1902 Encyclopedia > India > Minerals

(Part 12)



The Indian peninsula, with its wide area and diversified features, supplies a great store of mineral wealth, characterized both by variety and unusual richness. In utilizing this wealth, English enterprise has met with many rebuffs. Much capital has been expended with no other result in many cases than disappointement. But the experience has not been thrown away ; and the mining industry, now established on a sure basis, is rising into an important position in a country which ought gladly to welcome any employment other than the universal pursuit of agriculture.

Iron.—In purity of ore, and in antiquity of working, the iron deposits of India probably rank first in the world. They are to be found in every part of the country, from the northern mountains of Assams and Kumáun to the extreme south of the Madras presidency. Wherever there are hills, iron is found and worked to a greater or less extent. The indigenous methods of smelting the ore, which are everywhere the same, and have been handed down unchanged through countless generations, yields a metal of the finest quality in a form well suited to native wants. But they require an extravagant supply of charcoal ; and even with the cheapness of native labour the product cannot compete in price with imported iron from England. European enterprise, attracted by the richness of the ore and the low rate of wages, has repeatedly tried to establish iron-works on a large scale ; but hitherto every one of these attempts has ended in failure, alike in Madras, in the Central Provinces, in the Ráníganj coal-field, and in Kumáun. At the present time iron is manufactured only by a peasant families of smelters, each working on a very small and even this industry is languishing under the competition of English imports. The initial difficulty in India is to find the three elements of iron working—namely, the ore, the flux, and the fuel—sufficiently near to each other ; the second difficulty is the choking of the furnaces from the excessive quantity of ash in the coal.

Coal has been known to exist in India since 1774, and is said to have been worked as far back as 1775. There are now altogether fifty-eight collieries in the country, with an annual out-turn of about 1 million tons. In India, as elsewhere, coal-mining and railway extention have gone hand in hand. Coal is comparatively worthless unless it can be brought to market by rail ; and the price of coal is the chief element in determining the expenses of railway working. The history of coal in India has, on the whole, been one of continual progress. The first mine, at Ráníganj, dates from 1820, and has been worked regularly up to the present time. In 1878 its output was 50,000 tons. For twenty years no new mine was opened ; but the commencement of the East India Railway in 1854 gave a fresh impetus to the industry, and since that date collieries have been opened at the rate of two or three every year. The largest number of additions was seven, in 1874. By 1878 the total number of collieries in connexion with the East India system was fifty-six. From these are supplied, not only the railways itself, but also the jute mills of Calcutta, and the river steamers of Lower Bengal. In 1877-78 the railway used 308,000 tons of coal from its own collieries at Karharbárí and Srirámpur, and sent exactly the same quantity to Calcutta. In that year the imports of coal into Calcutta. In that year the imports of coal into Calcutta by sea were only 80,000 tons, so that Calcutta now uses about 80 per cent. of Indian to 20 per cent. of foreign coal. Bombay, on the other hand, and also Madras are entirely supplied with coal from England. The collieries in the Central Provinces, which are the only others worked on a large scale, are limited to the supply of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway. They are two in number,—(1) the Warora colliery, under the management of the Public Works Department, and (2) the Mohpání colliery, which has been leased to the Narbadá Coal Company. The total are of the Ráníganj coal-field has been estimated at 500 square miles. In this "black country" of India, which is dotted with tall chimney-stalks, six European companies are at work, besides many native firms. At first coal was raised from surface quarries, but regular mining is now carried on, according to the system of "pillar and stall." The seams are entirely free from gas, so that the precautions usual in England against explosion are found unnecessary. The miners are all drawn from the aboriginal low-castes, chiefly Santáls and Baurís, who are noted for their endurance and docility. Baurís work with the pick, but Santáls will consent to use no other tool than the crowbar. Wages are high, and the men look well-fed, though they waste their surplus earnings in drink. The great drawback of Indian coal is its large proportion of ash, varying from 14 to 20 per cent., as against 3 to 6 per cent. in English coal. This places it at a great disadvantage alike for iron-smelting and locomotive purposes. But it has been proved that, with efficient firegrates and proper manipulation, 135 lb of Warora coal will do the work of 100 lb of English coal.

