Mining for copper in Kazakhstan

My recent book, Travellers in the Great Steppe, includes a chapter on those pioneering metallurgists and engineers who travelled from Britain and its colonies to set up businesses in the Kazakh steppe around the turn of the 19th-20 centuries. Amongst them was Edward Nelson Fell, who set up and ran the Spassky mine near Karaganda, to the south-east of Nursultan, now the capital of the country. Fell was director of operations at the mine from 1903-1908. Frank Vans Agnew, who eventually married one of Fell’s daughters, also came to work at the mine.

It was thus a great pleasure to receive an email recently from Jamie Vans, Edward’s great-grandson, who told me that two years ago he had travelled to the Spassky mine to see the places where his ancestors had worked. Jamie also has a large archive of material relating to the time they spent in this remote part of what was then the Russian empire. And most importantly, he has written up much of this material into a pamphlet, which you can find here:

Fell and his son-in-law Frank Vans Agnew had an eventful time at the mine. As well as dealing with Bolshevik agitators and striking miners, they found time to interact with the local nomadic Kazakhs and brought back numerous items, some of which are now in the British Museum. Jamie’s pamphlet is very detailed and full of fascinating material. It never ceases to amaze me that such important archives continue to turn up and to shed light on past events that have long since passed from view.

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