bad reputation, for its failure to thrive was attributed to the non-existence of metal, which was clearly not the case.

He stated that the work at the mines appeared to have been carried on in a slovenly fashion, apparently without consideration to the future or to practical skill. Some 500-600 natives were employed at Lidjessy, and they complained of the English company as making slaves of them, and treating them with great harshness. They were also aggrieved at losing their wages through a species of truck system, by which they were obliged to purchase the necessities of life at exorbitant prices, and consequently, they were prepared to work elsewhere despite the high wages paid to them by the company. Added to this, the managers were paid excessive salaries; Mr Escherich alone received £1,800 as the General Manager. All of these factors proved to be a drain on the company’s finances, while rich ore was exported to England ‘in driblets’.

Around this time, rumours of the stoppage of the mine were rife due to muddled accounting and general mismanagement, which led to lively shareholder’s meetings. As the company’s consulting engineer, Captain Samuel George, had died while inspecting mines in Paraguay in 1883, the mines were visited in 1884 by another Redruth man, Captain Richard Kent Roskilley. He travelled there with mining engineer, George Green, a native of Codsall, Staffordshire, who operated the Cambrian Foundry, Aberystwyth in Wales. Noted as a ‘plain, blunt, shrewd man of business,’ Green had been given power of attorney to deal with the mine in the best interests of the company in the absence of the manager. He clashed badly with Escherich, who had been told to leave the mine and return to London, but had refused, making life difficult for Green who was glad to escape back to Britain. 

 

George Green
George Green who visited the mine with Captain Roskilley of Redruth in 1884

 

 

Green stated that with the ore in sight, he saw no reason why the mine should not be producing 1,600-1,800 tons annually, and the cost, including delivery in Britain, should be under £12 a ton. Further, if the explorations were continued with ‘foresight and mining knowledge’ and the lodes did not peter out, and there was no sign of that, the output would be increased periodically. Captain Roskilley concluded his report with the following statement:

“I am confident that the property is a most valuable one, and that with a vigorous and practical development, conducted with reasonable care and economy, it will undoubtedly prove remunerative.”

Roskilley and Green’s observations were a damning indictment of the German management. At a particularly stormy extraordinary shareholder’s meeting in November of 1884, it was agreed that a committee of five shareholders should be appointed to look into the company’s affairs. It was also decided that the future management of the mine should be discussed, which drew the ire of a shareholder named Mr Bergthiel who held a number of proxy votes from Germany and stated that with those, he would do just as he wanted.

George Green paid a second visit to the mines in 1884 and reaffirmed his thoughts as to the value of the property and a complete reorganisation was undertaken. The German staff, Mine Agent F.F.C. Munscheid and General Manager, J.W.H. Escherich, were duly dismissed and replaced with English managers. The Mining Journal reported that Colonel Bake noted at the fourth annual shareholder’s meeting in 1885 that:

“When he was visiting the mine he did not like the manager they had there. He was an excitable man, and did not appear to be a clever man, and it turned out in the end that the manager was a madman.

Thomas Swan agreed:

“The useless and extravagant men have been superseded by practical miners and engineers at fair but moderate salaries who are capable to train and direct the natives.”

During the German management, the underground captains had only knowledge of coal extraction and had completely mismanaged the stoping of the mine. Although things looked in order at the surface of the mine, Green thought that it would take up to two years to correct the faults made underground. The Kapunda Herald of February 1894 noted that, None of the underground bosses have had technical instruction in a school of mines, but they find the silver for all that.” However, this was not strictly true, as some of the young Cornishmen recruited by the company had received scientific as well as practical mine instruction.

Among improvements made by the two Cornish mine captains were changes to the method of shoring up the stopes underground, which limited the amount of timber required, which was costly. Mr Swan noted that they had grappled with their work in thorough English fashion and, ‘they one and all declare that the mine had been abused and that they can make it do well if it can be carried on as now.’

Productivity increased as a local miner was raising 18cwts to a ton of ore per month, whereas under the former regime he only raised 10cwts to 11cwts. Pay had fallen from 8-9 piastres per day to 5-6, yet the mine had all the labour it required, as the local men appreciated the better treatment under the English management. The truck system was abolished and a small school to teach the local children to read and write was started by the chief engineer, Mr Jones, who was setting up the machinery on the dressing floor. Additionally, the company opened a hospital and pharmacy, where the Greek doctor from Trebizonde, Nikolaos Saoulidis, worked.

