Discovery Of Diamonds In Africa
Author:      Williams, Gardner F. M.A.
Discovery Of Diamonds In Africa
     The story of the Kimberley diamond-field is one of the romances of the
industrial world.  Any chemist can tell us that the diamond is pure
crystallized carbon; but the wisest geologist cannot make even a reasonable
conjecture as to its origin or say how it came to be where it is found.  By a
bold figure the diamond might be called the comet of the mineral kingdom. The
most experienced prospector cannot count upon any "indications," and the child
of an ignorant herder may pick up a gem that would found a college. The great
production of diamonds in recent years has not diminished their market value -
partly because there is an increased demand for them in some of the mechanic
arts, but more because human vanity of adornment may always be trusted to grow
by what it feeds on.
     In the volume from which this chapter is taken, Mr. Williams has produced
not only the most complete and interesting account of diamonds generally and
of the great African diamond discovery and the resulting camps and mining
operations, but one of the most beautifully and profusely illustrated books of
the season.
     Nearly two hundred years had passed since the memorable expedition of Van
der Stel made known to geographers the Groote River, which, a hundred years
later, was christened the Orange.  Before Great Britain took the Cape, the
daring Van Reenen had penetrated to Modder Fontein, unconsciously skirting the
rim of a marvellous diamond-field.  Since the beginning of the century scores
of roving hunters had chased their game over a network of devious tracks,
traversing every nook of the land between the Orange and the Vaal, and often
camping for days upon their banks.  Then the trekking pioneer graziers and
farmers plodded on after the hunters, sprinkling their huts and kraals over
the face of the Orange Free State, but naturally squatting first on the arable
lands and grazing-ground nearest the water-courses.  So, in the course of
years, in the passage of the Great Trek, thousands of men, women, and children
had passed across the Orange and Vaal, and up and down their winding valleys,
and hundreds, at least, had trodden the river-shore sands of the region in
which the most precious gems were lying.
     On the Orange River, thirty miles above its junction with the Vaal, was
the hamlet of Hopetown, one of the most thriving of the little settlements;
and farms dotted the angle between the rivers.  Along the line of the Vaal,
for some distance above its entry into the Orange, were some ill-defined
reservations occupied by a few weak native tribes - Koranas and Griquas - for
whose instruction there were mission-stations at Pniel and Hebron.
     After the discovery there arose, it is true, an imposing tale of an old
mission-map of the Orange River region, drawn as early as the middle of the
eighteenth century, across whose worn and soiled face was scrawled: "Here be
diamonds." Even if this report were true, there was no evidence to determine
the date of the scrawl, which might more credibly be a crude new record than a
vague old one.  In any event, it does not appear that there was even a
floating rumor of the probable existence of a South African diamond-field at
the time of the actual discovery of the first identified gem.
     There is nothing surprising in this oversight.  When a spectator beholds
a great semicircle of artfully cut gems sparkling on the heads, necks, and
hands of fair women massed in superb array and resplendent in the brilliant
lights of an opera-house, or when one views the moving throng glittering with
jewels in grand court assemblies, it is hard for him to realize how
inconspicuous a tiny crystal may be in the richest of earth-beds.  No spot in
a diamond-field has the faintest resemblance to a jeweller's show-tray.  Here
is no display of gems blazing like a mogul's throne or a queen's tiara or the
studded cloak of a Russian noble.  Only in the marvellous valley of Sindbad
are diamonds strewn on the ground in such profusion that they are likely to
stick in the toes of a barefooted traveller, and can be gathered by flinging
carcasses of sheep from surrounding precipices to tempt eagles to serve as
     It needs no strain of faith to credit the old Persian tale of the
discontented Ali Hafed roaming far and wide from his charming home on the
banks of the Indus in search of diamonds, and, finally, beggared and starving,
casting himself into the river that flowed by his house, while the diamonds of
Golconda were lying in his own garden-sands.  It is probable that the diamonds
of India were trodden under foot for thousands of years before the first
precious stone of the Deccan was stuck in an idol's eye or a raja's turban.
It is known that the Brazilian diamond-fields were washed for many years by
gold-placer diggers without any revelation of diamonds to the world, although
these precious stones were often picked up and so familiarly handled that they
were used by the black slaves in the fields as counters in card-games.
     If this be true of the most famous and prolific of all diamond-fields
before the opening of the South African placers and mines, any delay in the
revelation of the field in the heart of South Africa may be easily understood.
