The Caime Mines
The Echo on April 6th 1957 published a reproduction of a document which it claimed to have received from a reader. It was what would be in latter day parlance be called a pay order or cheque issued by Caime Mine authorising Messers Harris and Company of the Enniscorthy Bank to pay the bearer, J. Lee, before 1810 on demand the sum of six shillings. I am unable to find a clear indication of the date 1810 on it but I take the word of the caption underneath it that this was the date.
If the date is as stated then the mines in Caime were in operation in the first decade of the nineteenth century. The probability is that six shillings represented week’s wages for the miner but that is not exactly certain. We now know, at least, the name of one of the miners in the Caime mines. His evidence to the public inquiry into John Howlin’s claim for compensation in December 1844 indicates that Garrett Byrne was another; the relevant part of it state was as follows:
“Has lived about forty years in this country; was always a miner; was employed by Carlton and Lapp, who had the mine before the company; at that time the stream that now flows in Mr Howlin’s land was conducted by a cut into the mines at Caim rocks from an artificial pond but the course it runs at present is the original course….It was not run to Caim Rock mines for upwards of thirty years and the pond and cut are filled up that length of time.1”
The Caime Mine Rocks was were about two and a half acres in area, presumably in Plantation measure, a good bit bigger than modern statute measure.
John Abraham described as a very old man said that “he had no recollection whatever as to the mines, at which he said he had been employed about forty years ago.2” A Parliamentary inspector in April 1841 stated that there were 127 persons working at the mines; 60 of them were male adults, 14 female adults; 20 males and 26 males under 18 years of age and 7 children, all of whom were boys. Only the male adults worked underground and most of the people employed at the Caime mines were natives of the neighbourhood. The people in the Caime locality were exceedingly poor, living almost entirely on potatoes, supplemented occasionally with milk and on the very odd occasion with fish or bacon. The children working at the mine told a Parliamentary enquiry that they were satisfied, for the greater part, with their employment but their admission that they could not afford to pay the tuition fees in the local School—leaving them unable to write and read—indicates serious poverty.3
The statements of Messrs Byrne and Abraham would seem to imply that the mines at Caim were closed as early as 1815 and that Carlton and Lapp succeeded the Caime Mining Company before 1815.
The Echo on September 12th, 1925 reported on the visit of a Mr Samuel G. Knott, an American mining expert, to the site of the lead mine at Caime. He was accompanied by Mr Gerald Flood, the engineer of the Enniscorthy rural district. In the report geological records were referred to as proving that the mine was abandoned due to lack of machinery but that it opened some time later in 1836. They did indeed open in 1836 or thereabouts.
The Wexford Independent in the early summer of 1836 reported:
“We are rejoiced to hear that the splendid and extensive Lead Mines of Caime, the estate of Justin Brennan, are about to be worked by a spirited and affluent company under the most favourable auspices. These mines were formerly worked with beneficial effect; but for some cause or other, like most other Irish speculations, however profitable, were after a few trials, placed in abeyance.” The report noted the dearth of agricultural employment for our sturdy, able-bodied labouring population.” The resources available were describes as “scarcely sufficient to sustain nature”. It was indicated that Mr Brennan was favourable to the venture and the report concluded:
“We believe it is found necessary to send the ore to England for smelting from the want of sufficient coal in our own country; but if our resources were properly developed, even in that all important article, we would ere long be able to compete with our more favourable neighbour.4” The prosperous state of its finances and the advanced price obtainable for lead motivated the Mining Company of Ireland to re-open the Caime Mine; the official report noted-enigmatically—that this concern had “been under lease to the Company for some years.5”
The geological records which the article in the Echo in 1925 referred to were presumably the Parliamentary ones of the 19th century. These indicate that the output of 1842 was 500 tons of crushed ore and there was 130 men working on the site. The ore was conveyed to another works owned by the same company on the coast of Wicklow. The mines according to the records were definitely closed down in 1854 owing to the lode being lost but the newspaper report in 1925 added enigmatically:
“Local tradition, however, has it that the owner of Ballyhyland House at the time—a Mr Howlin—was afraid that the workings which were proceeding in the direction of the house would undermine it and that he was responsible for the closing of the mine. This is quite possible and he may have had sufficient influence to have secured an entry in his favour in the geological records.6”
John Howlin did not own Ballyhyland in fee but leased it from Justin Brennan but he had land in Carne probably in fee simple or full ownership. He was a magistrate in that locality. Howlin and his brother Jimmy were volatile men, given to rows with other notables and on one occasion with the Rev. Mr Hughes a rector in the Carne area. I am not fully convinced, however, that John Howlin was totally responsible for the closure of the mine.