 

Thomas Allen dancing to Karadeniz Kemençesi music with employees at the Lidjessy Mines, Şebinkarahisar vicinity, Turkey, 1891
American visitor, Thomas Allen, dancing to Karadeniz Kemençesi music with the young British employees at the Lidjessy Mines, Turkey, May 1891. Courtesy of the UCLA Online Archive

 

 

However, this slightly rosy picture should be tempered by the report published in 1894 in the Kapunda Herald, apparently after an interview with the company secretary, Edwin Habben, who sensationally intimated that the local people could be quick to mete out their own justice: 

“If a man organises a strike on his own account for higher wages or more half-holidays to go to the races, they cut off his head and hang it up outside the pay office. An Asiatic miner has never been known to mount the tail of a cart and talk. He is too busy working and keeping his head on.”

The new general manager was geologist, William Harper Twelvetrees (1848-1919) from Bedfordshire. Trained in ore dressing and surveying at Bonn University, he had previously been employed at the Voskrensensky Copper Mine and Smelting Works in Eastern Russia, and had arrived at Lidjessy two years previously. He had won the praise of the board of directors for steadying the ship when the mines had no proper underground management following the German management debacle. 

The dressing floors were completely revamped with Green’s patent self-acting ore dressing machinery, the design of which was described in the forty-fourth annual report of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society (1877) and exhibited at Crystal Palace. 

 

Green's self-acting dressing machinery
Green’s self-acting dressing machinery which was installed at the Lidjessy Mines

 

Trouble at the Mines

The ‘local’ workmen at the Lidjessy Mines were comprised of Turks, Greeks, Kurds and Armenians. The English management faced many obstacles, including the difficulties arising from inter-ethnic and religious hatred among the workforce and the repeated threat of brigandage. They also had to endure the rapacity and corruption of local officials and numerous obstacles placed by the Ottoman Government in the way of European enterprise. For example, Ottoman mining law forbade the use of anything stronger than black powder for blasting, which greatly retarded development when the ground was hard. Added to this, the geographical position of the concession was 6,000ft above sea level and poorly served by roads.

Moreover, the area that the mine operated in, Sivas Province, was anything but stable, hence the reason why men did appear not to have their wives and families with them at the mines. There was no discrete Cornish community, just a small, tight-knit group of British expatriates.

In September of 1886, a correspondent to The Times wrote:

“A sign of the times is the growing inability of the Porte to preserve order in its Asiatic provinces. This year the country between Kerasinda [sic] and Kara Hissar-i-Sharki has been run over by bands of brigands, without any check on the part of the authorities of Trebizonde and Sivas. This month a relative of Captain George Constantinides, the Mayor of Kerasunda, was carried off and only released after payment of a ransom of £400. Other minor captures have been made, some people killed, others wounded. The Gendarmerie of Kerasunda are very supine in their pursuit, never successful, and are suspected of being secret partisans. As for the Province of Sivas, it is it helpless with its small force of police kept at Kara Hissar. There is an English mine at Kara Hissar, employing some five hundred workmen, left without any protection whatever. On an application being made last year for a Corps de Garde to be stationed at the mine (near Ledjessy), the reply was that the Government of Sivas was to poorly provided with police to be able to accede to the request.”

The Mayor of Kerasunda was the company’s representative in that port, and the correspondent further noted that should anything happen at the mine it would cause a diplomatic incident. Travellers were too afraid to continue their journeys from Kerasunda or Kara Hissar, as the countryside had been all but surrendered into the hands of marauding immigrant Caucasians.

One of the most infamous of these brigands was Micanoğlu Hüseyin (Mindjanoglu) whose real name was Molla Hüseyin Efendi, who operated in the Vilayets of Sivas and Trebizonde with a man named Küçük Hüseyin. When Hüseyin was murdered, Mindjanoglu continued his banditry with a Georgian named Deli Reşit.

