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Location: Orange Free State (View location on map)
Minerals Worked: Diamonds (kimberlitic)
Principal Mines: Jagersfontein
The mining town of Jagersfontein in the Orange Free State, near Fauresmith and the Riet River, took its name from that of a farm which in 1870 was owned by a widow named Visser and worked by her overseer, De Klerk. In August of that year De Klerk noticed garnets in the dry bed of a stream on the farm. Having heard that the Vaal River diggers considered these gems to be a potential indication of the presence of alluvial diamonds he sieved some of the river gravels and found a rough diamond weighing 50 carats. This precipitated events that were to lead to the opening of the Jagersfontein Mine.
On news of De Klerk's find diggers flocked into the area. Visser allotted digging claims on here land based on 20 feet by 20 feet plots on a royalty of £2 per month. It soon became apparent that the origin of diamonds at Jagersfontein was not restricted to the alluvial gravels but was in fact focused on an outcropping area of weathered volcanic rock or "blue ground" which was later discovered to be what is now more commonly termed a Kimberlitic pipe. Although Jagersfontein was the first South Africa "pipe" or "dry diggings" to be established, its fame was always to be overshadowed by the mines in the Kimberly district, 130 km northwest. Yet the output of the mine was great enough to inspire the term "Jagers" to denote a diamond with a beautiful faint bluish tint. In addition Jagersfontein was the source of two of the largest and finest diamonds ever found.
As the various diggings on the exposed outcrop of kimberlite got deeper so the cost and logistics of mining increased. This, as was to happen at the Kimberly mines, lead to the smaller diggers pulling out and selling up to larger concerns. By 1888 the New Jagersfontein Exploration Company had been formed (with De Beers Consolidated Mines securing a controlling interest in it) and thereafter gradually absorbed the various remaining mining ventures in what was by then a very large man made open oval pit of size 1,500 feet by 2,000 feet.
During the Boer war work in the mine was abandoned between 1901 until July, 1902, when the British based mining company again took possession of the mine. Some months were occupied in getting the water out of the mine, repairing and re-placing machinery before work was resumed. By c. 1911 the mine employed from 2,000 to 3,000 although had a requirement for at least 2,800 in order to meet planned production capacity. As many of the natives returned to their kraals during the crop planting season, there was a continual shortage of labour at the mine.
The mine was skillfully and methodically worked as an open pit to great depth via the employment of concentric terraces down to a depth of at least 700 feet. After 34 years of open pit mining, underground mining by means of a vertical shaft and horizontal tunnels (drifts) commenced in 1913.
Although never as rich a diamond mine as some of those at Kimberly the Jagersfontein Mine produced some very distinctive high quality blue-white coloured gems plus two of the worlds largest un-cut diamonds. The earlier of these two discoveries caused the most dramatic moment in the mine's history. On the evening of the 30th June, 1893 a native worker picked up an immense diamond in a shovel of gravel which he was loading into a truck. He hid it from his overseer and delivered it directly to the hands of the Mine Manager. As a reward he received £500 plus a horse equipped with a saddle and bridle. The un-cut stone weighed 995.2 metric carats and after the famous Cullinan diamond it still ranks as the second largest rough diamond ever found on earth. It possessed the fore mentioned blue-white characteristic of the finest Jagersfontein diamonds. The shape of the stone was extraordinary, flat on one side rising to a peak on the other, somewhat like a loaf of rye bread. Apparently this is what inspired the diamond to be named "Excelsior", meaning higher.
The Excelsior may justly lay claim
to be the "Great Unknown" of famous diamonds. After cutting it yielded
no single fragment of exceptional size which would
have helped to keep its name in the public eye. In addition, except for having stimulated some interest among local
diggers, the finding of such a large stone seems to have made singularly little
impact. No account of the discovery appeared in the more authoritative and
prestigious British newspapers which often reported lesser discoveries at the
time. Maybe if the diamond had been originally been given a less unglamorous
name its fame might have spread further outside of South Africa. Two years
after the discovery of the Excelsior another stone of 640 carats of similar quality was
found and named the Reitz. This gem was later re-named the Jubilee in honour of
Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.
Jagersfontein was a typical mining town of its time and it could offer its inhabitants all the pleasures and joys of similar towns elsewhere in the world. It had five big hotels and 34 bars, shops and businesses of all kinds, its own newspaper, turf club, theatre club and also a social life unequaled in the rest of the Orange Free State. It was the first town in the Free State to have electricity and a piped water supply.
Jagersfontein Mine finally closed in 1971. During its 100 year life span it suffered several stoppages, like for instance during the two world wars and the great depression. During its working life the mine produced 9,625 million carats of diamonds mostly of jewel quality. It is estimated that due to inefficient mining methods of the past a large proportion of diamonds from this pipe were never recovered.
Postcard issues relating to this mine include the following.
|"Thumbnail" Images (Note 1)
|Card Title or Description
|Card Ref. No.
|"Excelsior Diamond", 971 3/4 Carats, Diamond Mine, Jagersfontein.
|Morning breakfast at bottom of Jagersfontein Mine, 500 ft. deep.
|Bottom of the Mine at 500 feet level, Diamond Mine, Jagersfontein.
|Washing Machine, Diamond Mine, Jagersfontein.
|A Kitchen, Jagersfontein Mine.
|Washing Machine, Jagersfontein Mine.
|Washing Machine, Diamond Mine, Jagersfontein.
1) For further information and enlarged views of each postcard click on any one of the above images.
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