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pubblicazione di Miniere d'Oro(2003) www.minieredoro(2006 / 2023)



Sezioni principali di questo Sito:

Miniere d'Italia

La Valle d'Ayas

Giuseppe Pipino

Il deposito di oro alluvionale italiano

Italia fiumi con oro

Imparare a cercarlo

Attrezzi necessari

Pulizia dei minerali

E' oro? e tipi di oro

Le Leggi sulla ricerca

I cercatori d'oro

Storia oro Italia

I minerali in genere

Club, gare e mostre

Pagina guida per ricerche scolastiche

Oro nel mondo

I vostri racconti

Collaboratori e corrispondenti


Documento per gentile concessione del Museo Storico dell'Oro italiano.

The first theoretical classes were held in the school during the Winter 1752—l753, while the mining activity was carried out mainly in Sesia Valley gold and copper mines, in Sessera Valley silver mine, in Costa sulphur mine and in the survey for gold in Challant, made possible by means of a burdensome agreement with the Count of Challant, strongly advocated by the King. The works in Prez S. Didier were interrupted and so were the searches in Lanzo and Susa Valleys.

On 17 March 1753, the King set up a special fund of L. 100,000 for the mines, though Cavalier di Robilant’s estimate was a little higher, and declared himself unable to give more for the time being: they should compensate for the rest by selling the mines’ products. Gold and silver should be sold to the Mint, whereas copper exceeding the Arsenal needs could be sold to private citizens. The fund ran out in 2-3 months and in the session of 3 July 1753, the Congress blamed an excess of expenses as compared to Nicolis’ estimation. The captain answered the critics declaring that "one cannot always foresee all things " and that the lack of means prevented him from completing the work, with the risk of " compromising the entire project". With the Royal Bill dated 7 July, the fund was increased by L. 12,000 and the King himself advanced L. 45,000 for the immediate expenses, that should be repaid by March 1754. Cavalier di Robilant objected it was not enough as it was necessary to go on making experiments and modifications in the foundry of Scopello and completing the tunnel dedicated to Charles Emmanuel, joining S. Giovanni and S. Giacomo works. This would reduce by L. 2 the expenses for the extraction and transport of copper ore, which amounted to L. 14 per "rubbo" (9.22 kg). He asked for an increase in the fund to at least L. 130,000 and that litharges for the smelting of gold and silver ores should be paid separately. The King refused this allotment, lamented the overcoming of the estimate and ordered instead the reduction of the work and of number of workers in Sesia Valley gathering them in Tortona, where profits were assured by the excellent quality of sulphur, and in Challant where they hoped to find a satisfying quantity of gold. Lieutenant Ponzio had discovered there some ancient pits and from one of them in Bouchej he had extracted wonderful pieces of native gold in quartz, that the King instructed to bring to the Mineralogy Museum together with an extraordinary sample of native silver dug out in S. Maria di Stoffol.

The men charged with mining, sorting and transporting ores in Sesia Valley were sharply reduced, from 561 to 200, and so was the mining of copper, whose market was decreasing. Most of the last sessions of the Congress were dedicated to this problem: in 1750 copper price was L. 22 per rubbo and now it was difficult to sell it for more than L. 18, even on foreign markets. The selling price of fine metals instead remained quite high and stable, gold was sold at litlle less than L. 82 an ounce, silver at more than L. 5 an ounce and the Mint immediately absorbed the entire production. In the meantime, however, there was an increase in the price of charcoal and of the lead oxide used for smelting: Cavalier di Robilant had replaced the approved method of amalgamation of gold and silver ores with the leading process that allowed higher recover but required adding 1/3 of lead oxide, whose price was 3 lire, 2 soldi and 6 denari per rubbo. lt was also necessary to import large amounts of timber and charcoal, whose scarce presence in the Valley had determined the choice of the amalgamation process in the past (PIPINO, 1994).

