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.
Struben Brothers Stamp Mill 1885 - HF Gros Collection via Rod Kruger
Two other Georges, George Harrison & George Walker, learning of their mining activities from Arthur Edgson at Muldersdrift, came over looking for work. Walker was commissioned to help set up the new stamp-mill in a nearby Kloof, and build a small cottage nearby to replace the Strubens ‘s tent. Harrison, a brick-layer and prospector, went on to the farm Langlaagte to help build a small house. This led the way to the finding of the Main Reef at Langlaagte in 1886 by George Harrison.
The Strubens put claims on the main reef on the Eastern side of Langlaagte and dug test-shafts, to prove the gold content. They named their claims “Crown Reef”. In 1888 they sold most of their property for a small fortune and retired to Cape Town. The Confidence Reef and Mill were rented to a consortium who worked it for a short time, and then sold the Mill, probably to Bandjies mine in Florida. The Confidence Reef lay abandoned and forgotten.
After Fred Struben died his wife Mabel sold the Eastern part of Wilgespruit to George Brown of Roodepoort. Brown tried mining on the property with poor results. In 1935 he built, with his own money, a monument to the Strubens. This was a red brick tower with a marble plaque telling about what the Strubens achieved there.
The Struben Monument via Rod Kruger
The Monument stood on the koppie over the Confidence Reef Mine for many years. The inscription read:
To the memory of Fred and Harry Struben, who by their brotherly cooperation during a period of arduous work, discovered and proved the gold-bearing conglomerates of the Witwatersrand, September 1884. The first public information of discovery was made to the President of the Transvaal Republic and the world, January 5, 1885.
Erected by Geo Brown November 1936 Wilgespruit.
The first page of correspondence between Brown and Mabel Struben, whom Brown consulted about the wording on the plaque
In the 1960s someone "looking for the Kruger Millions" destroyed this monument. (How many times have treasure hunters been fooled? Why would Smuts, who recovered the gold from Pretoria, move it ‘towards’ the British forces coming into Johannesburg?).
The work of the Strubens has been honoured with the preservation of an old stamp battery marked with a blue plaque. The Confidence Reef Mine is also a declared Provincial Heritage Site. In addition to this perhaps it is time to revive the idea of substantial memorial to the famous brothers?
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