Salt, an article of supreme necessity to the Indian peasant who eats no meat, it derived from three main sources, exclusive of importation from Europe:—(1) by evaporation from sea-water along the entire double line of seaboard from Bombay to Orissa, but especially in Guzerat on the Coromandel coast ; (2) by evaporation from in-land lakes, of which the Sámbhar Lake in Rájputána affords the chief example ; (3) by quarrying solid hills of salt in the north-east of the Punjab. The last is the only case in which salt can be said to exist as a mineral. It occurs in solid cliff, which for extent and purity are stated to have no rival elsewhere in the world. The chief of these has given its name tot he Salt Range, running across the districts of Jhelum (Jhílam (Jhílam) and Shábpur, from the bank of the Jhelum river to Kálábágh in Bannu district. Similar deposits are found beyond the Indus in Kohát district, where the salt is of two kinds, red and green, and in the hill state of Mandi bordering on Kángrá district. The salt is found in the red marls and sandstones of the Devonian group. In some cases it can be obtained from open quarries ; but more generally it is approached by regular mining by the pick and blasting, through wide galleries. The principal mine is at Korea in Jhelum district, now called after Lord Mayo. The total annual out-turn in the Punjab is returned at about 50,000 tons, yielding a revenue to Government of more than £400,000. In 1877-78 the actual figures of revenue were—(1) from the Salt Range, £426,00, (2) from Hohat, £8000, (3) from Mandi, £6000.

In southern India salt made by evaporation is almost universally consumed. Lower Bengal, especially eastern Bengal, uses salt imported from Cheshire at Low rates of freight, and paying the excise duty at Calcutta or other port of entry. In Orissa and south-western Bengal both imported salt And salt made by solar evaporation are consumed, the latter being alone considered pure for religious purposes or for the priests.

Saltpetre.—At one time India had almost a monopoly of the supply of saltpetre upon which Europe depended for its gunpowder. In combination with other saline substances it occurs as a while efforescence upon the surface of the soil in many parts of the country, especially in the upper valley of the Ganges. Its preparation leaves common salt as one of the residuary products ; and consequently fiscal reasons have tended to limit the manufacture to the most remunerative region, which is found in North Behar.

The manufacture is simple, and entirely in the hands of a special caste of natives, called Nuniyás, who are conspicuous for their capacity of enduring hard work. As is the case with most Indian industries, they work under a system of money advances from middle-men, who are themselves sub-contractors under the large houses of business. In former times the East India Company engaged in the manufacture on its own account ; when it abandoned all private trade, its works taken over by European firms, but these have in their turn retired from the business, which is now in a state of decline, partly owing to the general fall in price, and partly to the restrictions imposed by the salt preventive department. The exports of salt petre from Calcutta are fairly constant, averaging about 450,000 cwts. a year, of which one-half goes to the United Kingdom. More than two-thirds of the total comes from Behar, chiefly from the districts of Tirhút, Sáran, and Champáran, though Patná is the railway station for despatch of Calcutta. Cawnpur, Gházípur, Allahábád, and Benares, in the North-Western Provinces, send small quantities, while a little comes from the Punjab.

Gold exists in many parts and probably in considerable quantities. Herodotus affirms that the Indians were the only nation who paid their tribute to Darius in gold ; and there is some reason for believing that the "Ophir" of King Solomon is to be identified with the Malabar coast. Nearly every hill stream is washed for gold, whether in the extreme south in the central plateau, or on the north-east and north-west frontiers. It is true that gold-washing is everywhere a miserable business, affording the barest livelihood ; but yet the total amount of gold obtained in this way cannot be insignificant. In recent years attention has been prominently drawn to the possibility of extracting gold from the quartz formation of southern India, which bears many points of resemblance to the auriferous quartz reefs of Australia. The principal localities are in the Wainád (Wynaad) subdivision of the Nílgir district and in Kolár district of Mysore. Gold-washing has always been practised there ; and the remains of old workings show that at some unknown period operation have been conducted on a large scale.

