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Dr Robert Koch in his Kimberley laboratory.


UPDATE: 27/11/2023

27 NOVEMBER 1896, Rinderpest reported in Taung region.
27 NOVEMBER  1899, What is now the Wesselton Mine christened officially the Premier Mine.

Rinderpest decimated the cattle population of most of southern Africa north of the Orange River in 1896 and early 1897. It also virtually wiped out the herds of larger game such as eland and buffalo, and after the initial outbreak only 3% of cattle in Mafeking region survived and 7% in the Vryburg region. The outbreak of rinderpest in the Taung region in late November 1896 started the Langeberg uprising of 1896-7, and saw movement of people and animals in the Kimberley region brought to a virtual standstill. The disease had already reached Kimberley in October 1896. The disease introduced a saying still popular today, “before the rinderpest”, and also earned Dr Robert Koch the 1905 Nobel Prize for his research, mostly conducted in Kimberley where his trip was wholly sponsored by De Beers Consolidated Mines.

Many of the basic principles and techniques of modern bacteriology were adapted or devised by Dr Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch (1843-1910), who therefore is often regarded as the chief founder of that science. His isolation of the causal agents of anthrax, tuberculosis, and cholera brought him worldwide acclaim as well as leadership of the German school of bacteriology. Directly or indirectly he influenced authorities in many countries to introduce public health legislation based on knowledge of the microbic origin of various infections, and he stimulated more enlightened popular attitudes toward hygienic and immunologic measures for controlling such diseases.

Koch’s tireless leadership in the cholera emergency brought him increased public responsibilities. He established stations in the Institute for Pasteurian treatment of rabies and for diphtheria antitoxin assay. The communicable diseases control law promulgated in 1900 incorporated his recommendations of the early 1890’s. Following his leprosy survey in Memel in 1896, the disease became notifiable in Prussia and a leprosarium was established.


Dr Robert Koch examining a carcass in the region.

Then the Cape Colony government engaged him to investigate rinderpest, ravaging cattle north of the Orange River. His thirst for foreign travel revived, and his microbiological interests were redirected. Arriving at Kimberley in December 1896, accompanied by his wife and staff surgeon Paul Kohlstock, Koch assembled a menagerie of experimental animals and within four months found that the infective agent was nonbacterial, transmissible by infected blood, and unattenuated by passage through animals. He achieved active immunization by inoculating susceptible cattle with a mixture of blood serum from recovered animals and virulent rinderpest-infected blood. Inoculation with bile from cattle freshly dead of the disease was even more protective. These procedures, outlined in succinct reports, were implemented by Kohlstock and veterinary officer G. Turner and further developed by W. Kolle (from the Institute), who replaced Koch after his departure for India to head a German government plague commission made up of his disciples Gaffky, Pfeiffer, G. Sticker, and A. Dieudonné.

(From: “Koch, Heinrich Hermann Robert.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Retrieved May 09, 2015 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830902344.html)

Photograph shows Dr Robert Koch in his Kimberley laboratory, and examining a carcass in the region.

27 NOVEMBER 1896, Rinderpest reported in Taung region.
27 NOVEMBER  1899, What is now the Wesselton Mine (pictured) christened officially the Premier Mine.


TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 27 NOVEMBER - Premier Mine / Wesselton Mine

Wesselton Mine

The discovery of Kimberley’s fifth big mine on Benaauwheidsfontein farm came some 21 years after the discovery of the Dutoitspan Mine saw diggers rush to the dry diggings; and two years after the great amalgamation of the Kimberley mines under Cecil Rhodes’ newly formed De Beers Consolidated Mines.

At some time during either September or October 1890, the last large diamondiferous pipe in Kimberley, the Wesselton Mine, was discovered by Gerard (Gerhardus) Fabricius, owner of the farm Bachelor’s Hall situated to the east of Olifantsfontein and Benaauwheidsfontein. Fabricius, apart from his farming operations, was also a part time prospector and worked under contract to Henry Alfred Ward, who held the mineral rights to the ground that he leased from Johannes Jacobus Wessels, the owner of the farm Benaauwheidsfontein.

It appears that Henry Ward always believed that diamonds would be discovered on Wessels’ farms Benaauwheidsfontein and Olifantsfontein as he had various agreements with Wessels on the right to purchase the farms as well as the mineral rights dating back to 28 October 1887, with the most recent prior to the diamond discovery being on 10 January 1890.

The actual date of discovery has not been recorded, although the month of September has been mooted by both Gardner Williams and Irvine Grimmer. Fabricius and his employer Henry A Ward managed to keep their discovery reasonably quiet, particularly the former as he only came to an agreement with Ward on 29 November 1890 – some two months after the discovery – whereby he was allowed to prospect the farm by sinking shafts. Ward was quite satisfied by December that Fabricius had actually found a mine and by 16 January 1891 Fabricius had employed at least five men to work the mine for him. These men were Owen Hall, Nott, Cellier, Ranier and McCullum. There may have been another two also working, Jones and Benfield.

Whatever the story, the news was only broken to the public of Kimberley in the Diamond Fields Advertiser in early January 1891 with a paragraph titled “The New Mine”, followed by a slightly longer story titled “The New diamond Mine on Wessels Farm” in mid-January. The newspaper inspected the area of the new mine and described it as being situated a few hundred yards from the south of Mr Mylchreest’s former floors and compound, and only a short distance from the Orange Free State border. In a note to the De Beers Company on 6 January 1891 a certain F. Starkey describes the mine as being “…on a very slight kopje.”

The newspaper stated that Fabricius and his partner Nott, who were working the land under the agreement with Ward, were riding over the veld “some months ago” and Fabricius observed something glittering in the sand. Alighting from his horse, he picked up some ground that included the glittering stone and returned home to wash the soil. Not only was the glittering stone a diamond but the soil also contained a more than average amount of carbon and garnets.

He returned to the region and did some more prospecting (with the permission of Henry Ward), coming to the conclusion that surface indications were that there was another mine underfoot. Each load washed was producing at least a half-carat diamond.

Irvine Grimmer, who at the time of the discovery was the Assistant Secretary for De Beers, states that Fabricius stumbled upon indications of diamondiferous ground in soil dug up from an ant bear hole, and then followed up his discovery. George Beet, who was in Kimberley at the time, suggests it was a meerkat scrape rather than ant bears. Gardner Williams discounts the rather romantic tale of the ant bear hole by saying Fabricius was wandering around rather aimlessly and at random sunk a prospecting hole and thus discovered the diamondiferous ground rather luckily. Williams at the time was the General Manager for De Beers. However, Grimmer’s tale has a more authentic ring to it than Williams’ version.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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