The Discovery of Diamonds in Africa




From Gardner F. Williams's The Diamond Mines of South Africa (New York: B. F. Buck and Company), by permission. [Note that this was written in the late 1800s]

The story of the Kimberley diamond-field is one of the romances of the industrial world. Any chemist can tell us that the diamond is pure crys- tallized carbon; but the wisest geologist cannot make even a reasonable conjecture as to its origin or say how it came to be where it is found. By a bold figure the diamond might be called the comet of the mineral kingdom. The most experienced prospector cannot count upon any "indications," and the child of an ignorant herder may pick up a gem that would found a college. The great production of diamonds in recent years has not diminished their market value -- partly because there is an increased demand for them in some of the mechanic arts, but more because human vanity of adornment may always be trusted to grow by what it feeds on. In the volume from which this chapter is taken, Mr. Williams has produced not only the most complete and interesting account of diamonds generally and of the great African diamond discovery and the resulting camps and mining operations, but one of the most beautifully and pro- fusely illustrated books of the season.

NEARLY two hundred years had passed since the memorable expedition of Van der Stel made known to geographers the Groote River, which, a hundred years later, was christened the Orange. Before Great Britain took the Cape, the daring Van Reenen had penetrated to Modder Fontein, unconsciously skirting the rim of a marvellous diamond-field. Since the beginning of the century scores of roving hunters had chased their game over a network of devious tracks, traversing every nook of the land between the Orange and the Vaal, and often camping for days upon their banks. Then the trekking pioneer graziers and farmers plodded on after the hunters, sprinkling their huts and kraals over the face of the Orange Free State, but naturally squatting first on the arable lands and grazing-ground nearest the water-courses. So, in the course of years, in the passage of

the Great Trek, thousands of men, women, and children had passed across the Orange and Vaal, and up and down their winding valleys, and hundreds, at least, had trodden the river-shore sands of the region in which the most precious gems were lying.

On the Orange River, thirty miles above its junction with the Vaal, was the hamlet of Hopetown, one of the most thriving of the little settlements; and farms dotted the angle between the rivers. Along the line of the Vaal, for some distance above its entry into the Orange, were some ill-defined reservations occupied by a few weak native tribes -- Koranas and Griquas -- for whose instruction there were mission-stations at Pniel and Hebron.

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