Jan Hendrik Marsman 1892-1956, connection to Needle Hill Tungsten Mine
HF: Jan Hendrik Marsman, was born in 1892 in the Netherlands and died in 1956, I think in the Philippines. He was known as Hank to his friends. He started his working life as an engineer and later developed extensive business interests in the Philippines.
Marsman is of interest to us because he became involved, through his company Marsman Hong Kong (China) Ltd, in Needle Hill Tungsten Mine.
There is some confusion over dates and companies viz., one source suggests Marsman, the company, undertook prospecting at Needle Hill from 1935-1937 but possibly not in 1935 if in 1936 a 21-year mining lease, Mining lot No.9 covering about 540 acres, was issued to Marsman Investments Ltd of London?
In 1938 the mining lease was transferred to Marsman Hong Kong (China) Ltd and and development works began in 1938 with three adits used to extract the ore.
In 1941 more than 500 Chinese miners were working in the “area”. Was this in separate, individual and possibly illegal workings or for the company? The main mine was closed in December of that year due to the Japanese occupation.
This biography of Marsman and his Philippines’ company comes from the current company’s website. There is no mention of his involvement in Needle Hill Tungsten Mine nor of other business interests in Hong Kong, though he “was in HK on business when the Japanese invaded on 8 Dec 1941”:
Jan Hendrik Marsman was born in 1892 and was raised and schooled as a civil engineer in the Netherlands. Hank, as he was known to friends, worked for Norit, a company specializing in the use of activated carbon for industrial refinery purposes. During the years of the First World War, he was assigned by Norit in Indonesia, known at the time as the Dutch East Indies.
Mary Angus Blythe was born in 1888 and raised in Scotland. She came to the US as a young adult and came to work for Marshall Fields, a major department store in the city of Chicago. It was in Marshall Fields that she met Nels Petersen, a Swedish-American Engineer, whom she married. Petersen brought his young wife to the Philippines where he partly-owned the Benguet Gold Mines along with two other businessmen, Judge Hauserman and Judge Bean.
In 1918 Jan Hendrik Marsman came to the Philippines when he was assigned by Norit to supervise the construction of a sugar refinery in Malabon. Norit specialized in the use of activated carbon for refining purposes. In this case, the carbon was used to refine sugar. Hank was asked to stay on and manage the refinery he had built for Norit and Malabon Sugar.
Nels Petersen died of influenza in 1919 during an epidemic that killed millions worldwide. His death left Mary a young widow with gold claims in the Benguet area. Some time later, Mary Petersen and Hank Marsman met in Manila and decided to get married in 1922. They were convinced that their future lay in the hills and relocated to Baguio to prospect for gold.
The first Marsman business venture in the Philippines was in the highly risky and speculative field of mining.
After several years of prospecting, Hank and Mary Marsman organized the Itogon Mining Company in 1924. The Marsmans transform the relatively low-grade Itogon gold mine into a viable and dividend-paying project. Their proceeds allowed them to diversify their business interests into the forestry and construction industries, a natural progression for Hank’s engineering knowledge.
Marsman and Company, Inc. formed to fill the necessity of establishing a trading firm to service the needs of the Marsmans’ mining operations as well as those of other companies in the Baguio district. Its first office was set up along Session Road in Baguio City. The Marsmans later formed the Suyoc Consolidated Mining Company in Benguet and M.P. Tranco, Inc., the first public transportation system to service mining communities in the Mountain Province.
In 1933 the Marsmans ventured out of the Mountain Province and initiated a large-scale mining development project in the Paracale-Mamburao area in the Bicol Region. They reopened gold mines formerly used by Spanish prospectors and established the United Paracale Mining Company. Their success stirred them to establish Coco Grove Inc., which became the largest placer mining operation in the Philippines, and San Mauricio Mining Company which produced the richest gold content per ton of ore compared to any mine in the country.
