Home Page    Back Ground History    Mining Regions    The Postcards    The Tokens   Links   Bibliography    Acknowledgements    Site Forum    Cards & Tokens Classified Ads.   Guest Book   Updates & News   Contact The Site




Location: Northern Cape  formerly Griqualand West (View location on map) ; (View map of mines) 

Minerals Worked: Diamonds (Kimberlitic)

Principal Mines: Kimberley Mine, De Beers Mine, Du Toit's Pan Mine, Bultfontein Mine, Wesselton Mine, Kamfersdam Mine, New Gordon Mine plus other "dry diggings".

Background History:

After the diamond discoveries at Barkly West in 1870 diggers flocked into Griqualand West staking their claims along the banks of the Orange and then the Vaal Rivers. They lived in tented communities in very harsh conditions being subject to blistering heat during the day followed by icy cold nights. Most of the diggers made little for their efforts although some made modest fortunes. The most significant diamond finds in Griqualand West were yet to be made. These finds were not alluvial in their origin but of raw gem stones still held in their host rock formations. All of these finds were to be made on neighbouring farms located approximately 30 km south-east  of the alluvial gravel or  "wet diggings" at Barkly West. 

It was while on the long trek to Barkly West that several parties of diggers stopped off to prospect a while in the hills to the South of the Modder river in the area later to be known at first as "New Rush" and then more formally as "Kimberley". About half way between the Vaal and the Modder rivers, one of these diggers discovered a number of small diamonds amongst stones being played with by  group of children. This was in December, 1870, on the Vooruizigt farm. At around the same time diamonds had also been found among a lot of pebbles picked up on nearby Bultfontein farm. Immediately, the diggers began to swarm throughout that neighborhood, prospecting in every direction. They found a number of diamonds stuck in mud plastered onto walls of a dwelling on Du Toit's Pan farm which belonging to a Boer by the name of Van Wyk. This led to the discovery of the mine by the same named, which was the first of the four celebrated Kimberley mines known later as the De Beers Consolidated Mines. With the discoveries of these diamonds excitement grew and the resulting influx of diggers into the area aroused the attention of the scattered Boer farmers, who found many of these people a dangerous nuisance. Diamonds were in the thoughts of every one. Even the Boer farmers grew observant. New discoveries would be followed by a "rush " of opertunist diggers. Disputes arose about claims and boundaries, which the men, upon whose lands the diggers swarmed, were unable to adjust or regulate. So troublesome were the newcomers, that the owners were glad to dispose of their land to escape the difficulties. English capital already had representatives upon the field. The Du Toit's Pan was sold to an English Company for 2,600. The Bultfontein, south and a little west of the Du Toit's Pan, was next discovered. Then the prospecting which had been going on since December, 1870, on the Vooruitzigt farm, resulted in the location of the Old De Beers Mine, so named because the farm was owned by Boer brothers of that name. On July 21, 1871, the nearby find of a further rich area of diamonds on a digging which became known as the old De Beers New Rush or Colesburgh Kopje. It was these latter New Rush Diggings that ultimately became the great Kimberley Mine, which was ultimately to prove the richest of the areas mines.

By this time it had come to the understanding of the miners that these finds, all some considerable distance from any current or ancient rivers, were not occasional scatterings of a few diamonds in an alluvial deposit, but that they originated from diamond bearing ground quite independent of any water-courses. As the gravel was picked and sieved without the aid of water, these new types of deposits were called "dry diggings." In these places, the miners would handpick the earth they had shoveled, and sieve the balance dry in a square sieve with four handles in a two man operation. The miners also learned that diamonds were always found in a certain kind of yellow earth that lay upon, or very near the surface, and which penetrated the earth to some distance. Consequently wherever the diggers found such yellow ground mining claims were quickly staked out over it.

The number of these claims grew, and the number of those who worked them increased, and to them were added a motley collection of natives, until there was a horde of men of every kind and class, engaged in an occupation which stimulated greed, encouraged theft, and attracted rascality from all quarters. Soon, even the unruly found, that not only some kind of law, but a governmental power able to enforce it was necessary. But what government? The mines were in a no-man's land. They were near the undoubted territory of the Orange Free State, but the British were on the spot, and British capital was being invested rapidly in the development of the mines, therefore Her Majesty's Government became interested. Under these circumstances the appropriation of the territory on the appeal of the miners and the Griqua chief, was but a natural evolution of conditions. It should be remembered also that at the time, neither miners nor capitalists had any idea of the vast reservoirs of diamondiferous earth which lay under what they all supposed were shallow alluvial deposits. Diamond mining then, was not regarded as a permanent industry which would keep an army busy for many years but more of a feverish scramble to get quickly fortunes lying around loose, soon to be gathered up by the fortunate. 