For it was not only necessary to have eyes bright and keen enough to mark one
of the few tiny precious crystals that were lying on the face of vast
stretches of pebbles, bowlders, and sand, but the observer must prize such a
crystal enough to stoop to pick it up if it lay plainly before his eyes.
     Nobody that entered the Vaal River region conceived it to be a possible
diamond-field or thought of searching for any precious stones.  Probably, too,
there was not a person in the Orange Free State, and few in the Cape Colony,
able to distinguish a rough diamond if he found one by chance, or likely to
prize such a crystal.  For the discovery of diamonds under such conditions it
was practically necessary that prospectors should enter it who would search
the gravel-beds often and eagerly for the prettiest pebbles. Were such
collectors at work in the field?
     One of the trekking Boers, Daniel Jacobs, had made his home on the banks
of the Orange River near the little settlement of Hopetown.  He was one of the
sprinkling of little farmers who were content with a bare and precarious
living on the uncertain pasture-lands of the veld.  Here his children grew up
about him with little more care than the goats that browsed on the kopjes.
     His boys and girls had never seen a doll or a toy of any kind; but the
instinct of childhood will find playthings on the face of the most barren
karroo, and the Jacobs children were luckily close to the edge of a river that
was strewn with uncommonly beautiful pebbles, mixed with coarser gravel.
     Here were garnets with their rich carmine flush, the fainter rose of the
carnelian, the bronze of jasper, the thick cream of chalcedony, heaps of
agates of motley hues, and many shining rock-crystals.  From this
party-colored bed the children picked whatever caught their eye and fancy, and
filled their pockets with their chosen pebbles.  So a poor farmer's child
found scattered on a river-bank playthings that a little prince might covet,
and the boy might have skimmed the face of the river with one little white
stone that was worth more than his father's farm.  Fortunately for the future
of South Africa, he did not play ducks and drakes with this particular stone,
which he found one day in the early spring of 1867, but carried it home in his
pocket and dropped it with a handful of other pebbles on the floor.
     A heap of these party-colored stones was so common a sight in the yard or
on the floor of a farmhouse on the banks of the Orange and the Vaal that none
of the plodding Boers gave it a second glance.  But when the children tossed
the stones about, the little white pebble sparkling in the sunlight caught the
eye of the farmer's wife.  She did not care enough for it to pick it up, but
spoke of it as a curious stone to a neighbor, Schalk van Niekerk. Van Niekerk
asked to see it, but it was not in the heap.  One of the children had rolled
it away in the yard.  After some little search it was found in the dust, for
nobody on the farm would stoop for such a trifle.
     When Van Niekerk wiped off the dust, the little stone glittered so
prettily that he offered to buy it.  The good vrouw laughed at the idea of
selling a pebble.  "You can keep the stone if you want it," she said.  So Van
Niekerk put it into his pocket and carried it home.  He had only a vague
notion that it might have some value, and put it in the hands of a travelling
trader, John O'Reilly, who undertook to find out what kind of stone the little
crystal was and whether it could be sold.  He showed the stone to several Jews
in Hopetown, and in Colesberg, a settlement farther up the Orange River
Valley.  No one of these would give a penny for it.  "It is a pretty stone
enough," they said, "probably a topaz, but nobody would pay anything for it."
     Perhaps O'Reilly would have thrown the pebble away if it had not come
under the eye of the acting Civil Commissioner at Colesberg, Lorenzo Boyes.
Mr. Boyes found on trial that the stone would scratch glass.  "I believe it to
be a diamond," he observed gravely.  O'Reilly was greatly cheered up.  "You
are the only man I have seen," he said, "who says it is worth anything.
Whatever it is worth you shall have a share in it." "Nonsense," broke in Dr.
Kirsh, a private apothecary of the town, who was present; "I'll bet Boyes a
new hat it is only a topaz." "I'll take the bet," replied Mr. Boyes, and at
this suggestion the stone was sent for determination to the foremost
mineralogist of the Colony, Dr. W. Guybon Atherstone, residing at Grahamstown.
It was so lightly valued that it was put into an unsealed envelope and carried
to Grahamstown in the regular post-cart.
     When the post-boy handed the letter to Dr. Atherstone the little river
stone fell out and rolled away.  The doctor picked it up and read the letter
of transmission.  Then he examined the pebble expertly and wrote to Mr. Boyes:
"I congratulate you on the stone you have sent me.  It is a veritable diamond,
weighs twenty-one and a quarter carats, and is worth five hundred pounds.  It
has spoiled all the jewellers' files in Grahamstown, and where that came from
there must be lots more.  May I send it to Mr. Southey, Colonial Secretary?"
