Silver Mines in Cornwall

The silver mines in Cornwall never amounted to much and have been closed since the 19th century. There were three main silver mines in Cornwall.

As early as the reigns of Edward I (1239-1307) and Edward III (1312-1377) there was much silver found and raised, reportedly enabling those Kings to pay off some of the debts from their wars. However, it was quickly depleted and the mines shut down until the 1500s when they were reopened, but little silver found. Again, in the late 1700s, silver was found and Huel Mexico was re-opened. When the silver mine was reopened it was the only silver mine in Cornwall. Next, silver was discovered at Herland Copper Mine, Gwinear, which was opened in about 1793 and quite successful at first. In 1801 it was noted that although silver existed, it wasn’t in any great amount. The silver vein was about 6-8″ wide.

The silver in Cornwall has been found mixed in with the lead mines, which is common, but it was also discovered independently of lead. Most of the silver was discovered in cross-courses, rather than perpendicular.Silver Mine in Cornwall

Huel Mexico / Wheal Mexico, Silver Mine, Cubert

Huel Mexico was mostly a small lead mine, following the Trebellan lode, situated in a valley south of Trebellan Farm, in Perranzabuloe. In the 1780s rich silver-bearing ores were found and the mine was opened again, this time using the name Wheal Mexico. This was not a profitable mine, it cost more to get the silver out than it made, yielding just £2,000 worth of ore – disasterous for the investors, who lost a lot of money.
These workings of the mine were on both sides of the river, straddling the borders of Cubert parish and Perranzabuloe.

Maps from the mid 1840s show Wheal Mexico immediately north of Treworthen Farm, on the south side of the river (in Perranzabuloe parish). Treworthen Farm is to be found at 50°21′56.71″N 5°6′52.24″W on the map. Philip Rashleigh visited the mine and obtained a specimen of native silver during the 1700s.

This silver mine produced horn silver.

Herland Mine, Gwinear

Native silver, also vitrious silver ore, red silver ore, and black silver ore, were found in Herland Mine. The silver was only found deeper than 110 fathoms and alongside a copper seam. One member of the Geological Society remarked “It is remarkable that at the point of contact or intersection the contents of the silver lode are so poor as to be scarcely worth saving and those of the copper lode are much less productive of copper than at a little from this point”. At the time that was written the mine had produced 180 tons of silver ore.

Willsworthy Silver Mine, Tavistock

On the borders with Devon, at Tavistock, this was the last silver mine to be discovered, it was found in 1815.

The Willsworthy silver mine produced native silver, the silver lode was about 12″ wide. The silver found here was described as

“the finest specimen of native capillary silver ever seen in Cornwall”

Other Silver Mines in Cornwall

  • Huel Alfred and Huel Ann, in Phillack: Silver was found in Huel Alfred in 1813. These mines have produced capillary silver and native silver.
  • Dolcoath, Camborne: In 1810 a small quantity of grey silver ore was discovered here. This mine produced native silver and sulphuret of silver.  This mine was the mine captain here, his brother was Richard Trevithick the builder of the first working railway steam locomotive.
  • Huel Bassett, Illogan: 1813 was the year silver was discovered. This silver mine produced native silver and sulphuret with galena.
  • Huel Duchy, Callington: In 1812 silver was discovered here. This mine produced native, grey, black and red sulphuret of silver.
  • Huel St Vincent, Callington: This mine produced native silver, with muriate and sulphuret of silver.
  • Native silver was also found in St Mewan and St Stephen/St Austell (Crinnis Mine).

Many mines ignored the silver they found, throwing the ore away, as it was too costly to extract – although in a lot of instances they might have been mistaken in their judgement. There seem to have been a lot of bad assayers at the time who often declared there was no silver present, when subsequent tests proved it did exist. The mine managers and miners were not experienced enough to be able to tell silver in its various forms and simply dismissed it as worthless.

The geologist George Abbott was quite angry at this and said: “The Cornish miners compose a very valuable and intelligent people, with more combined knowledge than most of their grade; but still individually deficient, and wanting in due cultivation of the several acquirements essential to a complete mastery in their profession… Mine operations have been caused by former deficiency in practical and derivative scientific information, rather than by any natural capacity or barrenness of the mines.” He went on to suggest that the owners should be training them better rather than just promoting them to be in charge.

remwbay sterling silver charm

Image adapted from ©

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