Rediscovering lost mines

S S Chandrashekar Math writes about the role of Francis Buchanan Hamilton, a Scottish geographer who was instrumental in discovering the mineral deposits present in southern Karnataka in the 19th century

 Francis Buchanan Hamilton was a Scottish physician, geographer, botanist and surgeon who served in the British East India Company.

 He was appointed by Marquis Wellesley, the then Governor General of India, to travel across and report on the dominions of the Rajah of Mysore.  He was also assigned to report about the country acquired by the East India Company in the wars from Tippu Sultan, and to investigate mines, quarries, mineral springs and manufacturers, among other things prevailing in the area.

He undertook his journey from April 23, 1800, to July 6, 1801, during which, he travelled through Bangalore, Seringapatam, Doddaballapur and Sira. He travelled through Magadi, which was ruled by a Gowda Chief for over 600 years, giving accounts of iron ore mining, as he witnessed large-scale steel making. Detailed information about iron ore mining in southern parts of Karnataka has been known, courtesy of his reports.

Visit to Magadi

During his visit to Magadi taluk (earlier called Magheri), he observed the presence of several iron forges. He presented a report about the art of steel-making from iron ore and black sand.

 He even observed the art of making crucibles and containers that can withstand very high temperatures in metal production. During the time, black sand was obtained from Gattipura (translates to hard town), a village that was about eight miles from Magadi.

He also visited the iron ore mine at Gattipura, where bamboo charcoal was used in iron smelting and forging. He gathered information from mostly iron smelters, who told him that the Sultans (Hyder Ali or Tippu Sultan) provided them with employment and paid them a handsome salary for their services.

 He observed that the Taveri–Caray village was occupied by iron smelters. He also documented iron ore smelting in the taluks of Madhugiri, Channarayanadurga, Devarayandurga and Chikkanayakanahalli in Tumkur district.

Flourishing towns

At Gubbi (also in Tumkur), grand weekly fairs were organised, where steel and iron were sold. Most of the iron produced was transported to Seringapatam. The iron ore was carried by buffaloes and mules. It was reported that an annual sacrifice was offered to prevent the spirit of the iron hills from harming the miners. She was called ‘Caricul’ or ‘Guddad Amma’, mother of the hill. 

On September 19, 1800, Buchanan visited Heggadevanakote and Hampapura, a small village with a cluster of high hills and reported activities of iron ore mining and smelting. There were reports that Hyder Ali funded the expenses of iron forges. 

Intrigued by his findings, Buchanan paid a visit to Malavalli in Mandya. Hyder had given Malavalli in jagir (tax) to his son Tippu. He also visited Hulluguru (Halagur) and reported iron ore being smelted in two villages, Banasamudra and Halasuhalli, from where Seringapatam received supply. Halagur was once a hub of the iron industry. 

Iron ore of Malavalli was considered the best in Mysore territory. Half of the produce was exported from the crude state and the remainder was used to make war implements. 

It was reported that stones containing magnetic ores were found near Devnagur in Nanjangud taluk. An iron foundry was established in Bangalore under a European management. There was also a native iron foundry at Chikkaballapur where sugar mills and agriculture implements were made.

Mineral wealth, particularly iron ore deposits in the region played an important role in the evolution of Magadi. From Gattipura in Magadi to Halgur in Malavalli taluk, high quality steel was being produced in this region by what Europeans would later call crucible steel (high carbon steel).

The Mysore Gazetteer reported that iron was used to manufacture war implements within the old fortification of Ramnagar. Major battles employing thousands of soldiers used conventional arms like swords, daggers, armours, helmets, guns, muskets, cannons and even rockets. In addition, tools for agriculture were also made from this ore.

It was only in the Magadi country and regions in Tumkur and Chitradurga, that charcoal iron was smelted. It is reported that 116 forges were operated in 1897 and the charcoal smelting continued till the beginning of twentieth century. 

Iron ore reserves

The meticulous observations recorded by Buchanan have proved to be a valuable source of information. They have revealed details about iron resources in the nature of Banded Magnetite Quartz (BMQ), which occur as discontinuous bodies in Ramnagar and Mandya.

 B Balaji Rao, a geologist from the Mysore Geological Department carried out physical search in 1907 in the region of Malavalli (Shivasamudram and Halagur areas) and reported the existence of defunct iron ores. 

Even 200 years after Buchanan came up with accounts of iron ore smelting in this region, it has not been explored so far. Such valuable mineral wealth still exists proudly, inviting the attention of miners for its exploration. 

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