With the last session of 5 March 1754, the Congress ended its task and the old and trustworthy cashier Camillo Capsoni was charged with the office of Commissary, to administer the most important activities, that is those of Sesia Valley. Meanwhile, based on the assumption that a bad administration was the cause of the lack of results, an "Economic Regulation" had been prepared and was approved in the Royal Bill of 29 July, that contained strict dispositions for each activity and implied involvement of high State institution even in the most irrelevant issues. As a result, the role of General Inspector was strongly retrenched and even more so after the establishment of the ofiice of Mines Superintendent, that was entrusted to solicitor Antonio Bongino on 20 June 1755. In August 1754, di Robilant had directed the re-melting of 6 million coins in Scopello to retrieve the copper on account of the monetary reform. This experience would be of great use to him thirty years later, but it seems to have been the last of a certain importance for that period: in fact his numerous mineralogical and metallurgical projects were systematically ignored and his public activity was limited to on-site inspections and drawing up of instructions for mines' directors. On the contrary, his work began to be requested and appreciated by private entrepreneurs: he reorganised mining procedures in Valpelline mines and planned the "Copper ore Foundry" built in Quart by Count Perrone di San Martino. He designed the tin plant that his brother built in Robilant and the "excellent and magnificent iron vitriol manufacture" built in Bosso by the company administering the gold. silver and lead mines owned by the Marquis of Parella, allowing the exploitation of the previously unutilised abundant pyrite. Nicolis also prepared the arrangement between the Prince of Masserano and Count Castellani for the exploitation of the feud mines; he directed research in Lanzo Valleys on behalf of Counts Rebuffi di Traves, that led to the discovery of the cobalt deposit in Usseglio. He was also consulted by the Venice Republic at the time of the establishment of a chemistry laboratory in Padua entrusted to Marco Carburi, for which he compiled a list of the tools required and procured a rare Semelle balance.

For some years the most important public undertakings of di Robilant were the direction of the school and teaching, at least in Winter months. Taking advantage of the books brought from Germany, he wrote the two elegant volumes "Della Chimica Docimastica" which were used in the school and reached us. Among the cadets, only Teppati and Maccario abandoned their studies, whereas the remaining six went well and were appointed second-lieutenants. For a short while also lieutenant Gio Domenico Vayra, charged with selling Piedmont copper abroad. attended the school and captain Giovanni Michele Ravicchio, sulphur mine Director, took the place of lieutenant Ponzio as a teacher. The latter had been sent to Sardinia in September 1757 upon di Robilant's suggestion owing to his expertise and "excellent health". However, the regularity of lectures depended on the mines' needs. On the plan regarding "...Officers carrying on studies at the Mining school" di Robilant wrote on 23 November 1758 that "those who are not indispensable to the mines” should come to Turin to resume the studies. Tesauro who had become necessary in Challant "will mak up in the following years". ln December, January and February the students will practice on docimasy, then in underground geometry. At the end of the course they will only have to attend "Applied mines underground geometry" three days a week in Alagna "with the good teacher Mr. Bussoletti" and practising in melting in Scopello, with smelter Mr. Bellotti.

After successfully completing the course and the practical stage in 1760, Operti was assigned to Valpelline and then to Chambery. Tesauro to Alagna, Gros to Challant. Graffion was appointed Director of Sessera mine, Trona was assigned to Scopello foundry as Belly had left to Sardinia in November 1759 to replace lieutenant Ponzio, who had died of malarial fever in spite of his presumed excellent state of health.

The new course should have begun in 1760. In October 1758 Major d’Antonj had proposed artillery cadets De Margherita, Giannetti and Tersol; in 1759 the cadets assigned to the school were four and Cavalier di Robilant asked to raise the number to a minimum of six. But apparently the new course never started or in any case it was never completed. It must be noticed that the mining situation was getting worse and worse: Tortona sulphur mine, after exhausting the rich layer on sight, had begun to work at loss and had been sold to private citizens; on April 6° 1758 the works in Challant had been suspended due to the irregularity or to the depletion of Bouchej vein and to the high cost of the project of large-scale washing of Evancon’s gold-bearing sands; the works in Sesia Valley had been let out to contractors who employed the remaining soldiers-miners, some of whom, tired of waiting for their wages for months, had rebelled in November 1759 and had abandoned the works. The 134 men employed in mines and foundries in 1759, fell to 85 in June after the closure of copper mines, and continued to decrease in number ever after.

The budget of the state mines was suffering heavy losses, as indicated in a summarising table prepared by the State Finance at the beginning of 1761, entitled "Serie de' Prodotti in Fino tempo a tempo dati Sperabili dal Sig. Cav.e di Robilant dalla coltura delle Regie Miniere, cioè dal 1753 a tutto il 1760; in confronto de' realizzati in ogni anno col di più, e di meno risultante da un tale confronto": with the exception of an extraordinary production of gold and silver in 1758, due to the discoveries in Challant and to the treatment of previous stocks, the results did not meet the expectations. In the seven-year period gold mining yielded L. 464,541 against expected revenues of L. 511,793,
whereas silver brought L, 568,561 as compared to L. 704,345 and copper L. 452,148 instead of L. 630,184 (P1P1NO,1989).

Di Robilant's credibility was already diminishing and collapsed completely a few years later as a consequence of the events connected to the British company of Savoy and to the digging of Charles Emmanuel tunnel.

