Nickoline, or Meteoric Iron Enlarge
Exotic Mineralogy
Ferrum Niccoliferum

Nickoline, or Meteoric Iron

  • Syn.
    • Meteoreisen, Klaproth Beit. b. 4. s. 99.
    • Fer natif Météorique, Haüy Tabl. 93. Lucas Tabl. partie 2, 358.
    • Native Iron, α Meteoric. Aikin 95.
    • Native Iron. Bournon and Howard Phil. Trans. for 1802.

In British Mineralogy, tab. 101, I have given some account of the native Iron contained in Meteorolites; it was at a time when these Stones were so little understood, that the fact of their falling was doubted by most Philosophers; this is now generally admitted, and no apology is necessary for introducing the alloy of Iron and Nickel which has been found on various parts of the Earth’s surface, as of Meteoric origin. The present examples being mostly free from earthy and stony materials must appear most astonishing, but they are nearly as well, although not so generally authenticated as the Stones, partly by the traditions concerning them, partly by their similarity in composition, and partly by the insulated situations they have been found in upon the surface of the ground. It appears that the ancients were acquainted with both kinds, but that the earthy masses have been much the most numerous, and venerated from the earliest periods; indeed, so much were the idolators struck with them that they considered them as marks of the anger of the Gods, or as Gods come to visit them, and upon the latter supposition built temples, in which they protected and worshipped them: such, it is supposed, the image of Diana in the temple at Ephesus originally was. That which the pagans entitled the Mother of the Gods, said to fall at Pessinus, and was taken from Phrygia to Rome in the time of Scipio Nasica, and several similar images, were probably Meteoric Stones. The stone so much venerated by the Arabs, which is set in silver in the Caaba in Mecca, the Mehometans, who destroyed ahove 360 other images they found there, say was brought down from heaven by Gabriel, and that it was originally white, but has contracted the blackness that now appears on it from the sins of men; this may very probably he a Meteoric Stone with its natural black crust, and not blackened either by the sins or the kisses of pilgrims as sometimes related. In the time of Pliny, who has given accounts of the falling of several Stones at various periods, and of a spongy mass of Iron that fell in Lucania, about 56 years before the Christian era, it seems that his statements were acknowledged; in the progress of time, however, these facts, although they continued to occur, became mixed so much with fabulous accounts that they were treated with ridicule or forgotten, so that translators, who could not conceive the fall of a stone to be probable, have translated passages where they may have been alluded to, more after their own ideas, and it is but lately that this knowledge has been renewed to the learned of our times. Although the fall of masses of Iron is of rarer occurrence than that of Stones, it is not very remarkable that they should be still found upon the surface of the Earth in various places where the memory of man has not preserved even a tradition of their fall; for after the Iron is once well coated with rust it does not appear to be of a very perishable nature; whereas the Stones in consequence of their loose texture, and the quantity of Pyrites contained in them, would soon decay; hence they have not been found casually, but have entirely escaped notice, unless they have been traced from a meteor or seen to fall. Out of about fourteen accounts of the fall of Iron that have been preserved either by books or tradition, it does not appear that more than three can be verified by the remains of the masses they refer to,* the Siberian, that of Agram, and that preserved at Elbogen; while eight or ten similar masses of Iron have been found in places where they could not have come from any mine, and also containing Nickel, an ingredient that is common to all the Meteorites. On the other hand there are about 170 authentic accounts of the fall of stones either in showers of thousands, or singly, out of which only about 50 of different dates have been preserved by the curious to the present day, and none have been found remaining on the earth’s surface. It is a curious circumstance, and almost promises to agree with the words in my preface to the ‘List of Rocks and Strata,’ where I observe, that, “Meteorites appear to have encreased in numbers within the last century or two, and it is not impossible that they may be so numerous in the course of ages as to cover a considerable portion of surface, if they have not already done so in some remote un visited parts, for Nature generally operates upon a large scale, and is not limited by time” that in the north-east corner of Baffin’s Bay there should exist several masses of Iron, one of which is so large that the natives consider it to be part of the mountain, and that this Iron should agree in lustre and containing Nickel with the Meteoric Iron.