     This report was a revelation that transformed the despised karrooland as
the grimy Cinderella was transfigured by the wand of her fairy godmother. The
determination was so positive and the expertness of the examiner so well
conceded that Sir Philip Wodehouse, the Governor at the Cape, bought the rough
diamond at once, at the value fixed by Dr. Atherstone and confirmed by the
judgment of M. Henriette, the French consul in Cape Town.  The stone was sent
immediately to the Paris Exhibition, where it was viewed with much interest,
but its discovery, at first, did not cause any great sensation. The occasional
finding of a diamond in a bed of pebbles had been reported before from various
parts of the globe, and there was no assurance in this discovery of any
considerable diamond-deposits.
     Meanwhile Mr. Boyes hastened to Hopetown and to Van Niekerk's farm, to
search along the river-shore where the first diamond was found.  He prodded
the phlegmatic farmers and their black servants and raked over many bushels of
pebbles for two weeks, but no second diamond repaid his labor.  Still, the
news of the finding of the first stone made the farmers near the river look
more sharply at every heap of pebbles in the hope of finding one of the
precious blink klippe ("bright stones"), as the Boers named the diamond, and
many bits of shining rock-crystal were carefully pocketed in the persuasion
that the glittering stones were diamonds.  But it was ten months from the time
of the discovery at Hopetown before a second diamond was found, and this was
in a spot more than thirty miles away, on the bank below the junction of the
Vaal and the Orange rivers.  Mr. Boyes again hastened to the place from which
the diamond had been taken, but he again failed to find companion stones,
though he reached the conclusion that the diamond had been washed downstream
by the overflowing Vaal.
     From the Orange River the search passed up the Vaal, where the beds of
pebbles were still more common and beautiful.  The eyes of the native blacks
were much quicker and keener in such a quest than those of the Boer, who
scarcely troubled himself to stoop for the faint chance of a diamond.  But no
steady or systematic search was undertaken by anybody, and it was not until
the next year, 1868, that a few more diamonds were picked up on the banks of
the Vaal by some sharp-sighted Koranas.  The advance of discovery was so slow
and disappointing that there seemed only a faint prospect of the realization
of the cheering prediction of Dr. Atherstone, which was scouted by critics who
were wholly incompetent to pass upon it.  Even the possibility of the
existence of diamond-deposits near the junction of the Orange and Vaal rivers
was denied by a pretentious examiner who came from England to report on the
Hopetown field.  It was gravely asserted that any diamonds in that field must
have been carried in the gizzards of ostriches from some far-distant region,
and any promotion of search in the field was pronounced a bubble scheme.
     To this absurd and taunting report Dr. Atherstone replied with marked
force and dignity, presenting the facts indicating the existence of
diamond-bearing deposits, and adding: "Sufficient has been already discovered
to justify a thorough and extensive geological research into this most
interesting country, and I think for the interest of science and the benefit
of the Colony a scientific examination of the country will be undertaken.  So
far from the geological character of the country making it impossible, I
maintain that it renders it probable that very extensive and rich
diamond-deposits will be discovered on proper investigation.  This, I trust,
the home Government will authorize, as our colonial exchequer is too poor to
admit of it."
     There was no official response to this well-warranted suggestion, for it
had hardly been penned when the news of a great discovery aroused such
excitement, followed by such a rush to the field, that no government
exploration was needed.  In March, 1869, a superb white diamond, weighing 83.5
carats, was picked up by a Griqua shepherd-boy on the farm Zendfonstein, near
the Orange River.  Schalk van Niekerk bought this stone for a monstrous price
in the eyes of the poor shepherd - 500 sheep, 10 oxen, and a horse - but the
lucky purchaser sold it easily for 11,200 pounds to Lilienfeld Brothers, of
Hopetown, and it was subsequently purchased by Earl Dudley for 25,000 pounds.
This extraordinary gem, which soon became famous as "the Star of South
Africa," drew all eyes to a field that could yield such products, and the
existence and position of diamond-beds were soon further assured and defined
by the finding of many smaller stones in the alluvial gravel on the banks of
the Vaal.
     Alluvial deposits form the surface on both sides of this river,
stretching inland for several miles.  In some places the turns of the stream
are frequent and abrupt, and there are many dry water-courses, which were
probably old river-channels.  The flooding and winding of the river partly
account for the wide spreading of the deposits, but there had been a great
abrasion of the surface of the land, for the water-worn gravel sometimes
covers even the tops of the ridges and kopjes along the course of the river.