From about 1875 to 1880 individual pioneers were prospecting in that region. Crushing the quartz by rude native methods, they proved that it contained a larger proportion of gold than is known to yield a profit in Australia. These experiments on the southern ends of six reefs yielded an average of 7 dwts. per ton of quartz, rising in one case to 11 dwts. The best assay of the gold showed a fineness of slightly over 20 carats. In 1879 Government summoned a practical mining engineer from Australia, whose report was eminently hopeful. He described the quartz reefs as of great extent and thickness and highly auriferous. One reef in Kolár, laid bare 100 feet longitudinally, gave an average of 1 oz. of gold per ton. In order to attract capital, Government proposed to grant mining leases at a dead rent of Rs. 5 (10s.) per acre, subject to no royalty or further tax. Up to 1 880 the enterprise had scarcely passed beyond the stage of laboratory experiments. If the results of actuasl working with elaborate machinery realize the promise held out by competent investigators, gold-mining will be established as an important industry in southern India.

Copper is known to exist in many parts of the country in considerable quantities. The richest mines are in the lower ranges of the Himálayas, from Dárjíling westward to Kumáun. The ore occurs in the form of copper pyrites, often accompanied by mundic, not in true lodes, but disseminated through the slate and schiest. The miners are almost always Nepálís, and the remoteness of the situation has deterred European capital. The extent of abandoned workings proves that these mines have been known and worked for many years. The best show a proportion of copper slightly above the average of Cornish ore, but the ordinary yields is not more than about 4 per cent. The mines resemble magnified rabbit-holes, meandering passages being excavated through the rock with little system. The tools used are in iron hammer and chisel, and sometimes a small pick. After extraction, the ore is pounded, washed, and smelted on the spot. The price obtained for the metal is Rs. 2.8.0 per 3 sers, or at the rate of about 10d. a pound. Copper-ore, of fair purity and extending over a considerable area, also occurs in Singbhúm district of Chutíá Nágpur, where there are many deserted diggings and heaps of scoriae. In 1857 a company was started to re-open the workings at these mines ; but, though large quantities of ore were produced, the enterprise did not prove remunerative, and was finally abandoned in 1864. A similar attempt to work the copper found in Nellore-district of Madras also ended in failure.

Lead occurs in the form of sulphuret or galena along the Himálayas on the Punjab frontier, and has been worked at one place by an English company.

Tin is confined to the Burmese peninsula. Very rich deposits, yielding about 70 per cent. of metal, occur over a large extent of country in Mergui and Tavory districts of the Tenasserim region. The ore is washed and smelted, usually by Chinese, in a very rough and unscientific way. Recent experiment made by a European firm seem to show that the deposits, though rich and extensive, are not sufficiently deep to repay more elaborate processes.

Antimony, in the from of surmá, which is largely used by the natives as a cosmetic, is chiefly derived from the hill states of the Punjab. It is also found in Mysore and Burmah. The minerals of Rájputána, which have not yet been thoroughly ascertained, include an ore of cobalt used for colouring enamel. Petroleum is produced chiefly in Independent Burmah, but it has also been found on British territory in Pegu, in Assam, and in the Punjab. Near the village of Ye-nang-yaung in Upper Burmah, on the banks of the Irawadi, there are upwards of one hundred pits or wells with a depth of about 250 feet, from which petroleum bubbles up in in-exhaustible quantities. The annual yield is estimated at 11,000 tons, of which a considerable quantity is exported. Petroleum wells are also found in the British districts of Akyab, Kyouk-hpyu, and Thayet-myo, which first attracted British capital with most promising results in 1877. In Assam petroleum occurs in the neighbouhood of the coal-fields in the south of Lakhimpur district, and was worked in conjunction with the coal by a European capitalist in 1866. In the Punjab petroleum is worked by the Public Works Department at two spots in Ráwal Pindí district. In 1873-74 the total yields was only 1756 gallons.