Whatever justice or injustice there was in the action of the British Government, the Cape Colony police brought order out of chaos on the diggings and under the hand of a strong government, the diamond mining industry was rapidly developed to tremendous proportions.

As in the wet diggings, the claims at Du Toit's Pan and Bultfontein were 30 by 30 English feet in size. At the De Beers and Kimberley mines they were 30 by 30 Dutch feet in measurement (i.e.31 by 31 English feet). To afford entrance and exit to the inner claims, the authorities, profiting by experience on the three other mines, required that a strip of earth running north and south, fifteen feet wide, be left between every second row, on the Kimberley, to be used as a roadway, thereby taking 7 1/2 feet from each claim. The dividing lines, being in earth which might carry anywhere a stone worth a for-tune, were a source of trouble. The claim owner sat at a stake in the roadway which marked the corner of his claim. Ropes and a pulley were attached to this by which the. earth was hauled up from the digging. As the workings went down, these roadways became dangerous walls and finally had to be taken down. A system of haulage from all parts of the mine by wire ropes and buckets to the reef was then adopted at all the mines, and they became pandemoniums of creaking cables and swaying buckets. This haulage system was in the hands of a mining board, who assessed the miners for the cost. In the early stages of the open workings the " stuff " was hand picked and sieved dry, but with depth, as the rock became harder, it was found necessary to pulverize and wash it, so that water and facilities for washing had to be provided. An 18-foot main was built to bring water from the Vaal river, and springs in the neighborhood were utilized. These conditions rapidly increased the cost of mining, and tended to eliminate the original digger. Mining was evolved out of digging, and the independent digger, doing much if not all of his own work, was replaced by the small mine owner who superintended the work of hired labor.

To fully understand the situation one must bear in mind always that these mines were squares of the earth lying in a crater enclosed by the reef, as the natural strata of rocks were termed. This reef walled the crater in all around. In the reef were no diamonds, but there were diamonds all through the earth which it en-closed, any pailful of which might contain one of great value, and the squares into which these enclosures were divided, were being dug out to various depths by different owners, so forming a vast hole in the ground, the bottom of which was a mass of deeper holes, hills, and terraces.

In 1876, Kimberley, now a city of thirty-five thou-sand souls, equipped with all the appliances of civilization, consisted of a few tin huts and Kaffir kraals. It had passed from the honest digger stage into a mining camp. Gambling places, saloons, and the usual dens of a mining camp abounded. In the motley crowd of white men and black men, were representatives of all conditions and races. Theft and illicit trading in diamonds was common. Rumor has since told of fortunes founded on the purchase of diamonds from thieving natives for small prices, by rascally whites who encouraged them to rob their employers. These blacks used every aperture of the body to conceal their spoils. It was a common practice to swallow them, until powerful drugs made that method of concealing them unpopular. White men often obtained from native women, for little or nothing, gems which they in turn had procured from the blacks working in the mines. It was a time of sordid avarice and unrecognized crime. Conditions assisted the criminals. The Orange Free State border was but a short distance off. There was no extradition law. The buyer of stolen diamonds had but to carry them across that line and the Cape Colony authorities were powerless.

This state of things continued until 1881, when the De Beers Company inaugurated a system to cope with it. Up to that time it was estimated that diamonds to the value of one million pounds sterling had been stolen annually. A law against illicit diamond-buying was passed which provided a penalty, on conviction, of eight to fifteen years hard labor on the breakwater at Cape Town. Rogues began to be more cautious. The clumsy ones were caught or driven out of business. Shrewd ones had to resort to extraordinary methods, and use great precaution. It is told of one, that he invited the chief of the detectives to join him in a shooting expedition. The detective carried his diamonds over the line for the man he was watching, concealed in cartridges with which his crafty host had provided him, and which he exchanged for others when the detective found they did not fit his gun. Though the I. D. B. act, as it was called (I. D. B. stands for Illicit Diamond Buying), materially reduced the illicit trading in diamonds, it did not stop it entirely. The natives, who were much more expert thieves than the whites, continued to make the attempt, and though they were often caught, frequently succeeded. White buyers were al-ways ready to take chances and buy. Men well acquainted with the fields, for a long time reckoned that fully five per cent of the diamonds found, passed out surreptitiously.