     This gravel was a medley of worn and rolled chips of basalt, sandstone,
quartz, and trap, intermingled with agates, garnets, peridot, and jasper, and
other richly colored pebbles, lying in and on a bedding of sand and clay.
Below this alluvial soil was in some places a calcareous tufa, but usually a
rock of melaphyse or a clayey shale varying in color.  Scattered thickly
through the gravel and the clay along the banks were heavy bowlders of basalt
and trap which were greatly vexing in afterdays to the diamond-diggers.
     For a stretch of a hundred miles above the mission-station at Pniel the
river flows through a series of rocky ridges, rolling back from either bank to
a tract of grassy, undulating plains.  Fancy can scarcely picture rock-heaps
more contorted and misshapen.  Only prodigious subterranean forces could have
so rent the earth's crust and protruded jagged dikes of metamorphic,
conglomerate, and amygdaloid rocks, irregularly traversed by veins of quartz,
and heavily sprinkled with big bare bowlders of basalt and trap.  Here the old
lacustrine sedimentary formation of the South African high veld north of the
Zwarte Bergen and Witte Bergen ranges has plainly been riven by volcanic
upheaval.  The shale and sandstone of the upper and lower karroo beds have
been washed away down to an igneous rock lying between the shale and the
sandstone.  Along this stretch of the river the first considerable deposit of
diamonds in South Africa was uncovered.
     For more than a year since the discovery of the first diamond there had
been some desultory scratching of the gravel along the Vaal by farmers and
natives in looking for blink klippe, and a few little diamonds had been found
by the Hottentots, as before noted.  But the first systematic digging and
sifting of the ground were begun by a party of prospectors from Natal at the
mission-station of Hebron.  This was the forerunner of the second great trek
to the Vaal from the Cape - a myriad of adventurers that spread down the
stream like a locust swarm, amazing the natives, worrying the missionaries,
and agitating the pioneer republics on the north and the east.
     The first organized party of prospectors at Hebron on the Vaal was formed
at Maritzburg in Natal, at the instance of Major Francis, an officer in the
English Army Service, then stationed at that town.  Captain Rolleston was the
recognized leader, and after a long plodding march over the Drakensberg and
across the veld, the little company reached the valley of the Vaal in
November, 1869.  Up to the time of its arrival there had been no systematic
washing of the gravel edging the river.  Two experienced gold-diggers from
Australia, Glenie and King, and a trader, Parker, had been attracted to the
field, like the Natalians, by the reported discoveries, and were prospecting
on the line of the river when Captain Rolleston's party reached Hebron.  Their
prospecting was merely looking over the surface gravel for a possible gem, but
the wandering Koranas were more sharp-sighted and lucky in picking up the
elusive little crystals that occasionally dotted the great stretches of
alluvial soil.
     It was determined by Captain Rolleston to explore the ground as
thoroughly as practicable from the river's edge for a number of yards up the
bank, and the washing began on a tract near the mission-station.  The
Australian prospectors joined the party, and their experience in placer-mining
was of service in conducting the search for diamonds.  The workers shovelled
the gravel into cradles, like those used commonly in Australian and American
placer-washing, picked out the coarser stones by hand, washed away the sand
and lighter pebbles, and saved the heavier mineral deposit, hoping to find
some grains of gold as well as diamonds above the screens of their cradles.
But the returns for their hard labor for many days were greatly disappointing.
They washed out many crystals and brilliant pebbles, but never a diamond nor
an atom of gold-dust.  Then they passed down the river more than twenty miles
to another camp at Klip-drift, opposite the mission-station at Pniel.  Here,
too, they washed the ground for days without finding even the tiniest gem, and
were almost on the point of abandoning their disheartening drudgery when,
finally, on January 7, 1870, the first reward of systematic work in the field
came in the appearance of a small diamond in one of the cradles.
     This little fillip of encouragement determined their continuance of the
work, and a party from the British Kaffraria joined them in washing the gravel
in places that seemed most promising along the line of the river.  It was
agreed that the first discovery of rich diamond-bearing ground should be
shared alike by both parties, but there was nothing to share for some weeks.
