Friday, October 2, 2009

V. Concerning the Mines of Siam.

The Reputation of the Mines of Siam; The State of the Mines at present; Tambac; Mr Vincent the Physitian retained by the King of Siam to work in his Mines; What he relates concerning the Mines of Siam; Tin and Lead; Mines of Loadstone; Precious Stones; Steel; Iron; Salt-Petre and Power.

No Country has a greater Reputation of being rich in Mines than the Country of Siam, and the great quantity of Idols and other cast works which are there seen, evinces that they have been better cultivated there in former times, than now they are. 'Tis believed likewise that they thence extracted that great quantity of Gold, wherewith their Superstition has adorned not only their almost innumerable Idols, but the Wainscot and Roofs of their Temples. They do likewise daily discover Pits anciently dug, and the remains of a great many Furnaces, which are thought to have been abandon'd during the ancient Wars of Pegu.

Nevertheless the King that now reigns has not been able to find any Vein of Gold or Silver, that is worth the pains that he has therein employed; although he hath applied unto this work from Europeans, and amongst the rest a Spaniard that came from Mexico, who found, if not a great fortune, at least his Subsistence for twenty years, even to his Death, by flattering the Avarice of this Prince, with the imaginary promises of infinite Treasures. After having dug and min'd in several places, they light only on some very mean Copper Mines, tho intermixt with a little Gold and Silver: Five hundred weight of Ore scarce yielding an Ounce of Metal; neither understood they how to make the separation of Metals.

But the King of Siam, to render his mixture more precious, caus'd some Gold to be added thereunto: and this is what they call Tambac. 'Tis said that the Mines of the Isle of Borneo do naturally produce it very Rich: and the scarceness augments the price thereof, as it formerly increased that of the famous Corinthian Brass; but certainly that which makes the true value thereof amongst the Siameses, is the quantity of Gold wherewith it is thought to be mixed. When their Avarice creates desires it is for the Gold, and not for the Tambac; and we have seen that when the King of Siam has ordered Crucifixes to be made to present to the Christians, the most noble and smallest part, which is the Christ, has been of Gold, the Cross alone of Tambac. Vincent le Blanc relates, that the Peguins have a mixture of Lead and Copper, which he calls sometimes Ganze, and sometimes Ganza, and of which he reports that they make Statues, and a small Money which is not stampt with the Kings Coin, but which every one has a right to make.

From Siam we brought back Mr. Vincent the Physitian. He departed from France, to go into Persia, with the Bishop of Babylon, and the report of the arrival of the Kings first Ships at Siam, made him to go thither as well out of a desire to travel, as in hopes of procuring his return into France. He understood Mathematics and Chymistry, and the King of Siam retained for him some time at the work in his Mines.

He informed me that he rectified the labours of the Siamese in some things, so that they obtain a little more profit than they did. He show'd them a Mine of very good Steel at the top of a Mountain, which had been already discovered, and which they perceived not. He discovered to them one of Crystal, one of Antimony, one of Emeril, and some others, with a Quarry of white Marble. Besides this, he found out a Gold Mine, which to him appear'd very rich, as far as he was able to judge without trying it; but he has not showed it them. Several Siameses, most Talapoins, came secretly to consult him about the Art of purifying and separating Metals, and brought him divers specimens of very rich Ore. From some he extracted a very good quantity of fine Silver, and from others, the mixture of several Metals.

As for Tin and Lead, the Siameses have long since improved it from very plentiful Mines, and though not very skilful, yet they cease not to get a considerable revenue by it. This Tin, or Calin, as the Portuguese report, is sold through all India; 'Tis soft and basely purified, and a specimen thereof is seen in the common Tea Boxes or Cannisters, which come from this Country. But to render it harder and whiter, like that of the finest Tea Boxes, they mix it with Cadmia, a sort of Mineral easily reducible to powder, which being melted with the Copper, makes it yellow: but it renders both these Metals more brittle: And 'tis this white Tin which they call Tontinague. This is what Mr. Vincent relates on the subject of the Mines of Siam.

In the Neighbourhood of the City of Louvo they have a Mountain of Loadstone. They have another also near Jonsalam, a City seated in an Island of the Gulph of Bengal, which is not above the distance of a Mans voice from the Coast of Siam: but the Loadstone which is dug at Jonsalam loses its vertue in three or four Months; I know not whether it is not the same in that of Louvo.

In their Mountains they find very curious Agate, and Mr. Vincent inform'd me that he has seen, in the hands of the Talapoins, who secretly busie themselves in these researches, some samples or pieces of Saphire and Diamonds that came out of the Mine. He assured me also that some particular Persons having found some Diamonds, and given them to the King's Officers, were retired to Pegu by reason they had not received any recompence.

I have already said that the City of Campeng-pet is famous for Mines of excellent Steel. The Inhabitants of the Country do forge Arms thereof after their fashion, as Sabres, Poniards, and Knives. The Knife which they call Pen is used by all, and is not look'd upon as Arms, although it may serve upon occasion: The Blade thereof is three or four Fingers broad, and about a Foot long. The King gives the Sabre and the Poniard. They wear the Poniard on the left side, hanging a little before. The Portuguese call it Chrise, a word corrupted from Crid, which the Siameses use. This word is borrow'd from the Malayan Language, which is famous throughout the East, and the Crids which are made at Achim in the Isle of Sumatra, do pass for the best of all. As for the Sabre, a Slave always carries it before his Master on his right shoulder, as we carry the Musquet on the left.

They have Iron Mines which they know how to melt, and some have inform'd me that they have but little thereof; besides, they are bad Forge-men. For their Gallies they have only wooden Anchors, and to the end that these Anchors may sink to the bottom, they fasten stones unto them. They have neither Pins, or Needles, nor Nails, or Chisels, nor Saws. They use not a Nail in building their Houses, altho' they be all of Wood. Every one makes Pins of Bamboo, even as our Ancestors us'd Thorns for this purpose. To them there comes Padlocks from Japan, some of Iron, which are good; and others of Copper, which are very naught.

They do make very bad Gunpowder. The defect, they say, proceeds from the Salt-Petre which they gather from their Rocks, where it is made of the dung of Batts, Animals which are exceedingly large and very plentiful throughout India. But whether this Salt-Petre be good or bad, the King of Siam sells a great deal of it to Strangers.

Having described the natural Riches of the Mountains and Forests of Siam, 'twould be proper in this place to speak of the Elephants, Rhinoceros, Tygers, and all other savage Beasts wherewith they are stored: yet seeing this matter has been sufficiently explicated by a great many others, I shall omit it, to pass on to the inhabited and cultivated Lands.

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