Monday, January 27, 2014

Caithness in the Diamond Fields

Star of South Africa: 47.69 carat
pear-shaped diamond
Diamond fever hit the Cape Colony with the discovery in 1867 of the Eureka diamond, the first found at Hopetown on the edge of the Great Karoo, followed in 1868 by the Star of South Africa, a massive rock which sold for 11 000 pounds – an incredible fortune at the time. 

From then on everyone from far and wide headed for the ‘fields’: the rush was on. It wouldn’t be long before the Cape Government Railways would be founded (1872) and a main line run between the Kimberley diamond fields to Cape Town, directly through Hopetown. 

To begin with, though, getting to Hopetown was a hard 15-hour slog on sandy roads from Port Elizabeth, transporting all the accoutrements required for the diggings. For many, the possibilities of a lucrative trade on the fields outweighed the chances of finding a valuable stone.

The Caithness surname emerges, as it so frequently seems to do, right in the middle of the action. A report from The Port Elizabeth Telegraph was relayed via the Cape and Natal News of 8 August 1870:

The excitement regarding the diamond fields has not lost any of its intensity … This morning Mr Joel Meyers left for the South African El Dorado. He intends opening a trading establishment and takes with him a well assorted stock of such goods as are likely to be most in request at the diggings. Messrs Leslie, Innes and Berry, who accompany him, intend to try their luck with the pick and spade. The Humansdorp party are now here and they also leave today …

The report continues with mention of a Mr E Slater among whose party would be a Caithness:

This tantalising Caithness reference gives scope for digging of a different kind. Who was this and how does he tie up with the Caithness who emerges in 1879 in the Zulu Country? 

To be continued … 

Tom Sheldon

No comments: