Silver mining in Sark
During the 19th century there were a number of attempts to commercially mine silver in Guernsey and one attempt in Sark. However only the Sark mine ever produced ore.
In 1834 John Hunt obtained a licence from Peter Le Pelley, Seigneur of Sark to search for silver on the island. The terms of the 31 year licence were a rental of one pound per annum and six per cent of the gross ores mined. The licences were transferred to the Guernsey and Sark Mining Company which was initially capitalised at £1,000 divided into 200 shares of five pounds each. Peter Le Pelley held ten shares and John Hunt thirty.
In 1836 whilst attempting to retrieve a shot rabbit that had fallen over a cliff at Port Gorey a man discovered a number of stones containing silver ore. After investigation, a seam was revealed and aptly named Sark's Hope.
Subsequent to this discovery, Le Pelley extended the licence to 39 years and the company's shareholders invested a further £5,400 in order to exploit the find and purchase the necessary mining equipment. A 120hp steam engine was required to pump out the shafts as they were below the water mark. Additionally the new funds were used to set-up a narrow gauge railway, a crushing machine, a stamping mill and a loading station to export the ore, most of which was exported to France.
The workforce to operate the mine and its ancillary activities consisted of 70 to 80 Serquais together with 250 imported Cornish miners, who, with their families, were housed at the Little Sark barracks. Hunt was anxious to attract new investors as he needed to increase the capital base of the company.
As an interim measure in 1840 the company raised a loan of £1,000 from the Guernsey Bank Priaulx, Le Marchant, Rougier and Co but further funds were needed in 1844 to purchase a 230hp steam engine to exploit a new vein 460 feet below the water level, and to repay the bank loan. By this date over £34,000 had been invested in the company and only £4,000 of silver and lead had been produced. The investors refused to invest further funds and Ernest Le Pelley, the new seigneur, convinced of the financial viability of the mine, obtained crown permission to mortgage the Fief of Sark for £4,000 to John Allaire the local privateer.
In 1845 disaster struck when the ceiling of the deepest gallery collapsed killing ten miners. The company was uninsured for this loss, and despite a number of attempts to revive the mine, was unable to recover and the workings were finally closed in 1847.
Pierre Carey Le Pelley who had inherited the fief from his father in 1849, was unable to keep up the mortgage payments to the family of John Allaire and in 1852 the seigneurie of Sark was sold to Marie Collings, John Allaire's heiress, for £6,000. It was in this way that the Le Pelley family lost the seigneurie, the Collings family retaining the fiefdom to this day.
John Hunt had used the first ores extracted from the mine in the manufacture of a tea and coffee set, now unfortunately lost, which was exhibited in London and at the company's office in Guernsey. This tea-set was among the last of a little-known series of documentary silver relating mining in south-west Britain. The earliest known are two standing cups of 1593 and 1594 by Peter Quick of Barnstaple, made from silver from the Comb Martin mine in north Devon.
Set of spoons
A set of spoons in silver from the same mine was made by John Edes of Exeter in 1596, from Adrain Gilbert, half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh and owner of the land on which the mine was situated. A stemmed wine-cup by a Bristol goldsmith of circa 1600 is of silver from the Mendip mines, and four silver candlesticks were made by Joseph Bird of London in 1696 to commemorate the Bere Alston mine in south Devon. Coeval with the Sark silver tea-set is a range of brooches made for public sale by Henry Ellis of Exeter, with silver from the Comb Martin mine.
Despite the failure of the Port Gorey mine, Hunt did not give up his prospecting aspirations. Having been granted a 31-year licence to mine copper in the Fief Le Roi in Guernsey, he formed the Hope Copper Mine, which came to nothing. The undeterred Hunt went on to form the Herm Mining Company in 1837 to mine silver, lead and copper in Rosaire and the Valley Panto areas of Herm. Metallic ores supposedly originating from the Herm mine, were exhibited in his Guernsey offices, but again finance was not forthcoming and the workings ceased in the following year.
Guernsey's mining potential attracted another prospector when Captain George Lefebvre, seigneur of the Fief de Blanchelande, granted mining rights to the Blanchelande Mining Corporation to mine for silver at Mount Durand in St Martins. These operations ceased in 1843 after the mining operations disturbed the surrounding water table and legal action was threatened. Blanchelande Mining Corporation's subsequent attempt at La Fosse also proved fruitless.