As the miners learned of the well-defined lateral limits to the yellow ground which only contained diamonds, and followed it down in the vertical dykes containing it, they began to encounter new difficulties which at the depth they were working, not only menaced their fortunes, but the lives of those working in the mines. The towering walls formed by the dividing roadways of the Kimberley were taken down and gone, but the reef of all the mines began to fall in on the adjoining claims. Men with good paying claims would wake to find that over-night, hundreds of tons of worthless rock and earth had fallen and covered them. Sometimes it covered the miners also. There were mud-rushes and underground currents of water which made havoc. The unfortunate who had insufficient capital to tide over the expense en-tailed, sometimes were obliged to sell out to men or companies waiting for such opportunities. Some did not have sufficient faith in the continuance of the diamond-bearing material. Not all made fortunes. The number of ownerships on the pipes became smaller; the necessity for united action became greater. Millions were spent in overcoming the difficulties encountered.

By this time, the volcanic origin of the pipes was generally understood, and the miners realized that larger and more expensive methods must be used, for the workings were nearly four hundred feet deep in places. Conditions were fast reaching a point where open-cut working would have to be abandoned. Before this time, a crisis had been reached in which the future of the industry and of the fortunes of those engaged in it were staked upon their judgment, for the end of the yellow ground which had been so prolific in diamonds came. There were generally about fifty or sixty feet of it, after which in some cases came a sort of transitional stratum of a rusty color, sixteen to twenty feet thick, before the " blue," which has been worked ever since, was reached. When the yellow ground came to an end, and the " rusty " earth or the first blue under it yielded few diamonds, many thought the end had come, and that the time had arrived to get out, sell out if possible, and seek new fields. Barnato used to tell of a man who had some good claims on the Kimberley, and who when he got through the yellow and saw the blue, allowed a friend to dump a lot of worthless yellow into his claims so as to cover the bottom. He then sold them for what he could get and cleared out. That man sold his claims for four hundred pounds because he thought the diamond mines were basins, into which the yellow diamond-bearing material had been somehow washed, and that the blue was bed rock. A little later he could not have bought back the claims for forty thousand pounds, for the belief of others that the diamonds came from below, and would also be found either in the blue or below it, had been established.

This idea that the blue was bed rock and that the end of the diamonds had been reached, together with the in-creasing water charges, caused many men to sell out. Some, if they could not find a purchaser, abandoned their claims lest the charges should eat up all they had previously made. The miners were forced to back their judgment of the mines with their fortunes. If, as was first thought, these mines were huge basins into which at some early period, a great mass of diamond-bearing earth was swept, and the blue ground was the bed rock, then to keep on working and pay the heavy charges being made, meant early ruin; if, on the other hand, the new theory, that the diamonds had been thrown up from the bowels of the earth, and that there were more in the blue or under it, was correct, then fortunes awaited those who held onto the mines. Some had faith and remained, acquiring all the properties they could of those who had no faith and left.

It was soon found that the blue ground was fully as rich in diamonds as the yellow, and was practically in-exhaustible. London and Paris heard of it. Tales of fabulous fortunes made in the diamond mines of Africa flew everywhere on the wings of rumor. Thousands itched for a share of the stream of wealth coming out of those ancient volcanoes. Men at the mines were not slow to recognize the opportunity. Here was a mine opening, richer than the mines they already owned; the mine of the stock market, in which the public would take the risks and the miner the lion's share of the profits. Companies were floated, and the stock was greedily taken in the home countries. Barney Barnato floated his first company in 1881. He had saved about 3,000 and bought some claims in 1876 which paid him well. He bought others later and turned them into a company at 25,000 each. The company paid dividends of 9 per cent., quarterly. He claimed to have made 200,000 on the last six claims held by an individual in the Kimberley which he bought for 30,000 each.

