The Bawdwin Mines

The Bawdwin Mines

The Bawdwin Mines, Northern Shan States, epic “Game of Stones”, abandoned silver mine recast as the world’s largest lead mine by the Burma Corporation, s/o Burma Mines Limited, s/o Burma Mines, Railway & Smelting Company; now the No1 Mining Enterprise!

Herbert “Kyaw Gyi” Hoover (1874-1964), globe-sailing mining engineer, promoter of natural resource companies, shameless China “hand-in-the-till”, shareholder and Chairman (1916-18) of the Burma Corporation, the “Bawdwin resurrector”, and the 31st President of the United States of America (1929-33). Wall Street crash!

Lt Colonel Patrick Maddox, MC, Legion of Merit, Special Operations Executive (SOE), OSS Detachment 101, Burma Rifles, Army in Burma Reserve of Officers (ABRO) (1941-1945), Prospecting Engineer, Consolidated Tin Mines of Burma, explosives expert … Jungle bang!

Banner images; Tiger Camp, Bawdwin Mines in 2011 (courtesy Bernd Seiler); the Bawdwin Mine, 1914, published in the Mining Magazine; incoming Herbert Hoover and outgoing Calvin Coolidge on the way to Hoover’s Presidential inauguration, Washington, 1928


Herbert Hoover, Chairman American Relief Committee London, August 1916, (Hoover, centre front) 


May 1917 appointed as Woodrow Wilson’s Food Commissioner (Hoover back row left)  


Roll call of approximately 2,400 Chinese mine workers at the Simmer and Jack Mine, Witswatersand sometime in the 1900s; French depiction of Chinese workers in the South African mines 


New York Yankees baseball team backing the first ever Catholic presidential candidate, “Happy Warrior” Al Smith, Democrat, in 1928, Babe Ruth holding the “T”, Smith lost, “curse of the Bambino”?


New York Tribune, pro “Wonderboy” Hoover cartoon, Presidential election 1928; an Anti-Smith cartoon; Text of an upstate NY leaflet; “When Catholics rule the United States, And the Jew grows a Christian nose on his face, When Pope Pius is head of the Ku Klux Klan, In the land of Uncle Sam, Then Al Smith will be our president, And the country not worth a damn.”


Pro-prohibition pro-Hoover spicy evangelical base-stealer Chicago White Stockings, Billy Sunday, at the White House 1922, in his view the Democrats were “damnable whiskey politicians, bootleggers, crooks, pimps, businessmen and streetwalkers”


4th March 1933 with Franklin D Roosevelt en route to the Roosevelt inauguration; 1936 Hoover Dam back end without the water


Lieutenant Colonel Patrick “Red” Maddox, MC, Legion of Merit Degree of Officer, Army in Burma Reserve of Officers (ABRO), Special Operations Executive (SOE); OSS Detachment 101, Capt Maddox (middle). Part of Operation FORWARD at Fort Hertz December 1942, then Part of A Group, first long range parachute infiltration to disrupt Japanese air operations out of Myitkyina, and then led RED helping take Myitkyina Airfield and town, post war No 16 War Crimes Investigation Team


The old smelter at the Baldwin Mines in 2011, image courtesy Bernd Seiler


Ming Dynasty “flying money” (fei chien) from 1375, 1 guan, representing 1,000 wen (coins) depicted as ten strings of ten coins, issued by the Imperial Board of Revenue. Health warning! “Counterfeiting punishable by death”. British Museum; Facsimile from a plate of a Great Liao Treasure Note from Emperor Hsien Ch’ing (1136-1141) showing 5 “saddle sycees”. Health warning “Counterfeiter shall be decapitated, and captor rewarded with 800 taels of silver”; Bronze printing plate, Shanghai Museum


Pieces of Eight or Spanish Dollars (sometimes referred to as cob in English); “Pai Fang Ding” or saddle sycee from Yunnan, the first standardized sycee enabling counting rather than weight to measure value, made by local Kunming banks used in the trading of opium


The first modern era prospector of the Bawdwin Mines with a licence issued 1902, Aviet Sarkies (1862-1923) far left with his brothers, Arshak, Martin and Tigran; the second prospector Richard Tilden Smith (1856-1929) born in Muswellbrook NSW, cattle driver turned miner and financier, whose Great Eastern Mining Company acquired the Bawdwin licence in 1903. He later bought Hoover’s shares in the Burma Corporation.


Walter Liggett (1886-1935), investigative journalist, self-confessed Marxist and member of the Farmer-Labour Party, author of “The Rise of Herbert Hoover” published in 1932; 9th December 1935, shooting of Walter Liggett in Minnesota. Isadore Blumenfeld, mobster and bootlegger, aka Kid Cann, was indicted but not convicted, the Cann unshakable alibi was that he was having a haircut at the time …


Herbert Hoover (1874-1964), approximately 4 years, circa 1878; the Hoover children in Salem 1888, Theodore, Herbert and Mary


Friends Pacific Academy, Newberg 1888, Hoover second boy from the left front row


“Surveying Squad”, Stanford University 1893, Herbert Hoover bottom left


Herbert Hoover on the camel, transport of choice, in Australia 1897


Hoover 1899; George William Hall had bought the Sons of Gwalia from a local syndicate on behalf of the London & Westralian Mines & Finance Agency and sold the mine to Bewick & Moreing on Hoover’s recommendation


1900 Hoover in Australia; Sons of Gwalia gold mine 1901


Sons of Gwalia mine bell dated 1905; the inclined mine shaft Sons of Gwalia Mine as designed by Hoover


1921 view, the Sons of Gwalia mine closed 21st December 1963 having produced 2.5 million ounces of gold, reopened to work tailings, closed again amidst financial scandal, and in 2008 reopened a third time on a casual basis


Hoover established the Maikop & General Petroleum Trust Ltd in February 1910 as a holding company with F.W.Baker and W.F.Turner (former CEMC directors) and Prince I.N.Saltykoff (a Romanov) as directors. The following three months he floated three more companies all of which floundered, and a further three companies which also hit difficulties. The residual rump of four companies was sold to the Maikop Combine Ltd. at significant losses to the shareholders


10th February 1899, Hoover wedding day; Lou Hoover on her wedding day


Hoover in Tientsin; with his Mandarin teacher


Astor Hotel Tientsin, in the former British Concession (granted 1860), first international hotel in China, built in 1863, epicenter of diplomatic and concession life; postcard with Astor House Hotel on the left and the Tientsin Club on the right


Tientsin, the Chinese walled city shown at centre, and the foreign concessions to the east (near the railway station)


Anonymous Chinese woodblock depicting Dong Fuxiang’s muslim troops, the “Kansu Braves” attacking Eight Nation Alliance forces in Tientsin during the Boxer Rebellion; Troops of the Eight Nation Alliance Tientsin 1900, Japan, Russia, Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Italy, Austro-Hungar


