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Kimberley

( Originally Published 1924 )



KIMBERLEY showed all the signs of having gone through a siege. Buildings were shattered, shelters had been built and in the park was a high tower on which a bugler had been stationed to give the alarm when a great shell from the Boer's " Long Tom " was coming, so that the people could take refuge in the shelters and disused mine heads. Food was scarce, the bread was gritty with unknown substances, and a soup of mysterious composition was served. Every available building was filled with sick and wounded, but the people, though thin and pale, were in good spirits.

When the siege began the defenders had no gun of sufficient power to throw a shell into the Hoer camp, but a clever engineer by the name of Abrams was in charge of the diamond mines. He managed to manufacture a twelve-inch gun, the first shells fired from which were empty and bore the inscription " with Cecil Rhodes' compliments." Abrams became an object of hatred to the enemy, who located his residence through spies and bombarded it. One morning while dressing a shell entered_ his room and blew him to pieces.

Rhodes remained in Kimberley during the whole of the siege. He lived part of the time in the Sanitarium and part underground in a luxuriously-fitted-up mine entrance. He used to ride out every day and defy the Boers, who had threatened to make him a prisoner and exhibit him in an iron cage like a wild beast.

It was at the Sanitarium that H saw the meeting between Lord Roberts and Mr. Rhodes. Roberts arrived with an escort of South African mounted men, who had been specially chosen as the bravest of the brave, but who looked like a gang of bandits, so rough and ragged were they. The meeting was as unemotional as that. of Stanley and Livingstone in Central Africa. I was too far away to hear what was said, but these two great Britons did not embrace nor weep. Ht is impossible to imagine a greater contrast than the appearance of these men—Rhodes tall, stout, with a strong face and dreamy eyes; Roberts small, lithe, alert and, notwithstanding his age, eyes bright as a. bird's. I can say without disrespect they reminded one Of a mastiff and a fox terrier.

Every day there arrived ox waggons loaded with poor soldiers, for enteric or typhoid fever had broken out in the camp at Paardeberg. Nearly every waggon contained a man who had died en route, for oxen can only travel fourteen miles a. day and Paardeberg was twenty-eight miles from Kimberley. It was pathetic to see these fine fellows wither and die.

There was a lack of almost every comfort for the sick in Kimberley. No mattresses, few blankets, an absence of ward furniture, and all kinds of conveniences, so I set to work to see what could be done.

The Army Ordnance Corps and the R.A.M.C. were helpless, as they had not the authority to buy. I went into the shops and found an abundance of everything. I bought ticking for mattresses and pillows, enamel ware and screens to shield the dying. I wired to Capetown for eggs and condensed milk and finding that the men in the Masonic Hall Iv ere dying of enteric lying on the bare flour, I arranged with Mr. Williams, manager of the De Beers Company, to make me cot frames, for which I bought canvas. I supplied the hall and other buildings with these beds. Very soon, in response to my appeals to Red Cross I Headquarters, underclothing, socks, soap, sheets, blankets and so on began to pour in to such an extent that when I left Kimberley the sick and wounded were comparatively comfortable. I won great praise from Lord Methuen for this work, which was really only the application of a little common sense and the ability to spend the funds with which I had been liberally supplied by the Canadian Red Cross. There being no bank open in Kimberley I often carried L1,000 in cash in a money belt about my waist.

The Red Cross is a work of beneficence, knowing neither creed, color nor nationality; hence, distributed its benefits to Briton, Boer and Colonial alike. We had 147 Boer prisoners in the skating rink. They were destitute of everything except the clothes on their backs. Many had frightful wounds which had only been dressed in the crudest manner.

Their favorite treatment of a wound was a poultice of tobacco leaves! Yet so healthy were these men and so uncontaminated by the soil, that few died and septicemia was rare. They bore their sufferings without a murmur. In appearance they resembled backwoods Canadian farmers. They were of all ages, from young boys to grey-haired men. After I had been in Kimberley for a few days I was given permission to go out to Paardeberg to look after the welfare of the Canadians. I drove the twenty-eight miles in a Cape cart and found the regiment bivouacking a mile or two from the scene of the engagement. That night we experienced one of those terrible thunderstorms which are met with in South Africa. I was minded to take refuge under a waggon, but did not do so, which was lucky, as the waggon was struck by lightning. I found the Canadians and Colonel Otter cheery, but much reduced in numbers, many of my friends having been killed or wounded.

Ht is not for me to describe the battle of Paardeberg, in which I did not take part, hut it may he interesting to say that I went over the ground with one of the Canadian officers and can verify what has often been said, that the trench constructed by the Royal Engineers and occupied by the Canadians was a deciding factor in the surrender of Cronje. The trench enfiladed the Boer rifle pits and rendered them untenable. I was also struck by the large number of lydite shells which had fallen in the neighborhood of the Boer position without exploding. It was said that this was due to the soft nature of the ground and that the fuses were designed for armor plate.

On the way home we were much annoyed by a concealed sniper. He evidently mistook me and my cart for some one of importance. We were a long way from Kimberley when night fell, but the sky was brilliantly illuminated every few seconds by a great flash of light from the search-lights which play on the diamond mines all night.

While I was at. Kimberley I had a sharp attack of veldt fever, which rendered it necessary for me to return to Capetown to recuperate, so I left for the South on March 20th.

While at Kimberley I had the opportunity to visit the diamond mines. Space does not permit me to relate in detail the history of the diamond industry in South Africa. Suffice it to say that the first diamond was found in the Orange River State in 1867. A Boer's child filled his pockets with pebbles and among them was a bright stone which sparkled in the sunlight. Expert examination showed that. it. was a diamond, which was afterwards sold for £500. This started the rush. It was soon found, as in the gold-mining industry, that the pockets of diamonds were soon exhausted and that capital was required to work them profitably.

Cecil Rhodes was an Oxford undergraduate who had gone to South Africa for his health and who early saw the possibilities of the industry. With Dr. Leander Jamieson, Rutherford, Robinson and others he organized a company, which in time absorbed the small fry and became the DeBeers Consolidated Diamond Alines, Limited, with headquarters at Kimberley. The diamonds occur in blue clay, which is dug out and exposed to the sun to dry and disintegrate. It is then placed in hoppers and water run over it; the softened earth, pebbles and diamonds pass over trays where they are picked out by sharp-eyed blacks. The band labor and picking is done by the negroes, who are engaged for a term of years and confined in barracks from which they do not emerge until the time of their indenture is up. They are well fed and amused during their voluntary confinement. When the time comes for them to go, arrangements like baseball mitts are locked on their hands and they are thoroughly purged, for they have a habit of swallowing desirable stones a day or two before they leave the mine. With their savings they arc made for life, for the amount they receive is considerable. They can buy cattle and wives, who do all the work about the kraals and plant and hoe the corn, as well as replenish the population. The price of a wife in 1900 was five cows, but I understand that the price has gone up like other commodities. The more wives a Kaffir has the richer he is, for the wives and children do all the work, while he lives like a gentleman; that is, he does no work. As a matter of fact very little work is necessary in a climate where nature is generous and Kaffir wants are few, especially in the matter of clothes. A bride's trousseau Mr. Williams, the manager, opened the great safes and showed me thousands of pounds' worth of uncut diamonds, for it is the policy of the company not to flood the market, but to release a certain number annually; hence the price is kept up. The cutting of the stones used to be done entirely at Amsterdam, but since the Great War this industry has been transferred to London, where much of the work is done by invalid or disabled soldiers.

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