Pressed by the local gentry and troubled by internal clashes between the heirs of the first grantees, the British company had concentrated all its efforts on Pesey mine, coveted also by the Savoy Company, established in 1753 by eleven noblemen, some of whom were well introduced at Court. In March 1754 the Home Office confidentially informed First President of Savoy Senate that the King was willing to offer the British company an indemnity in exchange for their renounce to Pesey, letting them understand that they could lose all their privileges for not having fulfilled the engagements undertaken with the grants of l740-4l and the renewal of 1751. After an onerous trial, at the end of 1757 the Company had renounced to all the State grants but not to Pesey that was not included. In order to get rid of the British it was necessary to break the 1750 agreement with the marquis of San Maurizio. Count de la Tour, notable of the Savoy Company, was charged with that: after obtaining a transfer of rights by Pesey feudal lords, he instituted proceedings with the Audit Chamber alleging, among other reasons, the fact that the wrong administration of the British had swindled the King’s revenues. On 31 March 1759 the Chamber declared the loss of the British company rights and ordered the delivery of the mine, the plants and the mined ore; the payment of an indemnity would be calculated later. Savoy Company took over and, upon Cavalier di Robilant’s advice, demolished the British furnaces and replaced them with others that used a Saxon procedure. Only in 1763, during the long appeal, did the British come to know that the sentence of the Audit Chamber had been based essentially on Robilant’s unfavourable reports, while they had not been allowed to oppose their own appraiser. They then tried to produce a report by Blumestein junior, who, together with his father, was considered one of the major experts, but the report was refused by Public Prosecutor with the pretext that it had been presented too late: that report rejected Nicolis' arguments one by one and questioned in particular the alleged superiority of the Saxon furnaces upon the British ones. ln 1764, tired of waiting for the rehearing of the trial, the British published in Geneva the pamphlet entitled "Relation Abrègée des Violentes & cruelles Oppressiom qu’on a effuyée dans les Etats de S.M. le ROI de Sardaigne, la Compagnie de Messieurs Les Anglois en Savoye..." where they revealed the injustices they suffered. According to the pamphlet, Cavalier di Robilant acted with servility to the Court and the Savoy nobleness and in any case he was not experienced enough to judge on mining and metallurgical matters of such relevance. The facts turned out to agree with them and Blumestein: in 1763 the Savoy Company had employed about 400 people in Pesey with an annual salary of up to L. 13,000 whereas the British had employed a maximum of 150 people with up to 50% decrease in wages; the pits which had always been kept dry were then full of water and digging had become difficult and expensive; production fell and one half of the lead (about 12,000 rubbos) had evaporated inside the Saxon furnaces advocated by Cavalier di Robilant and the fumes had killed 10 or 12 workers, while the British furnaces had not caused any victim; 40-50 men had been employed for the cutting of timber and the production of coal, as opposed to the 5 or 6 men employed by the British, and 15,000 charges had been consumed in a year against the 3,000 of the British. Continuing such an exploitation, various miles of woods around Pesey would have been destroyed in 5-6 years, thereby also frustrating any improvement of the mines.

The publication of the pamphlet must have caused a great sensation and only after the intervention of the British envoy extraordinary in Turin, did the Company renounce to repeat it in other European towns. The King had to allow the rehearing of the trial, which ended in 1771 with an agreement and quite an expense for the King's Finances (L. 15,000 a year for 22 years).

Charles Emmanuel Tunnel had been advocated by Cavalier di Robilant who in 1753 countersigned the project prepared by Bussoletti. The digging went on for years and in October 1766 Bussoletti acknowledged that it was "too flat" and consequently, though the direction was right, it had passed under St. James' pit. It was therefore necessary to dig a cross pit whose length was at first calculated in 2 "tese" (approximately 2,5 mt); in 1768 the length was increased to 7 "tese" and by April 1769 13 "tese" had been dug without reaching the gallery. Even the direction of the traverse was obviously wrong and they had to go on testing to try to connect the parts. This was probably the last straw.

On 29 April 1769 the King ordered to stop the attempts and the Royal Bill dated 28 November 1769 decreed the suspension of every mining work as from 1 January of the following year: during the month of December the ore already extracted was to be treated and sold and the inventory of goods was to be made. Lieutenant Trona, like other officers had already done, would return on duty in his Artillery corps and the Mines Fund would be suppressed. The following spring lieutenant Bussoletti, Director of the metallurgical laboratory was to go to Alagna to try to connect Charles Emmanuel Tunnel and St. James' pit.

Di Robilant also joined the army and achieved the rank and seniority of lieutenant colonel. On 31 December 1769 he was elected Captain of Miners of the Artillery corps as a substitute for Cavalier d’Antonj, elected General Director of the Artillery Theoretical and Practical School, but two months later he resigned "to mind his own business" and left the Army. The charge of General Inspector of the Mines, that was temporarily entrusted to Bussoletti, was officially abolished by the King with the Royal Bill of 3 December 1770.


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