1st March 1902 Dollar “remainder” (not circulated) bearer note of One Dollar issued by the Chinese Engineering & Mining Company; Ten Dollar bearer note in issue


15th October 1912 warrant for ten shares; warrant for one share


“Steady going”, the Hon Sir Matthew Ingle Joyce (1839-1930), Judge of the Chancery Division High Court of Justice by Spy, Vanity Fair 23rd January 1902, chromolithograph by Sir Leslie Ward, caricaturist; blockbusting page-turning publishing sensation of 1912, original by Georgius Agricola translated by Herbert and Lou Hoover


Lou Hoover in Japanese and Burmese traditional dress; Herbert Hoover 1905


No1 London Wall Buildings, the Hoover office address; Red House, Kensington, the Hoover residence


Map of Mandalay 1911, Burma Mines head office on West Moat Road


Share certificate of the Burma Corporation issued 1937; Share certificate of Burma Mines issued in 1952


Bawdwin Mine, lead production began in 1908, Chinaman Tunnel completed in 1910. Tiger Tunnel (2 miles). 1911 smelter moved to Namtu. As appeared in Mining Magazine 1914


As above


Baldwin Mines courtesy Bernd Seiler


Kerr Stuart 0-4-2T Huxley Class steam engine No 13 of 1914 shunting two ore hoppers courtesy Roy Dickinson


Hino Rail car; Electrified mine line of Tiger Camp, courtesy Roy Dickinson


Wallah Gorge Spiral which replaced a Z reverse (image by Bernd Seiler)


courtesy Roy Dickinson


Tennessee transported $2.5m in gold across the Atlantic to pay for the evacuation of US citizens stranded in Europe by WW1


Hoover and Emile Franqui (1863-1935), soldier, explorer, (Port Franqui, now Ilebo, in the Congo was named after him), diplomat (1884 Congo, 1896 Belgian Consul China), businessman and financier (Banque d’Outremer, Union Miniere de Haut Katanga, Societe Generale de Belgique), and President Comite National de Secours et d’Alimentation during WW1; statue to Edith Cavell, British nurse executed in Brussels as a spy 1915


Belgian Relief ship during WW1 sporting “submarine protection”; Belgian Relief delivery truck


Image courtesy Florian Grupp


The engines that built the line, Kerr Stuart Huxley Class (courtesy Florian Grupp)




Gift of the American People; America - for the Starving of Russia



2300 S Street NW, Washington DC bought by the Hoovers on his being appointed Secretary of State for Commerce and sold in 1944; now serves as the Embassy of the Republic of Myanmar

Note: Images of the railway are gratefully reproduced courtesy of Bernd Seiler of FarRail (www.Farrail.com), Roy Dickinson (www.internationalsteam.com) and Florian Grupp (www.florian-grupp.de)
FarRail offers tours to the declining number of steam operated railways in the world. Restoration of Engine No13 was funded and organised by FarRail.
Unfortunately at time of publication it is not possible to obtain permits to visit the Namtu and Bawdwin mine and railway due to the current “war on drugs”. It is not clear when the issuance of permits will be resumed.

Burma wallop! In an unpredictable American presidency, the Bawdwin Mines offers a retrospective “tailing” as beneficiary 110 years ago of its own presidential gonad grab from Herbert Hoover, the “great engineer”, mining expert, speculator, and self-trumpeter. A mine? That’s mine!

In an age of robber barons, the Hoover business career was typically close to the wind, to the courts and the authorities. There was Annual General Meeting dissent from minority shareholders in his speculative single purpose companies (expected), critical press coverage, litigation, and, adjudicated in the London courts, the greatest corporate heist in Imperial China! Arthur Balfour’s loss of the 1906 British general election was in part due to scandal surrounding thousands of Chinese indentured labourers sent to South Africa for post-Boer War reconstruction. Hoover’s employer earned per capita commissions. Ghandi gained a cause.

Initially on location in America, Australia, and China, Hoover graduated to globetrotting out of the City of London to far-flung extremities, inter alia Australia, Burma, and Russia. Generously rewarded with a partnership in consultant engineers Bewick, Moreing & Co (BMC), it proved insufficient, so he went independent, and kerching!

Stock market flotation opportunities came to him, obviating the need to travel. From London he promoted, underwrote, invested, flipped, reorganised and recapitalised. The dot.com hedge fund boomer of his day … with a pickaxe and a nodding donkey!

Speculation was rampant in mining shares and resource concessions, the more “rushed”, “gushed” and remote the merrier. Insider dealing on privileged or misleading information, and front running for own account trading was the rage; practices that would today constitute heinous skullduggery but then were the norm. Add hyperbolic conflicts of interest as valuer, manager, consultant, investor, fundraiser and reorganiser rolled into one … for the same mine. Prospect-us. Flotation device … then get out of the investment! The exit doors are marked by …

Hoover, amidst all these gushers and rushes, was in a hurry! An orphan, he started with a geology degree, ambition and little else. By the age of 28, the San Francisco Chronicle billed him as the “wealthiest man of his age” (highest salaried American under 30), and by 1914 (aged 40) he was estimated to be worth US$4m ($96m in today’s money).

Hoover’s political career was founded on traditional pillars; fast-track fortune, humanitarian public service, performed in and for WW1-torn Europe and the aftermath thereof, and reward as US Secretary of State for Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge.

Having toyed with being a Democrat, he came out a business-friendly Republican, and in 1928, at the third opportunity, without any experience of electoral office, he was U.S. President pledging to defeat poverty and to keep America great; a wealthy businessman and Efficiency Movement proponent with a reputation for getting things done! Sinking shafts, nod those donkeys!

Calvin Coolidge, Republican and Presidential predecessor opened up the field by not running for a second term. On Hoover: “for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice – all of it bad. I was particularly offended by his comment to ‘shit or get off the pot’”. Warren Harding warned: “too dictatorial and autocratic”. Woodrow Wilson: “I have a feeling that he would rather see a good cause fail than succeed if he were not the head of it … One of the most selfish people I have ever known”. Dirty business politics. Typically, all were once very keen!

In 1928 in a landslide, “Wonderboy” Hoover, the Quaker, polled 58% of the vote to defeat “Happy Warrior” Alfred E. Smith, the first ever Catholic to run. His slogans “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” and “four more years of prosperity”! The economy was booming, the campaign was vitriolic, personal, and sectarian, and fought over the 18th amendment, prohibition; Hoover “dry” and Smith “wet”.

