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Historical Vignettes of the North

Headline - 'Taxes, Freight and Labor Costs in Siberian Mines'
Dawson Daily News (Yukon Territory), June 12, 1911



      W. Purlington, writing in the Scientific and Mining Press on placer mining at Kolchan mines, East Siberia, touches on the problems of labor, freight charges, and taxes, something which will be read with much interest in Yukon and Alaska, especially since all three countries are in the northern latitude and with similar climatic conditions. The writer says:
      An important fact determined beyond question during the 1909 season relates to labor. While it is certain that hand labor operations in Siberia are to be in general condemned, it is also certain that mechanical excavators of large capacity, and in all probability dredges, can be eventually operated by a certain class of Russian subjects, namely, Germans from the Baltic provinces. This means that instead of paying expert men to come from abroad, managers may look to develop a class of native machine runners, the annual expense of whose wages and expenses will be from one-quarter to one-half that of similar men brought from abroad. This fact has a double advantage. It reduces expenses, and inclines the local population and government more favorably toward a foreign enterprise. On the other hand, as regards the efficiency of labor employed in hand work of any kind, that labor which is locally available gives disappointing results. The common Russian labor, when comparing the duty of such a man shoveling from bank to car, picking his own ground, with Swede labor in Alaska, is generally higher, as long as the Russian works steadily. But his servile, whining disposition, protected as he is by excessive government paternalism, combined with deep-rooted adherence to the customs of a priest-ridden country, make him a dangerous member of a mining community. Chinese coolie labor was also a failure the past season in shoveling. As I have never worked Chinese except in this mine, I hesitate to say that the Che-Fu coolies I had on sluice No. 1 are a fair sample of the race. They do not appear to compare with Californian Chinese in efficiency. My own opinion is that the late start rendered it necessary to take local Chinese instead of importing picked men from the treaty ports. Consequently only the riff-raff of Amgoon tributers was available. At any rate the duty of the Chinese shoveler averaged but 2 cu. yd. of gravel per 10-hr. shift, as compared with 5, which is the average in Alaska. The experience in the small amount of work done in 1908 was practically the same. Therefore, I am justified in saying that any sluicing methods used in future on the Kolchan property must eliminate hand labor as much as possible. In other words, the hand labor, apparently cheap, is not in practice cheap, but more expensive than well-paid labor in America.
      As regards carpenters, both Russians and Chinese require expensive surveillance, constantly. The Chinese are superior as they work faster and are more adept. On flume work, where exact joints are required, a gang of six Russian carpenters is the equivalent of two Californians. On sluice box work, I had one gang of Chinese, three in number, who worked very well after long training. It seems impossible for Russians to learn this work well.
      As regards fuel, when winter cutting can be taken advantage of, it is safe to say that the price will not exceed 3 Rs. per cord, delivered. The whipsawing of lumber in 1909, of which about 50,000 board feet were used, cost 50 roubles per thousand feet.
      The experience in handling heavy pieces of freight, in the season of 1909, was as follows:
      American shipment of 78 tons, about one-quarter of which was heavy pieces. Prices are in roubles per ton: Rate from Chicago to Nagasaki, 71; Nagasaki to Nikolaievsk, 32; Nikolaievsk to Residenz, including unloading at Nikolaievsk, barge transfer to Residenz, and unloading from barge, 26; Residenz or lake landing to mine, 90; total, 219. These are figures for the 1909 cost for heavy pieces.
      English shipment of 10 tons: Hull to Nikolaievsk, 82; Nikolaievsk to the mine was less than the American shipment, as the pieces were all small (on heavy pieces, the freight would have been the same), 116; total from Hull, England to Kolchan, 198.
      From the above experience, one would be justified in assuming an estimate of £20,000, or 200,000 Rs., for a dredge shipment of 1,000 tons, from either New York, Hull or Hamburg to the Kolchan property.
      The Kolchan property, although directly on the seaboard surrounded by navigable waters, is in a region where general business and commerce are undeveloped. Very few direct steamers to European and American ports make Nikolaievsk a port of call, consequently many transhipments are necessary for machinery destined for the Amur goldfields.
      The list of taxes given below is fairly representative of the nominal government dues:

Dessiation tax.
    1909 tax ..............................
    Fine on same ..........................
  Rs.
2,683.75
  129.00
Personal licenses, 1909 tax ..     48.00
Mine Owners' Association, 1908 levy on proportion of gold produced by each mine in the district ...  
    65.65
Judge tax, annual levy 1909 ..   109.00
Police expenses, paid to police as salaries from April to December inclusive (police charges are at the rate of 0.232 Rs. per month) ..  
2,286.60
Police tax, annual levy 1909 .......   205.00
Church, subscription to same for 1909 .......   100.00
Boiler tax, 1909 ................ 2,147.00
  _________
  8,090.59


Notes:
The "dessiation tax" is a land lease fee - a dessiatine (or desyatina) is a Russian unit of measurement equal to 2.698 acres.

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