Themes

GOLD MINING    •    GOLD IN NATURE    •    GOLD IN SOCIETY    •    GOLD IN ART

Crushing the Ore

Watercolour painting by Frederick Nichols from the 1860s showing one of the stamp mill buildings at Goldenville.

The earliest gold mining was done by hand, using a hammer and a pick or a gold pan. Dynamite was introduced in the 1870s, allowing miners to dig deeper for gold.

Arrastre

The first use of machinery in the gold rush was in the 1860s at an underground mine in Tangier. The machine, called an arrastre, used a giant stone attached to a wooden arm to crush the gold-bearing rock.

Illustration of an arrastre, a machine that used a giant stone attached to a wooden arm to crush the gold-bearing rock.

Illustration of an arrastre.

An arrastre was a simple machine, powered by animals or motors, designed to speed up the crushing of quartz ore. The ore was placed in the bottom of the arrastre over which were placed large rocks. The rocks were ground over the ore, crushing it and releasing the gold.

Black and white photograph of two men next to a flat stone that was once the base for an arrastre.

Mooseland prospector Eldon Cameron (with hat) and unknown prospector, c. 1936, examine a flat stone that served as the base of a small arrastre mill. Designed and built by an unknown local Mi’Kmaq, it was used to crush gold-bearing quartz at Mooseland at the beginning of the first gold rush. The stone still remains there, near the recorded location of the first gold find.

Photograph courtesy of Sterling Prest.

Stamp Mills

Photograph of a stamp mill and shaft house connected by an elevated rail.

20 stamp mill and shaft house, Guffey-Jennings Gold Mine, Caribou Gold District, 1897.

Photograph by E. R. Faribault. Geological Survey of Canada Photo #5293

Arrastres were replaced by stamp mills – giant machines that crushed the gold-bearing rock. Mills commonly had banks of five stamps with the largest operations having ten banks or fifty stamps. The crashing of the stamps dropping on the ore could be heard from miles around.

In the following videos, Annie Blois Smith, founder of the Waverley Heritage Museum and granddaughter of Cornelius Blois – one of the discoverers of gold in Waverley – explains how gold is brought out of a mine and how a stamp mill operates. You can also watch the videos on YouTube. Lakeview Gold Mine and Stamp Mill.

Lakeview Gold Mine

You must have JavaScript enabled to view this video. If you do not have Adobe Flash, please follow this link to download it from the Adobe Web site: Adobe Flash Player.

Download low-res mp4 - 8 MB

TRANSCRIPT

This is a picture on the wall of Lakeview Gold Mine and it shows the shaft house up at the top of the hill. The gold in the quartz is brought up from the different levels as you see in the picture there and it comes up and it gradually gets to the building at the top there, the shaft house, and then from the shaft house it's brought down into the mill where it's stamped with the stamps and it's crushed into fine sand and the gold is extracted from the sand.

And to show you how that takes place we will move to the stamp mill.

Stamp Mill

You must have JavaScript enabled to view this video. If you do not have Adobe Flash, please follow this link to download it from the Adobe Web site: Adobe Flash Player.

Download low-res mp4 - 14 MB

TRANSCRIPT

To begin with, this is a replica of what a stamp mill looks like at the mines, when the quartz comes from the shaft house it's brought on a trolley and it's dumped onto what they call a "picking board" and if there's any size of quartz that's too big or not appropriate to come down through the system, it's taken off of the picking board.

And the rocks - I call them rocks, but they're quartz it's washed with water, down through these troughs down into here until it lands underneath these.

These are the stamps that go up and down, up and down, and crush the quartz into sand. Each one in a real mill would weigh at least 800 to 1,000 lbs each, so you know the power and weight that is crushing the quartz.

They crushed the quartz into sand, the water flushes the sand through the trough down here and these are lined with some sort of steel which is treated with mercury. And it's the mercury that catches the gold and separates it from the sand.

And then when there's a certain amount of gold on the trays, they pick it off and take it to the smelting house and melt it to brick or nuggets.