KAOLIN, a pure white clay, know also as china-clay, since it is an essential ingredient in the manufacture of china, or porcelain. The word kaolin, formerly written by some authors caulin, is said to be a corruption of the Chinese Kau-ling, meaning " High Ridge," the name of a hill east of King-te-chen, whence the earliest samples of the clay sent to Europe were obtained by the Pere d'Entrecolles, a French Jesuit missionary in China in the early part of the 18th century. His specimens, examined in Paris by R. A. Reaumur, showed that true porcelain, the composition of which had not previously been known in Europe, contained two essential ingredients, which came to be known though it now appears incorrectly as kaolin and petuntse, corresponding respectively to our china-clay and china-stone. The kaolin confers plasticity on the paste and secures retention of form for the ware when exposed to the heat of the kiln, whilst the petuntse gives the translucency so characteristic of porcelain. Some of the earliest discoveries of kaolin in Europe were at Aue, near Schneeberg in Saxony, and at St Yrieix, near Limoges in France. In England it was discovered in Cornwall about the year 1750 by William Cookworthy, of Plymouth; and in 1768 he took out his patent for making porcelain from moorstone or growan (china-stone) and growan clay (kaolin), the latter imparting " whiteness and infusibility " to the china. These raw materials were found first at Tregonning Hill, near Breage, and afterwards at St Stephen's in Brannel, near St Austell; and their discovery led to the manufacture of hard paste, or true porcelain, at Plymouth and subsequently at Bristol.
Kaolin is a hydrous aluminium silicate, having the formula H4Al2Si2O9, or Al2Si2O7.2H2O, but in common clay this silicate is largely mixed with impurities. Certain clays contain pearly white hexagonal scales, usually microscopic, referable to the monoclinic system, and having the chemical composition of kaolin. This crystalline substance was germed kaolinite by S. W. Johnson and J. M. Blake in 1867, and it is new regarded as the basis of pure clay. The kaolinite of Amlwch in Anglesey has been studied by Allan Dick. The origin of kaolin may be traced to the alteration of certain aluminous silicates like feldspar, scapolite, beryl and topaz; but all large deposits of china-clay are due to the decomposition of feldspar, generally in granite, but sometimes in gneiss, pitchstone, etc. The turbidity of many feldspars is the result of partial " kaolinization," or alteration to kaolin. The china-clay rocks of Cornwall and Devon are granites in which the orthoclase has become kaolinized. These rocks are sometimes known as carclazite, a name proposed by J. H. Collins from a typical locality, the Carclaze mine, near St Austell. It has often been supposed that the alteration of the granite has been effected mainly by meteoric agencies, the carbonic acid having decomposed the alkaline silicate of the feldspar, whilst the aluminous silicate assumes a hydrated condition and forms kaolin. In many cases, however, it seems likely that the change has been effected by subterranean agencies, probably by heated vapours carrying fluorine and boron, since minerals containing these elements, like tourmaline, often occur in association with the china-clay. According to F. H. Butler the kaolinization of the west of England granite may have been effected by a solution of carbonic acid at a high temperature, acting from below.
The china-stone, or petuntse, is a granitic rock which still retains much of the unaltered feldspar, on which its fusibility depends. In order to prepare kaolin for the market, the chinaclay rock is broken up, and the clay washed out by means of water. The liquid containing the clay in mechanical suspension is run into channels called " drags " where the coarser impurities subside, and whence it passes to another set of channels known as " micas," where the finer materials settle down. Thus purified, the clay-water is led into a series of pits or tanks, in which the finely divided clay is slowly deposited; and, after acquiring sufficient consistency, it is transferred to the dryinghouse, or " dry," heated by flues, where the moisture is expelled, and the kaolin obtained as a soft white earthy substance. The clay has extensive application in the arts, being used not only in ceramic manufacture but in paper-making, bleaching and various chemical industries.
Under the species " kaolinite " may be included several minerals which have received distinctive names, such as the Saxon mineral called from its pearly lustre nacrite, a name originally given by A. Brongniart to a nacreous mica; pholerite found chiefly in cracks of ironstone and named by J. Guillemin from the Greek for a scale ; and lithomarge, the old German Steinmark, a compact clay-like body of white, yellow or red colour. Dr C. Hintze has pointed out that the word pholerite should properly be written pholidite. Closely related to kaolinite is the mineral called halloysite, a name given to it by P. Berthier after his uncle Omalius d'Halloy, the Belgian geologist. (F. W. R.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)