Mining then was a risky investment and the one at Barriestown in Carrig-on-Bannow in Co. Wexford were worked on and off and finally closed in circa 1850 with catastrophic consequences for the employees. The work of digging for ore with shovels and pick axes was labour intensive and often fruitless. Bad weather, especially wet times, could flood the mines or at least clog up work on soil.
The fundamental reason for the failure of the Caime Mines in 1844 was simply financial. Richard Purdy the Secretary of the Mining Company of Ireland, Office 27 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin wrote on May 23rd as follows to Captain J. Barrett the manager of the Caime mine:
“Dear Sir—I have laid before the Board of Directors your statement that the tributers at Caime mines are not satisfied with the rate of wages earned by them under their several contracts for ore and I regret to inform you that notwithstanding the low wages paid to the men, the Company has lost and continues to lose large sums of money by working the mine, by which losses and the unfavourable prospects in the mine, the Board is precluded from authorising you to advance the rate of wages. And you will therefore discontinue the workings and dress up the men’s ore with the least possible delay; and in the meantime to enable the men to proceed to other concerns, you will advance to each partnership the probable value of the ore when at surface.7”
The probability is that the mines were losing money despite the low wages but the reference to the unfavourable prospects in the mines may be a tactful allusion to the bizarre, unprecedented and ugly row between the Mining Company and John Howlin of Ballyhyland House.
The Mining Company of Ireland’s reports initially indicated good prospects for the re-opened Caime Mine. That of January 5th 1837 indicated that the Engine House and Smith’s Forge had been erected there and part of the Steam Engine to un-water the Mine received. The report of January 1840 asserted that the “prospects under ground are considerably improved—the vein which had been heaved has been found and is productive.” The Report of the Company dated July 1st 1841 indicated financial loss at the Caime Mine; it sourly noted that workings directed principally to searches for the great lode, heaved at the 47 fathoms level….absorbed the profit upon the ore produced.8” A report of May 1842 referred to “the reduced price of lead” as depriving it of a profit at Caime.
The mines were still operating at the end of June 1844 as Edmund Hore in the Wexford Independent angrily focussed on the fiasco that the Caime mining project had become, a truly Irish saga of shooting one’s self in the foot. He wrote:
“The Mining Company of Ireland, a native Irish one, has for some years past, worked with much success the silver lead mine of Caim and Ballyhyland. This is a poor and backward district and an immense majority of its inhabitants, barely above actual want, eagerly seek after any employment which would promise to them the slightest remuneration. From one hundred and fifty to two hundred individuals are employed at these works, with an expenditure of at least two hundred pounds a week; all natives employed, with the exception of a few Cornish miners, whose skill and experience rendered their services indispensably necessary for the successful carrying on of the operations; but all the money earned is spent in the neighbourhood of the works to the great advantage of all and the satisfaction of the inhabitants in general with few, if any, exceptions.”
