صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]

move the stones which are carried into it by the waters. The next step is to subject to a second clearance the matter that is precipitated into the trench. For this purpose, negroes provide wooden bowls shaped like a funnel, about two feet wide at the mouth, and five or six inches deep. Each workman takes into his bowl five or six pounds weight of sediment, and, standing in the stream, admits a certain quantity of water; which he stirs about, so that the precious metal, separating from the inferior and lighter substances, settles in the bottoni and sides of the bowl. They next rinse the bowl in a larger vessel of clear water, in which they leave the gold, and begin again, each operation being performed in six or eight minutes. The particles of gold produced vary greatly both in number and size, some being hardly discernible to the eye, while others are as large as pease. The value at stake in this operation is such as to render it -xpedient that the negroes should be superintended by overseers.-The shining appearance of the refuse of old washings, lying in numberless heaps, at first dazzled Mr. Mawe's imagination, and made him fancy that they contained some of the finest mineral products : but it was in vain that he and some labourers, whom he had engaged, toiled for three days in the search : nothing had escaped the vigilant eye of the negroes.

Another mode of separating gold from the soil is called canoewashing. The canoes are thus made: two planks, twelve or fifteen feet in length, are laid on the ground, forming a gentle slope, and then at a fall of six inches, two other planks are fixed in a similar direction. On their sides are boards placed edgeways, and staked down to the ground, so as to form long shallow troughs, the bottoms of which are covered with hides tanned to a certain degree, but retaining the hairs. The water containing the lighter particles of gold being conveyed down these troughs, the gold sinks, and remains entangled in the hair. Every half hour the hides are taken up, stretched over a tank, and beaten repeatedly, so as to discharge all the gold into the tank. At night the tanks are locked up, and the sediment taken from them is carefully washed away by the hands.

Curious as these operations are, they sink into insignificance when compared with the bold maneuvre of diverting a river from its channel, for the purpose of searching its bed. This process takes place at the river Jigitonhonba, which flows through what is called the “diamond district;" a tract of country lying around the town of Tejuco, situated several hundred miles inland, north of Rio de Janeiro. At a spot called Mandanga, this river, form. ed by the junction of a number of streams in the diamond district, is as wide as the Thames at Windsor, and varies in depth from three to nine feet. The current is diverted into a canal cut across

a tongue of land round which the river winds, the water being arrested in its course at the head of the canal by an einbankment formed of several thousand bags of sand. The channel being thus laid open, the water remaining in its pits is exhansted by machinery; a removal which is followed by carrying off the mud and digging up the cascalhao, or stratum, containing particles of gold. As the river admits of these labours during the dry season only, the miners calculate on gaining as much of the stratum as will give them occupation in the farther processes during the rainy months. Having laid the stratum in heaps of teń or twelve tons, they bring, by means of an aqueduct, a stream of water, and proceed to wash the heaps for diamonds in the following manner. They erect a long shed, consisting of upright posts supporting a roof thatched with long grass, to protect the workmen from the

Under this shed is placed a flooring of planks, divided into twenty compartments, or troughs. In each frough a negro stations himself, rakes into it a quantity of cascalhao, and admils water, more or less, into the trough. After the water has Nowed through the trough for a quarter of an hour, it becomes clearer, having washed away the mud. The negro then throws away the stones remaining in the trough, and proceeds to examine the stratum with great care for diamonds." All this takes place under the eye of overseers; and when a negro finds a diamond, he rises upright, claps his hands, and delivers the gem to the overseers. The negro who is so fortunate as to discover a diamond weigbing 17 1-2 carats is crowned with a wreath of flowers, and receives his freedom: but, if any one be detected in smuggling a diamond, he is chastised and imprisoned. They work about ten hours daily, generally in a stooping posture. At intervals they pause and take rest ; when snuff, of which they are very fond, is banded about among them.-The approach to the diamond district is very scrupulously guarded by order of the Portuguese government.

With regard to the stratum already mentioned, the substances which are considered as indications of diamonds are bright bean. like iron ore; a slaty flint-like matter; black oxyde of iron; rounded bits of blue.quartz; yellow crystal; and other materials entirely different from the soil of the mountains adjacent to this district. Diamonds are not peculiar to the beds of rivers, nor to deep ravines; they have been found in cavities, and in watercourses, on the sumipit of very high grounds. The flat trac!3 on each side of the river Jigitonhonha appeared to be equally rich throughout their extent; which enables the officers to calculate the value of an unexplored spot by a comparison with others which they have previously analyzed. “That piece of ground,” said the intendant, (pointing to a flat by the side of the

river,) “will yield ten thousand carats of diamonds, whenever we. shall be required to get thein in the regular course of working, or when, on any particular occasion, there arrives a government order demanding an extraordinary and immediate supply.” This river, and other streams in its vicinity, have been in a course of washing for many years, and have produced great quantities of diamonds; which differ very much in size, some being so small that eighteen or twenty are required to the carat; and at other times stones being found which weigh froin seventeen to twenty carats each. In the course of years, the present district must be exhausted: but other grounds, not far off, may be considered as a source of supply. The following anecdote shows the vigilance with which smuggling is watched:

“ A carrier, going to Rio de Janeiro with some loaded mules, was overtaken by two cavalry soldiers, who ordered him to surrender bis fowling-piece; which being done, they bored the butt-end with a gimlet, and finding it bollow, took off the iron from the end, where they found a cavity, containing about three hundred carats of diamonds, which they immediately seized. The man was hurried away, and thrown into prison at Tejuco, where I afterwards saw him. The diamonds were confiscated, and the soldiers received half their value. The fate of this man is a dreadful instance of the rigour of the existe ing laws: he will forfeit all his property, and be confined, probably, for the remainder of his days in a loathsome prison, among felons and murderers.—Doubtless, the poor fellow owed his misfortune to some secret villain, in the shape of a confidential friend, who, having learned his mode of carrying diamonds concealed, had, for the sake of a paltry premium, or from some mean-spirited inotive, given notice of it to government !"