There are two kinds of Iron supposed to be Meteoric: one of an uniform even texture, a whiter colour than pure Iron and very tenacious and ductile; the other of a foliated structure, darker colour, and somewhat brittle, although ductile; the first is difficult to break, but the broken surface resembles that of Lead, it feels smooth to the edge of a knife; the latter splits in breaking and the fracture has a granular surface, it grates under the knife; it is highly probable that it contains pyrites between the laminæ, and that they themselves are combined with a minute portion of Carbon.

I have selected examples of both kinds for figuring, of the first there appear to be but two known, viz. the famous ramified mass weighing 1600 pounds, found by Prof. Pallas upon a hill between Krasnqjark and Abaakunsk near the Oubeï and the Sisim in Siberia, and the solid mass mentioned by Barrow as having been found on a plain between the great Fish River and Graaf Reynet in southern Africa previously to his visiting that spot; both these I have figured. Of the foliated or crystallized kind, the most remarkable is that which fell in Croatia: the following account is given of it. At Hraschina, near Agram in Croatia, on the 26th of May, 1751, about 6 o’clock in the evening, a globe of fire appeared passing towards the east, it was accompanied by a sound like the rattling of chariots, and then exploded with a still more tremendous noise, giving out a black smoke, and dividing into two portions, the largest of which fell in a field and buried itself deep in the earth, which it shook like an earthquake, its weight was 71 pounds; the other fell in a meadow 2000 paces from the first, it weighed only 16 pounds. I am indebted to the Imperial Cabinet of Vienna for a small fragment of the larger mass, which resembles in appearance Fig. 5, but it is composed of smaller parts. Another mass of the crystallized kind was preserved for many years at Elbogen in Bohemia; it is said to have fallen in 1647, its weight, was 200 pounds; a piece of this 1 have also had from Vienna, it cannot be distinguished from the last. I have not figured either of these because the fragments Mere smaller, and because their characters are shewn upon a larger scale by that from Lenato. A fractured piece of the Elbogen mass has been presented to me by Prof. Stromeyer, which agrees in its form with the specimens exhibited at figs. 6 and 7; it was thought unnecessary, therefore, to figure it. Mr. Greville’s piece of that from Elbogen is, however, given at figure 4.

Fig. 1 represents a specimen, from the late Mr. Greville’s cabinet, of the Siberian Iron well calculated to shew its ramifying and cellular form, in the interior the cells are filled with a transparent yellow substance extremely like Olivine in all its characters and composition, it is supposed to be the same as the earthy part of the Meteoric Stones fused into a glass. Many of the cells are lined with Pyrites as is shewn at fig. 2. This is stated by the Tartars, who reverence it greatly, to have fallen from heaven.

Fig. 3. is from my specimen of the Iron found near the great Fish River; it was obtained at the Cape of Good Hope, and brought to England by Fichtel. (The piece brought to England formerly by General Prehn I understand was sent to Holland.) This is extremely pure and compact; it is considerably harder, but otherways much of the texture of Lead; it is not elastic when sawn into slices, but is easily rendered so by hammering; a shaving taken from the surface by a chizel is elastic without any further operation; it is so ductile and free from flaws that it may readily be rolled into sheets thinner than paper without cracking; its hardness is such that it takes an excellent polish, its lustre is superior to that of pure Iron, and its colour nearer that of silver. These properties rendered it an excellent material for a sword blade, consequently, upon His Majesty the Emperor of Russia visiting England, I had a slice 2 inches and three-fourths long, 2 inches wide, and nearly three-fourths of an inch thick, hammered at a low red heat into a blade 2 feet long, and 11/2 inch wide, which welded into a steel haft, and mounted, I presented to his Majesty§ as a memorial of his visit. Previously to this a slice had been sawn off by Smithson Tennant, Esq. at Sir Joseph Banks’s request, and upon being analyzed was found to contain 10 per cent, of Nickel: some other experiments were made with it, but the results have unfortunately not been published. At one end of the mass is a fissure filled by sulphuret of Iron that is continually decomposing and absorbing moisture which spreads over the polished surface and rusts it, otherways it docs not seem so liable to rust as common Iron or Steel. The mass originally found was carried from place to place as a great curiosity; its weight was estimated by Barrow at about 300lbs.; he further observes that it had “no matrix of any kind adhering to it, nor in the cavities of its surface were any pebbles or marks of crystallization.” In sawing through it an empty spherical hollow about the size of a pea was met with.

