Gold Theft

Theft from historical Nova Scotia gold mines was a significant problem, perhaps not surprisingly given the value of the gold and the ease with which it could be stolen in that era.

Miners extracting nuggets of gold in small, dark tunnels could easily slip gold into their pockets and later sell it. For example, gold in the Molega gold district in Queen’s County was particularly coarse and nuggety, making it easy to steal. It is believed the Molega district’s production is underreported due to theft.

An 1868 book by Alexander Heatherington called “A Practical Guide for Tourists, Miners and investors, and all Persons interested in the Development of the Gold Fields of Nova Scotia” described the theft of gold from Nova Scotia’s gold mines in the 1860s.

Heatherington said it was estimated that 10% of mined gold was pilfered underground. He cited the example of the Tudor mine in Waverley where 24 miners stole gold and split the profits evenly at the end of each month. The share per man was over $60 two months in a row. This was at a time when a miner’s daily wage was about $1.25.

Heatherington suggested several solutions to the theft problem, including “That men should not be engaged without a certificate of good character from some one known to the manager” and “have a clothing shed near the shaft where the men can be made to adopt a working dress (to be supplied by the company) and be subjected to inspection as they go to and from the pit.”

While he argued that mine owners should “retain a portion of their [miners’] wages so that they could not leave without due notice,” he also suggested letting “all hands receive a share, however small, direct from the profits of the mine.”

Heatherington said the real “instigators of the theft” were pedlars who bought the stolen gold from miners. This was such a problem that the Nova Scotia legislature passed a law making it illegal for pedlars to carry gold within three miles of a mining district.

One pedlar was tried for being in possession of about 1,200 ounces of stolen gold that he had smelted over a period of eighteen months.

As you would expect, security at a modern gold mine is very tight. We cannot say much about it – you know, for security reasons – but security is a significant consideration when planning and operating a gold mine.

Stealing gold from a modern Nova Scotia gold mine would also be difficult for geological reasons. So much of what we mine today is tiny flecks of gold, many of them microscopically small, so it is not like in the 1800s when a miner could sneak a nugget out of a mine relatively easily.

Much of the ore at a modern Nova Scotia gold mine looks like regular rock – no visible gold or yellow bits. The gold is produced via a highly-sophisticated, science-based milling process that extracts the flecks from the rock in which it is hosted. The average piece of rock in a gold mine is worthless without the milling process to extract the gold. Even then, significant quantities of gold can only be produced by milling large quantities of rock, so stealing one or two rocks would be pointless.

The mining process is also very different today. We use heavy equipment and extract significant quantities of ore – it is no longer hand-held rock hammers smashing small pieces of rock - so miners cannot just slip some gold into their pockets as they could in the 1800s.