Stone.—The commonest and also the most useful stone of India is kankar, a nodular form impure lime, which is found in almost every river valley, and is used universally for metalling the roads. Lime for building is derived from two sources,—(1) from burning limestone and kankar, and (2) from the little shells so abundantly found in the marshes. Calcutta derives its chief supply from the quarries of the khásí hills in Assam, known as "Sylhet lime," and from the Susunia quarries in Bankura district. The Gangetic delta is destitute of stone, nor does the alluvial soil afford good materials for brick-making or pottery. But a European firm has recently established large pottery-works, at Ráníganj in Bardwán, which employ about five hundred, and carry out contracts for drainage pipes and stoneware. The centre of the peninsula and the hill country generally abound in building-stone of excellent quality, which ahs been used locally from time immemorial. Among the finest stones may be mentioned the pink marble of Rájputána, of which the historical buildinga at Agra were constructed, the trap of the Deccan, the sandstone of the Godávari and the Narbadá, and the granite of southern India. Quarries of the slate are scattered through the peninsula, and are sometimes worked by European capital. Mica and talc are also quarried to make ornaments. Among the hills of Orissa and Chuttiá Nágpur household vessels and ornaments are skilfully carved out of an indurated variety of potsone.

Precious stones.—Despite its legendary wealth, which is really due to the accumulations of ages, India cannot be said to be naturally rich in precious stones. Under the Mahometan rule diamonds were a distinct source of state revenue ; and Akbar is said to have received a royalty of £80,000 a year from the mines of Panna. But at the present day the search for them, if carried on anywhere in British territory, is an insignificant occupation. The name of Golconda has passed into literature; but that city, once the Musalmán capital of the Deccan, was rather the home of diamond-cutters than the source of supply. It is believed that the far-famed diamonds of Golconda actually came from the sandstone formation which extends across the south-east borders of the nizám’s dominions into the Madras districts of Ganjám and Godávari. A few worthless stones are still found in that region. Sambalpur, on the upper channel of the Mahánadi river is the Central Provinces, is another spot once famous for diamonds. So late as 1818 a stone is said to have found ther weighing 84 grains and valued at £500. The river valleys of Chutiá Nágpur are also known to have yielded a tribute of diamonds to their Mahometan conqueror. At the present day the only place where the search for diamonds is pursued as a regular industry is the native state of Panna (Punnah) in Bundelkhand. The stones are found by digging down through several strata of gravelly soil and washing the earth. Even there, however, the pursuit is understood to be unremunerative, and has failed to attract European capital. About other gems little information is available. Turquoises are said to be found near Múltán in the Punjab, though far inferior to the Persian stones. Independent Burmah yields may valuable gems ; and some excitement has been caused by the discovery of sapphire mines just across the Siamese frontier. Poor pearl fisheries exist off the coast of Madura district int eh extreme south, and in the Gulf of Cambay ; but the great majority of Indian pearls come their from Ceylon or from the Persian Gulf. In the year 1700 the Dutch obtained a lease of all the pearl fisheries along the Madura coast, and sublet the right of fishing to native boatmen, of whom seven hundred are said to have taken licences annually at the rate of 60 écus per boat. The town of Cambay in Guzerat is celebrated for its carving in carnelian, agate, and onyx. The stones come from the neighbourhood of Ratanpur, in the state of Rájpípla. They are dug up by Bhíl miners, and subjected to a process of burning before being carved. The most valued colour for carnelians is red, but they are also found white and yellow. Lapis lazuli is found in the mountains of the north, and freely used in the decoration of temples and tombs.

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