Fig. 4. is from a piece, in the late Mr. Greville’s collection, of that from Elbogen in Bohemia: it was presented to the Baron Born by the Academy of Freyberg. I have figured it in consequence of its containing a grey foliated, semi vitreous, but opaque earthy substance among the Iron, which renders it intermediate between the Meteoric. Stones and Meteoric Iron.

Fig. 5. is from a slice from Lenato in Hungary; the edge has been polished and the surface treated with dilute nitric acid, which exposes the direction of the laminæ of crystallization; they are considered as parallel to the surfaces of regular octahedrons intersecting one another. The whole mass weighed 191lbs.

Fig. 6 is a fragment of the great mass found by Goldberry near the right bank of the Senegal in Africa; it shews at once the foliated and granular structure.

Fig. 7. is a similar piece from St. lago del Estro, in South America; these are extremely like each other, but the American is rather the whitest, it could not be distinguished from a broken piece of the Elbogen Iron as I have observed before; the mass this came from lies in the middle of a great plain 100 miles distant from any Rock or Mountain.

Figs. 8 and 9 represent two knives made of small flattened pieces of Iron, let into bones by the natives of the Arctic Highlands, discovered by Captain Ross. This Iron has been found to contain Nickel, which circumstance, together with the account of its being cut off with a hard stone from large, masses that lie above ground upon a mountain, render it highly probable that it is of the same Meteoric origin as the above described kinds; it was, however, stated that one mass was a part of the rock, but as it was harder than the rest it was possibly something else. (See Ross’s Voyage for the purpose of exploring Baffin’s Bay, ed. 2, v. 1, p. 140.)

There are accounts of native Iron being met with not containing Nickel, but these are found in mines united to other minerals; the most authentic is that of Gross Kamsdorfin Saxony, it was accompanied by Brownspar, brown Iron-stone, and sulphate of Barytes: Khiproth found Lead and Copper in it.

The following are the analyses of a few of the meteoric Irons at present known:

Iron. Nickel.
Siberian, sp. gr. 6487 87.5 12.5   Howard.
Bohemian, sp. gr. 6146 82.4 17.6   ib.
Agram 96.5 3.5   Klaproth.
St. Iago, America 90. 10.      Howard.
Mexico 88.9 11.1    ib.
Senegal 95.2 4.8    ib.
Arctic Highlands 97.44 2.56 Mr Fyfe.

The vitreous part of the Siberian was found by Howard to contain:

Silex 54
Magnesia 27
Oxide of Iron 17
Oxide of Nickel 1

the sp. grav. is from 3263 to 3300. Bournon.

Mr. Lauguier has analyzed the Siberian Iron, uniting the earthy part with the Metallic, and obtained from 100 parts 113.1, the encrease arising from the oxygenization of the metals.

Oxide of Iron 68.2
Silex 16.   
Magnesia 15.   
Sulphur 5.2
Nickel 5.2
Chrome 0.5
Loss 3.   
  • * The Iron has probably been worked up, as it was in China and Cordova in Spain.
  • † Since I published the account in Brit. Min. of the Yorkshire and Glasgow Mtrteorolites, there have fallen, a single stone in the county Tipperary in August, 1810, and several stones near Adare in the county of Limerick on the 10th of September, 1813. The first of these I have figured along with the full sized one I have published of the Yorkshire Stone on a large folio plate.
  • ‡ The foliated structure of these Irons is rendered conspicuous upon the polished surface by washing it with acid, which acts more or less strongly upon it according to the hardness of the different parts. The Siberian and Cape lion gain a fine velvety lustre by this operation, but shew a uniform surface.
  • § See Phil. Magazine, Vol. 55, p. 49. His Imperial Majesty has expressed his approbation, by sending me a superb Emerald ling set with Diamonds, for which I feel highly grateful. It was brought by His Excellency Dr Crighton.
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