Beatty and Brynner and some Calamine

When Chester Beatty died on January 19th 1968, at the age of 92, The Times of London said that: “He was the greatest of all living figures in the mining industry, and with his passing the world has lost one of its most romantic characters.”

Chester Beatty was an extraordinary mining magnate and a collector of all sorts of things from an early age – minerals, Chinese snuff bottles and stamps. An adult Beatty expanded his collections by buying European and Persian manuscripts. He found another line of interest in 1914, when he and his wife Edith visited Egypt and bought some decorated copies of the Qur’an in the bazaars. The dry climate suited Beatty and he bought a house near Cairo, where he was to spend many winters.

A journey to Asia in 1917 added Japanese and Chinese paintings to his interests. He was particularly attracted to richly illustrated material, fine bindings and beautiful calligraphy, but he was also deeply committed to preserving texts for their historic value.

In 1950, Beatty decided to move to Ireland where he built a library for his art collection on Shrewsbury Road in Dublin and which opened in 1954. In 1957 Chester Beatty became Ireland’s first honorary citizen.

When I was a boy growing up in Dublin during the 1960’s there were lots of Cowboy Westerns on the little black and white Bush TV in our home in Dublin. My father and I had a favourite Western which was the Magnificent Seven (1960) starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen about an oppressed Mexican peasant village which entreats seven gunfighters to help defend their homes from marauding bandits. The greatest form of flattery is indeed imitation and the movie was undoubtedly recast from the Seven Samurai, a 1954 Japanese Film which takes place in 1587 during the Warring States Period of Japan. It follows the story of a village of farmers that hire seven masterless samurai to combat bandits who plan to return after the harvest to steal their crops.

In recent months as a Director of Pasinex Resources I have become immersed again in the geology and mineralogy of high-grade non-sulphide zinc deposits in Turkey. These ores were once called calamine ores or referred to as galmei ores in Poland’s Upper Silesia where I also spent some time when I was CEO of Rathdowney Resources. These calamine ores were the chief source of zinc until froth flotation was commercialised as one of the great enabling technologies of the 20th century for the recovery and upgrading of sulphide ores.

Calamine is a historic name for an ore of zinc. The name calamine came from the Belgian town of Kelmis whose French name is “La Calamine” and which was home to an old zinc mine. However in the early 19th century it was discovered that what had been thought to be one ore was actually composed of two distinct minerals:

Smithsonite is good and hemimorphite is bad if you want to roast ores in a kiln and concentrate zinc by driving off carbon dioxide. A dominantly smitsonite ore will upgrade quite readily in a kiln but a dominantly hemimorphite ore requires much higher temperatures and the substantial additional cost of the brute force necessary to smash molecular bonds and prise the zinc from the silica. In mineralogy calamine is no longer considered a valid term. It has been replaced by its constituent parts: smithsonite and hemimorphite and also to distinguish it from the pinkish mixture of zinc oxide (ZnO) and iron oxide (Fe2O3) used in calamine lotion.

So all this is in the context of my re-reading the Life and Times of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty by A.J. Wilson published in 1985 by Cadogan Publications Limited. I was intrigued to learn that in October 1922 the Japanese withdrew from Vladivostok which was the capital of the Soviet-declared independent Far Eastern Republic. Soviet troops occupied Vladivostok and the province of Primorsky where there happened to be a lead-zinc mine called Tiu-Tie-Hé or Tetiuhe in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains about 300 kilometres north of the port.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century an adventurous and enterprising Swiss man called Julius Bryner emigrated from Europe to set up a trading and shipping business in Vladivostok which was then rapidly developing as a strategic naval base and important fishing centre. He prospered and along the way acquired the mining rights at Tetiuhe. There he mined high-grade calamine ore in the shallow weathered part of the mineralised system, hauling it some 30 kilometres by horse and cart over rough roads to the coast for shipment to Europe. Later underground workings were opened up with German finance and equipment to extract the deeper pristine lead-zinc sulphides under the calamine ores. A mill and concentrator was installed and a railway built to link the mine with the little harbour of Pristan on Tetiuhe Bay.

When Julius died his three sons carried on the business. The oldest son Leonide managed the firm in Vladivostok; Henry, the youngest son was the traveller; and Boris, who had been trained as an engineer in Germany, took over the mining business.

During the Great War mining was suspended at Tetiuhe. When the Red army arrived in 1922 the mine was derelict and protected by a terrified Chinese man. By 1924 the mine was so run down that the authorities had no issue with Boris taking repossession of the to restart operations provided on the proviso that mining restarted within one year. Toward the end of 1924 Boris arrived in London on a mission to raise finance for reopening the mine. Boris telephoned Chester Beatty and was delighted to be called to Selection Trust Offices at London Wall Buildings to discuss the project. Both men apparently got on like a house on fire and this led to a highly experienced three-man team consisting of a geologist, a mining engineer and a metallurgist being despatched to the far outermost reaches of eastern Russia. The project was considered a good proposition both technically and commercially and £750,000 in capital was raised through Chester Beatty’s international network of contacts . Subscribers were Cull & Co, the London merchant bankers, Hayden Stone of New York, Zinc Corporation the leading Austrailian lead-zinc producer of the time, an Armenian oil millionaire and South African mining magnate Solly Joel, nephew of Cecil Rhodes’s old rival Barney Barnato.

Boris married a Russian girl, which is something I have in common with Boris apart from calamine, and in 1920 they had a son, born on the island of Sakhalin off the Siberian coast. This boy developed a talent for acting and by the time he was thirteen he was entertaining audiences in Paris. Later he added another “n” to the spelling of his name and he became the internationally-famous film and stage star, Yul Brynner.

The present Chester Beatty library is on the grounds of Dublin Castle and opened on February 7, 2000, the 125th anniversary of Beatty’s birth and was named European Museum of the year in 2002.

The Library’s collections are displayed in two collections: “Sacred Traditions” and “Artistic Traditions”. Both displays exhibit manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings, rare books and some decorative arts from the Islamic, East Asian and Western Collections. The Library is one of the premier sources for scholarship in both the Old and New Testaments and is home to one of the most significant collections of  Islamic and Far Eastern artefacts. Certainly worth a visit if you are in town.


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