Then some native Koranas were induced to point out to the Natalians a
gravel-coated hummock or kopje near the Klip-drift camp, where they had picked
up small diamonds.  When the prospectors began the washing of the gravel on
this kopje, it was soon apparent that a diamond-bed of extraordinary richness
had been reached at last.  Good faith was kept with the company from King
William's Town, and the combined parties worked to the top of their strength
in shovelling and washing the rich bed.  The lucky men kept their mouths
closed, as a rule, and did not intend to make known their good fortune; but
such a discovery could not long be concealed from visiting traders and roaming
prospectors, and before three months had passed some prying eye saw half a
tumblerful of the white sparkling crystals in their camp, and the news spread
fast that the miners had washed out from two hundred to three hundred stones
ranging in size from the smallest gems to diamonds of thirty carats or more.
     Then a motley throng of fortune-hunters began to pour into the valley of
the Vaal.  The first comers were those living nearest to the new diamond-field
- farmers and tradesmen from the cattle-ranges and little towns of the Orange
Free State.  Some of these were Boers, drawn to the fields as to a novel and
curious spectacle, but disdaining the drudgery of shovelling and washing from
morning till night for the chance of a tiny bright stone. They stared for a
while at the laboring diamond-seekers, and then turned their backs on the
field contemptuously, and rode home sneering at the mania that was dragging
its victims hundreds of miles, over sun-cracked and dusty karroos, to hunt for
white pebbles in a river-bed.  Still there were many poor farmers who caught
the infectious diamond-fever at sight of the open field and a few sparkling
stones, and they camped at Klip-drift or went on farther up or down the river,
to join, as well as they knew how, in the search for diamonds.
     Following this influx from the Free State came swarming in men of every
class and condition from the southern English Colony and from the ships lying
in the coast ports.  The larger number were of English descent, but many were
Dutch, and hardly a nation in Europe was unrepresented.  Black grandsons of
Guinea-coast slaves and natives of every dusky shade streaked the show of
white faces.  Butchers, bakers, sailors, tailors, lawyers, blacksmiths,
masons, doctors, farmers, carpenters, clerks, gamblers, sextons, laborers,
loafers - men of every pursuit and profession, jumbled together in queerer
association than the comrades in the march to Finchley - fell into line in a
straggling procession to the diamond-fields.  Army officers begged furloughs
to join the motley troops, schoolboys ran away from school, and women even of
good families could not be held back from joining their husbands and brothers
in the long and weari-some journey to the banks of the Vaal.
     There was the oddest medley of dress and equipment: shirts of woollen -
blue, brown, gray, and red - and of linen and cotton - white, colored,
checked, and striped; trim jackets, cord riding-breeches, and laced leggings
and "hand-me-downs" from the cheapest ready-made-clothing shops; the yellow
oilskins and rubber boots of the sailor; the coarse brown corduroy and canvas
suits, and long-legged stiff leather boots of the miner; the ragged, greasy
hats, tattered trousers or loin-cloths of the native tribesmen; jaunty cloth
caps, broad-brimmed felt, battered straw, garish handkerchiefs twisted close
to the roots of stiff black crowns, or tufts of bright feathers stuck in a
wiry mat of curls; such a higgledy-piggledy as could only be massed in a rush
from African coast towns and native kraals to a field of unknown requirements,
in a land whose climate swung daily between a scorch and a chill, where men in
the same hour were smothered in dust and drenched in a torrent.
     It is doubtful whether a single one of this fever-stricken company ever
had seen a diamond-field or had had the slightest experience in rough-diamond
winning, but no chilling doubt of themselves or their luck restrained them
from rushing to their fancied Golconda.  Their ideal field was much nearer a
mirror of the valley of Sindbad than the actual African river-bank, and it was
certain that many would be as bitterly disappointed by the rugged stretch of
gravel at Klip-drift as the gay Portuguese cavaliers were at the sight of the
Manica gold-placers.
     Everything in the form of a carriage, from a chaise to a buckwagon, was
pressed into service, but the best available transport was the big trekking
ox-wagon of the Boer pioneer.  This was a heavily framed, low-hung wagon,
about twenty feet long and five and a half feet broad.  In this conveyance
more than a dozen men often packed themselves and their camping outfit and
food.  An exceptionally well-equipped party carried bacon, potatoes, onions,
tea, coffee, sugar, condensed milk, flour, biscuits, dried pease, rice,
raisins, pickles, and Cape brandy.  The total weight of load allowed,
including the living freight, was limited to seven thousand pounds.