The African mines were now on a very safe basis for the promoters. But with a supply of diamonds inexhaustible, a market for them at a price, two-thirds of which ought to be profit, and outside capital to risk in ambitious schemes for enlargement, the stock-company form of gambling, or swindling, had so taken hold of the fields, that many of the mines could not be made to pay the home investors any returns on their investment. It was an ideal time for the growth of millionaires, and they grew. A great many companies were formed on each of the chimneys. A few of them made money by selling out to the De Beers at the time of consolidation, but many of them never paid a dividend, and some of those that did, could only squeeze one out occasionally, by unusually good management. Though some claims had yielded enormous profits to the original diggers, and still did so for the companies into which they were floated, others could not be made to pay after they had been capitalized. Meantime Barnato and his friends spread their fingers over the Kimberley; Rhodes at the De Beers spread nets over the entire Kimberley field, and they bided.

The consolidation of the claims began with the exhaustion of the yellow ground. It was accelerated by the formation of companies, whose promoters often paid big prices for claims which they could turn in at a large profit. Then came the end of the open-cut working. They were all down about four hundred feet, the Bultfontein four hundred and sixty feet in places. The reef began to cave in to such an extent that further profitable working by that method was impossible, and underground working conducted by different interests on the same pipe was impractical. It had been tried on both the De Beers and Kimberley, and was not a success. On the De Beers Mine, the De Beers Company, the Victoria, the Oriental, the Gem, and others tried it, and as Barnato stated at the first annual meeting of the De Beers Consolidated Mines Company, " one company worked against another. If one company was on the 500 foot level and another on the 450 foot level, the opposing companies could eat into each other's boundary walls and pillars to such a dangerous extent that the entire mine was in a condition which threatened collapse at any moment." The same thing happened on the Kimberley mine, between the Central, the French, and the Standard. Consolidation became an absolute necessity for the salvation of the mines. It was doubted if the Dutoitspan and Bultfontein could be made to pay even then by the underground system, as their diamonds at that time were fetching only 6s. to 7s. per load, and the cost of the underground work on the Kimberley and De Beers was then 10s. per load. The policy of Rhodes, therefore, to force an amalgamation of all the mines, and thereby reduce the cost of production by united action, and by control of the diamond output of the world practically, to be able to increase at will the price of their product, under the conditions which existed, changed a threatened collapse into one of the most stupendous successes of the age.

When the amalgamation was finally consummated, the De Beers Consolidated owned the Kimberley, De Beers, Bultfontein, and three-quarters of the Dutoitspan, and of the 200,000 the company paid for leases to other companies, most of it came back, because it owned most of the stock of the properties leased. From 1889, there-fore, the De Beers Consolidated Mines Company con-trolled the diamond industry of the world. It had an in-exhaustible supply from which the management could draw whatever quantity it desired, and so placed that it could tell beforehand exactly how much they would cost, and the output was very nearly the world's supply.

Other mines were discovered from time to time, but few of them were sufficiently important to affect the market. If a producer of size appeared, the De Beers were able by purchase of the stock of the company or other methods, to control the output. In 1891, a mine was discovered one mile east of the Dutoitspan on the farm of Mr. J. J. Wessels in the Orange Free State, which proved important. It was at first called the Premier, but later was known as the Wesselton. This mine has never yielded as large a percentage of diamonds to the load as the Kimberley and the De Beers, but the quality is exceptionally fine. It was also brought under the control of the Consolidation and with the Jagersfontein has supplied a majority of the fine white goods of size.

In order to control more perfectly the selling as well as the producing end of the industry, and incidentally to add to the profits they already enjoyed as the largest stockholders in the mines, the De Beers management created out of their number principally, another body known as " The Diamond Syndicate," whose business it was to take over the output of the mines under contract, and market the diamonds. Having control of the diamond output of the world, the next step was to get as much for the diamonds as the world would pay, and it was decided that a company of men, in close touch and largely interested in the mines on the one hand, and equally familiar with the trade on the other, would be better able, by advising the mines what their output should be, to keep the market supplied at advancing prices without endangering the advance by a glut, than the mines could do it by continuing to sell direct at Kimberley. The plan was carried out with remarkable shrewdness and foresight. The contracts with the mines permitted such large dividends to the stockholders that the terms of the contract between the mines and the syndicate were not questioned, and the stockholders were satisfied to receive whatever information the management were willing to give them. The trade and the public were so well manipulated by the syndicate, that every raise in the price of the rough was accepted as the fiat of an irresponsible and supreme authority. Until the beginning of 1908 this syndicate governed the diamond industry of the world, not only fixing the price which buyers should pay, but the quantities they must buy in a parcel. So absolutely did they control the situation that a " sight," as an opportunity to look at the parcels of rough from Africa was termed, came to be regarded as a favor, and buyers almost begged for a chance to buy at the sellers' price and terms. Single purchases must be to the amount of not less than ten thousand pounds, and the terms were simply " cash."

