Mining History

On the 21 January 1960 a major calamity befell the coal mine at Coalbrook, situated in the Northern Free State 21km south west of Vereeniging. 437 miners were buried alive 180 meters below the surface when an estimated 900 pillars collapsed. A major rescue effort was undertaken, unfortunately without any positive results.

This article covers the history of the coal mine, the events leading up to the disaster, the causes, the aftermath and what we find there today. 

 

In the feel good article below, journalist Lucille Davie describes the epic return of Joburg's first stamp mills to the area where they were originally installed in 1885. The article was first published on the City of Joburg's website on 21 May 2009. Click here to view more of Davie's writing.

It always feels good when something is returned to where it originally belonged. So it is with the stamp mills owned by Joburg's first gold prospectors, Fred and Harry Struben.

South African mining photographs from as early as 1870 have been identified. These early diamond surface mining activity photographs were taken by Weber & Sederstrom at New Rush (Kimberley). When gold was found in Johannesburg some 14 years later (1884), it was initially not difficult to mine as the gold was found near the surface and prospectors had many laborers to assist them with the digging.

Should one drive out of Johannesburg eastwards along the N12 highway, a famous landmark is passed at the Snake Road exit, known as Benoni’s mountain or more accurately the Kleinfontein Mine Dump. The Dump has been standing tall (92 metres) for over 90 years but will soon only be a memory as it is being reclaimed for the estimated 3 ½ tons of gold that it contains. For many it is an eyesore and good riddance, but others will be sad to see it go.

 

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 started a gold rush that surpassed the Californian (1849), Victorian (1851) and Barberton (1885) rushes and the initial boom created the city of Johannesburg, which was literally and figuratively built on gold. The initial boom lasted for three years as the mining companies followed the sloping reef into the earth’s crust and then in 1889 the bust happened, as the gold appeared to suddenly run out which in turn caused a pall of pessimism to hang over the diggings.

In the article below, first published in the Gold Fields Review 1992-1993, Eris Malan tells the story of the discovery of a remarkable set of documents that filled a significant gap in the priceless Gold Fields Collection. She also traces some of the history behind the Collection including the process that led to the Cory Library at Rhodes University becoming the custodian. The article has been shortened by The Heritage Portal Team.

Few visitors driving through Hout Bay on the way to Chapman’s Peak Drive will have failed to notice in the sea below the road a curious concrete and steel jetty - usually the resting place of a number of cormorants drying themselves in the sun! This marks the most immediately visible remnant of one of the Cape’s most remarkable early mining ventures, the Hout Bay manganese mine.

 

With a melodic sounding name the Riemland is largely an area of wide flat horizons interspersed with not much else. It is however home to some very interesting heritage hotspots in the country. The Riemland covers most of the north and north-eastern Free State, including the towns of Sasolburg, Heilbron, Petrus Steyn, Lindley, Arlington and Senekal.

Vogelstruisbult is an abandoned gold mine on the East Rand near Springs. It was registered back in 1933 and began production in 1937. Anglo American was the controlling shareholder for many years. According to the book, "History of Springs" the mine produced just under 224 tons of gold during its 31 year lifetime.

In the middle of August 2016 employees from South 32 began the move from the landmark 6 Hollard Street in downtown Johannesburg to offices in the Worley Parsons Building in Melrose Arch. The move marks the end of a long and historic association that the firm (via its predecessors) has had with the Johannesburg CBD.

 

Port Nolloth is a sleepy town located on South Africa's north western coast. Today it is a great spot for a relaxing seaside holiday but life in the town was not always so easy. In the book A History of Copper Mining in Namaqualand John M Smalberger digs into the early history of the town and describes the incredibly tough conditions experienced by those brave enough to live there.

Some time ago I posted an item on the Heritage Portal about the demolition of the 1904 ERPM Clubhouse and the 1908 (Herbert Baker) extension to the ERPM Clubhouse (click here to view). A stop order was subsequently obtained, and demolition of these two structures was halted, but only after they had been broken down by about 80%.

Johannesburg is a gold mining city and, through the decades, there have been a number of disasters related to the industry. A walk through Johannesburg's cemeteries offers a visual history of premature loss through mine related explosions. The granite memorial in the Braamfontein Cemetery erected in memory of those who lost their lives in the great dynamite explosion of 1896, is still moving and offers a unique insight into Johannesburg history. 

 

[Originally published in 2014] This wonderful article, written by Malcolm Wilson, describes the journeys of early hunters, settlers and prospectors as well as the development of Driefontein Farm on land which is now just a few kilometres from 'Africa's richest square mile'.

Early Settlers and Prospectors

The county of Cornwall, in England’s south west, is a well known holiday destination renowned for its scenic beauty and it comes as a surprise to many a visitor that the county has an industrial past. From the mid-18th century Cornwall was as industrialised as the Midlands and North of England and it was one of the most important metalliferous mining areas in the world. In fact the metal Tin had been exploited in Cornwall by the Romans in the 3rd & 4th centuries AD, after their previous source - the Spanish tin mines, were worked out.

Headgears are the ultimate symbol of the mammoth Southern African mining industry. They tower over billions of rands worth of wealth and help to sustain vast underground cities. They are appreciated by millions around the world and we are blessed to have some of the finest examples. The article below provides an overview of the purpose and significance of headgears.

On reaching the bottom of Robber’s Pass on a journey towards the village of Pilgrim’s Rest you will notice on your left the Golf Club, but should you glance to the right you will see at intervals elegant cast iron poles each with a curved outrigger. You may well ponder as to what they are and after three guesses will still be none the wiser. To know the answer you will have to know some of the history of Pilgrim’s Rest.

The Struben brothers, Fred & Harry, by invitation of Louw Geldenhuys, discovered and mined gold on the Eastern part of the farm Wilgespruit in 1884-5. They learned mining from a Cornish miner, George Arnold (every body is ‘George’) and blasted and dug their way into the Witwatersrand Ridge in several places, most famously the “Confidence Reef Mine”. They imported a stamp mill from Sandycroft Foundry in England and powered it with an 8 horse-power steam engine they had on their farm, from Ransom, Simms & Jefferies, also a UK firm.

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