     East London, the nearest port, was more than four hundred miles from the
diamond-field, and Cape Town nearly seven hundred.  Durber, Port Alfred, and
Port Elizabeth were almost equally distant, as the crow flies, approximately
four hundred fifty miles; but the length of the journey to the Vaal could not
be measured by any bare comparison of air-line distances.  The roads, at best,
were rough trampled tracks, changing after a rainfall to beds of mire.  Their
tortuous courses rambled from settlement to settlement, or from one farmhouse
to another, over the veld, and often were wholly lost in the shifting sands of
the karroo.  It was a tedious and difficult journey by land even from one
seacoast town to another, and fifty miles from the coast the traveller was
fortunate if his way was marked by even a cattle-path.
     When the rain fell in torrents, with the lurid flashes and nerve-shaking
crash of South African thunder-storms, the diamond-seekers huddled under the
stifling cover of their wagons, while fierce gusts shook and strained every
strip of canvas, and water-drops spurted through every crevice.  In fair
weather some were glad to spread their blankets on the ground near the wagon,
and stretch their limbs, cramped by their packing like sardines in a box.  On
the plains they had no fuel for cooking except what they could gather of dry
bullock's dung.  Sometimes no headway could be made against the blinding
dust-storms, that made even the tough African cattle turn tail to the blasts,
and clogged the eyes and ears and every pore of exposed skin with irritating
grit and powder.  Sometimes the rain fell so fast that the river-beds were
filled in a few hours with muddy torrents, which blocked any passage by
fording for days and even weeks at a time, and kept the impatient
diamond-seekers fuming in vain on their banks.  Payton's party was forty-six
days in its passage from Port Elizabeth to the diamond-fields without meeting
with any serious delays, and journeys lasting two months were not uncommon.
     Still, in spite of all obstacles, privations, and discomforts, the long
journey to the fields was not wholly monotonous and unpleasant.  As there was
no beaten way, the prospectors chose their own path, riding by day and camping
at night as their fancy led them.  In ascending to the table-land of the
interior from Natal, there were shifting and stirring visions of
mountain-peaks, terraces, gorges, and valleys.
     Throughout the Orange Free State, but especially in the neighborhood of
the valleys of the Orange and Vaal, volcanic-rock elevations are common,
sometimes massed in irregular rows and often rising in the most jagged and
fantastic shapes.  "When we see them at the surface," wrote the geologist
Wyley in 1856, "they look like walls running across the country, or more
frequently from a narrow, stony ridge like a wall that has been thrown down.
The rock of which they are composed, green-stone or basalt, is known by the
local name of iron-stone, from its great hardness and toughness and from its
great weight.  The origin of these dikes is well known.  They have been
produced by volcanic agency, which, acting from below upon horizontal beds of
stratified rock, has cracked and fissured them at right angles to their planes
of stratification, and these vertical cracks have been filled up with the
melted rock or lava from below.  The perpendicular fissures through which it
has found its way upward are seldom seen, nor should we expect to see much of
them, for along the line of these the rocks have been most broken up and
shattered and the denudation has been greatest."
     Even in traversing the karroos there were curious and awesome sights to
attract and impress the mind of a traveller beholding for the first time these
desert wastes so widely spread over the face of South Africa.  They differ
little in appearance except in size.  The Great or Central Karroo, which lies
beneath the foothills of the Zwarte Bergen range, has a sweep to the north of
more than three hundred miles in a rolling plateau ranging in elevation from
two to three thousand feet.  Day after day, as the diamond-seekers from Cape
Town plodded on with their creaking wagons, the same purpled brown face was
outspread before them of the stunted flowering shrub which has given its name
to the desert, spotted with patches of sun-cracked clay or hot red sand.  To
some of the Scotchmen this scrub had the cheery face of the heather of their
own Highlands, and homesick Englishmen would ramble far through the furze to
pick the bright yellow flowers of plants that recalled the gorse of their
island homes.  These common bushes, rarely a foot in height, and the thick,
stunted camel-thorn were almost the only vegetable coating of the desert.
     Straggling over this plain ran the quaint ranges of flat-topped hummocks
and pointed spitz-kopjes, streaked with ragged ravines torn by the floods, but
utterly parched for most of the year.  Shy meerkats (Cynictis penicillata),
weasel-like creatures with furry coats, peered cautiously from their burrows
at the strange procession of fortune-hunters, and from myriads of the mammoth
ant-hills that dot the face of the desert innumerable legions of ants swarmed
on the sand along the track of the wagons.  Sometimes at nightfall the queer
aard-vark lurked upon the ant-heap and licked up the crawling insects by
thousands.  Far over the heads of the travellers soared the predatory eagles
and swooping hawks, harrying the pigeons and dwarf doves that clustered at
daybreak to drink at the edge of every stagnant pool.
