Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Caithness in the Diamond Fields 3

Diamond Digger
The Cape and Natal News of 8 August 1870 concerning members of Slater’s party leaving for the diamond fields gives only the surname Caithness – no forename or title, no mention of ‘Captain’. This could suggest it may not have been George Henry Caithness but his nephew James Ernest Caithness, at that point a fit thirty-year old bachelor and more likely to be setting off for the fields than would a fifty-something mariner such as George Henry.

However, it is certain that Captain Caithness made some trips by steamship from the Cape to England at the height of the diamond rush and that he presented ‘a collection of stones from the diamond diggings’ to the Hartley Institution (the latter became today's Southampton University).

The Cape and Natal News gives an idea of the freight carried by steamers, mentioning the Northam on which Captain Caithness was a passenger in 1872:

‘Diamonds were Trumps at the Cape’ and the same newspaper published some verses – enthusiastic if short on literary merit - by ‘a young Colonist’, entitled ‘Off to the Diamond Diggings’, giving a fair idea of the prevailing mood.

The South African press was full of stories about the diamond fields, who was on their way there, what the conditions were like en route and who had had spectacular finds. There wasn’t quite as much information on the many spectacular failures. 

Suddenly there was a dearth of ‘enterprising young men’ in the settled areas of the Colony: they were all off to the fields, wagons laden with stores and equipment, to rough it in tent-towns on the bare veld. 

Even men who were not so young hoped to make their fortunes, as the report below reveals:

During the year 1870 there poured into the country a stream of fortune-seekers which would be equalled only when gold was found on the Witwatersrand twenty years later.

It was the remarkable discoveries of diamonds and gold which put South Africa on the map and changed the course of its history. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Tom Sheldon

Research Resource:

Africana Library Kimberley
Holdings include: early travel and missionaries, Kimberley chronological, Directories and Voters’ Lists, geological and archaeological. Local newspapers from 1870, when diamonds were discovered, until present. 15 000 Photographs depicting the Diamond Fields and its people, mining and the Siege of Kimberley. 760 collections of Manuscripts, dealing with Siege of Kimberley diaries, discovery of diamonds etc. Ephemera: pamphlets, programs, invitation cards, medals, coins etc. South African and Kimberley maps.


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