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Discovery of the Mines: Du Toitspan

The first of the Kimberley diamond mines to be discovered was the Du Toitspan Mine, named such because the farm Dorstfontein originally belonged to Abraham Paulus du Toit, who had built a small house next door to the Pan, a basin shaped like a saucepan that holds water. It was named Du Toit’s Pan for obvious reasons. Du Toit sold the farm to a Mr. Geyer for £525 on 12 May 1865, and he in turn sold it to Adriaan J. van Wyk for £870 on 6 January 1869. At the time of the discovery the owner was Adriaan J. van Wyk, George Beet states that van Wyk found some “pretty stones” while digging a well, and these he sold to a travelling Jew. Given that Van Wyk never knew the value of the stones or the man of Jewish descent, does the credit for the discovery of the mine go to van Wyk or to the Jew? And who is this travelling Jew?

In Jeremy Lawrence’s superb biography on Joseph Benjamin Robinson, it is stated that in either 1868 or possibly even in 1869 – the original details are somewhat sketchy – Robinson, while on his way to Hebron, now Windsorton, heard that a farmer’s wife had a stone similar to what he was looking for. He went to see the farmer’s wife, a Mrs. van Wyk of Dorstfontein, and purchased the diamond from her. She had found it in a dry donga close to the house. Another tale told by J.B. Robinson was that she sold him two bottles of pretty stones, among which were six or eight diamonds for which he paid her four sovereigns. Robinson further states that during this same journey he shot a springbok antelope on the farmer de Beer’s land, the farm Vooruitzicht. De Beer, a near neighbour of the van Wyk’s, also showed Robinson a diamond that he had picked up under the tree where the antelope had been shot. Robinson claimed that this exact spot was where the De Beers mine was later discovered, although we only have his word for it. Was this travelling “Jew” perhaps Joseph Benjamin Robinson? As neither Mr and Mrs van Wyk, nor J.B. Robinson, actually laid claim to the land as genuine diggers, and with the van Wyk’s not realising that the pretty stones they had collected were actually diamonds, the claimant for discovery of the Du Toitspan Mine should not go to any of them. Who does the honour go to?

William Alderson, later the majority shareholder in the fledgling De Beers Mining Company made famous by Cecil Rhodes and Charles Rudd, before losing all his money in some disastrous ventures, at sometime “toward the end of 1869 and the beginning of 1870…heard that a farmer named van Wyk was giving out ground to Dutchmen on his farm, and that they were…finding diamonds.” Alderson and his group, including William Delaney, Robert Randall, Rowe (Natal), Salaman, Thomas Short, Hodges and Coffin, made their way to the farm and encamped, mainly as they had been advised that van Wyk would only allow ‘Dutchmen’ to dig on his farm. The group heard a rumour that at least 92 diamonds had been discovered – a false rumour – and rushed the kopje below which the ‘Dutchmen’ were searching for diamonds. The first mention in the South African newspapers on the diamond finds at Du Toitspan was a letter dated 4 November 1869 where it stated that in middle October five diamonds were picked up in 2-3 hours at “Tooispan.” Brian Roberts suggests that the first diamonds were discovered in early 1869 at Du Toitspan and by September the same year at Bultfontein. Fred Steytler, a clerk from Hopetown, stated that he had seen at least six diamonds found at Du Toitspan in October 1869 and that “diamonds are to be found in abundance.”

Certainly by December 1869 there were diggers at Du Toitspan, and the Diamond News, based at Klipdrift, stated that diamonds were being found at both Du Toitspan and Bultfontein from November 1869. By July 1870 there were a fair number of diggers operating their claims.

Alderson pegged out the first claim on the new diggings of Du Toitspan, the rest of his group following suit, and in his reminiscences, Alderson stated that there were at least 200 ‘Dutchmen’ searching and digging at the base of the kopje. Following the lead of Alderson, they too rushed the kopje and laid their claims. Van Wyk, who was most unhappy about this state of affairs, could not really do anything about it, and after much discussion, was happy to accept 7/6 per claim per month from the diggers.

Van Wyk tried his best to sell his farm towards the end of 1870, even placing advertisements in newspapers proclaiming the value of the land. “For more than six months people have been digging…” stated one such advertisement, and the “…weekly finds average 60 – 100 diamonds…”

On 11 March 1871 the Du Toitspan farm was sold to Lilienfeld, Webb and partners (the London and South African Exploration Company) for £2600. The diamond controversy that followed and the Keate Award verdict of 1871 led to the annexation of the farms from the Orange Free State which became part of Griqualand West, which in turn was absorbed into the Cape Colony as from 1880.

So, is the discoverer of the Du Toitspan Mine William Alderson because he laid the first claim? Or is it the several hundred Dutch-speaking diggers who were already there before he arrived? Or perhaps it really is Joseph Robinson, but if it is he, then Mr. and Mrs. van Wyk must take some credit too, for it is they who actually found the first diamond, knowingly or not.

 

First Published in Tourism on Track No 40, 3 May 2005

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