     Even in the earliest years of the Dutch advance into South Africa, when
wild beasts browsed in troops on every grassy plain and valley, and the
poorest marksman could kill game almost a will, the karroo was shunned by
almost every living creature except in the fickle season of rainfall.  The
lion skirted the desert-edge warily, unwilling to venture far from a certain
water-brook or pool.  There was nothing on the bare karroo to tempt the
rhinoceros from his bed in green-leaved thickets, and only the wild-roaming
antelopes (trekbok) rambled for pasturage far over the sparsely coated and
parched desert waste.  If this was true in the days when the tip of Africa was
swarming with animal life, it is not surprising that the diamond-seekers in
1869 and 1870 rarely saw any living mark for their rifles when they journeyed
over the desert.  Rock-rabbits, akin to the scriptural coney, scampering to
their holes, were often the largest game in sight for days at a time, and it
was counted remarkable luck when any hunter put a bullet through a little
brown antelope, a grysbok or springbok.  The springboks still haunted the
Great Karroo, for they were particularly fond of its stunted bush-growth, and
in the rainy season many droves of these antelopes could be seen browsing
warily or flying in panic from the spring of the cheetah, the African hunting
leopard; but most of the bigger game, blesbok, hartebeest, koodoo, and
wildebeest, that used to feed greedily on the same pasture, had been killed or
driven away by the keen hunting of the years that followed the taking of the
Cape by the English.
     Sometimes the clear sky of the horizon was blurred by the advancing of
monstrous swarms of locusts, the "black snow-storms" of the natives, sweeping
over the face of the land like the scourge of devouring flames, chased by
myriads of locust-birds, and coating the ground for miles around at nightfall
with a crawling, heaving coverlet.  Then might be heard the hoarse trump of
the cranes winging their way over the desert and dropping on the field strewn
with locusts to gorge on their insect prey.  Or the travellers saw the
slate-white secretary bird, stalking about with his self-satisfied strut and
scraping up mouthfuls with his eagle-like bill.
     More marvellous than the locust clouds were the amazing mirages that
deceived even the keen-eyed ostriches with their counterfeit lakes and
wood-fringed streams, so temptingly near, but so provokingly receding, like
the fruits hanging over Tantalus.  Sometimes hilltops were reared high above
the horizon, distorted to mountainous size and melting suddenly in thin air or
a flying blur.  Now a solitary horseman was seen to swoop over the desert in
the form of a mammoth bird, or a troop of antelopes were changed to charging
cavalry.  No trick of illusion and transformation was beyond the conjuring
power of the flickering atmosphere charged with the radiating heat of the
     When the prospectors crossed the karroo and entered the stretches of
pasture-land which the Dutch called veld, the scenes of their marches were
much more lively and cheery.  Little farmhouses dotted the plains and valleys,
rude cottages of clay-plastered stones or rough timbers, but hospitable with
fires blazing on open hearths, big iron pots hanging from cranes and simmering
with stews; and broad-faced, beaming vrouws and clusters of chunky boys and
girls greeted the arrival of an ox-wagon from the coast as a welcome splash in
the stagnant stream of their daily life.
     At some of the halting-places on the banks of streams, or where plentiful
water was stored in natural pans or artificial ponds, the extraordinary
fertility of the irrigated soil of South Africa was plainly to be seen in
luxuriant gardens, with brilliant flower-beds and heavy-laden fruit trees and
vines.  Here figs, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, and grapes ripened side by
side, and hung more tempting than apples of Eden in the sight of the
thirsting, sunburnt, dust-choked men who had plodded so far over the parched
karroos.  They stretched their cramped legs and aching backs in the grateful
shade of spreading branches, and watched with half-shut eyes the white flocks
nibbling on the pasture land, and the black and red cattle scattered as far as
the eye could see over the veld.  Tame ostriches stalked fearlessly about
them, often clustering like hens at the door of the farm-house to pick up a
mess of grain or meal, apparently heedless of any approach, but always alert
and likely to resent familiarity from a stranger with a kick as sharp and
staggering as any dealt by a mule's hind leg.
     The interior of the homes in these oases was not so inviting, for the
rooms, at best, were small and bare to the eye of a townsman.  But some were
comparatively neatly kept, with smoothly cemented floors, cupboards of
quaintly figured china and earthenware, hangings and rugs of leopard, fox,
jackal, and antelope skins, and brackets of curving horns loaded with
hunting-arms and garnished with ostrich-feathers.  For the guests there was
probably the offer of a freshly killed antelope or sheep; but the farmer's
family was often content with "biltong," the dried meat that hung in strips or
was piled in stacks under his curing-shed.
