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Lichtenberg

 

 

Location: Western Transvaal (View location on map)

Minerals Worked: Diamonds (alluvial)

Principal Mines: Various diggings including Elandsputte, Grasfontein, Treasure Trove  and Vaalboschpatte

Background History:

In December 1924 the postmaster of Lichtenberg, John Voorendyk, discovered a 3 carat diamond on his farm, Elandsputte, while digging a hole for a cattle dip. Immediately he contacted Dr Harger the state geologist and prospector. Harger was not impressed and while visiting the farm in 1925 concluded that the land was not diamond bearing and that Voorendyk's find must have been carried and dropped there by a bird! 

John Voorendyk and his son Koosie at their famous cattle dip, 1926

Shortly after this Harger learnt of another diamond find at a farm next to Lichtenburg, and went prospecting there. Here there were most definitely were diamong grounds and it was here that the first official proclamation of a digging in the area took place. Honingklip, a farm north of Elandsputte, was Harger next intended port of call. However, he got lost and found himself unknowingly prospecting on Elandsputte. Here he found a handsome 6 carats diamond almost immediately and consequently set up camp.. He started prospecting at the "donkiegat", the site were a donkey had been buried and which later became a famous landmark on the diggings. Harger's first wash delivered 21 diamonds, the next 36! The farm was proclaimed in February 1926. This was the trigger for Lichtenburg's first big diamond rush with thousands of diggers taking part.

Further prospecting in the region proved successful and by the end of 1927 there had been 45 more proclamations on 8 farms. The diggings had become vast, covering an area 36 km long and 1.6 km wide. 

After the proclamation of Elandsputte next came that at Treasure Trove, then Ruigtelaagte, Witklip and Klipkuil by the end of 1927. The diggers came from all over South Africa and from as far a field as Australia and Europe. There were from all walks of life and social classes arriving on foot, by mule or ox cart, by bicycle and some in shiny new cars. Some were experienced professional diggers but many were purely hopeful adventurers. 

Between 1926 and 1929 Lichtenburg was the richest public diggings in the world, with the biggest gathering of diggers in history. 

Within a year or two of the first proclamations a city of tin shacks had sprung up around Lichtenburg housing approximately 150,000 people. This equates to roughly to 5 times the town's current population. It was a "temporary city", the only one of its kind in the world even having its own street names such as Eloff, President and Prichardt all of which had been taken from Johannesburg in remembrance of the early days of the Rand gold rush. The main part of this resultant shanty town was known as "Bakers" or later "Bakerville" after the land owner Albert Baker. In the business centre was upwards of 250 diamond buyers' offices (each with their own flag), as well as basic restaurants and as many as 60 cafes. In addition there were shops, barbers, butcheries and other businesses plus bioscopes and even a merry-go-round.  The school, one of 17 on the diggings, had 15 classrooms.

It was the unbelievably vast amounts of diamonds found just beneath the top soil that made the Lichtenburg diggings so extraordinary. In one specific week 75,000 worth of diamonds were found on the Treasure Trove proclamation alone!

On 4th March 1927 the Grasfontein diggings were proclaimed. Here the biggest diamond rush in world history took place with 25,000 runners taking part in the staking out of the claims. Grasfontein yielded more than 2 million carats of diamonds. 

Between1926 and 1945 the combined Lichtenburg diggings produced over 7 million carats. At the height of the area's productivity in 1927 the diggings delivered 79% of Transvaal's alluvial diamond production, which in tern accounted for nearly 95% of the country's entire production for that year..

It was not only the diggers that found fortune, but also the landowners who sold their claims and water, the farmers who found a market for their crops, and of course the entrepreneurs who ran the many local enterprises. The Voorendyks, for example, sold water from their farm to the then value of 40,000 in only the first 6 months. In 1927 more fuel was sold than in Johannesburg, and 2000 new vehicles were registered in Lichtenburg in the first five months of that same year.

However, from 1928 onwards the prosperity of the Lichtenburg diamond grounds reduced significantly. The surface gravels started to become worked out, the price of diamonds fell with the onset of the depression, credit sources dried up and labour became prohibitively expensive.

Today the areas has but remnants of its once cosmopolitan "diamond city" and only a handful of die-hards are still digging amongst the millions of tons of gravel heaps. However in 1980, to mark Lichtenburg's important role in South Africa's history John Voorendy's original cattle dip on Elandsputte, the construction of which sparked off everything, was declared a National Monument.

The Postcards

The webmaster knows of several mining related postcard views from this area. They capture the spirit of the famous Lichtenberg diamond rushes plus conditions and life on the diamond grounds.

"Thumbnail" Images   (Note 1) Card Title or Description Card  Ref. No.
pc1.JPG (76504 bytes) Motors at proclamation of Grasfontein, Lichtenburg. - Crowds at Grasfontein on the day of its proclamation as a "digging". PC1
pc2.JPG (94716 bytes) Waiting for the Rush. Vaalboschpatte. - Crowds lined up waiting to stake their claims.  PC21
pc3.JPG (83822 bytes) The Rush, Treasure Trove, Lichtenburg. - Crowds racing off to stake their claims on the "Treasure Trove" diamond grounds.  PC3
pc4.JPG (89895 bytes) Proclamation of Treasure Trove, Lichtenburg.- Crowds lined up waiting to stake their claims. PC4
pc5.JPG (97034 bytes) South Africa - Diamond Rush. - Men lined up possibly to register their claims. PC5
pc11.JPG (125069 bytes) Vaalboschpatte Diamond Diggings - Lichtenburg. PC11
pc16.JPG (119360 bytes) Men in 1920s/30s dress digging their claims (Lichtenburg area?) PC16
pc27.jpg (86540 bytes) Diamond Buyers' Offices. Bakers. 2-9-27 (date?) PC27

pc28.JPG (83910 bytes)

Diamond Diggings, Vaalboschputte. (sic) - Vaalboschpatte diamond diggings. PC28
pc125.JPG (105262 bytes) Motor Cars At Treasure Trove Proclamation. PC125
pc126.JPG (100385 bytes) Lined Up For The Rush, Treasure Trove, Lichtenburg. PC126
pc127.JPG (99170 bytes) The Record Diamond Rush, Vaalboschpatte. PC127
pc128.JPG (112274 bytes) Grasfontein Diamond Diggings 1927. PC128
pc129.JPG (113255 bytes) Proclamation Of Treasure Trove, Lichtenburg. PC129
pc130.JPG (105964 bytes) Ready For The Rush, Vaalboschpatte. PC130
pc131.JPG (104420 bytes) The Proclamation Of Vaalboschpatte, Lichtenburg. PC131

Notes:

1) For further information and enlarged views of each postcard click on any one of the above images.


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