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A Handbook of the Boer War

One of which became known as the town of Kimberley


style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER IV

Kimberley and the Siege of Rhodes

More than thirty years before the outbreak of the Second Boer War a Dutch child in the Hopetown District of Cape Colony found, while playing carelessly near the left bank of the Orange, a pretty pebble that was destined to mould the History of South Africa.

He took the bagatelle home to his father's farm, where a neighbour, one Van Niekirk, saw it and was struck by its brilliancy. It chanced that the Irishman O'Reilly was passing that way and to him it was entrusted to take to Colesberg for expert opinion upon its value. Here certain Jews declared that it was but a white topaz not worth one shilling and it was disdainfully cast out into the road, from which it was with difficulty recovered by O'Reilly, whose belief in it though shaken was not wholly abandoned. Through a mutual friend, Lorenzo Boyes, Acting Civil Commissioner of the District, the pebble came to the notice of an expert mineralogist named Atherstone at Grahamstown, but it was held so lightly in esteem by the sender that it reached Atherstone as an enclosure in an ordinary unregistered letter. Atherstone examined it, and when it had not only spoilt all the jeweller's files in the town but had also passed an examination by polarized light, pronounced that it was a diamond worth ?500. His certificate to its character, which had been so ignorantly

disparaged, was the origin of the Diamond industry of South Africa. Another diamond was soon picked up near Hopetown which without difficulty or misadventure rose to its own plane in mineralogy. Its career was short and its destiny happy. It was purchased by the first Earl of Dudley for the adornment of his second wife.

When it was noised abroad with the customary exaggeration that the monopoly of Golconda and the Brazils was at an end and that diamonds grew wild on the South African veld, a wide extent of country was explored and the precious crystallized carbon was found in districts separated by many hundreds of miles. In certain places, one of which became known as the town of Kimberley, it was ascertained to recur in a constant proportion of the contents of the "pipes" or volcanic tubes which rose through the surface strata.

The pioneers of Kimberley took possession of the diamondiferous grounds without ascertaining to whom they belonged, and when their value became positive the question of ownership arose. The boundaries of the districts administered by the Cape Colony, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal respectively were, as regards territory, supposed to be of little account, vague, ill-defined, and unsurveyed; and the districts themselves were occupied by native tribes of nomad habits. About the middle of the XIXth century a Hottentot chief named Waterboer came up out of the West and squatted in the districts lying between the Orange and the Vaal. His rights, such as they were, were assumed or acquired by the Cape Government, which soon became involved in controversy with the Orange Free State as to their extent and nature. Finally the British Empire secured a good title to the estate by the payment of ?90,000. But the Orange Free State not unnaturally, when the value of the Diamond Fields increased day by day, soon began to think that it had parted with a profitable possession for an inadequate return. The feeling rankled; and the confident expectation of recovering Kimberley sold for a song tempted Bloemfontein into the fatal alliance with Pretoria.


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