Hore continued that the work was unfortunately limited for want of surface—to explore— and explained:
“This heavy and absolute check to an enterprise which has worked so much and promised still more for the public weal, is attributed to a difference between the owners of the property….” Captain Justin Brennan the owner in fee or full owner of Ballyhyland was the owner of the mining rights on his estate and he favoured the mining project but John Howlin of Carne the tenant of Ballyhyland, a magistrate and effectively one of the lesser landlords himself is discretely quoted by Hore as saying that he would rejoice if the works should cease altogether.9
My reasoned conjecture is that John Howlin may have opposed the mining because of an apprehension on his part that it would place an intolerable burden on the poor law rate for his electoral division. Mines in 19th century Ireland were a mixed blessing: even where they forged successfully ahead they resulted in upward demographic pressures as more of the labouring poor entered into marriage. In practice most of these mining enterprises in Ireland faltered with catastrophic consequences for both the miners themselves and local business people dependent on their business. The men left unemployed after the closure of the lead and silver mines in Barrystown, in the parish of Carrig-on-Bannow in circa 1849, spent the next two years surviving on the charity of their neighbours before the local proprietor, Tom Boyse, arranged for them to emigrate to America. The latter had a vested interest in their departure as the alternative was to allow them to enter the Workhouse: the cost of maintaining them in that institution would have to be recouped from the rates on proprietors, farmers and commercial people in the electoral district that they had resided in. I may, however, over stress such a consideration in Howlin’s reasoning
On the 22nd of January 1845 the Wexford Independent published an incandescent letter from John Barrett, the Captain (to use the pompous title given to him) of the Caime mines: he alleged that the report of the inquiry into Howlin’s claim for compensation to his land done by the mining company wrongly implied that he was made the victim of an entire system of persecution by Barrett since he came to Caime about seven years before.
Mr Barrett wrote that for the previous four years the principal operations were searches in the old mine and that he had during this period told Mr Howlin of his conviction that “there were other bunches of ore deposited to the west of the Company’s present workings…. On some occasions he [Mr Howlin] would exclaim oh no!—seek in the opposite direction and by God—you will find plenty of ore. I invariably told him I was sorry I should dissent from him on that head—that from all my theory and practice I was satisfied I was right—that the strongest of all indications for ore was—the granite appearing so near to the west as the back of Ballyhyland Hill.” In other words on Howlin’s demesne and moving towards the mansion built by him.
On the 7th of September 1842 Captain Barrett put four men to work at surface searches in a field of Howlin’s fully half a mile from Howlin’s house; effectively they were digging holes in the ground with manual implements, spades pick-axes, etc. He alleged that a large body of labourers hurried down from Mr Howlin’s farm yard, all armed with pitch-forks, spades etc, one having a bayonet fixed on a gun. Clement Sinnott, the steward at Ballyhyland—according to Captain Barrett—produced a letter from Mr Howlin, then at his other farm at Carne, directing him to prevent the miners exploring in the field by all possible means “even to a breach of the peace.”
Captain Barrett claimed that Mr Howlin on his return from Carne appeared on the following day in person, heading a police force as magistrate and assembled a large group of his workmen “who all waited to see if I dare repeat the attempt of the day previous.” In my opinion Mr Howlin was over-interpreting his authority as magistrate and I believe that he likewise abused his authority as magistrate in a row over seaweed on a strand in South Co. Wexford. The role of statutory law was augmenting all thorough the nineteenth century and it posited the existence of basic legal rights for citizens and eschewed the arbitrary character of rule by magistrates. Barrett desisted from entering and Howlin asked him for his authority for doing so on the previous day. He demanded that Barrett produce an order from the owner in fee or landlord Justin Brennan of Kiltrea before he (Mr Howlin) would allow him to proceed to enter the lands. Captain Barrett stated that Mr Brennan, who as owner in fee or head landlord, possessed all mining rights on his estate, sent him by post on September 19th 1842 an order allowing the mining company to search the lands of Ballyhyland for ore. Barrett continued:
“On the 24th September 1842 Captain Brennan came from Wexford, up to the mine, and to prevent any further obstruction to my search, walked over the Royalty and gave me possession personally.” Captain Barrett finally succeeded in giving Captain Brennan’s order to John Howlin on October 3rd 1842 at which Howlin admitted his right to enter but asserted that he would not allow the company to erect any machinery on his land. The impression given is that Howlin, although powerless to prevent the mining company going onto his land, was determined to frustrate them as far as possible. This disposition of Howlin may have been the cause of a most malicious attitude on the part of Captain Barrett and the mining company to Howlin. The heat of this quarrel would have been sufficient if exploited properly to smelt the ore!
