|Sir Robert Harvey
Robert Harvey, son of tailor Samuel Harvey and his wife Elizabeth Northey, was born in the parish of St Clement Truro on 2 October 1847. At age 14 he was apprenticed to Francis Dingey’s Foundry at Truro and in about 1867 he obtained a position at the Williams' Perran Foundry where he worked as an improver for three years and a journeyman for one. In 1872 he was chosen to accompany a steam engine to the Tocopilla copper mines of Gwennap immigrants Samuel Lean and John Jose of Lean, Jose and Co. in Bolivia under a three year contract for £12 a month in the first year rising to £15 per month by the third.
In 1875 Harvey moved to Iquique where he became an authority on nitrate production in the Peruvian Province of Tarapacá and one of the leading salitreros in the Pacific Littoral. Known as ‘el gringo colorado’, he was appointed the chief engineer of the Oficinâ Rimac Saltpetre manufactory with a salary of £40 per month, and was soon after appointed to superintend the construction of new nitrate works. In 1876 following the nationalisation of the nitrate industry, Harvey became nitrate engineer and Inspector General of the Province of Tarapacá with a salary of £1,500 per year.
During the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), Tarapacá was overrun by the Chileans who captured Harvey at the Battle of San Francisco and imprisoned him at Iquique. His knowledge of the Peruvian nitrate industry undoubtedly saved his life and he was offered his old post by the Chileans. Following the Chilean's decision to return the nitrate works to the private sector, Harvey entered into partnership with Colonel John North (the Nitrate King), becoming in 1881 the managing partner of their firm, J.T.North and Harvey. Harvey's position as Inspector General undoubtedly gave him unique inside information and together they brought up the best nitrate properties at rock bottom prices; in 1883 Harvey returned to Britain to set up the Liverpool Nitrate Company and the Colorado Nitrate Company.
The following year he returned to Iquique to superintend the construction of the Liverpool Nitrate Company's works 'Ramirez', an enterprise that gave such satisfactory results that the shareholders presented him with a service of plate at the Adelphi Hotel Liverpool that cost £1,500. He was awarded the Telford Premium in 1882 for his paper on the manufacture of iodine (a by-product of nitrate of soda).
Harvey set up the San Pablo Nitrate Company, the San Jorge Nitrate
Company and the the San Donato Nitrate Company with other British
investors, serving as Director of many of these companies. He was one of
the leading lights in Chile, serving as Director of the Nitrates
Railways Ltd. and of the Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Ltd., the
Chairman of the Tarapacá Waterworks Company, first President of the
English Club in Iquique, the Director of the gas company there, and was
associated with the Anglo South American Bank and silver mining at