Worth the Read – the Seven Lost Trails of Africa

by on March 7th, 2015
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Worth the Read – The Seven Lost Trails of Africa

Hedley A. Chilvers

Cassell and Company, Limited London, Toronto, Melbourne and Sydney

with eight illustrations, by Alfred Palmer

8 maps by H.E. Winder

Published 1930

Who among us does not stop and shift our head at the word, Johannesburg? African treasure, African adventure, great white lions, these thoughts push aside moving the sprinkler or finding the remote control.

Here our attention is drawn to the valley of precious stones in the tangled hills at the bend of the Orange River. Old diamond-craters crammed with wealth await us. A murderer quickly buries diamonds and gold bars in the banks of the Blyde River the year 1903 – as yet not recovered. On the trail of the Grovensor, sank on the Pondo Coast of Africa 1782, just to wet your appetite. The Matabele War of 1893, and the King’s missing cache somewhere in Rhodesian territory. The silver mines of Chicova which the Portuguese were unable to locate in their search of the sixteenth century. And the tale of the missing larger half of the Cullin diamond rounds out the fabled treasures.

In an era of bi-planes, travel by camel and horseback, in the fading days of empire our author recounts the trails and by-paths of sun-beaten Southern Africa. With ink drawn maps on parchment or leather, these explorers, adventurers and scalawags gathered their bearers and stepped off into the savanna. Unknown names in the West, they are heralded in South African lore – Fred Cornell, Dr. Harold Hagar, Sir Aubrey Wolls-Sampon, Sir Thomas Cullinan, Dr. Hans Merensky, Dr. Reuning, Tom Donovan, Harry S. Lyons and others give their personal account.

“King Lobengula, son of the Zulu general Moselikatze who fled to Rhodesia from the Vootrekkers and the Tshaka and founded the Matabele nation, had reached the conclusion in 1892 that war with the white man was inevitable.” …The first sentence of chapter viii.

They stood watching the stream rush into the cave and disappear “That’s where we go master” – “I don’t like it”, remarked the prospector. The roof hung with vampire bats and the darkness was full of water snakes, ‘this is the approach – this?’ Having built two narrow rafts from timber from the wagon, Jakob, lead the way holding up a smoky lantern. They arrived atop a great waterfall, and stared into a valley of desolation. The valley strewn with garnets, lead them to perfect diamonds of considerable size. (H. A. Bryden’s book, ‘Kloof and Karroo in Cape Colony’, 1889, tells the same tale, with variations.) {Summary- pages 13-15}

In a speech to the Geographical Society of South Africa, Dr. Harold S. Harger predicted the geographic whereabouts of enormous wealth. A decade later, he tramped through the mud on Baker’s Farm in the Western Transvaal. One year later, 20,000 diggers were on the banks of this once ancient rivers path, pulling diamonds from the diamondiferous gravel, deposited in centuries past. Three years later the first test hole on Elandsputte farm, the adjoining farm, yielded fifty diamonds. The Lichtenburg diamond fields at one time provided work for thirty thousand workers.

At Prinsloo’s farm, Pretoria, a down on his luck hunter, builder, prospector surveyed the area and with instincts firing his ambitions, determined to get the option to mine the farm. The farmer would not budge, during the time of the Boer War the farmer died, the farmer’s son sold the mining rights and the ‘Premier Diamond Mining Company’ was established.

Frederick Wells, surface manager of the Premier Mine, on January 26, 1905, found the stone named after Sir Thomas Cullinan. The Cullinan diamond is the largest rough gem-quality ever found, at 3,106.75 carats

With chapter titles like: The Adventures of Farmer Fourie in quest of the lost half of the Cullinan Diamond and Johannesburg: The City of the Rand Goldfields this record by Chilvers, from the first page to the last, is a safari to the end of the rainbow.

This title is a bit hard to find. My worn copy has been attacked by insects, boards munched and ragged. It has acquired that addicting smell of old paper. Pages uncut at the printers now have jagged edges. It holds a position in my private library, not advertised, not listed, just from time to time pulled from the shelf to carry me away.

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