25 AUGUST 1904, De Beers takes over the town council electricity
25 AUGUST 1954, Gallery founder Alfred Martin Duggan-Cronin dies.
Progress in the use of electricity was somewhat slow and erratic. The next important advance [in Kimberley] was not made until 1900, when the Municipal Electricity Undertaking was established. Then the supply of electricity was provided from the Municipal Power Station in Stockdale Street, which generated power in the form of a direct current on a 440/220 system. The following year  electricity was made available for domestic use. To supply the houses of Kimberley with electric power proved no easy matter. So haphazard had been the town’s development that it lacked the symmetry needed for overhead distribution and underground cables had to be laid.
Following these developments, the Council dispensed with the City Electricity Department and, in 1904, entered into an agreement with De Beers Consolidated Mines “for the comprehensive supply to them of all their electricity requirements in the form of 3 phase alternating current at specified rates distributed and delivered and metered at the terminals on the premises of the Council’s consumers.”
Under this arrangement, the Council placed their distribution network at the disposal of De Beers, who, from time to time, extended distribution at the Council’s cost. However, all dealings with the consumers – the fixing of tariffs and the collection of accounts – continued to be handled by the Council.
The first City Electrical Engineer was appointed in 1927. At the time his duties were mainly connected with the commercial development of the undertaking, but about a dozen years later the department took over the technical direction of the undertaking and the supervision of the services provided by De Beers.
(Pictured is Kimberley’s first street lighting plant that was opened in Stockdale Street in 1882, and the construction of the new Boiler House in 1903 at Blanckenberg’s Vlei, this in readiness for the De Beers’ takeover.)
The story is from Brian Roberts’ “Civic Century”.
TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY – 25 AUGUST – Blackenberg Vlei, Kimberley Central Power-station
De Beers takes over the town council electricity, 25 August 1904
Pictured are two views of the power station at Blanckenberg’s Vlei. (Full gallery below)
DID YOU KNOW
In 1900/01, under the Chairmanship of Rhodes, the De Beers Consolidated Mines planned to build a new large central power plant at Kimberley. It would have an initial capacity of 2 MW and be
built on the edge of Blanckenberg’s Vlei. The Town Council had a 300 kW power station in operation, which had been financed by a loan from De Beers. De Beers planned to meet future requirements of the town by a supply from the central plant as well. By 1902 erection of the plant at Kimberley was proceeding, but Rhodes did not live to see it brought into service.
When De Beers planned the Kimberley Central Power Station, the generators of previous steam stations in South Africa were driven by reciprocating piston engines. However, in 1901 a Parsons 50 kW turbo-generator was commissioned at Wynberg Central Power Station by the Cape Peninsula Lighting Company. In 1903 the same company also installed three Parsons turbo-generators, each of 135 kW capacity, at the Claremont Central Power Station. The plant at Kimberley Central would have two 1 MW steam turbine-driven sets, the largest of any sets at that time in South Africa. They would be the same size and run at the same speed as those at Elberfeld, Germany, but would have three-phase alternators instead of being single-phase units.
The Kimberley Central Power Station was built on the edge of Blanckenberg’s Vlei due to the availability of a constant water supply from either the vlei or from the main water connection to the Premier Mine reservoir. Water was one of the most essential elements needed for the power station (especially for cooling). A second important factor was coal supply. The location was conveniently positioned close to an existing rail siding from Premier (Wesselton) Mine to the power station. The combination of these two factors made the Blanckenberg’s Vlei an ideal site upon which to build the Central Power Station. The power would be generated at 5000V and transmitted at the same pressure. The system was planned for three phase alternating current with a frequency of 50 cycles per second, the alternators being four-pole sets running at 1500 revolutions per minute.
Two sets of turbo-generators were installed, each comprising a Westinghouse-Parsons steam turbine and a Westinghouse generator and each with a capacity of 1000 kilowatts. Because of an envisioned radical growth in the demand for electricity, provision was made for the future installation of another unit. The switchboard was supplied by the General Electric Company of New York. It was fitted with automatic circuit breakers and oil break switches, while the switchboard panels were made from polished marble.
