We now come to a highly important part of our subject, the practical treatment of ores and matrixes for the extraction of the metals contained. The methods employed are multitudinous, but may be divided into four classes, namely, washing, amalgamating with mercury, chlorinating, cyaniding and other leaching processes, and smelting. The first is used in alluvial gold and tin workings and in preparing some silver, copper, and other ores for smelting, and consists merely in separating the heavier metals and minerals from their gangues by their greater specific gravity in water. The second includes the trituration of the gangue and the extraction of its gold or silver by means of mercury. Chlorinating and leaching generally is a process whereby metals are first changed by chemical action into their mineral salts, as chloride of gold, nitrate of silver, sulphate of copper, and being dissolved in water are afterwards redeposited in the metallic form by means of well-known re-agents.
In really successful mining it is in the last degree important that the mode of extraction of metals in the most scientific manner should be thoroughly understood, but as a general rule the science of metallurgy is but very superficially grasped even by those whose special business it is to treat ore bodies in order to extract their metalliferous contents, and whether in quartz crushing mill, lixiviating, or smelting works there is much left to be desired in the method of treating our ores.
My attention was recently attracted to an article written by Mr. F. A. H. Rauft, M.E., from which I make the following extract:
He says, speaking of the German treatment of ores and the mode of procedure in Australia, “It is high time that Government stepped in and endeavoured by prompt and decisive action to bring the mining industry upon a sound and legitimate basis. Though our ranges abound in all kinds of minerals that might give employment to hundreds of thousands of people, mining is carried on in a desultory, haphazard fashion. There is no system, and the treatment of ores is of necessity handed over to the tender mercies of men who have not even an idea of what an intricate science metallurgy has become in older countries. During many years of practical experience I have never known a single instance where a lode, on being worked, gave a return according to assay, and I have never known any mine where some of the precious metals could not be found in the tailings or slag. The Germans employ hundreds of men in working for zinc which produces some two or three per cent to the ton; here the same percentage of tin could hardly be made payable, and this, mark you, is owing not to cheaper labour alone, but chiefly to the labour-saving appliances and the results of the researches of such gigantic intellects as Professor Kerl and many others, of whom we in this