On the 14th of November 1842 Mr Howlin came to the mine early in the morning and complained that he had heard that Captain Barrett intended to erect “a windlass over the shaft we had sunk on the Ballyhyland part of the Royalty.” Barrett alleged that Howlin took a gun from his caretaker and discharged it in the air. He continued:
“The carpenter….on looking around saw a number of his workmen running down the field towards the shaft where they were. When I arrived Mr Howlin was in a rage. I, however, commenced putting up a windlass which he prevented me by taking the timber out of my hands. By this time numbers of his labourers surrounded him. I told him the course he was pursuing was calculated to oblige me to do more damage to the surface than if he allowed us quietely pursue the search. He said that was just what he wanted: the more damage the more pay. Barrett claimed that he then had to enlarge the mouth of the shaft; a course more expensive than if had been allowed to erect the windlass. He then made this astounding accusation:
“Mr Howlin….commenced cutting a water course immediately above the shaft and succeeding in completing it by the 22nd of November; this led the water into the head of the field where we were at work. The water was then turned down towards the shaft and soon forced its way to its sides. In one night the sides were so saturated that they forthwith gave way and rendered it entirely useless.”10 The mining company were then obliged to sink a new shaft up higher from the diverted water and as this work commenced a most unfortunate assertion was made by Captain Barrett. In his evidence to the court inquiry at Enniscorthy —required to adjudicate on John Howlin’s claim that the Mining Company were maliciously endangering undermining his splendid Ballyhyland House— in late December 1844 he stated:
“Mr Howlin said to witness that he was surprised at his spending the money of the company in annoying him; witness said he should spend a great deal more of the Company’s money in annoying him.11” The lawyers for Howlin implied all through that the mining company had dug all the holes in his land and up to his front door as a vexatious exercise; a form of revenge for Howlin’s negativity to the mining. Articles in the Echo in 1927 depict Howlin as an ogre and demon clearing impoverished tenants off his estate; this kind of ultra nationalist and Anglophobic treatise was typical of that time but possibly incorrect. The indications are that the large numbers of workmen employed by Howlin at Ballyhyland were in awe of him and the evidence of James Clinch an employee of the mining Company was detrimental to Barrett on the important issue of motivation:
“witness was not prevented by Mr Howlin or any person from searching; Captain Barrett seldom accompanied the men in their searches; on one occasion was at work in a turnip field of Mr Howlin’s digging a pit when Barrett came up to him and said he need not work any more there as he (Captain Barrett) knew where the ore was himself full well; witness said, why not show it then? Barrett said no, I will torment him a few days longer.12”
Clinch described himself as a brogue maker by trade and further argued that he saw no water come into the pits but what came down by the rain and added that the weather was very wet about that time. The Caime mines were reputed to be wet, the wettest in Ireland. His evidence, despite his position as an employee of the mining company, was favourable to the Howlin case.
There was a mention in the newspapers in the late 1950s of Howlin taking an injunction against the mining company in 1854 but I have found no evidence of this and I feel that the only lawsuit entered into by John Howlin to the courts for compensation which was heard before a jury in Enniscorthy in December 1844.
Mr George Q. C. in his opening address stated the case for Mr Howlin. The mining company had on every day from the 29th of August 1842 to the 3rd of January 1843 entered upon his lands, dug several pits or open casts, broken down his fences, destroyed his plantations and carried on their operations in such a manner as to cause very serious annoyance and injury to him; having gone so far as to sink open holes and open cuts in the shrubbery within a few feet of his hall-door—under his parlour windows—in his farm yard, his haggard containing several hundreds barrels of corn and throughout every part of his demesne, the pits or open cuts so sunk amounting to the number of 42, besides ninety-two surface holes dug or sunk in one ten acre field alone.13” John Howlin had built the magnificent Ballyhyland House and had employed Mr Frazer the landscape painter to lay out his grounds. There is no clear evidence that Mr Howlin feared that the mining operations would undermine his mansion but such a consideration must have come into his mind. The digging of all these holes would —as stated by Counsel—greatly lessen the value of his place. The unpleasant and dismissive disposition towards Howlin and his concerns of the Counsel for the mining company must have created a bad impression on the jury. Mr William Monck Gibbon, for the mining company boasted that they were spending £6,000 a year on the mining operations, a sum greatly in excess of all that spent by Mr Howlin at both Carne and Ballyhyland.
