…then the story of the older silver mine of Silpatjåkkå, nestled in a seldom visited area of Padjelanta National Park, could very well have close similarities to today’s Jokkmokk. It’s a story of false hopes, egos and deceit and a dependency to subventions to keep it alive, though the inevitable downfall and abandonment fastly approached. Silpatjåkkå’s story is a 40 year old rise and fall with complicated details and many actors involved, but let’s briefly look at what it was all about…
Firstly, in the 17th century, Sweden had dreams of becoming a great power and was trying to establish a personal Scandinavian empire by attaining control over Finland, Russia, parts of Norway and other Baltic regions through its Great 30-year War. Secondly, we have to keep in mind that Europe’s economic theory during the 17th century was that of mercantilism. With the costs of warfare abroad and the need to be a key economic figure, the discovery of new silver mines, which increased economic values, within Sweden’s territory was a solution to both of these needs.
So, it wasn’t so surprising that, after a small invasion on the Nasa Silver Mine and its destruction by invading Norwegian troops in 1658, that King Karl IX demanded that new silver deposits would be searched for. One Saami scout, keenly knowledgeable of the mountains, the terrain and how to search for precious metals spoke about a new stretch of silver in Jokkmokk’s mountains. The man was Jon Persson, a Tuorpan Saami, and the place was “Kietiewarri”, or what was later to be named “Silbbatjåhkkå” meaning “The Silver Hill” in Saamish.
Photo: The Kamajokk Stream gave energy to the smelting works at Kvikkjokk.
A state owned, or royal, company was formed called Luleå Silverworks and was responsible for and in control of Silpatjåkkå and its exploitation. Needing a mining foreman, the earlier mining foreman from Nasa Silver Mine, Isak Tiock, was chosen and sent to the Jokkmokk mountains to start working the prospect. Buildings, smelting ovens and forges had to be built and all this saw the birth of the little village of Kvikkjokk. Here was an ample supply of trees for charcoal and rushing waters for power to drive a water wheel.
The journey to Kvikkjokk was by foot and a series of rowboats. To get to the silver mine, hiking for the workers, horseback for higher ranking people and reindeer with sledges were the more common means of transportation.
The workers were conscripted in the same manner as soldiers at the time. They came from the eastern seaboard of northern Sweden and sent inland to work as miners. Many who were conscripted and were wealthy, paid themselves free of duty by sending someone less advantageous in their place. At the silver mine itself, a dwelling was erected for the miners, who spent most of the winter working in the open mine shafts or pumping out water in the summer months.
The Saami were also conscripted into serving the mine. They were paid for their transportation services, using reindeer and sledges to haul needed supplies to the mine and silver ore on the return trip back to Kvikkjokk. Some wealthier Saami, too, could pay themselves free from duty, sending a replacement for themselves, or many just escaped duty by going to nearby Norway.
Photo: A cast iron stove from the 1770’s at Silpatjåkkå
Whatever the situation, both workers and Saami had difficult working conditions. Both were to receive wages in the form of felt, sugar, tobacco etc. but the first few years showed that no one was getting paid. Isak Tiock, the mining foreman and known for his harsh treatment of the Saami at the Nasa Silver Mine, where he dragged Saami under the winter ice until they were willing to work or,more often, died of pneumonia, had refused to pay the miners and Saami of Luleå Silverworks and Silpatjåkkå. He cheated them out of their wages and kept this for himself. It wasn’t until after a royal commission visited Kvikkjokk and inspected the conditions there that he was fired from his job as mining foreman, charged and taken to court for his actions and eventually was jailed. Afterwards, both miners and Saami were paid in full for their work.
Through the years, many royal commissions were sent to Kvikkjokk to inspect the mines and the the king’s investments. Almost with each commission, requests for more money were given and more capital was poured into Silpatjåkkå silver mine. In 1672, another mine was opened in Alkavare and increased the investments. At its best, the Sipatjåkkå Silver Mine produced only some 550 kg of silver and 1500 kg of lead over a 40 year period, which ended in 1702. A small fortune for the times had been invested in the Silpatjåkkå Silver Mine but, in comparison, very little had been gained and the whole venture was an economic tragedy.
After 1702, several other private entrepreneurs gained rights to mine silver in Silpatjåkkå. Abraham Steinholtz apparently did some work in 1745 and Prof. Jonas Meldercreutz seemingly worked the mines in 1769. Small scale mining interests were shown in the late 19th century, though not necessarily for silver but for other minerals. Some companies are documented and others were unknown “wild cards”. Many came to Silpatjåkkå and went away with shattered dreams of easy riches.
Photo: Hedwigs Mine from late 17th century as it looks today
In the early times of Silpatjåkkå, whoever was involved with wanting to resume mining at the place were granted a general tax relief, but no one could ever make the silver mines profitable nor economically in balance. Was a tax relief a motivation for interest in Silpatjåkkå more so than actually working the mine? As from the beginning, Silpatjåkkå would always be dependent upon state aid or other subventions for its survival. The village of Kvikkjokk had as many as some eighty people living there in the late 17th century. Now, there is only a handful of permanent residents and the village struggles without real signs of progressive development.
It should be added that Silpatjåkkå has been an object of historical interest and research since 1993. The research project The Older Mines of Jokkmokk, founded by Kenneth Awebro and Tim Senften, has successfully carried out extensive archival and field research of Silpatjåkkå and has found new information about the silver mine and its historical significance. The larger mine holes are still there, but new evidence has been discovered showing that a greater exploitation, than what was earlier thought of, has occurred. The original building sites from 1660 can easily be found together with the mine holes at 1250 meters above sea level.
Hiking Tips: A long days hike from Staloluokta. No direct path; use map and compass and follow the eastern side of Viejevagge Valley. The mine area is given on the BD10 map. Often foggy and poor weather at that height above sea level. Difficult to find a level spot for a tent. Please- this is an important heritage place so don’t disturb anything and pick-up/take-out all scrap!
Next: Alkavare Silver Mine- a complement to Silpatjåkkå