 For many months they had been terrorising the area and had confiscated the weapons of police officers and the money of some of the passengers on the Kerasunda road. With Mindjanoglu at large, the local government at Kara Hissar notified Twelvetrees that they were unable to guarantee the safety of the mules carrying the company’s ores to Kerasunda. The muleteers transported eight tons of ore daily from the mines on a journey that took four days, the mules travelling around 20 miles a day. Many muleteers engaged in this traffic had been molested by Mindjanoglu and his men, and the ore had been tipped by the side of the road. On 27 August 1886, his gang attacked the company’s muleteers and killed two of their mules.

After some of the muleteers were threatened with death and the confiscation of their mules, they refused to convey any more ore until Mindjanoglu was captured. Mindjanoglu continued to harass the area, committing murder, arson, child abduction and robberies. His band grew in strength as more men joined him, demanding tribute from villagers, killing their livestock and robbing passing caravans. They even killed an Iman from Lidjessy village. Many local people helped him, either voluntarily or unwillingly. Economic activity in the area was throttled and foodstuffs were prevented from reaching the Lidjessy Mines.

 

William Harper Twelvetrees (1848-1919), General Manager of the Lidjessy Mine, Türkiye, from 1884-1891. Image courtesy of the MRT Archive
William Harper Twelvetrees (1848-1919) General Manager of the Lidjessy Mine from 1884-1891. Image courtesy of the MRT Archive

 

 

Moreover, the danger had become personal when Mindjanoglu threatened Twelvetrees in January of 1887, demanding he intercede with the authorities to obtain the release of his brothers, Mehmed and Suleiman, who were imprisoned at Kara Hissar for allegedly attacking Lidjessy village. Mindjanoglu disputed this, claiming the attack had been committed by Küçük Hüseyin. When Twelvetrees ignored the intimidation, Mindjanoglu wrote him a threatening letter dated 20 April 1887 demanding the mine manager to use his influence in writing to obtain the release of his brothers whom he wished Twelvetrees to employ as cavasses (armed guards) at the mine. If he did this, he would consider it as if the manager had given him £2,000:

“But if you refuse I now give you notice that first I shall kill you and afterwards shall begin with your ore. From Uzundere to Kerasson I shall not allow your muleteers to pass and I shall destroy your water canal. Take note that I await your reply within 15 days. If you do nothing to arrange this affair you will never have quietness and I shall do you harm in a thousand ways.”

The following day, Twelvetrees wrote to Henry Zohrab Longworth in Trebizonde. Longworth had been appointed the British Consul of the Vilayets of Trebizonde and Sivas in 1885. This prompted a flurry of official correspondence as letters and telegrams flew between Trebizonde, Constantinople and London. Twelvetrees was at pains to point out that the terms of the company’s mining concession meant that the Ottoman state was responsible for ensuring security and public order and that this must be upheld. For a company that was struggling financially having never paid the shareholders a dividend, the bandit issue was a calamity. If the leat which cost £1,400 and which was conveying water to the dressing floor was destroyed, the losses would only increase exponentially.

By now Twelvetrees was in fear for his personal safety. Moreover, the mine and its staff had been left defenceless after the police had been withdrawn from the property. So, in April of 1887 Twelvetrees requested official permission for his British staff to be armed with Winchester rifles to protect the property from an attack which he had heard Mindjanoglu was planning. However, this plea failed, as did the attempt to form a local guard paid for by the people in the region, because the bandits threatened the families with death and the government would not allow it. Thankfully, the attack on the mine never materialised as Mindjanoglu could not muster enough men.

As the losses to the company began to mount, telegrams flowed back and forth to the company’s headquarters in London and the British Consul, Henry Longworth. Pressure was brought to bear on the Sublime Porte by the British and German ambassadors to permit the mine to appoint its own guards at the company’s expense to protect the property and the ore transports to the coast. Twelvetrees was moved to declare: “The ruler of the region is not the Ottoman authorities, but the “master”, that is, the chief, Mindjanoglu.”

Such utterances angered the local and state authorities, and when the company tried to send a telegram from Kara Hissar to the British Embassy, the telegram was refused on the orders of the Turkish government, which inflamed an already bad situation. Twelvetrees was in daily communication with Longworth, and he came up with a cunning ruse to place a bounty on Mindjanoglu’s head in the hope that one of his own would betray him. The price Twelvetrees agreed with the governor of Kerasunda was allegedly £200. Time was now running out for the notorious brigand.