By 1936 Marsman business ventures had grown and diversified into other fields — engineering, insurance, air transportation, machinery, hardware, pharmaceuticals and foodstuffs. Due to these expansion activities and the growing involvement in the trading business, the organization’s headquarters were moved from Baguio to Port Area, Manila. The Marsman Building in Intramuros was built to accommodate the growing work force that manned the Marsmans’ various business interests. During the Japanese Occupation, the building was used as the headquarters of the Japanese Navy. After the war, the Company resumed its operations at a new location in Intramuros. The original Marsman Building still stands today and is presently owned by the Philippine government.
[Mr. Jan Marsman, an American of Dutch extraction whose family owned the wolfram mining concession, was in HK on business when the Japanese invaded on 8 Dec 1941. He was staying at the Peninsula Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, but due to human error he did not receive the early morning wake-up call on 8 Dec to catch the Pan Am clipper plane due to leave HK. (The flight was scheduled to go to Hawaii).] (1)
By 1941, the Marsmans had built one of the top business organizations in the Philippines. Its construction projects included the Nielsen Tower in the Manila Airport, one of the first airports in the country where they operated the Philippine Air Taxi Company (PATCO). This air transport service offered regular trips from Manila to Baguio as well as chartered flights to various destinations in the country.
The Soriano family later became involved in PATCO, which they later took over and developed into what is now Philippine Airlines. The original airport runway is now known as Paseo de Roxas in the heart of Makati’s bustling business district while Nielsen Tower now houses the Filipinas Heritage Library where various cultural and literary events regularly take place.
In 1941 the Japanese Imperial Army occupies most of the Asian region, prompting many American and European-owned businesses to relocate their operations. At this time, Marsman and Company acquired Pacific Commercial Company (PCC), the largest trading company in the Philippines. Despite the imminent outbreak of war, the Marsmans continued the distribution of various products including office equipment, foodstuffs, farming equipment, hardware, heavy equipment and pharmaceuticals, demonstrating their commitment to the Philippines.
The Second World War devastated the Marsman enterprises, which suffered losses and damages in excess of US$50 million. Not to be daunted, the Marsmans began to rebuild from the ruins after the war with the reactivation of five gold mines and the trading business. Marsman and Company represented all the major companies with interests in food, pharmaceuticals and construction.
After the Japanese army retreated, the first shipments of flour and milk into a war-ravaged Philippines were financed by the Marsmans using their personal funds and credit to bring food to starving Filipinos. Construction and engineering departments were likewise reactivated to help in the task of reconstruction. Among their accomplishments were the UP Engineering Building, the Ambuklao Hydroelectric project and the Nichols Air Base, now the domestic airport.
Walter Dumermuth, a Swiss national, was hired by Marsman and Company in 1948 to develop the company’s pharmaceutical distribution. All the various businesses were undergoing expansion at this point, with Pharmaceuticals aggressively promoted by Dumermuth.
The Palawan Quicksilver Mines was established in 1954. This was a highly successful mining operation. Mercury from the mines was shipped to Japan until 1975 when the company ceased mining operations in Palawan.
In 1956 the strength of the Marsman organization was put to test by the death of Jan Marsman. Mary assumed the management of the business and competently carried on with the tasks left by her husband. However, the organization was beset by problems including the repayment of loans availed of for the rehabilitation of companies during the post-war years. Three mining companies in Bicol had to be shut down and control of the Itogon-Suyoc mines was lost. Mary Marsman passed away in 1963 leaving the company under the management of able caretakers….(2)
This article was first posted on 5th February 2016.
- Please refer to our article, Jan Hendrik Marsman – Escape from HK during WW2
- History of the Marsman-Drysdale Group – company website
Related Indhhk articles:
- Jan Hendrik Marsman – Escape from HK during WW2
- Marsman Hong Kong (China) Ltd – Needle Hill Tungsten Mine during 1938-1951?
- Needle Hill Tungsten Mine
- Needle Hill Mine – 1961 account
- Gordon Burnett Gifford Hull – Needle Hill Mine, Shing Mun Reservoir
- Sang Sang Mining Company – connection to Needle Hill Tungsten Mine, 1935?