Lode or Reef Prospecting


The preceding chapter dealt more especially with prospecting as carried on in alluvial fields. I shall now treat of preliminary mining on lodes or "reefs."

As has already been stated, the likeliest localities for the occurrence of metalliferous deposits are at or near the junction of the older sedimentary formations with the igneous or intrusive rocks, such as granites, diorites, etc. In searching for payable lodes, whether of gold, silver, copper, or even tin in some forms of occurrence, the indications are often very similar. The first prospecting is usually done on the hilltops or ridges, because, owing to denudation by ice or water which have bared the bedrock, the outcrops are there more exposed, and thence the lodes are followed down through the alluvial covered plains, partly by their "strike" or "trend," and sometimes by other indicating evidences, which the practical miner has learned to know.

Gold Prospecting

For instance, a lesson in tracing the lode in a grass covered country was taught me many years ago by an old prospector who had struck good gold in the reef at a point some distance to the east of what had been considered the true course. I asked him why he had opened the ground in that particular place. Said he, "Some folks don't use their eyes. You stand here and look towards that claim on the rise where the reef was last struck. Now, don't you see there is almost a track betwixt here and there where the grass and herbage is more withered than on either side? Why? Well, because the hard quartz lode is close to the surface all the way, and there is no great depth of soil to hold the moisture and make the grass grow."

I have found this simple lesson in practical prospecting of use since. But the strike or course of a quartz reef is more often indicated by outcrops, either of the silica itself or ironstone "blows," as the miners call them, but the term is a misnomer, as it argues the easily disproved igneous theory of veins of ejection, meaning thereby that the quartz with its metalliferous contents was thrown out in a molten state from the interior of the earth. This has in no case occurred, and the theory is an impossible one. True lodes are veins of injection formed by the infiltration of silicated waters carrying the metals also in solution. This water filled the fissures caused either by the cooling of the earth's crust, or formed by sudden upheavals of the igneous rocks.

Sometimes in alluvial ground the trend of the reef will be revealed by a track of quartz fragments, more or less thickly distributed on the surface and through the superincumbent soil. Follow these along, and at some point, if the lode be continuous, a portion of its solid mass will generally be found to protrude and can then again be prospected.

There is no rule as to the trend or strike of lodes, except that a greater number are found taking a northerly and southerly course than one which is easterly and westerly. At all events, such is the case in Australia, but it cannot be said that either has the advantage in being more productive. Some of the richest mines in Australasia have been in lodes running easterly and westerly, while gold, tin, and copper, in great quantity and of high percentage to the ton, have been got in such mines as Mount Morgan, Mount Bischoff, and the Burra, where there are no lodes properly so-called at all.

Mount Morgan is the richest and most productive gold mine in Australasia and amongst the best in the world.

Its yield for 1895 was 128,699 oz. of gold, valued at 528,700 pounds. Dividends paid in 1895, 300,000 pounds.

This mine was opened in 1886. Up to May 31, 1897, the total yield was 1,631,981 ozs. of gold, sold at 6,712,187 pounds, from which 4,400,000 pounds have been paid in dividends. (See Mining Journal, for Oct. 9, 1897.)

Mount Morgan shareholders have, in other words, divided over 43 1/2 tons of standard gold.

The Burra Burra Mine, about 100 miles from Adelaide, in a direction a little to the east of north, was found in 1845 by a shepherd named Pickett. It is singularly situated on bald hills standing 130 feet above the surrounding country. The ores obtained from this copper mine had been chiefly red oxides, very rich blue and green carbonates, including malachite, and also native copper. The discovery of this mine, supporting, as it did at one time, a large population, marked a new era in the history of the colony. The capital invested in it was 12,320 pounds in 5 pound shares, and no subsequent call was ever made upon the shareholders. The total amount paid in dividends was 800,000 pounds. After being worked by the original owners for some years the mine was sold to a new company, but during the last few years it has not been worked, owing in some degree to the low price of copper and also to the fact that the deposit then being worked apparently became exhausted. For many years the average yield was from 10,000 to 13,000 tons of ore, averaging 22 to 23 per cent of copper. It is stated that, during the twenty-nine and a half years in which the mine was worked, the company expended 2,241,167 in general expenses. The output of ore during the same period amounted to 234,648 tons, equal to 51,622 tons of copper. This, at the average price of copper, amounted to a money value of 4,749,224 pounds. The mine stopped working in 1877.

Mount Bischoff, Tasmania, has produced, since the formation of the Company to December 1895, 47,263 tons of tin ore. It is still in full work and likely to be for years to come.

Each of these immense metalliferous deposits was found outcropping on the summit of a hill of comparatively low altitude. There are no true walls nor can the ore be traced away from the hill in lode form. These occurrences are generally held to be due to hydrothermal or geyser action.