In July 1887, thirty-four people believed to be complicit in Mindjanoglu’s activities were arrested and taken to Trebizonde for questioning. However, the great many zaptiehs (policemen) seeking to capture the brigand did not appear to be doing anything other than waiting for the Festival of Bayram, when they could return to the towns. Mindjanoglu was finally captured near the Lidjessy Mines and his band destroyed on 20 July 1887 much to the delight and relief of the British Consul, Henry Longworth, who lost no time informing the British Embassy in Constantinople of the fact.

However, two days later he was forced to telegram another message stating that Mindjanoglu had managed to escape. As he had requested his Turcoman capturers not to be handed over to the mine or to the Kara Hissar authorities, but to those in Kerasunda or Trebizonde, Longworth drew the obvious conclusion: that Mindjanoglu had been aided and abetted in his escape by corrupt officials. Indeed, Twelvetrees had written to Longworth in June articulating his suspicions in this respect, noting that Mindjanoglu knew of everything that was written at an official level, hence he had inside information.

At the end of July 1887 Longworth concluded:

“It is strange that the 470 gendarmes, 150 soldiers and 40 dragoons scouring the Kerasson district on this special service, irrespective of the forces put in motion by the Sivas Governor, should have been unable to cope with the evil. It is equally strange that Mindjanoglou’s three companions should have met their death without he himself being killed, captured or wounded. There is something radically wrong somewhere. The last two incidents tend to show that either corruption or laxity is at the bottom of it all…”

On 5 August 1887, Longworth informed the British Embassy that Mindjanoglou had finally been killed by some villagers in the Karahissar region. His accomplice, Georgian Deli Reşid and his men, attempted to revenge his death by wreaking havoc in the region, but they were eventually subdued in March of 1888 and banditry finally came to an end when the corrupt local authorities finally decided that there was little to be gained by continuing to support it.

In July 1887, at the height of Mindjanoglou’s infamy, the American Consul in Sivas, Milo Augustus Jewett (1858-1921), interviewed William Harper Twelvetrees with a view to making a report on the mineral potential of the region. This was dated 4 November 1887, and he praised the intelligent English management of the Lidjessy Mines. He noted that the company had, as yet, realised no profit, owing chiefly to the costs of transportation to the coast which was performed by muleteers who were paid from $6-8.50 per ton depending on the season.

The ore was packed into bags manufactured in England that cost nine cents each delivered. Shipping charges at Kerasunda amounted to $1.32 per ton and the freight charges to direct to Liverpool by steamer was $3 (12 shillings) per ton where it generally sold at £13 15s per ton. On top of that, the company had to pay an export duty of one percent and a royalty of five percent to the government before the ore could be shipped. The cost of producing one ton of marketable ore was over $48.

The mine was worked via ten levels running up to 650 metres into the mountain, all of which were inter-connected by shafts and ladderways. No smelting was undertaken at the site, as recommended by Captain George back in 1880. The ore dressing machinery patented by George Green and manufactured at his Cambrian Foundry, compared favourably with anything in contemporary Europe, even though a loss of 15-20 per cent of lead was commonplace.

Jewett described the ore dressing process. First the raw ore containing around 9-10 percent lead, was passed through a stone-breaker to reduce it to fist sized lumps. It then passed onto two rotating tables at which boys picked out the prills of pure ore and separated the gangue (waste) which was discarded. The remainder of the ore was placed into tram wagons and pushed to the dressing shed where it passed through a Cornish rolls crusher powered by a 34-feet waterwheel. The crushed ore was graded by trommel and according to size, passed into 14 self-acting jigging machines.

The lead slimes and sands from the jigging hutches were fed into 16 self-acting round buddles. The water from the machinery was run into catch pits where the lead ore in suspension settled. The water was then run off into a large basin to avoid pollution before the water was discharged back into the river. In the summer there was not a strong enough head of water to run the waterwheel, so a 35-horsepower vertical steam engine powered by three multi-tubular boilers was deployed. Due to the severity of the winter climate, the dressing floors were stopped until the beginning of March each year and the time was taken to thoroughly overhaul all of the machinery. The cost of the new dressing floors was over £25,600. 