Smith supporters were denounced inter alia by the immensely popular Republican revivalist minister and ex-base stealer for the Chicago White Stockings (today’s Cubs), Billy Sunday, who was a highly influential if outspokenly frank preacher. They were “damnable whiskey politicians, bootleggers, crooks, pimps, businessmen and streetwalkers.” Sunday was a friend and fellow orphan-made-good. The Klu Klux Klan weighed in. There were extraordinary rumours surrounding the new Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River, a ludicrous secret 3,500 mile sub-Atlantic link to the Vatican, and a future role for the Pope in federal affairs! Send for that wall!

1929 crash on Wall Street and the Great Depression! Hoover on the pebble dashed … 1932? The prosperity promised by Hoover, “the fat timid capon” had been nowhere to be seen. Instead with millions unemployed, “Hoovervilles”, shanty towns, were everywhere. With his New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt, “the chameleon in plaid” trumped with 57.4%. Slide reversed. You’re fired! Grapes, wrath, and a dam for posterity! Suck it up! Frankly my dear, I don’t give a …. Ouch!

Burma. His name, Kyaw Gyi means “great engineer”. He kept an office (Burma Mines’ head office) on West Moat Road, Mandalay, contracted malaria, and, nosing around, met a tiger. He was responsible for the phoenix that was the Bawdwin Mine resurrection; “the greatest chance of my life.” Over 15 years from his first visit in 1905, losses along the way, he finally made out in spades! Mine restored, a railway, workshops, crushers and smelters, and a community with hospital and schools. The largest lead mine in the world! Oresome!

The attraction? The enormous slag heaps, a natural form of lead oxide (litharge)! Hoover: “took it as bare jungle and left it with 25,000 men employed and a new town on earth”. Err … the jungle was not bare, and Bawdwin had the t-shirt! The slag in them thar Shan hills was there by dint of the labours of thousands of Chinese miners well before Hoover ever rocked up.

WW1 remade Bawdwin (lead; bullets), and launched Hoover’s political career, predicated on his simultaneous and somewhat contradictory humanitarian role. From London he evacuated ex-Europe thousands of American war-stranded waifs and strays. As chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, he fed millions of starving Belgians. Then as chairman of the American Relief Administration, he fed Russians and other Europeans. Finally in 1927, he organised the relief effort following the Great Mississippi Flood. Burnished. Did his activities prolong WW1, suit American interests, and boost (ahem) Bawdwin revenues? Maybe. Belgian food diverted to German soldiers? British nurse Edith Cavell, in Belgium, executed as a spy, seemed to have a view. Probably can’t blame Hoover.

WW1 giveth, and WW2 taketh away! Patrick “Red” Maddox, born in Tavoy, Tenasserim in 1913, joined the Consolidated Tin Mines of Burma in 1933 as a prospecting engineer. Fluent in Urdu, Burmese, Tavoyan and Karen, he was recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in November 1941 and assigned to the Bush Warfare School, Maymyo under Major Mike Calvert (the “chindit”). In April 1942 Maddox was ordered “to go to Namtu and make certain that the very well-equipped machine shop in particular and power plants were adequately destroyed.”

The Japanese, already in Lashio (67 kms away), knew disabling Bawdwin would be a priority. Disguised as a Shan, Maddox infiltrated avoiding roads and villages and carrying his own explosives across jungle-clad hills. The offices, smelter and other facilities were in Namtu, 12 miles from the mine at Bawdwin, and the hydro-electric plant was a further 28 miles away at the Mansam Falls on the Nam Yao River. The Burma Corporation was evacuating and burying its inventory of silver (holy Spitfires!). The mines and facilities were simultaneously blown on 24th April 1942. Maddox walked out 241kms north via Myitkyina to Fort Hertz (now Putao) in Kachin for a few weeks recuperation, before continuing on foot another 600kms over two months to Kunming in China. He flew back over the hump to Assam and received the Military Cross for his “high qualities of endurance, courage and resourcefulness”. Transferring to the OSS he continued his infiltrations. A little sung hero!

1942-45 the Japanese extracted just 200,000 tons from Bawdwin, one fifth of pre-war levels.

With damage and reserves depleting, post war production only recovered to one third of pre-war levels. In 1952 the Burmese government established a “stealth” 50:50 joint venture with the Burma Corporation. Prime Minister U Nu: “our intention is to get our people sufficiently trained as administrators, technicians and skilled labourers without immediately nationalising these enterprises. Our share of the partnership will be augmented as and when the nature of the training is improved and at last we are in a position to nationalise them.” Thirteen years later on 18th January 1965 the Burma Corporation was nationalized; the Peoples’ Bawdwin Industry! In 1988, it became the No1 Mining Enterprise. Who number two? Maddox’s tin! But the tailings had tailed off!

In 2010, operations were transferred to Win Myint Mo Industrial Company (no surprise, a unit of Asia World). Desultory operations continue under a 15 year contract on a production-sharing basis. A Bawdwin third coming? Seems unlikely, but there is that buried silver! Spitfires!

The Bawdwin Mines

The mines are located on the Namtu River about 80 kms from the Chinese border in a remote region to the west of Lashio and the Salween River. The Chinese grabbed first, as they were within reach in the “outer barbarian areas”.

Gold had been found in the 7-8th centuries. From 1412 there are records of silver extraction. With Chinese control of neighbouring Yunnan secured by the Qing dynasty in 1682, mining was encouraged. Bawdwin was one of five major “outer barbarian” mines. These mines sported their own powerful militias.

Mid 19th century and the Bawdwin miners hit the water table. Canary down. The Panthay Rebellion (1855-1873), a Chinese Muslim uprising, devastated Yunnan and the “outer barbarian” areas, killing 3-4 million. This canary is expired! The Kachins took to raiding. From 1868, Bawdwin and its grand old slag heaps were left to the jungle. This canary has gone to meet its maker! No it hasn’t, it’s resting! Legend has it before abandonment 78 mule loads of silver had been carefully hidden, yet to be discovered! A second round of Spitfires please!

After the Panthay Rebellion, Burmese Kings Mindon Min and Thibaw sporadically sent “armies” of workers to reopen the mines, but failed due to persistent disease and lack of expertise.

Forty years later under Hoover’s watch, and with the discovery of major new ore lodes, Bawdwin was back, the largest lead mine in the world with silver and zinc on the side! Timing is everything. A WW1 British army of 4 million equipped with Vickers machine guns, and Lee-Enfield rifles required bullets! It took Hoover ten years to get there … but bang-bang kerching!

The Chinese on silver and Bawdwin

The Tang dynasty (618-907) invented paper or “flying money” backed by coin deposits. By the mid-fifteenth century confidence in said paper had evaporated due to persistent printing without minting (quantitative easing) and the absorbent had “flown away”. The authorities were forced back on to coinage, copper and silver. It wasn’t worth the heavy lifting to transport copper to far-flung outposts, so silver it was! Yunnan in the southwest, and “outer Barbarian” Burma on the Salween, and Annam on the Mekong mined their own.

