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Diamond Mines - The Kimberley

( Originally Published 1911 )

The Kimberley diamond mine is situated at the city of Kimberley in the Griqualand West district of Cape Colony, South Africa, in lat. 28 43 S. and long. 24 46 E. By rail it is 647 miles northeast of Cape Town and 485 miles north of Port Elizabeth. It is a few miles from the borders of the Orange River Colony, formerly the Orange Free State. The town and mine were named after the Earl of Kimberley, H. M.'s Secretary of State for the Colonies when the town came into existence.

At the time of its discovery, July 21, 1871, the mine was called the " Old De Beers New Rush " or " Coles-burgh Kopje New Rush," because a " rush " was made by the diggers from the De Beers mine lately discovered nearby, to a new field on Colesburgh Kopje which was reported to be exceedingly rich.

The district was then supposed to be in the Orange Free State, because the English had agreed not to interfere with the Boers north of the Orange river. All the Kimberley mines were on Boer farms so-called, though they were little more than wild tracts of land upon which the few Dutch settlers raised cattle, sheep, and goats, in a primitive and Oriental way. The country lay west of the territory in which the Free State had practically established the routine of governmental functions, and within an undefined stretch of land sparsely inhabited by a mongrel tribe called Griquas, of whom one Waterboer was the chief. As there were, however, a few Boer settlers scattered about, to that extent the land may be considered properly to have been a part of the Free State in embryo, or a territory in the wilds within the scope of the Free State's influence, to which that State might rightfully lay claim, and establish within it the functions of government when the inhabitants called for it, and they and their possessions were of sufficient importance to warrant it. By the rapid influx of men from the English Cape Colony and from England, how-ever, together with the investment of English capital, the preponderating element became English and called for English governmental control. Griqualand West, as it was called, therefore eventually became a part of the Cape Colony.

Of the four mines discovered in that neighborhood and which have been since known as the Kimberley mines, the name of this one has on that account become more generally known. With the general public it stands not only for all the mines of the De Beers consolidation, but to most people, it is a name for all diamond mines of South Africa.

It is the smallest of the four Kimberley mines, but has proved the richest, from its discovery until the present time, the percentage of diamonds to the load of clay having been sufficient until lately to more than offset the greater proportion of bort which is found in it.

The Kimberley is a true volcanic chimney or pipe and the contents carry diamonds throughout. When discovered, volcanic pipes of diamondiferous material were unrecognized. The surface was staked out in claims and worked as a very rich alluvial deposit, until it was discovered that the supposed deposit was a circumscribed area within well-defined limits, and the bed rock on which it rested was simply an unoxidized continuation of the same material to an unknown depth.

There were 470 full claims on this pipe, which at one time were split up among 1,600 owners, but which later fell year by year into fewer hands, and finally became absorbed into the De Beers Consolidation in 1889, as described elsewhere.

What the output of this mine was, in the early days of individual claims, is unknown. It has always been comparatively large, but different parts of the chimney have varied greatly, not only in the quantity of diamonds contained in the earth, but in the character of them also. Some spots have been very rich, others poor. In the west end the crystals are perfect octahedrons or white glassy stones ; elsewhere they are rounded or the edges are beveled. In the southeast section, the diamonds have ,shown a color tendency resembling those of the Dutoitspan. The north and northwest section of it, held many smoky stones, bort and broken crystals, many of - them mere fragments. Owing to the number of owners, the great amount of stealing that went on, and an entire absence of public records up till the consolidation, no definite knowledge regarding the quantity of diamonds won could be had.

It was in this mine that the interests of Barney Barnato, one of the so-called diamond kings, centered. He had accumulated some money as a general trader and speculator when he made his first purchase in 1876, of claims on this chimney. His faith in the theory of Dr. Atherstone that all these Kimberley mining claims were in volcanic pipes, was later demonstrated by his purchase of the last claims owned by an individual in the mines, six in number, situated in the center of the pipe, for 30,000 each. This was a record price on the Fields. He continued to acquire claims when many thought that the diamonds ceased with the upper layer of yellow ground, and by the time that the underlying blue ground was reached and proved equally rich, or richer than the yellow, he had obtained an interest which enabled him later to exercise a powerful if not controlling influence in the affairs of the Kimberley mine. At the eighth meeting of the De Beers Diamond Mining Company, Barnato claimed that his interest in the mines of the Kimberley district amounted to nearly two million pounds. A large share of this was made undoubtedly by floating stock companies.

An exact knowledge of the mine could not be had during the process of consolidating the various interests in it, so after its amalgamation with outside interests in the De Beers Consolidated Mines Company, it became difficult to entirely separate its affairs from the others of the combination of which it was a part, inasmuch as the working of each was regulated or modified by the general interests, and the results of the De Beers and Kimberley were published together.

The Kimberley, like the De Beers, is distinguished by a yield of large yellowish crystals with curved edges, and it produces more bort than any other of the old mines. At the time of the Consolidation, in 1889, the Kimberley and De Beers mines together, were said to average 1.283 carats per load, and the diamonds had brought an average of 19s. 8.75d. per carat. The aver-age price for the year of 1889 is given as 29S. per carat. From that time the yield declined and the price increased. In 1898 the average per load was o.80 of a carat; in 1889 0.71 of a carat. Excepting 1901 and 1902, when it was 0.76, the yield declined steadily until it was but 0.37 of a carat for 1907 and 1908. The cost of mining in 1898 was 6s. 7.4d. per load, and it was steadily increased to 9S. o.8d. in 1907. As the yield of diamonds per load has at the same time as steadily de-creased, there is a material increase in the cost per carat, which is now in the neighborhood of 27 shillings. The increased price obtained for the diamonds has more than compensated the extra cost of producing. The joint policy of the De Beers Consolidated Mines Company and their cog wheel, the Diamond Syndicate, since they obtained control of the market, of regulating output to the world's demand and willingness to pay advanced prices, has more than doubled the value of rough to the mines, and still further increased the cost to the cut-ter. It was not until the year 1900 that the mines received any considerable advance, i. e., 35s. 10.2d. as against 29s. 7.2d. in 1899. From that time the price was steadily raised to 64s. 9.74d. in 1907.

Mining operations are being carried on at a greater depth in the Kimberley than in any of the other mines. In 1902 the main shaft was down 2,233 feet, and actual work in the blue was done on 9 levels 40 feet apart. In 1904, the main shaft was sunk 60 feet further to 2,599 feet. The lowest working level in the early part of 1907 was at 2,520 feet.

Gardner F. Williams, in " The Diamond Mines of South Africa," says that when the claims on these four mines were consolidated by purchase, the open-mine surface was figured to be: Kimberley, 33 acres; De Beers, 22 acres; Dutoitspan, 45 acres; Bultfontein, 36 acres.

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