Then again lodes are often very erratic in their course. Slides and faults throw them far from their true line, and sometimes the lode is represented by a number of lenticular (double-pointed in section) masses of quartz of greater or less length, either continuing point to point or overlapping, "splicing," as the miners call it. Such formations are very common in West Australia. All this has to be considered and taken into account when tracing the run of stone.

This tyro also must carefully remember that in rough country where the lode strikes across hills and valleys, the line of the cap or outcrop will apparently be very sinuous owing to the rises and depressions of the surface. Many people even now do not understand that true lodes or reefs are portions of rock or material differing from the surrounding and enclosing strata, and continuing down to unknown depths at varying angles. Therefore, if you have a north and south lode outcropping on a hill and crossing an east and west valley, the said lode, underlying east, when you have traced its outcrop to the lowest point in the valley, between the two hills, will be found to be a greater or less distance, according to the angle of its dip or underlie, to the east of the outcrop on the hill where it was first seen. If it be followed up the next hill it will come again to the west, the amount of apparent deviation being regulated by the height of the hills and depth of the valley.

A simple demonstration will make this plain. Take a piece of half-inch pine board, 2 ft. long and 9 in. wide, and imagine this to be a lode; now cut a half circle out of it from the upper edge with a fret saw and lean the board say at an angle of 45 degrees to the left, look along the top edge, which you are to consider as the outcrop on the high ground, the bottom of the cut being the outcrop in the valley, and it will be seen that the lowest portion of the cut is some inches to the right; so it is with the lode, and in rough country very nice judgment is required to trace the true course.

For indications, never pass an ironstone "blow" without examination. Remember the pregnant Cornish saying with regard to mining and the current aphorism, "The iron hat covers the golden head." "Cousin Jack," put it "Iron rides a good horse." The ironstone outcrop may cover a gold, silver, copper or tin lode.

If you are searching for gold, the presence of the royal metal should be apparent on trial with the pestle and mortar; if silver, either by sight in one of its various forms or by assay, blowpipe or otherwise; copper will reveal itself by its peculiar colour, green or blue carbonates, red oxides, or metallic copper. It is an easy metal to prospect for, and its percentage is not difficult to determine approximately. Tin is more difficult to identify, as it varies so greatly in appearance.

Having found your lode and ascertained its course, you want next to ascertain its value. As a rule (and one which it will be well to remember) if you cannot find payable metal, particularly in gold "reef" prospecting, at or near the surface, it is not worth while to sink, unless, of course, you design to strike a shoot of metal which some one has prospected before you. The idea is exploded that auriferous lodes necessarily improve in value with depth. The fact is that the metal in any lode is not, as a rule, equally continuous in any direction, but occurs in shoots dipping at various angles in the length of the lode, in bunches or sometimes in horizontal layers. Nothing but actual exploiting with pick, powder, and brains, particularly brains, will determine this point.

Where there are several parallel lodes and a rich shoot has been found in one and the length of the payable ore ascertained, the neighbouring lodes should be carefully prospected opposite to the rich spot, as often similar valuable deposits will thus be found. Having ascertained that you have, say, a gold reef payable at surface and for a reasonable distance along its course, you next want to ascertain its underlie or dip, and how far the payable gold goes down.

As a general rule in many parts of Australia—though by no means an inflexible rule—a reef running east of north and west of south will underlie east; if west of north and east of south it will go down to the westward and so round the points of the compass till you come to east and west; when if the strike of the lodes in the neighbourhood has come round from north-east to east and west the underlie will be to the south; if the contrary was the case, to the north. It is surprising how often this mode of occurrence will be found to obtain. But I cannot too strongly caution the prospector not to trust to theory but to prove his lode and his metal by following it down on the underlie. "Stick to your gold" is an excellent motto. As a general thing it is only when the lode has been proved by an underlie shaft to water level and explored by driving on its course for a reasonable distance that one need begin to think of vertical shafts and the scientific laying out of the mine.

A first prospecting shaft need not usually be more than 5 ft. by 3 ft. or even 5 ft. by 2 ft. 6 in., particularly in dry country. One may often see in hard country stupid fellows wasting time, labour, and explosives in sinking huge excavations as much as 10 ft. by 8 ft. in solid rock, sometimes following down 6 inches of quartz.

When your shaft is sunk a few feet, you should begin to log up the top for at least 3 ft. or 4 ft., so as to get a tip for your "mullock" and lode stuff. This is done by getting a number of logs, say 6 inches diameter, lay one 7 ft. log on each side of your shaft, cut two notches in it 6 ft. apart opposite the ends of the shaft, lay across it a 5 ft. log similarly notched, so making a frame like a large Oxford picture frame. Continue this by piling one set above another till the desired height is attained, and on the top construct a rough platform and erect your windlass. If you have an iron handle and axle I need not tell you how to set up a windlass, but where timber is scarce you may put together the winding appliance described in the chapter headed "Rules of Thumb."