From 1500-1800 Mexico and Peru produced 85% of the world’s silver, of which around one third ended up in China as “Spanish dollars”, and “pieces of eight”. These coins and locally produced silver “sycee” ingots (uncoined lumps usually bearing the mark of a bank or assayer) were the currency of exchange.

Zhang Yunsui in 1746: ”As for the outer barbarian territories, they also produce minerals that are dug out of shafts. The foreigners however are ignorant about capping furnaces, smelting, and roasting, and can only be used for burning charcoal, planting vegetables and raising livestock … Most of those who dig the shafts and open the mines are Han Chinese; wherever a mine flourishes in the areas outside the borders, they hear of it and flock together in great numbers.”

Tan Cui (1725-1801), a local official in Yunnan: “Those who discuss these matters say that as for the silver that supplies the silver currency of China, the Yunnan mines are the most important, while the silver coins that reach Guangdong from overseas come second.”

In 1769, Zhao Yi (1727-1814), a historian, on the Dashan mine, (Bolong in Chinese, Bodong in Burmese, anglicised as Bawdwin): “The Dashan mine beyond the Yunnan borders is highly productive. However since the locals do not practice smelting, they let Chinese undertake the mining, contenting themselves with collecting taxes. Most people at the Dashan mines are from Jiangxi and Hubei … At times altogether some forty thousand miners from the two provinces lived at the mines throughout the year.” And: “Usually over one million liang are annually taken back into the interior.” One liang is 50 grams, so 50 tonnes of silver each year!

The British on Bawdwin

The British version of events draws on a 1913 unpublished treatise by Dr James Malcolm Maclaren, quoted by J. D. Hoffmann in his feature on the Bawdwin Mines in The Mining Magazine January-June 1916 (a Hoover publication and significant puffer of his mine promotions): “the Chinese started work at Bawdwin in 1412 during the Ming Dynasty. More recent records show the mines were worked by Chinese from 1796 to 1851 and the Chinese paid a modest royalty to the King of Burma. The mines were governed by a President (Ta-Yeh) and Vice President (Erh-Yeh) elected by the miners. The first European mention is by Captain Michael Symes in 1795 (East India Company, sent to Ava to negotiate the British agency in Rangoon) locating them at Badowen, six days from Bamoo (Bhamo). In 1827 John Crawfurd (Second Resident, Singapore on the diplomatic mission to end the First Anglo-Burmese War) estimated the annual production of silver at £120,000 and the royalty to the King of Ava at £600. There were 1,000 miners. In 1855, Dr Thomas Oldham (future Superintendent of the Geological Survey of India) was told there were 10,000 working the mines and 40 ticals of silver (£5) were paid to the King. Output was 2,130 ounces per day ... The greater Chinese community was estimated at 20,000 souls.”

Bawdwin’s resurrection

Post oriental abandonment 1868, the first efforts at occidental renaissance were Armenian-led. A. C. Martin (Martirosian), born in Isfahan, Persia, and a civil engineer in the Public Works Department in Rangoon, “rediscovered” Bawdwin. From 1900 he had his own engineering company, Nahapiet & Martin, active in railway and civil construction. In January 1901 another Armenian, Aviet T. Sarkies of the hotel dynasty (the Raffles, Singapore and the Strand, Rangoon) visited. In 1902 the Sarkies Brothers obtained a prospecting licence. Bawdwin was examined by William A. Freymuth of metallurgists Messrs Sulman & Picard, and by leading mine valuers, F. D. Chase and C. S. Herzig. The recommendation was slag exploitation, a smelter in Mandalay, and a narrow-gauge railway linked to the recently completed Mandalay-Lashio line, all to be built on the cheap, as the heaps would not last.

In 1903 the licence transferred to the Great Eastern Mining Company Limited (GEMC) controlled by R. Tilden Smith, an Anglo-Australian mining entrepreneur, and M. V. Kindersley. It was incorporated in London to collect and smelt 99,000tons of slag, thought to be loaded with 47.8% lead content. They began to drain the mineshafts and to grade the 52 mile 2 foot gauge railway to Manpwe. Progress was slow; terrain, monsoons, malaria and small pox all took their toll. Underfunded.

In 1905 Hoover met Martin en route from Malaya to Ceylon; interest sparked. Hoover diverted to Burma; “I stole a day off at Rangoon to visit the Shwedaung (sic) Pagoda, and later on a day or two at Mandalay to absorb the atmosphere of the only truly happy and cheerful race in all Asia - the Burmese.” Bawdwin was out of cash. Hoover inspected, met his tiger and signed up his company with his truly as consultant engineer and General Manager.

In March 1906 Hoover arranged the incorporation and flotation of the grandly named Burma Mines, Railway and Smelting Company Limited (BMRSC). It bought out GEMC. He invested himself; “the greatest chance of my life.” Hoover and Tilden Smith were directors. Ten years later Hoover and cronies owned the mines, and profited handsomely from the slag and the lodes of ore!

The Hoover Life

The official biographies are turgidly bland. The scarce politically motivated “smear books”, hatchet jobs written around the 1932 US presidential election, make for more compelling and controversial reading. Alternative facts. The best is “The Rise of Herbert Hoover” by Walter Liggett (1886-1935), a self-professed Marxist and investigative journalist. Amidst claims of suppression of records, Liggett quotes primary sources, and offers interpretations. Primary sources speak for themselves. The Hoover camp responded with refutations; an article by Arthur Train, “The Strange Attacks on Herbert Hoover; A Current Example of What We Do to Our Presidents”, and a forgettable book by Herbert Corey, “The Truth About Herbert Hoover.” Liggett sued for defamation, but was gunned down in 1935 in Minneapolis before the case went to court.

Polarised politics. Hoover and Liggett had clashed in 1921. The Russian Famine Relief Act authorised the sending of US$20million of American foodstuffs to be distributed by the American Bureau of the Russian Red Cross (ABRRC) for whom Liggett worked. As Commerce Secretary and Chairman of the American Relief Administration (ARA), Hoover had instituted an enquiry into the activities and inclinations of the ABRRC, the “Liggett Committee”. He concluded it was a Bolshevik front, and moreover, America did not recognise the Bolshevik government! Feed the Whites not the Reds!

In February 1922 the New York Globe decried: “Bureaucrats centred throughout the Department of Justice, the Department of State, and the Department of Commerce … are carrying on a private war with the Bolshevist government.” In March 1922 Leon Trotsky, the People’s Commissar of Military and Naval Affairs of the Soviet Union (Defence Minister and C-in-C) accused the ARA of “giving relief with one hand and subsidising counter-revolution … with the other”. Hoover was the “arch enemy of the proletarian state.” Hoover and Liggett were poles apart.