Mr Gibbon pressed the counter case of the mining company: they alleged that Mr Howlin diverted a stream into the mine shaft and that he forbade them to use a windlass to speed up their work: the impediments posed by Mr Howlin had forced the company to do all the digging and he estimated that four fifths of the damage done to Mr Howlin had been caused by his own interruptions. Mr Gibbon said that if the company took his advice they would bring an action against Mr Howlin for the injury that he had done them.14 Counsel for Howlin handed to Captain Barrett a copy of the notice from Richard Purdy the secretary of the mining company of May 23rd 1844 informing him that the mines at Caime had to be closed because they losing so much money to counter the allegation that Howlin’s opposition had caused the mines had fundamentally endangered the viability of the mines.15 It was a superb bit of court theatre and most effective.
The jury at Mr George’s suggestion went to Ballyhyland to inspect the damage. After the hearing of evidence plus addresses from the rival legal teams concluded the jury retired to deliberate and after half an hour returned with a verdict of £325 damages to Mr Howlin for entering and digging on the lands of Ballyhyland. It is difficult to disagree with their verdict.
The official reports of the Irish Mining Company give terse clues as the why the Company abandoned the Caime mines. It was stated that for the half-year ended the 31st of May 1842 that 300 tons of ore were obtained but that the price of lead was reduced. The report for November 1842 indicated that works at the surface were impeded by a misunderstanding with the tenant in occupation that is John Howlin. In May 1843 the situation in regard to Mr Howlin was described as improved.
On the 31st of May it was stated that the issue of working on the surface was not resolved with the tenant of the land and that therefore “the working of Caime and Ballyhyland mine has not been resumed.”
The Wexford Guardian reported on November 27th 1947 as follows:
“We understand that the spirited and enterprising proprietors of the Barriestown mines intend immediately to commence operations in Ballyhyland mines (in the neighbourhood of Enniscorthy) in or about January next. These gentlemen give at least present employment weekly to over 300 persons. 16” This report is certainly incorrect as the official records of the Mining Company prove that it retained ownership of the Caime mines well into the 1850s and make no mention of a deal with any other company in relation to the Caime mine.
The Mining Company of Ireland refused to pay the £325 compensation to John Howlin; the Ballyhyland proprietor consequently detained property of the Mining Company to pressurise them to pay. Purdy as Secretary to the Company took Howlin to the Court of Queen’s Bench in early June 1846 for this trespass and seizure of its property but the Chief Justice felt that Mr Howlin was entitled to the compensation awarded to him by the judicial investigation and he found in Mr Howlin’s favour.17
1. The Wexford Conservative, January 4th 1845. It is the Wexford Library.
2. The Wexford Conservative, January 4th 1845.
3. Coal Mining History Resource Centre. Published by Ian Winstanley, 83 Greenfields Crescent, Ashton-in-Makerfield, Wigan. Wn4 8qy, Lancashire, England This gives superb information on the working conditions in the Caime Mines, especially of the women and children.
4. The Wexford Independent May 4th 1836.
5. Mining Company of Ireland’s Report dated 7th July 1836 and signed Richard Purdy, Secretary.
6. The Echo March 30th 1957. The 1925 article was re-produced in that issue.
7. The Wexford Independent June 1st 1844. It is in the Wexford Library.
8. The reports of The Mining Company of Ireland are easily accessible on Google.
9. The Wexford Independent June 29th 1844. It is in the Wexford Library
10. The Wexford Independent January 22nd 1845. It is in the Wexford Library.
11. The Wexford Conservative, January 4th, 1845. It is in the Wexford Library.
12. The Wexford Conservative, January 4th, 1845. It is in the Wexford Library.
13. The Wexford Conservative January 4th, 1845.
14. The Wexford Conservative January 4th, 1845.
15. The Wexford Independent January 1st, 1845 and The Wexford Conservative January 4th, 1845.
16. The Wexford Guardian, November 27th, 1847. It is in the National Library, Kildare Street, Dublin.
17. The Wexford Independent, June 13th, 1846.