Friday 22 February 2013

The soldier who prospected for gold

He was one of the many British officers who fought in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in May 1799 in which Tipu Sultan was killed and Srirangapatna stormed.
The death of Tipu led the British to hand back the Mysore Kingdom to the Wodeyars. The British placed a small army of theirs in Mysore, the capital of Wodeyars and headed back to Bangalore where they began constructing a Cantonment.
One such officer who came back to Bangalore from Srirangapatna was Michael F. Lavelle, an Irishman. He had learnt about Tipu mining gold from Kolar and in he set about discovering the area.
There were no trains then and no other public means of transport, save carriages, horses and elephants. He decided to use the most efficient native system of transport known then-the humble bullock cart.
Lavelle then set out to Kolar on a bullock cart and it took him almost two weeks to cover the distance from his house in Cantonment to Kolar. He came and saw the old machinery by which gold was being extracted. He then put in an application for mining, mentioning the availability of coal and gold. The then Mysore Government permitted him to mine for coal.
A trifle disappointed overt the failure to wrest the rights to mine for gold, he submitted yet another application and this time he cleared mentioned the possibility of mining gold. The application was approved and Lavelle once again headed back to Kolar.
He set about prospecting for gold but his recourses were limited and far too fragile to drill for gold. The lack of continuous power too was a major hindrance. However, the licence he was given in  1873 was valid for 20 years.
He had began mining operations by sinking a shaft near Urigaum (Oorgaum). This shaft exists even today.
However, even though Lavelle extracted gold, it was not enough to cover his costs. He also did not have enough finance to mine deeper and engage more men and machinery.
He then decided to sell his mining rights. The news spread like wildlife and as the Mysore Government had okayed the sale, several people flocked to him, seeking the rights.
A group of British Armymen who had constituted a company called Kolar Concessionaires Soft Corporation and Arbuthnot Company of Madras sought Lavelle out in 1877 and made him an offer that he could not refuse.
The new company soon bought the mining rights and its chairman and founder was Major General G. de la Poer Beresford. On his part, Lavelle returned to his house in Cantonment. His exploits soon became the talk of Bangalore and he was a popular man.
The Commandant of Cantonment honoured Lavelle by naming a road after him. This is the Lavelle Road of today. Lavelle renamed his house in Cantonment as Oorgaum House.
The British syndicate then sold the mining rights to John Taylor which mined gold in what is today known as Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) till 1956. That year, the then Mysore Government took over the mine and the centre took it over in 1962.
The gold mines were closed in 2001 and even today sporadic efforts are being made to revive it.
Gold has been mined from KGF since ancient ages and even from the period of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. The Champion reef here was operated during the Gupta period. The KGF operated with modern machinery for over 120 years and produced approximately 25 million ounces of gold at an average grade of 15.9 g/t.             

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