Devon Great Consols, Tavistock District, includes the mines of Wheal
Maria, Wheal Fanny, Wheal Anna Maria,
Wheal Josiah, Wheal Emma, which lie from
west to east along the main lode and were the main sources of copper then arsenic
in the later days as copper ran out. Wheal Frementor, Watson’s Mine and
Bedford United Mine all lie south of the main lode, Frementor (also called
Framator) was mined latterly for tin in the most part and did not finally close
At its peak in the later part of the 19th century Devon Great Consols was both
the largest copper and arsenic producer in the world and was at the cutting
edge of ore recovery technology under the control of Captain Issac Richards.
The mine ceased production in 1901 and was abandoned in 1903. Throughout the
twentieth century the mine was worked on a much smaller scale for a number of
minerals including copper, arsenic, tin and wolfram.
1844, the greatest copper lode in Europe was discovered near Morwellham. A
new company which became known as Devon Great Consols was formed to mine the
ore. The mine was only 4 miles from Morwellham Quay, but it lay in a different
direction from the canal and could not use it for tranport. Despite earlier
attemps the mine did not become a going concern until Josiah Hitchins took up
a lease in 1844. The lode was struck just 4 fathoms below the bottom of the
previous working in Gard’s Shaft at the western end of the sett. Within 6 months
and at only 28 fathoms in depth this shaft was ‘cutting yellow ore from corner
to corner’ and in March alone 810 tons of ore was sold.
1845 a total £72,704 profit was divided.
1845 Wheal Fanny was started and the lode was cut only 3 fathoms below the
1855 Mar 24 William Morris (he of wallpaper fame) came of age and received
his inheritance: 13 shares of Devon Great Consols. The dividends provided him
with income of over £700 a year. Morris was a shareholder and sometime
director Devon Great Consols. Morris was well aware that many of his workers
suffered arsenic-related illnesses, working conditions were atrocious. Morris,
however, chose to dismiss the contemporary health concerns over the pigment
arsenic green and ignored the massive environmental damage his mines caused.
However Morris eventually resigned his inherited directorship of Devon Great
Consols, and sold his shares, in 1876, (he said “My relations thought me
both wicked and mad”) just when his firm’s wallpaper production really
began to take off.
1856, the mine owners constructed a railway to the hill above the quay and
a second inclined plane railway was built, passing through a tunnel beneath
cottages and the village green. Extensive quays and a massive new dock were
built. Morwellham Quay
had yet again doubled in size and was hailed as the greatest copper port
in Queen Victorias empire. 300 people lived there and ships from
all over the world brought the vital supplies needed to work the mines and took
away the cargoes of ore.
1856 In March with the lode being worked on its full length from Wheal Maria
to Wheal Emma 3389 tons of ore were sampled, an all time record for Cornwall.
The 1856 year total was 28,836 tons. The only limiting factor on output was
transport and storage to the quays at Morwellham.
1860 the lode at Anna Maria was up to 45 feet wide and yielding up to 80 tons
1870 refined arsenic was also being produced from arsenopyrite deposits up
to 6 feet thick which lined the copper lode and had previously been left in
place as having no value. The mine produced over half the British output and
only limited output to avoid depressing the world market price.
1880 the copper boom was over. Arsenic production sustained the mine for another
20 years until the original compsny folded in 1901.
As copper began to run out, arsenic ore was mined instead. This provided the
deadly poison which was used in insecticides and weed killers. It was once said
that there was enough arsenic stored on the quayside at Morwellham to kill every
man, woman and child in the world. When Devon Great Consols eventually closed
thousands of miners were forced to emigrate in order to find work. The quays
fell into disrepair, the docks silted up and the place became almost forgotten.
The overall output from 1844 to 1902 had been 736,229 tons copper ore sold
for £3,473,046 and 72,279 tons refined arsenic for £625,062.