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Agriculture, Architecture, Engineering, Geodesy.

Surveying and Sanitary Science.

Section C.





I have been guided in my choice of a theme for the opening address of Section “C” of the Association, by the desire to find some subject in the Mining Engineering profession which would be of interest, not only to the members of that profession, but also to the followers of the many other branches of scientific enquiry gathered together under that Section.

If there is one subject more than another that is of universal interest to the men who make applied science their life-work, that subject is Waste. A celebrated French Chemist is credited with the saying that he would take for his share of the world's goods what other men threw away. The spirit underlying this remark, a spirit of unceasing investigation into waste products, of continual production of something valuable from substances previously thrown away, has made possible in no small degree the material prosperity and comfort we enjoy in the present stage of civilization. But it seems to me that there are other kinds of waste, even more important, than that of products, and I would like you to consider with me some of these wastes.

The subject is a very vast one, and I will not pretend to do more than indicate a few heads under which it may be considered. Each one of us can elaborate these heads for himself, and supply illustrations out of his own experience. For my purpose this morning, it will be sufficient to consider briefly the three different kinds of wastes in mining that go to increase the failures in that branch of business. These three kinds of wastes are :

First, the waste of thought.
Second, the waste of labour.

Third, the waste of material. I have placed them in this order, because it seems to me the order of their importance, measured by their effects, and also because it is the order of the difficulty of recognizing their presence. It is comparatively easy to perceive the waste of material. The wasted product does not vanish, but lies there, accusing its creator of ineptitude ; it, however, always offers a chance of some use in the future being found for it. The waste of labour can be seen and checked while it takes place, but once having been wasted, it offers no opportunity of being utilized for any other purpose.


It is difficult to follow the waste of thought into its inmost recesses, but a moment's consideration shows how far-reaching such waste is. I do not mean by waste of thought errors of judgment. These last erect for themselves monuments visible to all the world. I mean by waste of thought that habit of mind which tries to shut itself up from the influence of others and laboriously restates a problem and then equally laboriously attempts to solve it, when a little more knowledge would have enabled the worker to find the problem satisfactorily solved by some one else without any waste of thought on his part.

Modern Mining, in which comparatively so few of the methods have crystallized into hard and fast lines, offers a particularly good field for illustrations of this kind of waste. Definitions of a mine have varied all the way from that of the disappointed speculator, who declared that a mine was a hole in the ground owned by a liar, to that of the geologist who stated that a mine was an excavation in the earth so designed as to permit of the extraction of minerals. For our purposes we must add the business man's conception of mining to that of the geologist, and introduce the idea that mining is a commercial pursuit designed to yield a prosit on the working. This conception of mining cannot be too much emphasized, for it is precisely in order to achieve this point of making mining profitable that wastes of all kinds must be eliminated.

I know very well that this commercial aspect of the question is not the only, nor is it the greatest, attraction of mining. There is a glamour about the pursuit, especially the mining for precious metals and precious stones, which lures men on, when their business instinct tells them that they have gone far enough, but the commercial aspect of mining is the solid foundation which permits of this business being carried on, and continually expanded, and this aspect should therefore be greatly emphasized.

When men began to analyse the process of mining minerals from the earth, the great cost of preparing the excavations necessary for the purpose probably first impressed them. Some means were sought by which this cost could be reduced. Very soon there probably arose some man with the suggestion to do away with the excavations altogether ; his argument probably being that the only necessity for large excavations was to enable men to get to the places where the ore was; that it would be much simpler to get some solvent that would selectively dissolve the desired material from the surrounding waste, and the enriched solution could be pumped to the surface and there treated so as to separate the solvent from the dissolved commodity sought for. This idea proves wonderfully attractive to some men; all the more so because in certain cases it has been successful. Many salt mines are worked on this principle ; some copper mines under very special circumstances have used this idea, the solvent in these cases being water. I have also heard of one silver mine worked on this scheme, the solvent being hyposulphite of soda.

Since the discovery of the solvent action of cyanide of potassium on gold, it was to be expected by anyone possessing any knowledge of human nature that the idea of treating gold ores, in situ, by cyanide of potassium would be suggested. But I must confess that I have been surprised by the number of times this idea has been brought to me, and the different classes of men who have suggested it. The care and thought devoted to the perfection of the details of the schemes have been very great, while their essential difficulties have been forgotten in the enthusiasm, fired by what their inventors conceived to be a new and great idea.

While I am the last who would defend an idea merely because it is old, or who would seek to prevent the enquiry by new minds into old and apparently well-established practice, I think that you will agree with me in including all the energy expended on the above outlined idea in the category of wasted thought.

In the sphere of exploitation of mineral deposits, no better illustration of my meaning can be had than the above. Other instances in the same realm will occur to all of you, which set forth in a smaller way what the enthusiast above referred to illustrates on a large scale. These I will not touch on, but there is a set of instances which applies to another side of the mining industry which equally well illustrates my meaning. I refer to the problem of administration of the mining industry.

It has been well said that the best form of Government is that of an Omniscient Despot. But as we can in this world only get a despot without omniscience, we have been constrained to try some other form of Government. Nevertheless, men have always a hankering after the best, and, consequently, whenever a man arises who shows, even in some degree, an all-embracing knowledge, other men, all willing to work for the one-man show, come under his banner.

Situated as most metalliferous mines are, far away from the stir of cities and the crowding of men, the administration of a mine tends to become that of a one-man show. This undoubtedly accentuates the individuality of the Manager, makes him self-reliant and resourceful, but it also tends by that very accentuation of individuality, to make him insist on doing things in his own way, without sufficient consideration whether that way is the best one possible. The very resourcefulness of a Mine Manager induces him to try all sorts of experiments which others have tried and tried again, and whose futility has been thoroughly demonstrated. These defects of the virtues of a Mine Manager are not so prominent when there is only one mine in a camp, but when, as in Johannesburg, you have over sixty producing mines, the subtle friction of mind upon mind produces all unconsciously to the individual an excitation which is apt to result in a series of experiments, the vast majority of which will have been tried before, and the resulting waste of thought will be great. Some years ago a Mine Manager boasted to me that he had never been over any other mine on the Rand except his own. His plant showed evidences of this. Some things were excellent, but many designs showed evidences of great ingenuity in doing things in a roundabout way, the

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