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TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 17 JULY

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UPDATED: 17/07/2017

17 July 1890, Cecil Rhodes becomes Premier of the Cape Colony.

DID YOU KNOW

Cecil Rhodes’ appointment at age 37 years as Premier of the Cape Colony on 17 July 1890 saw Kimberley acclaim him as “one of us” making it to the top. He had been sent for by the Governor of the Cape Colony the previous day, and on the 17th nervously announced in Parliament that he was able to form an administration with himself holding the Office of Commissioner of Crown Lands and Public works of the Colony. Kimberley could now go forward and hopefully become the great centre that had originally been thought possible. Rhodes first visit to Kimberley as premier was when he was entertained at a Banquet in the Town Hall on 4 September 1890. Tickets to the gallery were on offer after 10am at the City Hall itself.

“Mr Mayor and Gentlemen,” Rhodes said, “I thank you for the very cordial and hearty manner in which you have received the toast proposed. I cannot say that ‘A Prophet is not without honour save in his own country,’ for I am not a prophet, and I think the honour done to me tonight as one of your citizens, on my being raised to the position of Premier of this colony, is very great indeed; and I appreciate it extremely…I thought of my positions I occupied in the De Beers and the Chartered Company, and I concluded that one position could be worked with the other, and each to the benefit of all…If there is anything that would give me encouragement, it is the kindly and cordial greeting my fellow citizens have extended to me tonight…”

In 1890 Rhodes granted an interview to The World in a regular column entitled Celebrity at Home. The columnist referred to him as “heavily built, ponderous and slow speaking.” This gave the impression of a lazy person, but as the article continued, when one looked at him closely, there was genius in his eyes, described as being bright, keen and grey. That same year Olive Schreiner described him as having “masses of curly hair…a curious far off look”, and a “…huge, almost gross body.” He was a tall man, measuring some 6 feet one inch, a fact not known by many today, who for whatever reason believe he was quite short. His school friends, personal secretary Philip Jourdan, and Percy Fitzpatrick all state his height as being over 6 feet tall.

17 July 1890, Cecil Rhodes becomes Premier of the Cape Colony.

DID YOU KNOW

The second General Manager of the De Beers Consolidated Mines, Alpheus Williams, wrote his memoirs of the Diamond Fields in 1948. His father, Gardner Williams, had been the first General Manager, being appointed in 1887, some 16 years after the discovery of diamonds at Colesberg Kopje (the Big Hole) on 16 July 1871.

PT-Fleetwood_Rawstorne_Red_Cap_Party-2-1871

Fleetwood Rawstorne’s Red Cap Party

Gardner Williams, wishing to finally sort out who had discovered the Kimberley Mine, interviewed Mrs Rawstorne, the mother of Fleetwood, in 1900. Mrs Rawstorne confirmed the statement by Tiberius Benjamin Kisch that it was Damon who discovered the first diamond on Colesberg kopje. Despite the fact that this corroboration was some 29 years later after the discovery, the story is consistent in that Damon discovered the first diamond. Williams himself goes on to state that he had many arguments with Dr Ortlepp about his mother discovering the first diamond, and it is interesting to note that Gardner Williams writes that “the story generally accepted is that the first diamond discovered on Colesberg Kopje was picked up by a coloured servant of Fleetwood Rawstorne…” Historian George Beet and Gardner’s son Alpheus Williams also declared Damon the discoverer of the Kimberley Mine (Big Hole).

Despite the fact that all accounts quoted are from secondary sources, they are based on primary source material as per the various publications. George Beet, Alpheus Williams and Gardner Williams have impeccable character, and although the former has made errors in several of his publications it does not take away any substance from this particular story.

We can be assured that there were diggers working the ground on or close to Colesberg kopje before a diamond was discovered. Notwithstanding that, Mrs Ortlepp may indeed have found the first diamond in the immediate region of the kopje, but it is a fact that nothing came of her discovery save that her story that she found the first diamond only came to light afterwards.

Therefore it can quite safely be stated that Damon, the coloured employee of Fleetwood Rawstorne, based on the information available to us today, was the person who discovered the Big Hole as we know it. It was he, even though he may well have dug in someone else’s shaft, that actually found the diamond that saw Rawstorne and his party scurrying to Colesberg Kopje shortly before the biggest “rush” the world has ever seen. That Rawstorne received credit over the last century and a bit can be attributed to the fact that Damon worked for Rawstorne, (although even that is debatable), and that Rawstorne registered the first claims.

Likewise, the name of the mine, registered initially as Colesberg Kopje by Rawstorne and his party, was known to everyone else as the De Beers New Rush. It eventually became known as the Kimberley Mine and today is generally known as the Big Hole of Kimberley.

This entire story only really has one unanswered question: Who was this mysterious Damon? This has really confused everyone since the discovery of the Kimberley Mine, and it was only recently that a short (and published) story came to light in the Africana Library archives, and like most finds, involved pure good fortune.

The story published is an interview with Solomon Demoense (also spelled Damoense in certain accounts), an alluvial diamond digger who had been operating in the Barkly West area for 43 years. Solomon related to the writer, J.H. Deacon, that his father, Esau Demoense, “…had two claims to fame. He helped to make the wagons that conveyed the diggers to Kimberley during the old diamond rush days, and [that] he found the first diamond at Kimberley’s Big Hole. It wasn’t a hole then, it was a high hill called Colesberg Kopje.”

Esau Demoense had been employed with a wagon maker at Paarl, and had made his way up to the diamond diggings in 1871 to seek his fame and fortune. He died in 1940, aged 104 years, making him 35 years old at the time of the discovery. The whole oral history tale as related by Solomon Demoense tallies with both primary and secondary historical sources, and Esau’s surname is so close to “Damon” that it can only but be believed.

To Esau Demoense then must go the credit of the discovery of the world famous Big Hole of Kimberley.

(From: The Big Five Mines of Kimberley, 2002, Lunderstedt, Steve).

Pictured is Fleetwood Rawstorne’s Red Cap party from Colesberg, Esau Demoense believed to be the person on extreme left, plus some early diggings on Colesberg Kopje shortly after the discovery of diamonds).

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

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