     When a settler was fortunate in getting a tract of land with a pan or a
water-spring, he almost invariably gave the name to his farm, as Dutoitispan,
Dorstfontein, Jagersfontein, Bultfontein - names of inconsiderable little
patches on the face of South Africa, which were destined to become memorable
by approaching revelations.
     Attracted by the good pasturage and water and the sight of flowers,
fruits, and birds, even the eager diamond-seekers were not loath to linger for
a day at one of these oases and rest themselves and their cattle before
pushing on to the Vaal.  As they drew near to their goal the face of the
country began to change.  After passing the Modder River, the grassy plains
stretched out wider and longer and more gently undulating, and the mirage was
more greatly magnifying and illusive.  Herds of wild game, chiefly springbok,
blesbok, hartebeest, wildebeest, and koodoo, were now frequently seen, and the
ears of the travellers were tickled with the cheery "karack-karack" of flying
korhaan and the pipes of red-legged plover.
     There were great numbers, too, of the paauw (or Cape bustard) near the
Modder River, and red-winged partridges and Guinea fowl that gave a welcome
variety to the meals of the travellers.
     Over the rolling ground the prospectors pressed rapidly to the
diamond-fields and soon reached the river-border where the plains ran into the
barrier of ridges of volcanic rocks.  Jolting heavily over these rough heaps
and sinking deeply in the red sand-wash of the valleys, the heavy ox-wagons
were slowly tugged to the top of the last ridge above Pniel, opposite the
opened diamond-beds of Klip-drift, where the anticipated Golconda was full in
sight.  Here the Vaal River winds with a gently flowing stream, two hundred
yards or more in width, through a steeply shelving oblong basin something over
a mile and a half in length and a mile across.  A thin line of willows and
cotton-woods marked the edge of the stream on both banks. On the descending
slope toward the river stood the clustering tents and wagons of the pilgrims
waiting to cross the stream.
     In the dry season the Vaal was easily fordable by ox-wagons at a point in
this basin, and the ford, which the Boers call "drift," gave the name to the
shore and camp opposite Pniel - "Klip-drift" ("Rockyford").
     How stirring were the sights and sounds from the ridge at Pniel to every
newcomer while the swarming diamond-seekers were crossing the river and
spreading out over the northern bank - the confused clustering at the ford -
the rambling of stragglers along the shore - the gravel cracking and grinding
under the hoofs of the horses and ponies racing along the bank and rearing,
plunging, and bucking at the check of the bits and prick of the spurs - the
outspanning and inspanning of hundreds of oxen - the swaying and creaking
wagons - the writhing, darting lash of the cracking whips of the drivers - the
sulking, balking oxen, driven into long, straining lines that dragged the
ponderous canvas arched "prairie-schooners" through the turbid water and over
the quaking sands - the whistling, shouting, yelling, snoring, neighing,
braying, squeaking, grinding, splashing babel - the scrambling up the steep
Klip-drift bank - the scattering of the newcomers - the perching of the
white-topped wagons and the camp-tents like monstrous gulls on every tenable
lodging-place on bank, gully, and hillside - the scurrying about for wood and
water - the crackling, smoking, flaming heaps of the camp-fires - the steaming
pots and kettles swinging on cranes - the great placer-face, pockmarked with
holes and heaps of reddish sand, clay, and gravel - the long stretches of the
miners' rockers and troughs at the water's edge - and chief of all in
interest, the busy workmen, sinking pits and throwing out shovelfuls of earth,
filling buckets and hauling them up with ropes, loading and shaking the
rockers, driving carts full of heavy gravel to the water-troughs, returning
for new loads, scraping and sorting the fine, heavy pebbles on tables or flat
rocks or boards spread on the ground!
     No labored, crawling recital can compass and picture in print any
approach to the instant impress on the eye and ear of the moving drama on the
banks of the Vaal. Observer after observer groped vainly for graphic
comparison.  "Klip-drift is a swarm of bees whose hive is upset," said one; "a
banklined with ant-hills," wrote another, prosily; "a wild-rabbit warren
scurried by a fox," ventured a third; "an insane-asylum turned loose on a
beach," sneered a fourth.  It was a mushroom growth of a seething
placer-mining camp in the heart of the pasture-lands of South Africa.  To old
Australian and American miners it had a patent likeness to familiar camps and
diggings, but its local coloring was glaringly vivid and unique.

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