The Zimapanners







Zimapán, Mexico  



Silver mining in Mexico 

Almost every Mexican state has mining towns and metal mines. Two famous metal mining towns are Real del Monte and Panchuca1 (8000 ft), situated close to one another in the Mexican State of Hidalgo, about fifty-five miles north of Mexico City, deep in the central highlands. These were the two principal towns involved in the Cornish-Mexican silver mining bonanza that began in the early part of the nineteenth century (1820s). The central highlands were described as inhospitable and hot, and were "wild, rugged and peppered with rock formations, cones, peaks and spires".2



In 1522, Zimapán (B on map), which is situated in the far north of Hidalgo, gave its name to a mining town that lies about 125 miles (200 km) northeast of Mexico City and 65 miles further northwest of Panchuca and Real del Monte. Situated on the Tolimán River, Zimapán's main industry since the seventeenth century has been the mining of lead, silver and zinc ores.


First Cornish miners emigrate in 1820s 

Cornish mine captains were often recruited to run the mining operations in Mexico, but found it difficult to recruit enough local skilled workers to carry out all the necessary work. Consequently, many Cornish miners emigrated to Mexico during the 1820s, attracted by the offer of better wages. Many Cornish miners, blacksmiths, mine agents, mine captains and carpenters emigrated to, and eventually settled in, Mexico. Cornish steam engines were also exported to Mexico to help pump out water from deep mines. Some Cornish miners who remained in Mexico for the rest of their lives were buried in a Cornish cemetery on a shaded, tree-covered hill outside Real del Monte, Hidalgo. 


Mocambo Beach Disaster

Between 1825 and 1827, Cornish miners, crippled by malaria and dysentery, managed to salvage 1500 tons of Cornish mining equipment dumped in the sands of Mocambo Beach near the port of Verz Cruz, and then manhandled it 250 miles from the Mexican coast up to the mining town of Real del Monte (10,000 ft). 


Silver and quicksilver 

In 1836, when corresponding with Damian Floresi at the Bolaños mine, the Cornishman John Rule who also emigrated to Mexico, wrote that he was trying hard to find other sources of quicksilver (mercury) in the mines of Zimapán. In any case, the mines at Zimapán turned out to be highly productive in terms of silver, as Count de Regla the Third (Don Pedro) managed to extract 3,000 tons of silver each year from the Lomo del Toro mine, which was leased to the Real del Monte Mining Company, headquartered in Panchuca.3 


Aftermaths of mining 

The mines have become a mass of "abandoned ore chambers of massive proportions, and tunnels and drifts of prodigious lengths"4. Lead, silver and zinc sulphides, typically mined over the years at Zimapán, "are often accompanied by arsenic compounds such as arsenopyrite and scorodite"5. As a result, arsenic has ended up in the groundwaters of the Zimapán Valley, and has originated from: 

  • Mine tailings   
  • Dissolution of arsenic-rich smelter fumes   
  • Dissolution of arsenic-bearing minerals naturally present in the limestone aquifer6    

Whether mining-industry caused or naturally-caused, arsenic has infiltrated the drinking-water supply (21 to 1070 µg/L) and found its way into the hair of the exposed population (35,000).7


Cornish miners in Latin America

Further details on the British and Cornish involvement in Latin America can be found in a 1999 research paper entitled "Creating the Cult of Cousin Jack": Cornish Miners in Latin America 1812-1848 and the Development of an International Mining Labour Market, by Dr Sharron Schwartz, which discusses the export of hard-rock mining skills and steam technology to Latin America by Cornish miners, aka 'Cousin Jacks'.


1-4. The Search for Silver, A.C. Todd, (1977) 2000.
5-6. Garcia, Armienta & Cruz, 1999. 
7. Armienta, Rodriguez & Cruz, 1997.
8. Dr Sharron P. Schwartz, Institute of Cornish Studies, Dec. 1999.