In the diamond district, which, from its name, seems to convey the idea of opulence, unfortunately more paupers are found than in any other. This circuinstance is owing to the neglect of agriculture; a neglect that is common to almost all quarters in which gold-washings are practised. One pleasing exception was found by Mr. Mawe in travelling through a remote part:

“I was received into a very respectable house, which had the appearance of former opulence. The owner, Captain Bom Jarden, a veperable old gentleman, came to welcome me: on eutering ioto conversation, he informed me that he had emigrated hither from Oporto at the age of seventeen, and had lived here sixty-two years.

He was tempted to settle here by the hope of participating in the rich treasures for which the country was then famed; but he arrived two or three years too late: the mines were already on the decline, and he was obliged to turn his attention to agricultural pursuits, in wbich he perscvered with such success that he was enabled to realize a con

fortable independency, and to bring up a numerous family in credit and respectability It had been well if his neighbours had profited by so eminent an example, iustead of deserting the couotry when the gold on its surface disappeared."

In these sequestered spots, the chief beast of prey is the ounce, which is commonly hunted with dogs.

“ When the carcass of a worried animal has been found, or when an. ounce has been seen prowling about, the news is soon proclaimed among the neighbours, two or three of whom take fire-arms loaded with heavy slugs, and go out with the dogs in quest of the animal, who generally · lurks in some thicket, near the carcass he has killed, and leaves so strong a scent, that the dogs soon find. When disturbed he retreats to his den, if he has one, the dogs never attempting to fasten on him, or even tó face him, but, on the contrary, endeavouring to get out of his way, which is not difficult, as the ounce is heavy and slow of motion. If he caves, the sport is at an end, and the hunters make up the entrance; but he more commonly bas recourse to a large tree, which he climbs with great facility; here his fate is generally decided, for the hunters get near enough to take a steady aini, and seldom fail to bring him down, one of them reserving his fire to despatch him, if required, after he has fallen. It generally happens, that one or two of the dogs are killed in coming too near, for even in his dying struggles, a single stroke of his paw proves mortal. The skin is carried home as a troply, and the neighbours meet and congratulate each other, on the occasion."

If in this country we find room for almost annual improvements in machinery, we may safely take it for granted that the want of suitable implements causes the waste of much labour in the mines of Brazil. In many parts, neither carts nor wheel-barrows are in use ;

and the most cumbrous materials are carried on the heads of poor negroes, who have often to climb ascents on which inclined planes might be employed to great advantage. The best plan ihat the Portuguese could follow- would be to encourage societies of arts, and to distribute models of useful inachinery. Together with this object, the improvement of agriculture, of pasturage, and the care of the health of negroes, are of great importance; and an attention to such points as these would lead to a much more permanent kind of wealth than that which is cierived from the excavation of mines. The precarious nature of the latter is strikingly exemplified in the town called Villa Rica, situated half way between Rio de Janeiro and the diamond-district. It is the capital of the provice of Minas Geraes, and was long reputed the richest town in Brazil. Now, however, it exhibits many melancholy tokens of departed wealth, the houses being partly untenanted, and the rents of those which are occupied being in a course of almost annual diminution. Such was at one time the produce of the neighbouring mines, that between 1730 and 1750, the king's fifth is said, during some years, to have amounted to half a million sterling. Since the decay of these mines, the inhabitants remain in a great measure in idleness, neglecting the cultivation of the fine country around, which would amply compensate the loss of me. tallic treasures. The credulity with which reports of new mines are circulated is surprising, and once occasioned Mr. Mawe , a long and fatiguing journey. It is not uncommon for persons who wish to sell an estate, to resort to the expedient of mixing filings with the earth, and, after the process of washing, to produce them as samples, with the view of enbancing the value of the land. The prevalence of the passion for mining operates to delude the lower orders with the prospect of speedy wealth, and to create in them a disgust for regular labour: yet, if they would be taugbt by experience, they might observe that those of their countrymen who devote themselves to mining are in general ill clothed and ill fed; while the followers of agriculture are comparatively strangers to the want of comfort.

We conclude our extracts by a passage containing an account of the author's escape, at Cadiz, in the summer of 1804, from an attack of the dreadful contagion which most persons are agreed in considering to have been the plagae.

“ The effects of this awful scourge were visible in every social circle; almost in every family; and perhaps the despondency caused by witnessing them contributed to extend its fatal sway. I still shudder to remember, that of a party of strangers amounting to five, (myself included,) who took coffee together one saturday evening in perfect health, 1, on monday-week following, was the sole survivor. The progress of the disorder was so rapid, that three of them died on the fourth day.

“The first symptonis I felt were extreme lassitude, heaviness, and tremor, acccompanied with a considerable degree of fever, which I first observed while on my way to dine with a friend. I returned to my lodgings and took a grain of calomel, as had been my daily custom for some time. This precaution had been suggested to me by a skilful chemist in London, who furoished me with a quantity of that medicine, to be regularly taken whenever I was exposed to contagion of any kind. Believing, however, that my complaint was only a bad cold, I took some tea and retired to bed, but passed a restless pight. In the morning while at breakfast, among the Spanish family with whom I lodged, my appearance, and aversion to food, excited the apprehensious of the lady of the house, a humane and (to use an expressive family phrase) a motherly woman, who assured me that I had the plague. Unwilling to believe her, though continually growing worse,

« السابقةمتابعة »