Initially eight Babcock and Wilcox water tube boilers with superheaters were installed. Space was provided for another four. Each boiler had a heating surface of about 3500 square feet [325 square metres]. Chain grate stokers were installed and mechanical handling of the coal was specified in order to minimise labour requirements. Induced draught fans were fitted and economisers were installed to take up the heat of the gasses leaving the furnaces.
The turbine house was brick built while the boiler house was steel framed and covered with corrugated iron. Auxiliaries were electrically driven and surface condensers were used. Transmission was by underground cable to reduce, as far as possible, the risk of lightning damage. The underground cables were paper insulated, lead covered and steel armoured. Step-down transformers reduced the voltage from 5000 to 220V for consumer use as it was planned that all lights and motors would operate at 220 volts. While planning the power station, De Beers envisioned the rapid increase in demand for its electricity. As a result, inflated electricity needs were used to determine the initial capacity of the Kimberley Central Power Station. The projected peak loads for 1904 were 2524kW during the day and 1752kW at night.
Erection of the two turbo-alternators was completed by the year ending 30 June 1903, but they were brought into service only during August 1903. Delivery of the transformers and switchgear for the distribution system was about 5 months behind schedule, which prevented the power station from being brought into service earlier.
Kimberley Central was the first big steam turbine-driven power station in Africa. Soon afterwards it became the centre from which the whole of Kimberley, Beaconsfield, the diamond fields and mines were supplied with electricity. For the following few decades this power station supplied the whole electric supply system of the area. This marked the beginning of an era in which De Beers dominated the generation and distribution of electricity in the Kimberley area until the end of the 1940s, when Escom took over the management of the power station.
The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 resulted in a shortage of labour, which forced De Beers temporarily to close all its mines and works for the duration of the war. During this period, the main function of Kimberley Central was to supply electricity for town lighting, the tramways and other essential works. By the end of the war, mining activities were resumed and the power station again functioned at full capacity.
During the period 1902 to 1935, Kimberley Central Power Station held a world record for being shut down once only, for a period of 90 minutes, due to breakdown.
In January 1950 Escom assumed responsibility for the provision of electricity to the Kimberley municipality. Two months later, in March 1950, De Beers gave Escom control of Kimberley Central Power Station, which was to become the basis from which Escom gradually connected the Northern Cape to their national grid.
Comment by David Morris:
I recall a vast Eskom transformer being transported in, circa 1965-66?, and I believe it was soon after that that my grandfather H.A. Morris was invited (as former City Electrical Engineer) to switch off the old turbines for the last time as they were being decommissioned. Now, it may be that the above history of the old power station is a little Eskom-centric – and perhaps others can clarify the issue. A note left by my late father, Roger Morris, about H.A. Morris (his father), sketches an intervening history that precedes Eskom control. Having joined De Beers after the Great War, H.A.M. resigned in 1926 to take up the post of “City Electrician” with the Kimberley Municipality – or as “City Electrical Engineer” as the position came to be designated from 1930 onwards. He pushed to increase the size (and revenue) of the municipal network, then being run under dual De Beers-Municipal control. In 1941 this dual control of Kimberley’s electrical reticulation was finally ended and, as H.A. Morris is said to have put it, “the city regained its birthright.” Incidentally the Kimberley Airport (upgraded in 1930-31 for Imperial Airways’ Trans-Africa service) was part of his portfolio and the City Electrical and Airport Department pioneered night landing facilities subsequently copied by Johannesburg. The notes then indicate that in 1936 H.A. Morris and George Robertson approached Eskom with proposals for power lines along the Vaal and Modder Rivers to feed the Kimberley region. As Municipal Development Officer (from 1944, after his official retirement) and a co-founder of the Northern Cape and Adjoining Areas Development Association (1946), he campaigned inter alia for the generation of electricity for the Northern Cape using Vierfontein low-grade coal. The point of all this is that, it would appear, there was a significant Municipal interlude in Blanckenberg Vlei history that comes between the chapter on its origins under exclusively De Beers control and the later coming of Eskom.
(From the website: Eskom Heritage. This information on Kimberley Central Power Station was produced by Antonia Bosman, a historical researcher, and Jenny Kolb, an Eskom employee and Dick Fowler, a retired Eskom employee.)