If you have "struck it rich" you will have the pleasure of seeing your primitive windlass grow to a "whip," a "whim," and eventually to a big powerful engine, with its huge drum and Eiffel tower-like "poppet heads," or "derrick," with their great spindle pulley wheels revolving at dizzy speed high in air.

"How shall I know if I have payable gold so as to save time and trouble in sinking?" says the novice. Truly it is a most important part of the prospector's art, whether he be searching for alluvial or reef gold, stream or lode tin, copper, or other valuable metal.

I presume you know gold when you see it?

If you don't, and the doubtful particle is coarse enough, take a needle and stick the point into the questionable specimen. If gold the steel point will readily prick it; if pyrites or yellow mica the point will glance off or only scratch it.

The great importance of the first prospect from the reef is well shown by the breathless intensity with which the two bearded, bronzed pioneer prospectors in some trackless Australian wild bend over the pan in which the senior "mate" is slowly reducing the sample of powdered lode stuff. How eagerly they examine the last pinch of "black sand" in the corner of the dish. Prosperity and easy times, or poverty and more "hard graft" shall shortly be revealed in the last dexterous turn of the pan. Let us hope it is a "pay prospect."

The learner, if he be far afield and without appliances of any kind, can only guess his prospect. An old prospector will judge from six ounces of stuff within a few pennyweights what will be the yield of a ton. I have seen many a good prospect broken with the head of a pick and panned in a shovel, but for reef prospecting you should have a pestle and mortar. The handiest for travelling is a mortar made from a mercury bottle cut in half, and a not too heavy wrought iron pestle with a hardened face. To be particular you require a fine screen in order to get your stuff to regulated fineness. The best for the prospector, who is often on the move, is made from a piece of cheesecloth stretched over a small hoop.

If you would be more particular take a small spring balance or an improvised scale, such as is described in Mr. Goyder's excellent little book, p. 14, which will enable you to weigh down to one-thousandth of a grain. It is often desirable to burn your stone before crushing, as it is thus more easily triturated and will reveal all its gold; but remember, that if it originally contained much pyrites, unless a similar course is adopted when treated in the battery, some of the gold will be lost in the pyrites.

Having crushed your gangue to a fine powder you proceed to pan it off in a similar manner to that of washing out alluvial earth, except that in prospecting quartz one has to be much more particular, as the gold is usually finer. The pan is taken in both hands, and enough water to cover the prospect by a few inches is admitted. The whole is then swirled round, and the dirty water poured off from time to time till the residue is clean quartz sand and heavy metal. Then the pan is gently tipped, and a side to side motion is given to it, thus causing the heavier contents to settle down in the corner. Next the water is carefully lapped in over the side, the pan being now tilted at a greater angle until the lighter particles are all washed away. The pan is then once more righted, and very little water is passed over the pinch of heavy mineral a few times, when the gold will be revealed in a streak along the bottom. In this operation, as in all others, only practice will make perfect, and a few practical lessons are worth whole pages of written instruction.

To make an amalgamating assay that will prove the amount of gold which can be got from a ton of your lode, take a number of samples from different parts, both length and breadth. The drillings from the blasting bore-holes collected make the best test. When finely triturated weigh off one or two pounds, place in a black iron pan (it must not be tinned), with 4 ozs. of mercury, 4 ozs. salt, 4 ozs. soda, and about half a gallon of boiling water; then, with a stick, stir the pulp constantly, occasionally swirling the dish as in panning off, till you feel certain that every particle of the gangue has come in contact with the mercury; then carefully pan off into another dish so as to lose no mercury. Having got your amalgam clean squeeze it through a piece of chamois leather, though a good quality of new calico previously wetted will do as well. The resulting pill of hard amalgam can then be wrapped in a piece of brown paper, placed on an old shovel, and the mercury driven off over a hot fire; or a clay tobacco pipe, the mouth being stopped with clay, makes a good retort (see "Rules of Thumb," pipe and potato retorting). The residue will be retorted gold, which, on being weighed and the result multiplied by 2240 for a 1 lb. assay, or by 1120 for 2 lb., will give the amount of gold per ton which an ordinary battery might be expected to save. Thus 1 grain to the pound, 2240 lbs. to the ton, would show that the stuff contained 4 oz. 13 dwt. 8 gr. per ton.

If there should be much base metal in your sample such as say stibnite (sulphide of antimony), a most troublesome combination to the amalgamator—instead of the formula mentioned above add to your mercury about one dwt. of zinc shavings or clippings, and to your water sufficient sulphuric acid to bring it to about the strength of vinegar (weaker, if anything, not stronger), place your material preferably in an earthenware or enamelled basin if procurable, but iron will do, and intimately mix by stirring and shaking till all particles have had an opportunity to combine with the mercury. Retort as before described. This device is my own invention.

