DIAMOND in SOUTH AFRICA
After the first accidental discovery had drawn attention to the occurrence of diamond here, the four important mines mentioned above were all discovered in the course of six months. Very soon following these discoveries, other but less important deposits were found to the south of Kimberley, namely, the Jagersfontein mine near Fauresmith and the Koffyfontein mine on the Riet River between Jacobsdal and Fauresmith, both in the Orange River Colony. The Jagersfontein mine was discovered almost simultaneously with the Kimberley mine, from which it is situated about eighty miles distant. Practically the whole of the present enormous production of diamonds in South Africa was derived from these six mines and from the washings on the Vaal River.
The method of winning diamonds in these mines furnishes a great contrast to the work of collecting them from the river sands. In the latter case the sands are washed in a manner similar to that employed in Brazil and India. In early days on the arid and waterless plateau of Kimberley, the stones were picked out of the dry fragmented rock, such workings being known as "dry diggings," to distinguish them from the "river diggings" on the Vaal. These terms are still in use, but the former is now somewhat inappropriate, as at the "dry diggings" water is now also used to separate the diamonds from their matrix.
All the diamond mines of South Africa, which are of any importance, lie to the north of the Orange River, and are confined to a comparatively limited area, as may be seen by reference to the map. They are situated in the stretch of country lying between the line of longitude 260 E. of Greenwich and the fork of the Orange and the Vaal rivers, the two principal watercourses of South Africa. The north or right-hand bank of the Vaal must, however, be also included, and the very first discovery of diamonds in South Africa was made a few miles to the south of the Orange River. All the known 'nines and washings lie in a quadrangle bounded by parallels of latitude 280 and 300 S., and by meridians of longitude 240 and 260 E. The town of Kimberley lies very near the center of this quadrangle, and the boundary between Cape Colony and the Orange River Colony very nearly coincides with the northeast and southwest diagonal. The Kimberley mines are not only central in position but also in importance, for they supply 90 per cent. of the total output of South African diamonds.
The diamond localities of this district (with the exception of the washings on the Vaal River) are situated on an almost straight line, 125 miles in length, running north-north-west and south-south-east, from the confluence of the Hart River with the Vaal, to beyond Fauresmith in the Orange River Colony. On this line, about fifteen miles from the Vaal, Kimberley is situated in latitude 28° 42' 54" S., and longitude 24° 50' 15" E., of Greenwich, at a height of 4,050 feet (1,230 meters) above sea level. Koffyfontein is about forty miles, and Jagersfontein about double this distance, from Kimberley. A stone of 70 carats was once picked up at Mamusa, on the far side of Jagersfontein, but the find has remained an isolated one.
Outside this district no diamonds have been found; within the district they are confined to a few isolated points, some of which have not yet been properly investigated, since, the yield being poor, they were abandoned almost as soon as they were discovered.
False assertions as to the occurrence of rich deposits in certain localities have sometimes been made with the sole object of attracting diamond miners, thus promoting the sale of food and spirituous liquors, and incidentally enriching the vendors thereof; a flocking together of miners attracted by such assertions is known as a "canteen rush."
The mines mentioned above, from which rich yields are at the present time derived, were all known as far back as 1872. Since that time other districts have been vigorously prospected, but without success. In 1891 a new deposit was found in the Kimberley district, one mile east of Du Toit's Pan, on the farm "Benauwdheidfontein," of J. J. Wessels, senior. This deposit lies under a thick layer of calcareous tufa, and the mine known as the Wesselton or Premier mine promises to become of importance.
Before the discovery of diamonds the whole of this now important stretch of country was almost valueless, and was peopled by only a few hunters and Boers, who derived a meager living from its scanty vegetation, and whose lot no one was inclined to envy. There were thus in this region no rigidly defined spheres of influence, and when it suddenly acquired an enormous value and importance complications arose in the shape of rival claims, various portions being asserted to be the property of the Orange Free State, the Transvaal, or of native chiefs. In 1870 the diamond-fields near Pniel, on the Vaal River, were proclaimed as British territory, on behalf of a native chief who had ceded his rights to Great Britain, and on November 17, 1871, the British flag was hoisted at Kimberley. The matter was formally settled in July 1876, by the London Convention, according to which the Government of the Orange Free State agreed to give up its claim to the diamond-fields in consideration of a payment of £90,000 from the British Government. Griqualand West, the division in which Kimberley is situated, remained a Crown Colony until October 1880, when it was formally incorporated in Cape Colony. In it are situated all the rich diamond mines of South Africa, with the exception of the Koffyfontein and Jagersfontein mines, which are in the Orange River Colony, but which yield only about 6 to 7 per cent of the total South African output.
Not only has the discovery of the precious gem enormously increased the importance of South Africa as a country, but it has also so raised the value of the comparatively small plots of land on which the mines stand, as to make a comparison between their present and their former values of interest. Thus the farm "Vooruitzigt", on which now stand the De Beer's and Kimberley mines, was bought from its owner in 1871, the time of the discovery of diamonds there, for £6,000, while only four years later £100,000 ($13,907,000) was paid for it by the Cape Government, the transfer being made with the object of putting an end to the frequent and ever arising disputes between the mine-owners and the miners as to the dues to be paid by the latter to the former.
It is now intended to consider the different deposits in more detail, commencing not with the most important but with those first discovered, namely, the river diggings.
Rafal Swiecki, geological engineer email contact
This document is in the public domain.