This condition will probably never exist again. There are now many diamond mines in South Africa, and though comparatively few are of sufficient importance to affect singly the decrees of the syndicate, their present output in the aggregate is sufficiently large, and it can be made much larger. Some of them do not pro-duce enough to pay the cost of working; others yield some return on the investment, though the output is too small to make them of material influence as factors in the industry, but some of the new mines are greater than any heretofore discovered, and reports indicate that more of the same character will be opened up in other fields in the near future.

As separate chapters will be devoted to the leading mines, only a review of them as contributory elements of the African fields will be made in this, to give an idea of the extent of the African fields in the past and their condition at the present time. As heretofore explained the term " dry diggings " includes all mines in the volcanic pipes or chimneys, though the diamondiferous earth of the dry diggings is now washed much more thoroughly and systematically than that of the wet diggings," which term is used to designate diggings in alluvial deposits.

These vertical dykes of diamondiferous material are peculiar to Africa and have revolutionized diamond-mining. Prior to their discovery, diamond-mining was an uncertainty in Africa, as in all other countries where diamonds are found. Diamond-mining was like searching for Indian arrowheads in ploughed fields that were once the camping grounds of the Indians, but with the discovery of the diamond pipes, it became a known quantity, requiring the ablest financiering, the greatest skill in business and science, but abundantly sufficient to pay for the best, and leave an enormous margin of profit. One could reckon for a thousand feet down in the earth, how many loads of material there were in the chimney and how many carats of diamonds in the loads. The cost of mining and washing was known to the fraction of a penny, and the stones were contracted for at a fixed price long before they were dug out of the bowels of the earth. It was no longer an occasional find, but the exact quantity of a known average. It took some years, however, to find this out.

The size and outline of the various pipes differ greatly. The Premier of the Transvaal is nearly eighty acres in extent; some are quite small. The size of the Kimberley mines, when in the early days they were all staked out in claims, was reckoned by the number of claims. There were 470 in the Kimberley; 622 in the De Beers; 1,067 in the Bultfontein and 1,441 in the Dutoitspan. A rule in force in the Kimberley mines in the early days, similar to one adopted at the wet diggings, required the digger to work his claim uninterruptedly. If he failed to do so in eight days, the claim could be jumped. This was enforced for about two years. Before the process of amalgamation set in, there was a period during which the tendency was quite the reverse. Owners of claims sold parts of them, and there were many owners of halves, quarters, and down to one-sixteenth of a full claim. In 1874 there were about 1,600 owners on the Kimberley. From its discovery it had a stronger attraction for the diggers than either of the other mines.

Although the crude methods in use during the early days allowed many stones of fair size and nearly all the very small ones, to escape with the tailings, enormous profits were made out of some of the claims. Barnato claimed that he made i,800 per week out of the claims he owned in the Kimberley in the



The Postcards

Like those from the Witwatersrand postcard issues relating to this famous mining district were extremely prolific from the Edwardian period onwards. 

In order to better appreciate the various card types from this region plus their subject matter they have been subdivided into the following categories for listing and discussion purposes. 

  1. General mining panoramas and views of "street washing" operations around Kimberley.

  2. General ore processing plant views around the Kimberley district.

  3. The African miners  - At work, rest and play.

  4. The Mines (see alphabetical listing below) - Surface, underground and mine infrastructure views.

  1. Bultfontein Mine

  2. De Beers Mine

  3. Du Toit's Pan Mine

  4. Kimberly Mine otherwise known as the New Rush Diggings or Colesberg Kopje    

  5. Wesselton Mine otherwise known as the Premier Mine.

Back To Cape Province Issuing Location Lists