De Beers Diamond Mine-- an article on diamond mines in South Africa from the July 23, 1888 New York Times

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The New York Times, July 23, 1888, p. 8:

THE HOME OF THE DIAMONDS.

THE GREAT MINES RUNNING IN SOUTH AFRICA.

A DESCRIPTION OF THE DE BEERS MINE,
THE SCENE OF THE RECENT TERRIBLE DISASTER

    The De Beers Mine disaster in the South African diamond fields, by which 24 whites and 200 natives perished, as reported in cable dispatches from Cape Town, via London, has awakened fresh interest among those who deal in the most valuable of precious stones.

    By far the greatest porton of the diamonds now obtained come from the mines of South Africa, which were discovered near Hopetown in 1867 by some Dutch children.
    The mines are situated in Griqualand West, now a part of Cape Colony, in latitude 28 40', longitude 25 10' East, about 640 miles northeast of Cape Town and 500 miles from the sea coast.

    Although they are at an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet above the sea level, the heat is excessive during the summer months when the work is principally carried on.


Jewelry ad from the June 19, 1935 NY Times

    According to the first report of the terrible calamity it was that "the De Beers Coal Mine at Kimberly" had caught fire. The manifest in error to the character of the mine was not corrected in subsequent dispatches, but the cause of the fatal fire was explained in this way:

    "While the shifts were being changed the hauling wire broke and the skp rushed down the shaft with frightful rapidity. The oil lamps were broken, and the blazing fluid quickly ignited the wooden casing of the shaft, completely preventing egress. The mine was soon filled with smoke, and the lights carried by the miners were rendered useless. The panic-stricken natives and whites, in their efforts to escape, became massed together in the galleries and were suffocated to death."

    The Superintendent of the De Beers Mine is Gardener F. Williams of Oakland, Cal. He went to South Africa on his second trip in the latter part of 1886. He is a regular correspondent of George F. Kunz, Tiffany & Co.'s gem expert and mineralologist. A Times reporter talked with Mr. Kunz last evening and obtained from him some interesting facts about the De Beers Mines.

    The [De Beers] mine covers 13 acres or 610 claims, each 31 feet square with a roadway of 15 feet between each claim. [All of] the mines were originally worked in individual claims, 3,143 in number, each 31 feet square with a roadway 7 feet wide between each pair of claims. These small claims are now consolidated into about 90 large companies and private firms, having a gross capital of nearly $50,000,000.

    There are four large mines, all within a radius or a mile and a half. The celebrated Kimberly covers 7 acres. Thirty-three million carats (over 6 tons) of diamonds have already been taken out, valued in the rough at 45,000,000, and, after cutting, at 90,000,000.

    The absorption of the smaller by the larger companies is constantly going on, and it is proposed to consolidate all the companies into one.

    Ten thousand natives, each receiving 1 a week, are employed in [all of] the mines under the supervision of 1,200 European overseers. The enormous sum of over 1,000,000 is annually expended for labor.

    This mammoth investment of European capital would have been more profitable to the shareholders were it not for the thievishness of the native diggers, who, instigated by the vicious whites that congregate on the field, at one time stole and disposed of from one-fifth to one-fourth of the entire yield.
    More improved methods of surveillence, recently introduced, have diminished this loss. None but authorized agents are permitted to purchase or possess rough diamonds, and a large detective force is on the alert to prevent any infringement of the rules. A record is now kept of every diamond found.

    The thieves have been caught making chickens swallow diamonds in the mine, and a post-mortem held on one of the natives who died suddenly revealed the fact that his death was caused by a 60-carat diamond which he had swallowed.

    According to the latest official reports there were employed in the De Beers Mine 394 whites and 2,758 natives. Of the latter, 300 were hired from the Government at a cost of 58 per annum.

    Formerly the natives were allowed to leave the mines, but owing to the fraudulent traffic carried on, 2,300 of them were last year compounded. They practically lived on the mines, and were better off than those who had their freedom.

    The old system of open workings has been to a great extent abandoned for the shaft for the shaft and underground plan. Under the original method the excavations were carried on to a depth of 500 feet. There were many accidents owing to the falling shale or reef.

    A rock shaft is completed to a depth of 841 feet and taps lower levels. During the last year over 21,621 feet of main tunnel were driven. There is one shaft of 791 feet, another of 477 feet, and a third of 125 feet.

    As many as 18 tribes of natives have been represented in the mines. Some of the natives have been known to tramp a thousand miles to get work.

    Last year 890,000 loads of "blue stuff" were hauled out of the mines and 850,906 loads yielded 979,732 carats of diamonds, for which the company received 984,085 14s. 6d. The actual expenditure was 415,188, leaving a profit of 568,897.

    The De Beers Mine is capitalized at 2,500,000 in ten-pound shares. These were quoted as high as 52 last month, and since then have slumped to 30 and advanced again to 39. It is the opinion of Mr. Kunz that the recent accident will cause another decline in shares.

    From Sept. 1, 1882 to Dec. 31, 1887, the De Beers Mine yielded 344,015 carats, valued at 3,450,338, an average of 1 d. per carat. This includes everything taken from the mine. In the beginning of the enterprise the mine produced 4-10 carat per load, but last year the yield was 8-10 carat per load, a significant increase.

    Water flows from the mine at the rate 5,500 gallons per hour and at the rate of 1,200 gallons from the rock shaft.

    There are nine big washing machines in use, which are more reliable than the hand or eye. It is so accurate that a diamond the size of a pin head cannot escape.

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Classic Gem Articles:
Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds 1895
Semi-Precious Stones 1896
Gem Cutting & Polishing 1896
Where Gems are Found 1904

Classic Diamond Articles:
On Diamond Cutting 1867
De Beers Diamond Mine 1888
Diamond Cutting Industry-Art 1895
Cutting the Cullinan Diamond 1908

Classic Pearl Articles:
Bahrein Pearl Trade 1914

Classic Watch Articles:
Making Watches in Waltham 1867

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