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History of the Atacama region (Chile): Mining

Paul Treutler: Wages and Life in Tres Puntas

Mining at Atacama
W. Griem, 2014, 2017

Person of the Tres Puntas village, Atacama desert
Restos en Tres Puntas

 Literature: Mining in Atacama

español / deutsch / english

Excerpts from Treutler's "15 years in South America": Description of work, wages and social conditions:
The text refers to the years 1851 to 1856 - not all statements of Paul Treutler can be considered authentic

"At that time, 62 silver mines were operated in this mining district, employing about 2000 workers.
Maintaining these workers required an enormous amount of capital, as they received not only high wages, for example 103 pesos per month for an administrator, 51 pesos for a foreman of miners and 30 pesos per month for a day labourer (1), but also free lodging, food and water, which caused so much effort and money costs, because, as mentioned above, everything was brought here by mules and wagons.
However, the apartments were neither luxurious nor expensive. The walls of these walls were formed by stacked stones, on which a framework of laths was fixed and covered with reeds, while doors, crates, tables and benches were made of some boards.
Depending on the importance and size of the mine, one or more such houses were now located there in which the officials lived, as well as mining material and food. Around them, depending on the number of workers, there were smaller, equally constructed houses in which the miners lived together with two, four and 12 people, as well as one such hut for the smithy and another for the kitchen.

As cheap as the accommodation of the workers was in general, such an enormous expenditure caused their consumption, but nevertheless it was as simple and cheap as possible. Each miner was given a pound of white bread and 16 dried figs in the morning, a large bowl of beans with fat and a lot of Spanish pepper at lunchtime, and in the evening a mash of wheat grit, and 10 ounces of dried meat every Sunday.

If you wanted to eat something better in Tres Puntas than the usual beans, it was very expensive. For example, a pound of fresh meat cost three marks, a potato 50 pounds, an onion 50 pounds, a watermelon four marks, a bottle of beer 6 marks and so on. The administrators and officials of larger mines received special monetary compensation for their food.

In order to reduce the company's oversized expenses, a shop was established in most mines where the official sold the workers the necessary and desirable items for the account of the mine at very high prices, offset against their earnings. The purchase amount was always deducted at the end of the month, and can often be that the worker did not only take the entire amount of fine monthly earnings in goods, but that he was still owing. For the owner of the mine, this was most advantageous in that he earned 50% of the goods, on the other hand, he did not have to pay the amount of his wages in cash, and for the next month he had to count on the work of this debtor, because every worker who remained indebted to his employer at the end of the month was legally forced to continue working in the mine and could not be exempted from another. Unfortunately, however, it still happened that miners who had taken a great amount of goods and remained in debt fled to other mining districts where they could not reach the arm of justice. (2)

Wine, beer, spirits and liquors were not allowed to be sold in the pit, but it was customary for every miner to enjoy his tea before he went into the pit and also when he came out. This drink was made from Paraguayan tea in the following way:

Pour the tea into a small container, usually a small bottle gourd, fill it with sugar, pour hot water on it and then slurp the drink as hot as possible with a small tube.


A pound of tea, like every pound of sugar, cost four Real. The workers consumed an incredible amount of sugar and it happened very often that a worker had spent all his wages on tea and sugar. In general, the Republic of Chile is the country that consumes the most sugar in relation to all other countries of the world (3).

The miner enjoyed little coffee, but he spent a lot of money on watermelons and paper cigars.

The mine owners earned a lot of money on both items, for example by buying watermelons in Copiapó and sending wagonloads of them to the mines in Copiapó, where they had them sold to a peso. The workers also consumed roasted flour in large quantities."

 

The original texts were digitized, converted to ASCII and edited by Dr. Wolfgang Griem. Sketches and drawings are digitally cleaned.

Persons of The Tres Puntas village
De: Paul Treutler, 1882

Mining Atacama
History of Atacama

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Treutler, living in Tres Puntas
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Paul Treutler (1851)
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viaje en Ferrocarril por P. Treutler
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carta de Atacama
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Literatura:
• TREUTLER, PAUL
(1882): Fünfzehn Jahre in Südamerika an de Ufern des Stillen Ozeans. - 3 Bd., Seite 91/92; Weltpostverlag, Leipzig. (Colección W. Griem)

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Published (spanish): 11.2. 2006; Updated: 23.9.2017

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