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Diamond Mines - The Bultfontein

( Originally Published 1911 )

Rumors had come to the ear of Cornelis du Plooy on his farm, the Bultfontein, that north of him toward the Vaal river, men were picking stones out of the earth and selling them for money, sometimes getting more for one stone than a man would have to pay for a tract of land larger than his own wide stretch of brush and gravel. He had heard too that a lot of those restless Englishmen from the Cape Colony were already scratching and digging the earth in every direction in search of these stones that could be sold. If stones could be sold for money, it behooved him to look into the matter, for there were plenty of them scattered all over his own morgen, where the goats and sheep picked a living. It would be easier to pick up stones than to raise hides and wool for the semi-annual trading trip to Grahamstown. So after some days of cogitation, he gathered a pocketful of pebbles, and on November, 1869, carried them to the store of a Mr. Hurley to see if he could learn what kind of stones they were which had drawn the army of invaders into the barren Boer settlements. The scientist and geologist, Mr. Draper, was there, and he recognized a diamond among the stones Du Plooy had. Whether or no he disclosed the fact to the Boer farmer does not appear, but soon after, Mr. Hurley and some others bought the Bultfontein farm for 12,000, began prospecting, and formed the " Hope-town Company." Title to the land was afterwards conveyed to the London and South African Exploration Company, when disputes among former owners brought the case before the Land Commission in 1876.

While this was being done, others were looking for diamonds among the kopjes of the neighborhood, and some were found in a kopje on the Du Toit's Pan farm, a half to three-quarters of a mile away, and claims were staked out. This later became the Dutoitspan mine. Very soon after, the Bultfontein mine was discovered, At that time, these were not the mines as we know them, but places here and there over the surface, where a digger, having found some diamonds, staked a claim to cover as much about it as the mining rules allowed, upon the chance of finding more. There was room for 1,753 such claims within the supposed diamond-bearing area of the Bultfontein mine, as it was known later.. There were 1,067 original claims, equal to 23.54 acres.

The mine is situated in the suburbs of Beaconsfield, about three-quarters of a mile southwest from the Dutoitspan, and not quite three miles southeast from Kimberley. In extent it is the second largest of the Kimberley mines. Possibly it has some subterranean connection with its immediate neighbor, as it is reported that the Dutoitspan and the Bultfontein are dipping to-wards each other at the low levels now being worked.

In the first years of its history, this mine was not worked with the same energy as the Kimberley and De Beers. It was not as rich in diamonds as they, nor were there as many large stones found in it to excite hope. The diggers hovered about the rich Kimberley, hoping to make a strike there. When, however, the Kimberley diamond-bearing area became well defined, and the surface was all taken up, the Bultfontein was worked steadily with good results. Later, as a public demand for stock in diamond mines developed, a number of companies were floated on this field, and the various managements, in the effort to earn dividends, prosecuted the work with vigor. In the eighties, after records were kept, the output from this mine ranged from 500,000 to 700,000 carats per annum, and sold for an average price of 18s. to 22S. per carat.

The diamonds of the Bultfontein are usually small, white octahedrons. The color is very good, but the majority are flawed. Colored stones are rarely found in it.

As the open workings were carried down, the same difficulties were encountered in this as in the other mines. Falling reef, mud-rushes, and a growing necessity for united action and large capital to cope with the difficulties, made the work of most of the companies unprofitable. In 1887 the open work had reached a depth of 460 feet, and a large part of it was covered with fallen reef. Although the De Beers Consolidated Mines Company, who already owned a large interest in the mine, forced it into the amalgamation of 1889, it was evidently for the purpose of removing competition when they began their policy of raising the price of diamonds, and with the expectation that it would pay later, though it could not earn dividends on underground work at that time.

The mine was practically shut down for some years, but preparations were made for underground working. By 1902 there were 18,700 feet of tunnels, and it was operated on 6 levels down to 600 ft. In that year 352,-042 loads were handled, 20,194 loads washed, and 4,486.5 carats of diamonds won at a cost of 6s. 6.4d. per load and a value of 6s. 9d. per load, the price per carat being 30s. 4.7d. The yield averaged .21 of a carat to the load. The year 1903 showed an improvement, as 76,573 carats were taken from 317,185 loads washed, an average yield of .24 of a carat. The cost also was reduced t0 5s. 9d. per load, and the price realized was slightly increased to 30s. 10d. per carat. Although the price fell in 1904 to 29s. 7d., the gross yield of diamonds, and the average yield per load, improved sufficiently to more than offset it, as 148,219 carats at .29 to the load were won, at the same cost per load as in 1903. The following year, 1905, showed a much greater improvement in every way. At a cost of 5s. 10.5d. per load, 611,491 loads were washed, yielding 249,002 carats or .41 of a carat to the load, for which 34S. I id. per carat was realized. The percentage per load has since fallen to .32 in 1908, but at .32 and a cost of 6s. 2.4d. per load in 1907, the output was 547,485% carats. The price was advanced to 42s. II.49d., with a yield of .36 of a carat at a cost of 5s. 5.3d. per load in 1906, but fell back to 41s. 4.8d. in 1908. The mine therefore made a better showing each year from the commencement 0f underground working in 1902, when there was a profit of 3d. per load, to 1905, which showed a profit of 8s. 4d. per load.

Open working was carried to a greater depth in this mine than in either of the other Kimberley mines. Four hundred feet was the usual limit, but the Bultfontein was dug to 460 feet.

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