17th October 1834
The first mines were dug on Sark
British mining engineer John Hunt first came to Sark in 1833. There were already rumours of rich mineral deposits on the island. These proved to be accurate when he discovered veins of both copper and silver running through its rocks.
On 17 October the following year, he signed a contract with the Seigneur of the time, Peter Le Pelley, which gave him the rights to mine the ore for the next 31 years. The licence was to cost hunt £1 a year, plus 6% of all the proceeds earned from the mines.
Hunt transferred the concession to the Guernsey and Sark Mining company, in which he held 30 shares, the Seigneur held 10, and a further 200 were sold at £5 apiece to raise the necessary capital to fund the mining activities.
A poor investment
Unfortunately for Hunt and his investors, the initial mines, around Le Pot on Little Sark, were largely unproductive. It seemed for a while that Hunt had been mistaken about Sark’s mineral wealth.
However, all that changed in 1836 when a hunter discovered rocks close to Port Gorey bearing high quantities of cassiterite ore. This was enough to convince the mining company’s shareholders to invest more money so that it could exploit the find.
Hunt brought in 250 experienced miners. They worked alongside local labourers to dig four mines that collectively became known as Sark’s Hope.
Initially, everything looked rosy, but several disasters were on the horizon. Peter Le Pelley drowned and his brother Ernest inherited his title. The mines weren’t proving as productive as expected, either, and the mining company was running at a considerable loss.
Another rich vein of silver was discovered and Ernest mortgaged his fief to raise enough funds to buy pumps to drain the excavations. However, a cave-in flooded one of the chambers entirely, so he and Hunt had no choice but to put an end to the operation.
When Ernest Le Pelley died, the fief passed to his son, Pierre Carey Le Pelley. However, he was unable to meet the mortgage payments and lost his claim on the fief. The Seigneur’s Rights to Sark then passed to Marie Collings after been in the Le Pelley family for more than 130 years.