 

 

William Sachtleben seated (left) with eight 'English' employees at the Lidjessy Mines, 1891. Image courtesy of UCLA Online Archive
William Sachtleben seated (left) with eight ‘English’ employees outside one of the management houses at the Lidjessy Mines, 1891. Image courtesy of UCLA Online Archive

 

 

The mine was worked Cornish fashion, by tribute and tutwork, the bargains for which were set each month at a price per metre. Jewett noted how tutwork contracts for development work such as driving tunnels, was better paid than stoping away the ore. The wages of the underground workmen averaged about 35 cents a day. Of the miners he had this to say:

“The native miners make but slow progress, and for the main drives, the company has been obliged to import Italians, who make three times the speed. The majority of the native workmen are Greeks. They are lazy, badly clothed and fed, have many holidays and are content if they can earn barely enough to live on. The mining is carried on without intermission during the twenty-four hours in three shifts or relays of eight hours each. Two men work together at each point. The European staff consists of an English Manager [Twelvetrees], a Cornish underground Mine Captain, a Swiss accountant, a Greek doctor, a Welsh superintendent of the dressing floors [probably named J. Seilo Richards], and a Welsh fitter.”

 

 

Americans, William Sachtleben and Thomas Allen about to go underground at the Lidjessy Mine in 1891
American visitors, William Sachtleben and Thomas Allen, about to go underground at the Lidjessy Mine in May 1891 with Mr Northey and Mr Rowe, who were probably Cornish captains. Note the white underground duck suits, resin-impregnated helmets and miners’ dips (candles). Image courtesy of UCLA Online Archive

 

 

The three years of turmoil caused by the bandit crisis had certainly taken its toll, for in July 1888 the company petitioned the High Court of Justice Chancery Division for a reduction of its capital. Its capital was noted as £120,000 in shares of £1 each, 111,810 of which were fully paid up and the balance forfeited for non-payment of calls. The company had never paid a dividend and through the value of goodwill was estimated at £55,000, but if the mining concession and its property were sold at present, the valuer believed it would not fetch one fifth of that sum. The company had passed a special resolution to reduce the capital to 60,000 shares of 10s each, and cancel the capital which had been lost or was unrepresented by available assets. The plea was granted.

After the death of Mindjanoglou, the company sought to revive its fortunes and several Cornishmen were appointed to the company. These included two students who had graduated from the Redruth Science and Art School where they had studied in the mining class under Thomas Collins. The first was Henry Middleton of Redruth who gained his practical mining experience at Wheal Basset and Pednandrea and left the town for a lucrative appointment as a junior mining engineer with the company in the early part of 1888.

Middleton made such good progress that Edwin Habben, the company secretary, wrote to Mr Collins stating that he fully deserved his excellent credentials. As the company was desirous of sending out a third agent, a young man who had practical as well as theoretical experience, Habben sought Collins’s help to fill this opening. Collins chose Charles Bennetts of East End, Redruth, and he set off for London to meet the board of directors prior to leaving for Lidjessy in November of 1888.

Middleton was at Lidjessy under Twelvetrees for three years, after which he took up an appointment as the State Geologist and Chief Mining Engineer to the Government of Afghanistan where he remained for two years before resigning his position due to the appallingly dangerous state of the country. 

 

 

 

An Ignominious Ending

In December of 1888, the Mining Journal reported that the company had successfully reduced their operating costs by 24 percent. The cost per ton of ore had fallen from £14 to £11 10s. In 1889, the shareholders were told that £10,000 was required to put the company’s finances in a good condition. The following year in an address to the Sultan, Sir John Commerell, who was a major shareholder in the company, stated that some 3,000 native families were reliant on the Lidjessy Mine, and that it conferred an immense benefit to the whole population of the district. He requested more government support be given to the company.

In 1891, the tenacious Mine Manager, W.H. Twelvetrees, decided to move on. He migrated to Tasmania, where he enjoyed a highly successful career as the Government Geologist and Chief Inspector of Mines with the Tasmania Mines Department.

In May of 1891, the mine was visited by two young Americans, Thomas Gaskell Allen and William Lewis Sachtleben, who were the first to circumnavigate the globe on bicycles. In the subsequent book of their adventures, they make no mention of their visit to the mines. But they did take many photographs whilst in the Kara Hissar area, including several at Lidjessy, where they appear to have been warmly received by the young British men working there, who undoubtedly welcomed their company. These include images of Mr Rowe and Mr Northey, probably the Cornish underground captains, and Gibraltar-born Frederic Hugh Page Cresswell, a mining engineer who was educated at the Royal School of Mines. He later migrated to South Africa where he captained a mine at Roodepoort and eventually became a prominent Labour party politician serving as the nation’s Defence Minister.

 

European with locals and a cavass (armed guard) at the Lidjessy Mine, Türkiye, c1891
A young Frederick Cresswell with locals and a cavass (armed guard) at the Lidjessy Mine in May 1891. Image courtesy of the UCLA Online Archive

 

 

In 1892, the company took on a new property named Gemin Bel in the Caza of Enderes which it worked for antimony. However, work at this mine was interrupted in November of 1895 when the property was threatened by Armenian insurgents. The General Manager informed the board of directors that the superintendent and his son were forced to leave Gemin Bel for their own safety, and the miners, who were mainly Turks and Greeks, abandoned their work to protect their homes. The company made representation to the Turkish government about the situation. This incident came during a period called the Hamidian massacres of the mid-1890s. The Armenian’s behaviour at the mine can be seen as a response to Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s reassertion of pan-Islamism as a state ideology, which led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Armenians.

Despite the strife caused by Ottoman domestic policy, the mines managed to keep going. The Kapunda Herald noted in 1894 how a populous district had ‘practically been created by this plucky British company.’ It reported how the paid-up capital of the company was £50,000 cash, and the output of bullion had been £300,000, ‘all of which, together with £25,000 in debentures-say, £385,000 has been spent on the mine.’ Remarkably it noted, ‘The shareholders have had no dividends.’

In 1896 the company was liquidated and reorganised as the Asia Minor Company Ltd, an enterprise with a capital of £90,000 is 10s shares. In December of that year, the newspaper Truth reported, ‘I should say there is but little prospect of the Asia Minor Company ever proving successful, even if the reconstruction be carried out.’ Thereafter, the numbers of men working the mines fell, and little to nothing is heard about the company or its progress in the Mining Journal or the press.

 

Share certificate for The Asia Minor Mining Company Ltd. set up in London in 1881
Share certificate for The Asia Minor Company Ltd. initially set up in London in 1881 as the Asia Minor Mining Company, which was then liquidated and reorganised in 1896 to work the silver-lead mines of Lidjessy

 

 

However, a blizzard of diplomatic correspondence between the board of directors, its general manager Henry Zohrab Longworth, the British Consul in Trebizonde, and the British Embassy in Constantinople, throw light on a company in its death throes at the turn of the twentieth century.

On 26 March 1900, Mr Williams, a new general manager, arrived at Lidjessy. He found a mine hampered by financial issues and mired in debt. The company ordered Williams to return to London on 3 January 1901, but as and his miners had received no pay since October 1900, and as he had written repeatedly to the board of directors about this to no avail, it seems he was reluctant to do so. The company sent out a man named Captain Lemon(s) to investigate the situation and to settle the company’s debt. However, on arrival, Williams soon discovered that Lemons had no money to pay off the debt and he left Lidjessy in mid-May with the issue unresolved.

Claude Ramsay, the Asia Minor Company’s secretary, was not best pleased with Williams, and wrote to him demanding to know why he had not left Lidjessy in October when his pay ceased and he was initially recalled, or why he had not travelled back with Captain Lemons who was sent out to protect him. He was instructed by telegram to leave Hacı Elias Şamlolon in charge and return to London immediately. Ramsay also wrote to the Mayor of Kerasunda, Georgos Konstantinidis (1828-1906), better known as Captain Yorghi Pasha, the company’s Greek representative in Kerasunda, who was requested to report on how well Hacı Elias Şamlolon was undertaking his duties at the mine.

Williams knew full well that the company had form where non-payment of wages was concerned, for five years previously the then manager, Mr. Hickman, had encountered a similar situation. Neither he nor the miners had been paid their salaries, but he was able to return to London as he had a round-trip steamer ticket with an open date. On that occasion the company paid the 300 pounds it owed to the miners, but it seems Hickman was never reimbursed.

According to Article 6 of Williams’s contract with the company, it was obliged to pay him a salary from the moment he set out to work in the mine. According to this contract, four pounds of his monthly salary was to be remitted to his wife, while 18 pounds had to be sent to Lidjessey. But the company had not sent any money since August 1900.

When Williams complained about this, the company told him that it had no capital, as it had expended everything to cover the expenses in the mine, and that it could not send any finance unless the miners continued to extract and ship the ore. In mid-August, Ramsay  suggested to Williams that in order to fund his journey home to England, he should sell some 300 tons of iron rail at around £4 per ton and also the residual ores (silver-lead and copper) in the mine. The sum raised by the sale would also cover the tax debt accrued due to forestry use, and the remainder could be distributed among the miners on the company’s payroll. He was once more instructed to return with all the company’s financial records immediately.

Williams shared the company’s correspondence with British Consul Henry Longworth, along with a petition dated 31 July 1901 that had been signed by the mineworkers at Lidjessy:

“Dear sir,
We, the employees of the Asia Minor Company Ltd, have repeatedly appealed to the company for our salaries since September last year, but have received no response or even a promise of payment over an extended period. We are all poor labourers and we suffer from need and hunger because we are not given the wages we have earned by working hard. We consider that we have given the company all the possibility and time to meet our demands. Not only do they ignore our demands and thus leave us destitute, but they also hinder our efforts to earn a living by other means because of our need for money to cover our expenses. We are now at a climax moving from starvation to perseverance, and we pray that you, as the British consul, representing the British trade, will protect and secure our rights against this company whose reasonableness you represent, and will give you every assistance.”

The petitioners, 68 Greeks and 3 Turks, added that they knew that the company had instructed Williams to return to England, and they informed Longworth that they intended to hold him hostage. Williams explained to Longworth that if the debts were not settled, the mineworkers would prevent the sale. The men were in a ‘desperate situation’ and gave Williams 21 days to pay the £750 they were collectively owed. If this was not forthcoming on 21 August 1901, they wanted the materials that were up for sale transferred to them.

In early August 1901, Williams wrote to Longworth that he was in fear of his life, that he had no money and that he had almost starved to death. Longworth was under the illusion that Williams was ‘effectively imprisoned in the hands of the miners for want of money,’ and fearing for the safety and well-being of a British subject, he alerted the British Embassy in Constantinople of the fact. The embassy then negotiated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to authorise Williams’s safe passage from Lidjessy to Kerasunda.

However, Longworth seemed to have rowed back on his initial understanding of the situation, for after a flurry of correspondence in the intervening weeks, in late September he wrote to the British Embassy of how his previous report reflected an atmosphere of unnecessary panic. He states that the local government had not opened an investigation as to the goings-on at the mines, and that it was not within the consulate’s authority to do so. He suggested that Williams could be brought to Kerasunda and remain there until the truth of the situation was understood. Tellingly, he wrote that Williams, ‘seems more united in common cause with the workers than in any actual danger.’

By now Longworth had realised that Williams either wrote the mineworkers’ petition, or certainly had it translated into English, and that this was a cynical ploy to drag the consulate into the company’s financial affairs in order to act as an intermediary to secure the unpaid salary due to both he and his men. The mine employees were in effect stating that the consul was responsible for the activities of this British company, a fact that would not be lost on the local authorities, such as Konstantinidis, the Mayor of Kerasunda and the company’s representative at that port.

After the deadline for the sale had passed, Williams again wrote to Longworth informing him that he had to hand over the mine’s materials to the men. By now the British Embassy was involved and informed Williams to make preparations to meet the justified claims of the workers before leaving the country and to inform Longworth of how the debts to the miners will be settled.

However, it seems that behind the scenes the company was looking to raise new capital in order to avoid going into liquidation yet again, and wanted to bring in another manager to replace Williams who was obviously viewed as a trouble maker. The company’s sole interest seems to be to obtain the ores for transport to Kerasunda in order that these could be shipped to England. Konstantinidis wrote to Williams in early September to warn him that: ‘Anyone who sells anything that belongs to the company in the mines will do so at his own risk,’ adding that the company had banned such sales in London.

Konstantinidis stated that if anything was missing, the manager would be held accountable. He demands Williams list all the minerals that have been mined, asks him to prepare three copies of the mine’s accounting books jointly signed by Hacı Elias Şamlolon, and to compile a list of the miners’ debts which were to be signed by the men. Williams was to take these to London, and Konstantinidis would give him the £20-30 he needed for the journey back to England.

Williams was understandably furious at this treatment at the hands of the company. He fired off an angry letter to the company after he had received Konstantinidis’s letter of instructions. Williams noted that just before the sale which the company had authorised, he received instructions from Hacı Elias Şamlolon to stop it:

“Now, what kind of business is this? I am here in charge of the facilities and goods under your instructions. You are not transferring money for me to return home, but you are ordering me to raise the necessary money by selling the residues from the old mine…You are now ordering the representative to stop these transactions, without telling me that you have changed your mind. I have to say that I will no longer submit to this inconsistent behaviour.”

He once more requests them to send him the wages owed to him if they intended to sack him, adding, “You have manipulated me disgustingly for too long. I did my duty honourably and properly.”
As far as Longworth was concerned, he could see that the company had picked on the wrong manager, for Williams was stubbornly holding out for his wages, but he was not in danger at the hands of the local men with whom he sympathised. He reasoned that the miners had the company’s ores as collateral to ensure their payment. The issues were company ones, and should not involve the Ottoman authorities:

As for the miners, you forced me to say this, no matter how much I understand their situation, I can only think that the best thing for them is to let you go… Keeping you hostage is not only breaking the law but also increasing the costs.”

In his last letter to Longworth, written on 14 September from the village of Kulak Kaya, a day’s ride from Lidjessy, Williams disputed his safety, for all the way there the miners ensured that he was guarded by a cavass to prevent his escape. The embittered man believed he had acted honourably yet had been forced to leave the mine by a company that had chopped and changed its mind and was content to allow its manager to live broke and in debt for 13 months, and who was now penniless and unable to pay off his debts. He reminded the consul that the embassy had told him two months beforehand to make preparations to meet the justified claims of the workers before leaving the country. But Longworth, a typical diplomat, quibbled the meaning of the words, claiming that his instructions were that the justified demands of the miners should not be damaged by his [Williams’s] departure.

Longworth concedes that the company had authorised the sale of the mine equipment, and that this had been overruled by Konstantinidis, but he believes that Williams should have listened to his employers and not their representatives in Kerasunda or elsewhere ‘and made the sale without hesitation.’ Basically, there was nothing further the consul could do to help Williams who appears to have been repatriated to Britain shortly afterwards. Where he called home in Britain is yet to be determined.

This debacle brings a shameful end to the Asia Minor Mining Company, which this time failed to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. The company never appeared to make enough profit to pay its long-suffering shareholders a dividend, yet it survived for some two decades probably because it was not making a series of calls which would have been a serious pull on their pockets.

The Lidjessy Mine certainly brought much needed employment and development to this remote region of Turkey, as the wider Kara Hissar region was connected by good carriage road to the Black Sea coast. It started the careers of Cornishmen like Captain Henry Middleton, and furthered those of well-known managers such as Cresswell and Twelvetrees. It appears that the company’s charter was terminated in 1916 and it was finally struck from the Board of Trade register sometime prior to 1932.

 

 

Further Reading on the Lidjessy Mine

Cora, Yaşar Tolga (2022), “Asia Minor Mining Company’nin Finansal Sorunları ve Licese Madenindeki Faaliyetlerini Durdurması,” Karadeniz Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi, İlkbahar 14:26, 255-278.

Saylan, Kemal (2014), “Licese Maden Ocaĝi ve Asia Minor Mining Company’nin Licese’deki Faaliyetleri,” Tarih İncelemeleri Dergisi, XXIX/2, 625-643.

Yüksel, Ayhan (2002), “Giresunlu Ünlü Eşkıya Micanoğlu Hüseyin”, Tarih ve Toplum, 226, 204-207.

Visit Lidjessy

The village of Asarcık is bisected by the modern road from Şebinkarahisar to Giresun and lies on the southern side of the pass. The village of Licese is located in a valley accessed from a dirt track off the main road and contains a despoiled Greek Orthodox Church. The mines lie between Asarcık and Licese. The spoil heaps from the adits and shafts are visible from the Eĝri Bel pass on the eastern slope of Eĝri Bel mountain. What remains survive of the dressing floors, if any, is not known.

© Sharron P. Schwartz 2024

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