Tag Archives: Compañía de Azufre y Cobre de Tharsis

Students of the nineteenth-century metallurgy and mining economy in Spain

While looking at the Spanish-born students from the late nineteenth-century, we spotted a increased number of those students born in the province of Huelva. It appears their stories relate to the metallurgy and mining economy of  southern Spain during that period, which had prominent Glasgow connections.

La Zarza open mine, Huelva,1887, GUA ref: UGD57/11/5

La Zarza open mine, Huelva,1887, GUA ref: UGD57/11/5

In 1866, a Glasgow-based company headed by Charles Tennant (1823-1906) purchased the former French-run Compagnie des Mines de Cuivre de Huelva, which became the Tharsis Sulphur and Copper Company Ltd (la Compañía de Azufre y Cobre de Tharsis). The Archive Services of the University of Glasgow hold the company’s papers – click on the link for further information. The late Professor of Economic History, Sydney Checkland, also published a detailed history of Tharsis,  The mines of Tharsis : Roman, French and British enterprise in Spain (London : Allen and Unwin, 1967).

Tharsis railway station, GUA Ref: UGD57/11/5

Tharsis railway station, GUA Ref: UGD57/11/5

The company added infrastructure, constructing the Tharsis railway along the river Odiel, which was completed and in use by 1871. Its unusual dimensions also had a direct Glasgow connection: with a width of 4 feet, or  1.220 mm, they were the same dimensions used exclusively for the Glasgow underground. The railway had 53 steam locomotives, serving both industry and passengers,  and is today the only mining railway in Huelva that is still used for industrial freight.

Before the pier at Corrales, GUA Ref: UGD57/11/5

Before the pier at Corrales, GUA Ref: UGD57/11/5

In order to facilitate the export of suphur and copper, the company also constructed the Corrales pier opposite the city of Huelva.

Among the students born in Tharsis around that period were Mercedes Margaret Morton, the daughter of Alexander Young Morton, a medical graduate of the University and a doctor for the Tharsis Sulphur and Copper Company Ltd. She returned to the University, following in her father’s footsteps, and graduated MB ChB in 1917. Also Captain Edward Paterson Rutherford, who graduated BSc in 1912, was the son of William Rutherford, a manager for the Tharsis Sulphur & Copper Company.

The Tharsis company was so successful that it inspired and drew other potential investors to the nearby Rio Tinto mines. New competition came in the form of a British-European syndicate, headed by Scottish entrepreneur Hugh Matheson, who had served his commercial apprenticeship  with James Ewing & Company of Glasgow. The purchase of the Rio Tinto mines from the Spanish government in 1873  made this region one of the most important sources of copper and sulphur in the world, and the Rio Tinto Company, as it was established, one of the  most successful British-based mining companies in the world.

Among the students born in the Rio Tinto mining area were Thomas Alexander Dempsey, medical student in 1920 and son of a manager of grocery and drapery stores in Rio Tinto; Sandy Mejias Livingstone (BSc 1961), son of a company director; and Charles Sutherland McKay Murison (MB ChB 1908), the son of John or Juan Murison, a manager of an esparto (needle grass) company, and British Vice-Consul of Almeria, whose commercial power also enabled him to buy the Almeria and Alhamilla Railway Company Ltd in 1904, which owned the lines used to transport the material from the mountain range of Alhamilla to the port of Almeria.

If you know more about these students or indeed any other Spanish-born students and staff of the University, we would be happy to hear from you.

by Alex Cenarro, MLitt in Philosophy

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