Hong Kong’s Klondike, prospecting for wolfram ore in 1951
IDJ has sent the following newspaper article about what he calls “Hong Kong’s Klondike”.
The image below comes from Tymon Mellor’s article, Lin Fa Shan Mine, linked below, and bears a passing resemblance, except for the snow, to the Klondike image above.
HF: I have retyped the article in order to enhance clarity and searches.
Many thanks to SCT for proofreading the retyped version.
NT “Black Gold”
Rush Moves To
BY A STAFF REPORTER
The “Black Gold” Rush in the New Territories has moved away from the waters of the Shingmun River up the steep slopes of Lin Fa Shan, a 1,600 feet high mountain within the catchment area of Shingmun Reservoir northwest of Tsuen Wan. Black Gold is wolfram ore. The native of the New Territories calls it “hak kam.”
Through a pair of binoculars from Kwai Chung throughout the sun-broiled morning hours hundreds of Chinese can be seen climbing up at a snail’s pace, necessarily so because the gradient most of the way is about one in two.
It’s a two and a half hour climb to the top and then hard labour for six hours to net an experienced gang of three some three catties of mixed wolfram ore, haematite, magnetite, molybdenite and quartz, with a residue of mud thrown in.
All this is sold, after panning for $10 a catty to buyers right on top of the hill. The black gold and what comes with it is weighed on Chinese bamboo scales. Six hours work for three or four men pays $30.
There’s no payment for the climb, but the experienced prospector with a “claim” to a good “vein” prefers to spend the night on the mountain top and keep working it.
The experienced black gold diggers work in parties of three – a digger, a carrier and a washer. The work divides up evenly that way. The tools are sometimes picks and shovels, but more often just sharp edged buckets and basins that are pushed into the mud, levered about and pulled out. The washer then pans this in muddy water.
Behind the prospectors come the buyers. They are followed by the hawkers, who perspire under a load of two dozen bottles of aerated water that sell on the summit for 55 cents a bottle – a profit of about $2.40 for a 2½ hour climb.
There are noodle-vendors, sellers of buns and sweets about and candle-hawkers. Those who spend the night on the mountain top either build themselves crude shelters or stay in Japanese-built dugouts that remain from the occupation.
Some prospectors have dug tunnels about 30 feet deep into the sides of the mountain. Every inch of the way came out in baskets that were panned for what wealth they contained.
The route up is by way of the South China Ironworks property. Hundreds of feet have trodden rough paths up the steep slopes. The ascent is zig-zag and very slow. The climbers take long rests every 50 feet up or so.
When did this Black Gold Rush start up Lin FA Shan? Nobody seems to know for certain. It is believed that the first prospectors were there three months ago. Among those up the mountain yesterday were many Shanghainese, Shantungnese and Fukienese. Very much in evidence also were groups of children.
There are two legends current on how it all started. The first has to do with a farmer who went up the mountain to pull up a tree from the root of which he intended to brew himself some medicine. He is said to have found a piece of quartz, taken it downhill and discovered what it was.
The story goes that he kept the secret within his clan and soon dug enough ore to build himself a house. His sudden riches interested the community when he built himself a new 1951 model Chinese village hut and they tracked him up to the source of his riches.
Legend Number Two has it that two bird-trappers were spending the night in one of the Japanese dugouts on the hilltop when they found a piece of quartz with ore embedded in it.
How long will it last? The biggest dread for the prospectors is that of drought. There is precious little water on the summit and a dry spell will see the end of all prospecting unless there are men left with enough energy to carry hundredweights of hard earth down the hill. That would take a great deal of energy.
Source: The China Mail 7th August 1951.
This article was first posted on 10th May 2022.
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