And a tangentially topical quaff; Liggett had raged against prohibition-enabled corruption, “Bawdy Boston”, “Holy Hypocritical Kansas”, “Michigan, Soused and Serene” as published in the magazine Plain Talk. Hoover was a prohibitionist, “an experiment noble in purpose.” Speak easy, a pint of shoddy shandy please!

Before the Bolsheviks! For ten years Hoover cultivated extensive business interests in Tsarist Russia maintaining an office in St Petersburg. In 1909-11 as part of the Maikop oil rush, in London he floated 11 separate companies from the area in the Caucasus to the west of Baku (a cradle of the oil industry – and the communist revolution; Stalin was an activist in the oil fields). A wild cat “gusher” had erupted in Maikop provoking the inevitable speculative deluge of incorporation and flotation. The wells required deep drilling and deep pockets … in the equally inevitable absence of profits and dividends, restructurings and consolidations followed. Investor money down the Swanee, but fees galore for the promoters and the reorganisers!

Copper bottomed Tsar. In 1912 with Leslie Urquhart, he floated the Russo-Asiatic Consolidated Limited (RAC) (capitalised at £12m, the promoters retained £7m; the Tsar’s family members were silent partners). RAC owned shares in the Irtysh Corporation (Hoover was a director) backed by enormous mining concessions, the 1.5million acre Kyshtim Estate, and the Cabinet Mines, both also with first family connections. The value of this enterprise was almost beyond measure; estimates suggest more than US$1billion in the money of the day. Hoover sold out before the revolution. In January 1918 the Bolsheviks confiscated the Kyshtin Estate, cancelled all Hoover’s other outstanding concessions, and nationalised his remaining holdings. Later there were claims for compensation from the British government.

The start. Born in 1874 to a Quaker family in rural Iowa, the middle of three, aged nine he was orphaned. Farmed out to relatives, at 15 he joined his uncle’s real estate business, the Oregon Land Company (OLC) as a general factotum then a salesman, taking options on un-cleared land for plum orchards and forward selling the orchards which were to be developed and managed by OLC until fruit bearing. He even “sold himself” some acreage. Fruit blight. Business and customers bankrupt.

Education. At the second attempt, a Quaker connection secured a place at Leland Stanford Jr. University in the inaugural intake in 1891 to study geology. As a West coast start-up, entry requirements were not onerous. As with entry so with exit; Hoover graduated in May 1895 with supervision from his professor rewriting a geology paper. Competent, practical, a quick mind, but not the sharpest drill.

Stanford left a lasting impression. In his last year he met his future wife, a geology freshman. He put his elder brother Theodore through the university (1897-1901), who later became the Dean of Engineering. Hoover became a trustee in 1912, the year he and his wife published a collaborative translation from the Latin, the first in English, of De Re Metallica (On the Nature of Metals), a seminal page-turner written in 1556 by Georgius Agricola. Hoover was to remain a Stanford trustee for over 50 years.

Job. America in recession. Hoover first worked with the US Geological Survey in the High Sierras, then in October 1895 he moved as a Miner’s Assistant to California mucking out mine shafts and pushing ore trucks for $2/hour. January 1896 in San Francisco he joined Louis Janin, the leading mining consultants on the West coast. A client was embroiled in a court case over a mine known to Hoover. He was on his way; from $75 a month with the case won, his pay leapt to $200 a month.

Late 1896, he was recommended to Bewick, Moreing & Co (BMC), London, the world’s top mine managers. In 1885 C. Algernon Moreing, financier, and Thomas Bewick, mining engineer, had formed a partnership, incorporating leases and mines, and floating them in London, selling on shares, owned by themselves and friends, but continuing to manage the mines.

BMC was in the vanguard of the West Australian gold mining boom of 1895-6. Liggett: “For years there had been a boiling stock market in West Australian mining shares. Speculation and promotion came first and mining was only secondary. In less than a decade British investors poured more than $120million into West Australian stocks and hardly five per cent of it went into the actual development of mines. The rest of this vast sum was diverted into the pockets of the promoters.”

Exaggerated? Maybe, but Liggett is consistent with an earleir characterisation in the Times newspaper in 1865: ”the frauds and misrepresentations of the mining agents and promoters, who often bring projects before the public where there is not the remotest chance of getting any return on the capital, and where the only object is to draw money from the deluded shareholders”.

In 1870-80’s dealing in mining shares in London was conducted in the “jungle of the unregulated markets of Finch Lane, Threadneedle Street and Throgmorton Street”. The Mining Journal of 1876: ”the market is full of “bulls” and “bears” and of “people who think more of jobbing in shares than of legitimate mining”. Greed and glory!

“Westralianism” was synonymous with these murky dealings. The to-be-Premier of Western Australia, John Scaddan, a miner, turned pro-Trades Union Labour politician: “important positions … always held by men anxious to secure a market rise than a good mine; that development is subordinate to share dealings; and that reports are coloured more by the possibilities of the market than the probabilities of the mine.”

The “Westralian” bubble burst, and BMC needed an Inspecting Engineer, a “mine scout”, to evaluate the wreckage, and to search for new opportunities. They got Hoover at 22, two years out of college, a newly minted inspector for $5,000 per annum (equivalent to $100,000) plus expenses.

May 1897 Hoover arrived in Coolgardie, a desert town of “sin, sand, sorrow, sickness and sore eyes”. He mounted his camel, the transport of choice, and sailed off into the wilderness to inspect and prospect. A letter to his elder brother: he “had never seen such rank swindling and charlatan engineering … my predecessor was a rascal of the first water … mines were being worked of no value, accounts all wrong, money short, rank staff and general hell.” Milk and honey for a man in a hurry!

Within just one month of his arrival, he stumbled on his big break; the Sons of Gwalia Mine!

George Hall, a Welshman, ex-journalist (“penny-a-liner” with the Swansea Herald) and gold mine manager (Gwynfynyddin, Wales), had recently arrived in Australia. He bought the Gwalia lease for £5,000 from prospectors backed by Thomas and Ernest Tobias, Coolgardie shopkeepers of Welsh extraction. Hall was acting for the London and Westralian Mines and Finance Agency belonging to the “Welsh Gold King”, William Morgan, former British Member of Parliament for Merthyr Tydfil. Sinking a new shaft, within eight months the Sons of Gwalia had produced 8,000 ounces of gold. Hall needed capital. Enter Hoover … on his camel!

Hoover recommended BMC secure an option on the shares. He surveyed and proposed purchase with his truly in charge. Accepted. November 1897 BMC took control, and in March 1898 toasted at a dinner at the Cecil Hotel, London, the Sons of Gwalia Ltd was floated on the London Exchange, capitalised at £300,000. BMC retained a one third controlling interest. In May, now 23, Hoover assumed management. As Inspecting Engineer he had suggested pre-float that the Sons produced an exaggerated $140 of gold per ton of ore mined; reality was significantly lower. He embarked on a ruthless cost-cutting and efficiency drive introducing the unpopular but more efficient one miner single jack-hammers approach, replacing the two miners double jack-hammers. He clashed with the unions, brought in cheaper Italian workers and increased hours. Safety was compromised, and there were accidents.

