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Graphite Mines, Saint John

Charles Lyell is one of the best-known geologists in history having written some of the foundation books of the science. Charles Darwin had a copy of Lyell’s ‘Principles of Geology’ with him on the voyage of the Beagle. Lyell made a brief visit to Saint John in 1852 and visited the Reversing Rapids, where he saw the contact of the Precambrian Brookville Terrane and the Cambrian Avalon Terrane exposed in the gorge. Here the St. John River empties into the Bay of Fundy. The eight-metre tidal range in the bay causes the river to run backwards with the rising tide producing impressive standing waves. In a letter to his father-in-law Lyell wrote, “It is very strange to see a great river or tidal current, rush first in for several hours, then out of a narrow gorge formed of metamorphic rocks, vertical beds of limestone and slate, invaded by trap and syenite. They ought to be called the Rapids rather. The vessels, a little fleet laden with timber, wait till the tide flows neither way, and then sail in or out. The whole harbour is beautiful.” (Lyell 1881, p. 183-183).

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Lyell also examined graphite mines that had opened at the Reversing Rapids in 1850. Graphite is carbon, most likely produced during the metamorphosis of organic material as the limestone became marble. Newspapers during Lyell’s visit advertised ‘New Brunswick Pure Black Lead’ from the Saint John Mining Company. Loring Bailey recorded their operation in his 1864 report on mines and minerals in New Brunswick. He noted that in 1853, a total of 89,936 pounds were exported, but that by 1864 work at the mines had been discontinued. The first mines were located near the narrowest part of the gorge just below the suspension bridge. Graphite was used as a lubricant among other things.