The only genuine test after all is the battery, and that, owing to various causes, is often by no means satisfactory. First, there is a strong, almost unconquerable temptation to select the stone, thus making the testing of a few tons give an unduly high average; but more often the trouble is the other way. The stuff is sent to be treated at some inefficient battery with worn-out boxes, shaky foundations, and uneven tables, sometimes with the plates not half amalgamated, or coated with impurities, the whole concern superintended by a man who knows as little about the treatment of auriferous quartz by the amalgamating or any other processes as a dingo does of the differential calculus. Result: 3 dwt. to the ton in the retort, 30 dwt. in the tailings, and a payable claim declared a "duffer."

When the lode is really rich, particularly if it be carrying coarse gold, and owing to rough country, or distance, a good battery is not available, excellent results in a small way may be obtained by the somewhat laborious, but simple, process of "dollying." A dolly is a one man power single stamp battery, or rather an extra sized pestle and mortar (see "Rules of Thumb").

Silver lodes and lodes which frequently carry more or less gold, are often found beneath the dark ironstone "blows," composed of conglomerates held together by ferric and manganic oxides; or, where the ore is galena, the surface indications will frequently be a whitish limey track sometimes extending for miles, and nodules or "slugs" of that ore will generally be found on the surface from place to place. Most silver ores are easily recognisable, and readily tested by means of the blowpipe or simple fire assay. Sometimes the silver on being tested is found to contain a considerable percentage of gold as in the great Comstock lode in Nevada. Ore from the big Broken Hill silver load, New South Wales, also contains an appreciable quantity of the more precious metal. A natural alloy of gold containing 20 per cent silver, termed electrum, is the lowest grade of the noble metal.

Tin, lode, and stream, or alluvial, occurs only as an oxide, termed cassiterite, and yet you can well appreciate the compliment one Cornish miner pays to another whose cleverness he wishes to commend, when he says of him, "Aw, he do know tin," when you look at a representative collection of tin ores. In various shapes, from sharp-edged crystals to mammillary-shaped nuggets of wood-tin; from masses of 30 lbs. weight to a fine sand, like gunpowder, in colour black, brown, grey, yellow, red, ruby, white, and sometimes a mingling of several colours, it does require much judgment to know tin.

Stream tin is generally associated with alluvial gold. When such is the case there is no difficulty in saving the gold if you save the tin, for the yellow metal is of much greater specific gravity. As the natural tin is an oxide, and therefore not susceptible to amalgamation, the gold can be readily separated by means of mercury.

Lode tin sometimes occurs in similar quartz veins to those in which gold is got, and is occasionally associated with gold. Tin is also found, as at Eurieowie, in dykes, composed of quartz crystals and large scales of white mica, traversing the older slates. A similar occurrence takes place at Mount Shoobridge and at Bynoe Harbour, in the Northern Territory of South Australia; indeed, one could not readily separate the stone from these three places if it were mixed. As before stated tin will never be found far from granite, and that granite must have white mica as one of its constituents. It is seldom found in the darker coloured rocks, or in limestone country, but it sometimes occurs in gneiss, mica schist, and chlorite schist. Numerous other minerals are at times mistaken for tin, the most common of which are tourmaline or schorl, garnet, wolfram (which is a tungstate of iron with manganese), rutile or titanic acid, blackjack or zinc blende, together with magnetic, titanic, and specular iron in fine grains.

This rough and ready mode of determining whether the ore is tin is by weight and by scratching or crushing, when, what is called the "streak" is obtained. The colour of the tin streak is whitey-grey, which, when once known, is not easily mistaken. The specific gravity is about 7.0. Wolfram, which is most like it, is a little heavier, from 7.0 to 7.5, but its streak is red, brown, or blackish-brown. Rutile is much lighter, 4.2, and the streak light-brown; tourmaline is only 3.2. Blackjack is 4.3, and its streak yellowish-white.

I have seen several pounds weight to the dish got in some of the New South Wales shallow sinking tin-fields, and, as a rule, payable gold was also present. Fourteen years ago I told Western Australian people, when on a visit to that colony, that the neighbourhood of the Darling range would produce rich tin. Lately this had been proved to be the case, and I look forward to a great development of the tin mining industry in the south-western portion of Westralia.

The tin "wash" in question may also contain gold, as the country rock of the neighbourhood is such as gold is usually found in.[*]

[*] Since this book was in the printers' hands, the discovery of payable gold has been reported from this district. A detailed discussion of methods of prospecting will be found in chapter ii. Of Le Neve Foster's "Ore and Stone Mining," and Mr. S. Herbert Cox's "Handbook for Prospectors."

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