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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 3, November 1968

Nelson's First Polytechnic? Nelson School of Mines

page 13

Nelson's First Polytechnic? Nelson School of Mines

The Nelson School of Mines used the room at the eastern end of the Suter Art Gallery.

A neatly hand-printed notice still gives instructions on handling apparatus and ends: "Written notice is to be given to the Curator of any articles broken by Members of the Classes. By Order of the Council. 14th February, 1888."

This article is copied from the New Zealand Mining Handbook, 1906.

The Nelson School of Mines was inaugurated in the early part of the year 1888. At that time, throughout the colony, a good deal of interest was shown in mining matters, owing to several metalliferous lodes having been then recently discovered, and Nelson had its share of the mining interest. The Owen Goldfield had just been discovered; fresh finds of rich copper-ore had been made in Aniseed Valley, and a lode of very rich silver-ore had been unearthed near Collingwood. Great things were expected from each of these fields. Large amounts of capital—partly local, partly foreign—were invested in them, but the brains necessary to direct the development of these mineral resources were not forthcoming, and share-raising seemed more important than ore-raising. To impress the unwary speculator, much capital was, in some cases, spent in showy outside works, while the proper development of the mine was starved by a too-meagre expenditure. About this time Professor Black visited Nelson, and delivered a course of lectures on practical chemistry, emphasizing the chemical methods employed in the extraction of metals from their ores. He had with him his assistant and a set of assay apparatus, and demonstrated in Nelson City, as well as in the outlying mining districts, how assaying was done. Professor Black's visit aroused a great deal of interest in scientific mining. A public meeting was held, at which it was resolved to establish a School of Mines in Nelson. About £60 was raised by public subscription, to which the Government added a subsidy of another £60. Both sums of money (£120) were spent in the purchase of chemicals, a portion of which has not yet been used, showing that at least some of the money was spent unwisely. A room was hired, classes formed, and a lot of feverish and crude assaying done. There was no systematic teaching; each member of the class was a professor, and in a short time the interest flagged and the school was closed. Several efforts were made to restore it, but without success. The Committee (practically the Nelson Philosophical Society) had then to face the difficulty of finding rent for the hired room in which the chemicals and apparatus were stored. For a time they paid the rent out of their own private funds; but finding ultimately that there was no possible chance of resuscitating the page 14school, the chemicals and apparatus were handed over to the care of Mr. W. F. Worley, the writer of this paper, in the year 1891.* Since that time, by means of a small grant annually from the Government, school-of-mines work has been carried on, though there is no building in Nelson which can consistently be called a School of Mines. The school-of-mines work above referred to may be mentioned under three heads:—

First, the teaching of mineralogy, blowpipe analysis, and a little prospecting to some of the elder boys belonging to the State School: Since these classes were started 275 boys have received instruction and training in these subjects. Most of them, at the end of a two-year's course, acquired sufficient skill in the use of the blowpipe to be able to identify with ease all the ordinary ores of commerce. Only a few of these lads, after leaving Nelson, seem to have taken to mining as a profession, but several of them have become schoolteachers, and in their turn have become teachers of science. The scientific methods which they learned in the blowpipe-analysis class are now being passed on to the rising generation, so that the work here, though humble in its way, is far-reaching in its effects. A few members of the class have distinguished themselves in science in their later educational career, and have also become teachers, but in secondary schools. The greater part of the honour of their success belongs undoubtedly to themselves and to the learned professors who taught them, but their earliest training in science was unquestionably received in the Nelson School of Mines blowpipe-analysis class. It was there that they received their bias in the direction of science. Without it their inherent abilities would have been directed into other channels—probably classical studies. As most Nelson young men have to leave here in order to get employment, it is not easy to follow the career of those who have been members of the School of Mines classes, but some are known to occupy responsible positions in connection with mining. The blowpipe-analysis classes have undoubtedly borne fruit.

Second, the making of assays for the public: This branch of our work, though small in its way, is of importance to the district. When a prospector brings in a new find he can generally get it tested within a day or two, and thus save the delay that could be caused by sending to Auckland or Wellington. During the past eighteen years about six hundred assays have been made for the public at a mere nominal charge for the assay. Several samples of quartz, up to 14lb. weight, have been treated for the extraction of the gold. This is a much better test than the ordinary assay, as one generally gets a better average sample of the reef to work upon, and the errors which are likely to arise from the use of small quantities are much reduced.

Third, delivering public lectures: During the winter months one or two lectures on some scientific subject are usually given. These page 15lectures are free to the public, and are nearly always given under the auspices of some public body, such as the Nelson Philosophical Society or the Wakefield Branch of the Farmers' Union. These lectures are generally well appreciated, and tend to foster an interest in scientific subjects. General chemistry, agricultural chemistry, and geology are the subjects usually chosen for lecture purposes. It is intended in the near future to still further popularise these lectures by using a magic lantern for illustrating purposes.

The foregoing is a brief outline of our history and of our usual run of work. As occasion requires, other work, such as the teaching of assaying or chemistry, is undertaken. As this work has to be done in one's spare time its extent is naturally limited, but sufficient has been adduced to show that, at least, a useful work is being accomplished.

* It is entirely a labour of love on Mr. Worley's part.—Editor Mining Handbook.