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A Summary Of Key Events In The Development Of Mining In South Africa

Outline General Regional History

For brief outlines of the general history of South and South West Africa click on one of the links below;

South Africa  Namibia or (German) South West Africa

Key Mining History Time Line Events



Notable Mining Events
  • Simon Van der Stel sinks exploratory shafts and recovers copper ore from an area close to O'okiep near Springbok in the Namaqualand district of the North-west Cape.
  • "Hottentots" living on the Cape of Good Hope reported to be working and smelting iron and possibly copper also by the Dutch.
  • Serious exploitation begins of the copper deposits of North-west Namaqualand commences with the opening of the Blue mine on the outskirts of Springbok.
  • The Cape Colony Government offer a reward of £100 to anyone discovering coal measures in the  Province. 
  • The Welch geologist John Henry Davis finds gold on the farm Paardekraal (Krugersdorp) but the discovery was kept secret by Transvaal Government and Davis was deported from the Boer Republic.
  • Pieter Marais, a German born prospector who had gone to California and Australia in search of gold, discovered alluvial gold in the Jukskei River which runs out of Johannesburg. He was allowed to continue with his search by the Boer Government but was threatened with death if he revealed the discovery. His discoveries soon ran dry.
  • First anecdotal reports of the discovery of a diamond on the Orange River, Griqualand West. This was made by an American while traveling through the area. 
  • Discovery of coal deposits on Cyphergat Farm (Molteno) in the Eastern Cape Province.
  • Sinking of Penshaw Colliery at Molteno in the Eastern Cape Province.
  • The discovery of the first major diamond in South Africa, the "Eureka Diamond" in river gravels from the Orange River near Hopetown on the Cape Colony border with  Griqualand West.
  • The first systematic diggings for diamonds commences on the Vaal River close to Barkly West lead by Captain Rolleston of the British Army and a group of prospectors from Natal.
  • The discovery of a further large diamond on the Jagersfontein Farm in the Boer republic of the Orange Free State. This started a further "diamond rush" which lead to the sinking of Jagersfontein mine, a large open cut mine which worked a diamond bearing kimberlite pipe.
  • Alluvial diamonds discovered at Christiana in the south-east of the Transvaal Republic.
  • Alluvial gold discovered on the farm Geelhoutboom near Sabie, in the Eastern Transvaal and later that year more, in greater quantity, at nearby Pilgrims Rest. The Pilgrim's Rest Goldfield was proclaimed on 22nd September of the same year. The discovery of this goldfield initiated the country's first "gold rush".
  • The Struben brothers, Fred and Harry owned parts of the farms Sterkfontein and Wilgespruit in what is now Roodepoort near Johannesburg. The brothers had long believed there was gold in the vicinity of the Witwatersrand. During this year they found what looked to be the first "payable" gold reef on the Rand. They named their mine the Confidence Reef, a name that proclaimed that their long search was over. Alas their mine was to last no more than a year before the gold ran dry.
  • Coal discovered on the farm Leeuwkuil close to Vereeninging on the northern bank of the Vaal River on the Transvaal's border with the Orange Free State. The sinking of several collieries soon followed.
  • Siegmund Hammerschlag erected the first gold ore-crusher, a two-stamp battery, on the Witwatersrand on his farm Tweefontein (Krugersdorp, Transvaal) to process the gold bearing rocks found on his land. However, the surface gold ore on this part of the Rand proved not to be payable.
  • Alluvial gold discovered in Jubilee Creek at Millwood in the Eastern Cape sparking a "gold rush" into the area.   
  • Discovery of the Witwatersrand main gold reef by Australian prospector, George Harrison on the farm, "Langlaagte", on what was later to become the western outskirts of Johannesburg. The immediate area was proclaimed a public digging by President Kruger later that year sparking South Africa's most important gold rush.
  • Reef gold discovered in the Millwood area of the Eastern Cape.
  • Millwood diggings (Eastern Cape) proclaimed as an official Goldfield by the Cape Government.   
  • Coal discovered in the area of "The Springs" on the eastern fringes of the Witwatersrand in the Transvaal. 
  • Alluvial diamonds discovered at Bloemhof in the South-eastern Transvaal Republic.
  • Sinking of the first colliery in the Springs district on the eastern fringes of the Witwatersrand, Transvaal. 
  • Systematic mining at Witbank commenced in 1896 when Samuel Stanford, together with the Neumann Group, established "Witbank Colliery Limited", and sink the first shaft on the farm Witbank, Eastern Transvaal.
  • Thomas Major Cullinan, an influential building contractor, starts prospecting for diamonds on the Prinsloo farm (later part of Cullinan Township), near Pretoria in the Transvaal. 
  • The Premier (Transvaal) Diamond Mining Company Ltd. formed by Thomas Cullinan to prospect and mine for diamonds on Prinsloo farm. Production at the company's Premier Mine commenced the following year.
  • In May of this year the first 10,000 imported Chinese labourers arrived to work on-the Witwatersrand gold mines.
  • Coal discovered on Brakfontein farm (later to be part of the township of Delmas, Transvaal) during the construction of a railway link between Apex and Witbank.
  • White miners on parts of the Rand go on strike in protest of the fact that the increased use of Chinese mine labourers is starting to threaten their jobs and pay. 
  • Discovery of a diamond in a railway siding near Lüderitz in southern South West Africa marks the beginnings of a "diamond rush" into the immediate area and into a costal corridor extending as far south as the Orange River and the border with South Africa.  
  • The last group of indentured Chinese mine labourers arrive in South Africa. The total number of such workers on the Rand by this time had reached almost 80,000.
  • The Delmas Estate & Colliery Company start mining for coal close to Delmas (Transvaal).
  • The final group of contracted Chinese mine workers leave South Africa as part of their mass repatriation back to China by the Transvaal and British authorities.
  • Penshaw Colliery, the last operating pit in the Cyphergat/Molteno region of the Eastern Cape finally closes.
  • Operations at the Premier Diamond mine near Pretoria are suspended with the sudden fall in diamond prices which occurred on the out break of the Great War. 
  • Production re-starts at the Premier Diamond Mine (Transvaal) and the following year De Beers acquire a controlling interest in the mine.
  • The Cape Copper Company ceases its operations in and around O'okiep in the Namaqualand district of the Northern Cape due to the economic slump which followed the end of the Great War.
  • The Rand Refinery, the largest in the world, starts operations to refine all of South Africa's gold and silver output.
  • Diamonds discovered at Alexander Bay in the furthest north-west area of the Cape Province just south of the Orange River and the border with South West Africa.
  • The first "diamond rush" starts in the Lichtenburg region (North-east Transvaal) following the chance discovery of the first diamond in the area two year previously.
  • Operations at the Premier Diamond Mine are again suspended with the on-set of the Great Depression.
  • Production re-starts at the Premier Diamond Mine (Transvaal).
  • Gold discovered on the Far West Rand.  Deep-level mining begins in the Klerksdorp area.
  • An amazing exploration core - with a grade of more than 800 grams/ton - is extracted from 1.2 kilometres below surface near Odendaalsrus, heralds the birth of the (Orange) Free State goldfields.