Hoover also designed an innovative inclined mineshaft. Results followed and the share price soared. He was made a partner in BMC’s Australian operation, salary doubled to $12,500/annum with a profit share. Sons of Gwalia was indeed a gold mine … over 60 years the mine earned BMC an estimated $60m from 2million ounces of gold. Hoover retained a small dividend paying shareholding until 1963, the year before his death. In part as a result of Hoover’s efforts round and about on his camel, by 1904, BMC was managing 20 gold mines producing 37% of the state’s output and employing 20% of the state’s miners.

Bewick died in October 1898, and Hoover’s boss, Edward Hooper, a full partner, was recalled to London leaving Hoover in charge. Hoover ran the business for six months without getting the promotion. Incoming boss Ernest Williams couldn’t stand him, “the young yankee upstart”. Hoover reciprocated “he is quite the most complete scoundrel I have ever met and it’s a question of fight or be done up behind my back”. Hoover, by now Chief Field Engineer, launched a coup, failed, and in 1899 he was out of Australia … back to London … whereupon Moreing received a “timely” request from China.

The China Heist

Imperial China, the “sick man of Asia” in turmoil after the Sino-Japanese War (1895) as competing powers eyed the spoils ahead of the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901).

Fast-forward to 1905, the London High Court Chancery Division and the most perfidious case of larceny. The steal? The Chinese Engineering & Mining Company, operator of the Kaiping Mines, China’s largest coalmine and foremost commercial enterprise; coalmines, railways, a canal, ice free port, shares in a silver mine, and in a gold mine!

The Chinese government was the plaintiff represented by Chang Yan-Mao, Director General, of the Chinese Engineering & Mining Company (CEMC). C. Algernon Moreing and Bewick, Moreing & Company were the defendants. The how … conversion of a “vulnerable” Chinese owned corporate entity, into a “secure” Anglo-Chinese corporation registered in London owned by Europeans. The Chinese shareholders in CEMC had been promised shares in the new entity and received precisely nothing! Silk road robbery meets the Sting! Slag time! That’s entertainment.

The Hoover role? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Hoover, now 25 and newly married, spent two years in Tientsin in China (1899-1901) as Chief Engineer in the Chinese Bureau of Mines on the princely salary of $15,000 plus expenses and a 20% share in profits. He represented BMC, and was tasked with developing the relationship with CEMC, and their manager Chang Yan-Mao.

In the intrigue-ridden push and pull of the tradititional and reform factions that was the court of Imperial China, the Dowager Empress Cixi (1835-1908, imperial concubine, regent from 1861) was generally in favour of controlled modernisation and industrialisation. In 1875 she stated in a decree, which effectively introduced modern mining techniques in two coal mining areas, one Taiwan, the other Kaiping; “We must keep decision making power in our hands when we employ foreign personnel. Don’t let foreigners control everything and make crucial decisions for us.” Prophetic words of warning!

Formally constituted in 1879, after a Cantonese businessman, Tong King Sing, Director General of the China Steam Navigation Company bought the traditionally worked out mines motivated inter alia by the prospect of vertical integration, the Kaiping mines were producing 500,000 tons of coal per annum (in 1902 Hoover estimated 400 million tons of recoverable coal). Kaiping became the driver of modern Chinese industry and the key asset under the Bureau of Mines. The world’s navies had switched propulsion from the vagaries of sail to the certainties of steam, and railways were encroaching; coal in the Far East was of immense importance. The powers were scrambling for acres, access and influence. It was the time of the Unequal Treaties, International Concessions, and steam powered gunboat diplomacy! Box clever?

Chang took on the Mines after the Sino-Japanese War (1895) but failed to raise the necessary for investment. In 1898 Moreing, as a pre-eminent industry expert, was invited to China by Chang’s boss Zhili Province governor Li Hung Chang to discuss money. With Gustav Detring, Commissioner of Chinese Customs (Detring had great influence) he “raised” $1m in debentures paying 12% issued to finance the Ching Wang Toa harbor improvement project. Moreing kept half himself, and parked the rest in entities in which he had interests.

Moreing tried unsuccessfully to hire Detring, though Detring allegedly accepted a share of any future China profits from opportunities introduced. Shortly thereafter Detring asked Moreing for a mining engineer; enter Hoover. Moreing, the Barbarian at the Mine Gates, was on the inside track and was after the mines through his suitably incentivised proxies! And Moreing kept the authorities in Britain appraised of developments concerning a strategic asset of use to the Royal Navy!

In a June 1899 letter, Detring alerted Moreing of CEMC being unable to fund improvements planned by Hoover. Opportunity; more debentures (extending Moreing’s potential “control”), or go the whole hog and convert CEMC into an Anglo-Chinese company registered and listed in the London to raise the necessary. Moreing rushed out to China but failed to secure the necessary signatures.

Hoover wrote; “unless Mr Moreing can effect some financial arrangements whereby we can have absolute control the game is not worth the candle.” Squeeze (corruption, kickbacks, commissions) was a daily struggle for Hoover “at the coal face”. Moreing was undeterred! He set up the shell “Oriental Syndicate” in London to be backers of any future transaction.

The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901). Opposition to foreign involvement in general and to the Kaiping situation in particular was part of the provocation. For three weeks in Tientsin, 30,000 Boxers and Imperial soldiers besieged 4,000 foreigners, including Hoover, his wife and Detring. The city was defended by 1,700 Russian soldiers.

Chang was in Tientsin too, under arrest in the foreign concession and in fear of his life, and he was not exactly Boxer flavor of the month! Rock and a hard place. Under extreme duress but spared a firing squad, Chang’s earlier reluctance to countenance a change in the ownership structure of CEMC was unsurprisingly overcome. He granted a sweeping Power of Attorney to Detring over CEMC assets to do “as he will think best in the interests of the shareholders” (he was not in a position to grant this without Imperial approval; Chang later claimed that he only transferred his responsibilities as Managing Director of the company, and not as Director General of the Bureau of Mines, mere detail?).

On July 30th 1900, Detring, as attorney and General Agent of CEMC, claimed he was putting the company under the British flag to save it from the Russians, and agreed in a second PoA; “all … belonging to … the said Chinese Engineering & Mining Company was to be assigned to Hoover as Agent of Charles Moreing on condition that they form a limited liability company in London capitalised at £1million with 1 million shares issued and that the Chinese shareholders be given 37.5% or £375,000 in shares according to conditions set out in a memorandum.” A second condition was to secure £100,000 in working capital. The new entity was to have a dual board structure.

