Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

A Story about a Pretty Stone

As years went on South Africa became more and more important for its trade and commerce. First wool-bearing sheep had been brought to the country, and the trade in wool had grown large. Then the strip of land along the eastern coast of Natal had been found to be so warm and fertile that sugar-cane, tea, coffee, arrowroot, and all kinds of tropical plants would grow easily there. So there a trade grew up especially in sugar. There was also a great deal of trade done in ostrich feathers. But as more and more colonists came, and more and more land was cultivated, the wild ostriches disappeared, and the trade was almost lost. Then it was found possible to tame ostriches, so ostrich farms sprang up in South Africa just as sheep farms might elsewhere. And now, added to all these a new and wonderful industry arose, one that we have grown to think of as belonging more than any other to the Cape. I mean diamond mining.

One day in 1867 a farmer paid a visit to another farmer who lived near where the rivers Vaal and Orange join. There the children were playing with some pretty stones that they had found along the river banks. The farmer was very much taken with these stones. One of them especially he admired, for it seemed to him to shine in a wonderful way. As he liked this stone so much the children's mother gave it to him. The farmer took the stone home, and a little while after he showed it to another friend who was a trader. The trader at once said that he was sure the pretty stone was a diamond, and asked to be allowed to take it to Grahamstown. So the stone was taken first to Grahamstown and then to Cape Town to be shown to people who knew about such things. They said that it was a very good diamond, and soon this stone which the children had played with and tossed about in fun was sold for £500. Half of this money you, will be glad to know was given to the children's mother.

The story about the pretty stone soon became known, but at first few people came to look for diamonds, for no one really believed that there were diamond mines in South Africa. They thought that an ostrich, which swallows all kinds of things, had brought the stone from far away, or that it had come there by some accident or another. But soon other diamonds were found. One man found one sticking in the mud of which the walls of his house were made. The farmer who had got the stone the children were playing with heard that a native witch doctor had a curious stone which he used as a charm. The farmer went to this witch doctor and bought the stone for some herds of sheep and cattle, and it turned out to be a splendid diamond. This diamond became known as the Star of South Africa, and was sold for £11,000.

Then as the news of diamond finding spread, people came from all parts of Africa, and then from all parts of the world, eager to share in the search.

The place where the diamonds were found had always been looked upon as rather a desert, and hardly any one had lived there. Now day by day more and more people thronged the district. Towns sprang up as if by magic, towns of tents and wagons. Along the river banks, where a few months before there had been no sign of man, where there had been no sound except the cry of wild beasts and birds, was now heard all day long the sound of pick and shovel and the rattle of cradles, as the pans in which the diamonds were washed were called.

The tented towns moved from place to place. As soon as it was known that diamonds had been found in one spot men rushed there, leaving their last camping ground a desert once more. For a time the workings were only along the river banks. Then came news that far richer mines had been found some way from the river, and men rushed in thousands to the dry diggings, as they were called.

Here four mines were found, all within two miles of each other. The names of two have become familiar to every one—Kimberley and De Beers.

At Kimberley a town soon sprang up, first a town of tents and then of ugly corrugated iron houses. Streets and squares were laid out, shops, schools, hotels, churches, theatres, all appeared one after the other, until in three years Kimberley was the second largest town in South Africa. It was a town, too, very different from any of the others. The people in South Africa were for the most part farmers, rising early, going to bed early, leading a simple country life. Now at Kimberley were gathered all manner of people, clerks, labourers, students, shop-keepers, broken-down gentlemen, soldiers, sailors, all eager for diamonds and wealth. So the life there was very different from the life on the farms. In the country a man's nearest neighbour would be three or four miles away at least. For months at a time he would see no one except his own family, perhaps twice a year he would make a journey to the nearest town to go to church and buy some clothes. But at the diamond mines a man worked all day long with hundreds beside him, and when the day's work was over the evenings were spent in merriment and laughter, such as the grave farmers knew nothing of. Had it not been for the diamond fields perhaps no town would have stood where Kimberley now stands, for it is one of the most desolate parts of South Africa. The land round it was treeless and barren. It was badly watered. At first even water to drink had to be brought in carts long distances. Then when the town grew large, wells were sunk, but for a long time no good water could be found. But besides the want of water the miners had to endure many hardships. Kimberley is hot and wind-swept. Fine yellow dust seemed to fill the air, making it difficult to breathe. At times there would be terrible dust storms, for the wind caught up the sandy dust which was always being thrown out of the mines, whirling and scattering it till the sky grew dark and it became impossible to work in the dust-laden air. The flies, too, were a torment, everywhere they swarmed thickly.

There were hardly any railways in Africa at this time, so everything had to be carried to Kimberley in bullock carts, and as Kimberley is five hundred miles from the sea everything was very dear. Green vegetables were hardly to be had, and sugar was two and sixpence a pound. Many people fell ill from the heat, and dust, and dirt, but yet in spite of all discomfort the diggers worked on cheerfully, some making fortunes, others losing all that they had.

Among those who came to try their fortunes in the mines was a young man named Cecil Rhodes. He was a very clever man, and it was through him that nearly all the diamond mines were joined into one great company, now known as the De Beers Consolidated Mines, which has become one of the most powerful companies in the world.

But while hundreds of men were working, digging and sifting all day long for diamonds, the rulers of the various states round began to quarrel as to which of them the diamond mines really belonged.

The South African Republic claimed them, the Orange Free State claimed them, and Andries Waterboer, a Griqua, also claimed them. The Griquas were a kind of half-cast tribe, and as Andries Waterboer saw little chance of making people listen to his claim, he gave up his rights to the British Government.

The three governments could not agree, so it was decided that Mr. Keate, the Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, should be asked to decide as to who had the best right to the land upon which the mines were. He decided that Waterboer had the best claim, and so, in 1871, the diamond mines were declared to be British. This decision is known as the Keate Award.

The Keate Award made the people both of the Orange Free State and of the South African Republic very angry. But they had to submit, and the British took possession of the mines, and of the land claimed by Waterboer. This land was not at first added to Cape Colony, but was kept as a separate state and called Griqualand West.

A short time after this a British judge was sent to settle some quarrels about farms, and while he was settling this he found out that Waterboer had had no real right to Griqualand West, but that it had really belonged to the Orange Free State.

When this became known, Mr. Brand, the President of the Orange Free State, went to England to put his claim before the British Parliament. "You took this land with the diamond fields from us," he said, "because it had belonged to Waterboer. Now your own judge has decided that Waterboer had no right to it. Surely in justice you must return it to us."

The British, however, found that this would be very difficult to do, for various reasons. So they offered President Brand £90,000 to make up for the loss of the mines. This President Brand and the Volksraad, as the Parliament of the Orange Free State was called, accepted, and both sides were pleased. For although the Orange Free State had lost the mines, the fact that they were so near the border of the state brought a great deal of trade. And in Kimberley the Free-Staters found a good market for everything that they could produce. Besides this, the £90,000 gave them money with which to build roads and bridges and make many improvements in their country. So the Orange Free State became more prosperous than it had ever been before.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Story of a False Prophet  |  Next: Facing Fearful Odds
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.