A collection of material relating to the oil fields in Baku.

MADGWICK Thomas George (1900.)



MADGWICK (T.G.) Prometheus Unlimited, Random Musings of an Elderly Engineer. Typescript memoir. Foolscap. 74pp. [With:] [ANON.] [Reference book for the Oil Industry.] Full roan, title gilt to upper cover, extremities a little rubbed. xi, [1], 185, [3], 112pp. Baku, 1904. [And:] GOLOUBIATNIKOV (D). [Principaux résultats des travaux géologiques effectués en 1903 dan le Péninsule d'Apcheron.] Text in Russian. Five plates (3 folding). 8vo. Contemporary black half cloth, original wrappers bound in. [ii], 291-330pp. Baku, 1904. [And:] Three offprints. 46, [2], 31, [1], 18pp. Baku, ... [And:] Box of four glass lantern slides of Baku. [And:] Three stereoviews of Baku. [And:] Two large albumen photographs of Baku: Khan's Palace and oil wells. Measuring 210 by 267 mm. Np, c. 1890. [Plus:] Three mounted silver print photographs of Baku and its oil fields. Measuring c.110 by 150 mm. Np, c.

An excellent group of material assembled by Thomas George Madgwick (b. 1877) during his time in Baku and the Orenburg steppe. Madgwick was a geologist, mining engineer & pioneering petroleum expert. He trained at the Royal School of Mines in London and was stationed first in Ashanti (West Africa) from where he returned with an enlarged liver and spleen. As such, the semi-arid climate of Baku made an appropriate second posting. He remained there from 1903-1906, which is the focus of this group.


The heart of the archive is the unpublished typescript memoir, Prometheus Unlimited, most of which (pp.18-65) is devoted to his time in Azerbaijan. It is a valuable, amusing, and informative account of life in the early twentieth-century oil fields. During his time in Baku he worked with two firms: the Russian Petroleum and Liquified Fuel Co. and the Baku Russian Petroleum Co.


There are three chapters concerning Baku and Russia. The first of which, chapter 2, is both a historical overview of the oil industry in its early days as well as a detailed description of Baku itself, noting important architectural monuments as well as topographical features. He described old oil wells, natural gas deposits, and discusses the likes of Robert Nobel who, with his brothers Ludwig and Alfred, created the largest oil business in Russia. He mentions the old firms of Mirzoev and Korkorev and tells the story of an Armenian, Taghi-Ogli (Russianised to Tagiev), who had some success in the oil fields, eventually selling his land to the Russian Petroleum and Liquid Fuel Company in 1896. This occurred at about the same time as an auction of leases by the Russian government in September 1896, the first since 1873.


Chapter 3, "Life in Baku", gives a much fuller description of life of the ground. "The central part of the city had some fair streets, congregated mostly behind a short length of the sea shore not fronted by jetties. This quay, as it was termed, was backed by the Maiden's Tower, the old Palace, the Governor's residence, and a small park, and it formed a convenient spot for rich young Moslems to show off the points of their pacer ponies ... All houses were built of the local limestone, which when freshly quarried had a pleasing yellow tint and could be readily dressed with an axe; it darkened and hardened on weathering."


There is considerable information regarding the oil fields: from mundane directions, to notes on underwater drilling ("seepages occurred out in the sea, and on occasion parties would go out in a boat and set fire to the gas bubbling up ..."); and even the organisation of buildings: "Oleum's 27.5 acres was too valuable to clutter with any but essential buildings, such as the manager's quarters, machine shop and stores." Madgwick also describes production methods in considerable detail: "it was based on the idea that it would be deleterious to the well to use deep-well pumps, because of the often very friable sands that entered the well in considerable quantity, and to screen off which might drive the oil away - a danger not without some foundation considering the proximity of one's neighbour's wells!" He gives further detail: "Our newer derricks would on Oleum were 84 feet high, and before a well was placed on production a superstructure, fourteen feet high, would be added to give plenty of room for the fast winding of the baler, often as much as 56 feet in length. Winding was done by a drum apart from the drilling rig and operated by belt from an electric meter through the medium of a clutch ... I should add that much baling was done by steam and with seventy foot derricks. We pioneered with the outfit above described."


Madgwick gives his opinions on what has helped and hindered the development of the industry in Baku, as well as notes on regulations - focusing alternately on water and sand, the constant danger of fire - including several anecdotes, especially regarding the "Ogulevich fire". The dangers were not confined to the oil rigs. On page 36 we read: "To return to European Russia it would be necessary to obtain papers of identity, and the simplest way would be to murder somebody and take his." Throughout the text there are several such throw away lines that make for very enjoyable reading.


Chapter 4 - "Mining in Russia" - also commences with a topographical and historical overview, with remarks on drainage flowing toward the Ural and Obi rivers and the principal railways. Indeed, Madgwick travelled to Cheliabinsk, where the mayor had "negotiated the option for our company [Orsk Goldfields Ltd.] and acted as our agent." On the Orenburg steppe, they worked under the leadership of Richard Provis, and had but one neighbour, plus a one-eyed cossack driver. Madgwick writes: "Our ore was white quartz containing free gold ... the gold occurred occasionally in quite spectacular accumulations ... The mine was worked by contractors, or 'tributers', who were allotted a certain length along the strike of the ore-body ... Our problem was to find what prospects existed of developing a deeper mine that would pay dividends on the company's capital." He continues, "Our ore was naturally free-milling and in accordance with the general practice in the Urals was crushed and ground under edge-runners, all made in Ekaterinburg (now Sverdlovsk) by the old-established Scottish engineering firm of Yates."


Madgwick stayed only a short time before being lured to Siberia by Leslie Urquart, who'd been advised to leave Baku after an attempt had been made on his life. On joining him in Moscow, Madgwick learned that "he had capitalised his prospects as a mining magnate in the form of the Anglo-Siberian Syndicate ... and was very confident of success." They travelled to Cheliabinsk first, then Ekaterinburg, and Kyshtim. We learn quite a bit about the financing of mines in Russia, mortgages, company guarantees, as well as the specifics of mining, pyritic smelting, etc.


This memoir is augmented by the additional material, the Baku imprints (the directory for example, is rare, being unlocated on OCLC and COPAC) as well as the photographic material. The whole group is supplemented by documents confirming Madgwick's curriculum vitae.

Stock Code: 233918

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