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The diamond mines of South Africa are, at the present day, by far the most important and richest in the whole world; at least nine-tenths of the diamonds now marketed being the so called Cape stones. The diamond markets of the world are now completely controlled by the owners of the South African mines, the output from Brazilian, and especially from Indian, mines being so insignificant in comparison that their effect on the market is inappreciable.

The first exact scientific account of the Cape diamond-fields is due to Professor Emil Cohen, who visited the region in 1872, and his observations are still of great importance. Numerous other inquirers have continued his investigations and have cleared up many details, but no essentially novel theories have been advanced. Moulle, Chaper, Boutan, Reunert, Stelzner, and others have published comprehensive accounts of these deposits, and the details given below are taken from the original works of these and other investigators. A map of the South African diamond-fields is given.

Diamonds were first found in this region in the year 1867, reported discoveries at dates preceding this-for example, in the eighteenth century-being, for the most part, unfounded. Many versions of the circumstances under which the first discovery was made are in existence. According to one, a traveler of the name of O'Reilly saw a child playing with a bright and shining stone in the house of a Boer by name Jacobs, whose farm, "De Kalb," was situated a little to the south of the Orange River, and not far from Hopetown. This stone the traveler showed to Dr. W. Guybon Atherstone at Grahanistown, who determined it to be a diamond crystal weighing 21 3/16 carats. After being exhibited at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 it was purchased for £500 ($79,000) by Sir Philip E. - Wodehouse, then Governor of Cape Colony. O'Reilly obtained from the same Boer a second stone weighing 8 7/8 carats, which had also been accidentally found on his farm; this also passed into the possession of the Governor of the Colony at a price of £200 ($31,600).

According to another version, the diamond of 21 3/16 carats, the Boer child's plaything, first passed into the hands of Schalk van Niekerk, a Boer who was otherwise connected with the history of the discovery of diamonds in South Africa, since in 1869 he obtained from a Kaffir a stone of 83 1/2 carats, which came into the market under the name of the "Star of South Africa." Schalk van Niekerk is said to have handed over the stone previously obtained to O'Reilly for determination. In any case, it seems to have been the latter who took the initiative in identifying the stones, and thus firmly establishing the occurrence of the diamond in South Africa, so that to him is due all the credit of the discovery.

Scarcely had these events been made known, when the Boers living in the neighborhood of Hopetown commenced a vigorous search for diamonds. They were rewarded by the discovery of a few scattered stones, but there was no rich, continued yield such as is characteristic of a regular deposit. The searchers soon extended themselves over a wider area, and in the year 1868 the workings on the Vaal River were commenced, and here the yield was much greater. The first actual diamond deposit was met with in 1869, in the neighborhood of the places now bearing the names of Pniel and Barkly West.

In the years which followed, news of the finds of diamonds gradually spread in Cape Colony, and soon diamond-diggers from the four corners of the earth congregated on the banks of the Orange and Vaal Rivers. Reported rich discoveries attracted miners to the spot in still larger numbers, in spite of the long and toilsome journey across the arid Karoo region, where, in the dry winter season, the region is more than ordinarily barren and inhospitable, and the route is marked out by the bodies of beasts of burden which have perished by the way. Two years after the first discovery of diamonds, namely, in 1869, a white population of 1000 souls peopled this previously uninhabited district. These settled on the Vaal River at Pniel and Klipdrift, the latter now known as Barkly West. Here they washed the surface sands of the river for diamonds, and some time elapsed before any systematic digging operations were undertaken.

It was soon discovered, however, that in this region diamonds were by no means confined to the river sands. In December 1870, a digger from the Vaal observed that the children of a Boer, whose farm, " Vooruitzigt," was situated on the plateau between the Vaal and Modder rivers, and about fifteen miles south of the former, had collected in the neighborhood a number of small diamonds, of the true nature of which, however, they were ignorant. According to another story, van Wyk, a Boer who lived at" Du Toit's Pan" farm, situated in the same neighborhood, discovered diamonds in the walls of his dwelling-house which had been built of mud dug out from a neighboring pond. Both stories end in the same way ; these accidental finds stimulated further search, which resulted in the discovery of the mine now known as Du Toit's Pan mine (also written Dutoitspan), the first of the four famous mines of Kimberley, the town which sprang up at this spot and became the center of the diamond-mining industry.

A great influx of people or "rush" to the newly discovered locality at once took place. These newcomers proved a source of great irritation to the Boers in possession of the land, who, seeing that it was impossible to dislodge their unwelcome visitors, sold their valuable possession to English Company for £6,000 ($835,000), a ridiculously low sum considering the discoveries that had been made and were to be expected. The conditions under which the eager searchers for treasure had to work were indeed harassing; exposed to all the intensity of the hot African sun, tormented by storms of dust and insects, deprived of many of the accessories of life, obliged to fetch drinking water from a great distance, and, for the lack of more permanent dwellings forced to camp out in the open, their lot was no enviable one, and numbers perished of want and privation. The survivors had no cause, however, for disheartenment in the yield of the deposit; new finds were constantly made, and the conditions of life gradually improved.

Soon another rich deposit, only about half a mile from Du Toit's Pan, was discovered, and became known as the Bultfontein mine, while still another on the farm, "Vooruitzigt,' of a Boer named Beer, who himself commenced mining operations, became the famous "Old De Beer's mine," or, shortly, De Beer's mine (often written De Beers). Finally, on July 21, 1871., a new discovery was made close to the last mentioned mine ; this was at first known as "Old de Beer's New Rush," or as the "Colesberg Kopje." Later, however, it became known as the Kimberley mine, and proved to be the richest of the whole group. These four mines, which still form the nucleus of the diamond-producing area, are all situated close to the town of Kimberley, which was founded by the diamond miners, and which had in 1900 a white population of 30,000. Two miles to the southwest of Kimberley was the suburb of Beaconsfield with 10,000 to 11,000 inhabitants.The situation of the mines is shown in Fig; they all lie in a circular area not more than three miles in diameter, and besides the four important deposits there are half a dozen others too insignificant to be worked to any extent.

Diamond Geology [ 1  India  3  4  5  6  7  8  Brazil  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  Borneo  22   South Africa  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  Venezuela, Guyana  42  Australia  44  Argyle  Congo  46  47  48  49  50  51  52  53  54  55  Angola  57  58  59  Guinea  ]

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This document is in the public domain.

March, 2011