Hoover presented the Deed of Transfer in London. Moreing rejected the language. It had to be geologically and geographically all encompassing to support fund raising. The whole area, all mines current and future and all seams, not just existing mine workings (but Imperial approval was expressly required for new mine shafts). The potential British backers of the “Oriental Syndicate” would not commit (the Boer War was a financial distraction). Hoover was sent back to China to present a redraft.

In the absence of British finance, Moreing turned to a group of Belgians close to King Leopold to provide the working capital in return for shares, and to other British, Germans, and French of prominence to back the Oriental Syndicate and to neutralise any opposition. CEMC was prematurely registered as an English limited liability company on 21st December 1900, to be supported later by a Supplementary Memorandum dated 19th February 1901, drafted in London, and, geologically all encompassing. In January 1901 Hoover, accompanied by Chevalier Emmanuel de Wouters on behalf of the new Belgian backers, presented the draft! Chang, now in Beijing, refused to sign until further revisions were included giving the Chinese board full control, and appointing Chang Director General for life. The text of the Supplementary Memorandum was adjusted … comfortably after the event, and crucially was never reflected in the earlier Articles of Incorporation. Aha!

BMC and the “Oriental Syndicatehad hijacked CEMC, incorporated in London, and kept the shares. CEMC was saved from the grasping Russians, who were coming and from the Japanese who may come again! It was all in London for the benefit of the Royal Navy. The China Board? Ignore them. De Wouters was the new nominal CEMC manager. Hoover was meant to step aside … except that he didn’t. He just carried on ignoring the terms of the agreements. De Wouters stated in a letter to the London board; “the memorandum is absolutely without value … Mr Hoover and myself are doing what we want …”. Hoover on the Chinese board; “nothing but a Daly opera … the management is now in foreign hands with the Chinese board as a consulting board. The latter may prove useful but certainly harmless.” The Chinese shareholders became restive.

The 1 million share allocation; 50,000 to Moreing (to reward Detring … conflict!), 424,375 shares to promoters and friends, 150,000 shares to the Oriental Syndicate for its promotional work (old rope). But no 375,000 shares to the Chinese shareholders! The audacity of hope!

The Hoover reward? He returned to London in September 1901, and was elevated to a junior partnership in BMC London, with a ten year interest in a one sixth share of parent profits, topped off with 50,000shares in CEMC. Hoover was a London director of CEMC. Cash registering Kaiping, Kaiping, Kaiping!

Four years hence at the Chancery Court!

The Chancery Division court hearing began on 19th January 1905 and on 1st March 1905 the judge found in favour of the plaintiffs. Appeal heard in January 1906, and on 24th January 1907 the appeal was rejected! Six years of clock ticking profit leeching and no restitution! It was to take another six years for a solution!

The presiding judge, the Right Honourable Sir Matthew Ingle Joyce pronounced the affair “a flagrant breach of trust which would not be tolerated in any country.” Summing up: “there are at least plausible grounds for contending that the defendant company has been defrauded of nearly 425,000 shares by the Oriental Syndicate” and ”the memorandum is binding upon the defendants and that the defendant company is not entitled to take and retain possession or control of the property comprised in the transfer, or the benefit thereof, without complying and without performing the provisions and obligations contained in the memorandum …” and finally “it has not been shown to me that His Excellency Chang has been guilty of any breach of faith or impropriety at all, which is more than I can say for some of the other parties concerned.” Presidential material? Pass the cigar. Alternative facts.

Carlson Harvard, an investigative journalist, concluded in his history of the Kaiping Mines; “the greed and bad faith of Moreing and his associates in 1901 and 1902 were indisputable”. The British charge d’affairs in Peking “had small doubt that Messrs Moreing and others have made a pretty pile at the expense of the Chinese.” The Times: “a small coterie in London and Brussels entirely controls the management in defiance of the terms of incorporation.”

The Times on the publication of CEMC’s annual report: “one would naturally expect in the first report and accounts to have some information as to the particulars of the flotation which would set at rest the misgivings which it would be idle to deny now fill the breasts of the Chinese shareholders. Not one word is said in elucidation of these mysteries, and the benighted shareholders in the Far East will find the accounts, as presented to them, Greek in this respect … our final darkness after reading them is Cimmerian.”

And the Chinese Viceroy, Yuan Shikai, wrote in a Memorial to the Throne; ”it is a most deplorable thing that a stealthy and illicit contract should then have been entered into with Englishmen who made off with it like a hawk with its prey.”

There was a change in government in China in 1910. Sun Yat-sen came to power with Yuan Shikai as Provisional President. They reopened negotiations with the British over CEMC. But Hoover and the fellow CEMC directors, still in place despite losing the court case and the appeals, wanted £2.4million in compensation. Deadlock.

Solution? Yuan Shikai approved the establishment of a new concern, Lan Chow Mining, with modern technology. The coal price was slashed from $6.40 to $3.0/ton. Profits to losses; CEMC was forced to borrow. The Bewick Moreing-Hoover tune changed, and Hoover finally resigned from the CEMC board in 1911. In January 1912 the two companies merged.

Meantime

On 1st July 1908 Hoover, fed up with Moreing, and convinced of Burma and oil prospects, sold his by now one third partnership interest in Bewick, Moreing for $225,000 in return for agreeing to a seven year non-compete clause covering the managing of any mine in the British Empire; “I could not stand Moreing any longer than necessary having given practically five years to that man”. Within months Hoover was allegedly in breach and apparently claimed; “there never was a contract drawn which I cannot get around.” Much to the consternation of the mining community Moreing and Hoover sued each other relentlessly for years.

Hoover set up on his own with offices at No1 London Wall Buildings in the City of London.

Back to Burma

Financial jungle! Liggett hacks through the Burmese adventure with reference to Skinner’s Mining Manual 1910. Multiple recapitalisations, and the contention is that Hoover and friends made out whilst others lost. Liggett: “Hoover always played with the other fellow’s chips.” That was undoubtedly true, but Hoover had a chip of his own in play.

The Burma Mines, Railway and Smelting Company (BMRSC) and its successors the Burma Mines Limited (BML) and the Burma Corporation (BC) ran out of money … five times in 8 years (1906 – BML took over BMRSC, 1907, 1908, 1910, and in 1913 BC took over BML). The project was “mining on a shoestring” and each year the monsoon rains would wash away sections of the railway with the engines. That was just the half of it. The slag and ore, once transported to the smelter, proved very difficult to smelt despite its rich mineral content. New processes were required, and production volumes of metal were very slow to ramp up.

Recapitalisation. Existing shares are sharply reduced in value and new money buys new shares (or debentures sometimes with free bonus shares) on vastly more favorable terms versus the previous offerings. By 1910 BML had four classes of shares in issue; initially issued at £1, and subsequently at 4 shillings, 3 shillings and 2 shillings (there are 20 shillings in £1), or a 90% dilution for the original shareholders. In 1907 BMRSC issued debentures underwritten by Hoover and partner Francis Govett, also a director.

Terms and conditions apply. Cheap ordinary shares were issued in 1908, followed by issues of deferred shares, and in 1909 and 1910 by two classes of preference shares. Preference means just that, and the last preference shares issued had first rights to up to 95% of any profits to pay their dividend and carried five times the voting powers of the other shares (already diluted). Tough if yours weren’t “preferred”! The newest preferred shareholders pick up the company and its assets on the cheap! The early birds who paid for the washed-out railway, the smelter and everything else are left with next to nothing! Wormless scrubs.

In December 1908 the railway from Tiger camp to Manpwi was completed, the following February the first furnace of the Mandalay smelter was blown in. In 1911 the smelter moved “back up the line” from Mandalay to Namtu, 12 miles from the mine. Operationally things improved. From 1909 to end October 1915 production of lead totaled 66,000 tons and silver 1.432m ounces extracted from 158,000 tons of slag and 35,000 tons of ore. Despite this headline success, they still lost money.

A master-stroke. Hoover with Govett and Tilden Smith, all Mines directors, and other associates established the Burma Corporation (BC). BC bought up the outstanding shares and debentures of Mines. Mines had never paid dividends, was deeply in debt, had unpaid salaries and unpaid back tax – in other words without additional funding it was not a going concern, and acquirer and acquiree had the same major shareholders!

A contract was signed between BC and Mines whereby BC provided a working capital loan (no equity risk) in return for 75% of the future profits (preferential equity upside!!). BC subscribed to 350,000 £1.00 new shares from Mines with additional options on a sliding price scale, and took over as General Manager.

Separately Metal Gesellschaft of Germany provided BC with working capital in return for rights to smelt the ore produced … Achtung! They were soon to become the enemy! And just after all this, in 1913, Tiger Tunnel, a Hoover initiative, had found the vast new Great Chinaman ore body underneath the old workings. Prospects improved … dramatically! 1915 proved and probable reserves leapt 50% over 1914. In 1916, the shares traded up spectacularly to hit £24! Funny! From 1915-1917, Hoover was Chairman of the Burma Corporation!

Also in 1916, the first ever dividend was paid off a highly profitable contract with the British government, metal for munitions! At the 1916 AGM, a Mr W. T. Wood complained bitterly of having bought £28,000 of debentures convertible into shares in 1906, and having only ever received one interest payment in ten years. He criticised Hoover and his cronies over the “sinister contract” between Burma Corporation and Burma Mines. Err…

The end of WW1 signaled a potential change in fortunes for lead and a drop in the share price. In 1918 Hoover sold out, still netting himself a tidy profit. The shares subsequently bounced. From production of 17,000 tons of lead and 1.5 million ounces of silver in 1917, by 1921 those figures were 40,000 tons and 4 million ounces! Tilden Smith had bought Hoover’s shares …

Bawdwin production was now 20% of the lead and 15% of the silver produced in the entire British Empire, and 8% of Burma’s total exports. Governors visited to bask in the success of the Bawdwin heyday!

The Rangoon Gazette in a puff piece of 30th April 1923 described the mines as “a Burmese Wonderland – a material wonderland – a wonderland of marvelous industry and organisation. It is a place unique in Burma’s vast interior, a centre of industry much larger than any other in the Province, the hub of a small universe where there is no halt or cessation or prolonged halt in the operations carried on, a place where the hand of man is hourly bringing forth valuable ore from the earth – it is an area as much alive as the country for hundreds of miles around it is dead.” Most of the workers were from India, Nepal and China, and many were seasonal, coming and going with the monsoon.

In 1928, Governor Charles Innes visited the area and stated: “how intimately the prosperity of the Northern Shan States is linked up with the continued existence and prosperity of the mines.”

Next up Governor Hugh Landsdowne Stephenson: “to have brought men from all nations to this remote end of the world … (to) win from the ground the earth’s treasure for the benefit of mankind.” It was “an even greater achievement to have created in these beautiful surroundings a wonderful city of contented and happy workers.” Wages were undoubtedly better than the norm, but contentment? In 1912, the mine manager, Gerard Lovell wrote a letter to W.J.Loring: “a most interesting proposition … (but) £1,500 a year in Australia is worth more than even £2,500 a year in this country and I shall be very glad to get away as soon as ever you will let me.” This was a mine in the monsoon-tropics, with endemic cholera, malaria and lead poisoning! Rose tinted pink gin glasses?

Bawdwin’s fortunes were to wane with the Great Depression.

And Hoover politics? Putting people first!

At the outbreak of WW1 in 1914, Hoover was in London. Through the grandly named Committee for American Residents in London for Assistance of American Travellers, he arranged the evacuation of around 40,000 neutral American tourists and businessmen “stranded” in Europe with paper dollars and travellers cheques that no-one would accept. The USS Tennessee steamed across the Atlantic with gold in its hold to back the “risky” paper and, together with the USS North Carolina, collected the stranded from Le Havre and Rotterdam. Noble effort.

With his extensive business contacts in Britain, Belgium and Germany, Hoover was perceived by the belligerents as an acceptable and high profile neutral. He was appointed Chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), managing the supply of food from neutral America to the Comite National de Secours et Alimentation (CNSA), a quasi shadow Belgian government under occupation established by powerful Belgian industrialists (connection … China!). This was a massive undertaking. The aim was to feed 7.5 million starving Belgians under German occupation, and a couple of million hungry Frenchmen to boot. Pre-war Belgium had relied on food imports, and the WW1 blockades caused immediate and acute distress. It was in Hoover’s words; “the biggest wholesale grocery job in history.” Whatever, it was a logistical triumph – independently flagged fleet of ships, rights of passage etc. Open all hours!

Come 1917 with the United States’ entry into the war Hoover’s position morphed into that of Director of the United States Food Administration, and from 1919, of its successor, the American Relief Administration (ARA), which plunged with relish into famine relief in Europe and revolution-ravaged Russia.

Now aged 46, high office USA beckoned! Republican or Democrat? Franklin Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy stated in 1919; “He is certainly a wonder and I wish we could make him President of the United States. There could not be a better one.” Hoover went Republican, then Secretary of State for Commerce times two, then President. And of course Roosevelt changed his mind!

In 2017 it is hoped the current burden of United States’ presidential office will not result in economic history repeating itself!

And the Myanmar connection?

At the second time of asking the Bawdwin Mines may be finally slipping into a deep slumber. However the Myanmar-Hoover connection persists! The house the Hoovers bought in Washington DC in 1920 at 2300 S Street NW and where they lived until 1944 became in 1963 the Burmese Embassy, and remains Embassy of Myanmar to this day.

Worked out mine, Washington DC real estate.

11 January 2018

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