The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
--Pudd'nhead Wilsons's New Calendar.
There isn't a Parallel of Latitude but thinks it would have been the
Equator if it had had its rights.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
Next to Mr. Rhodes, to me the most interesting convulsion of nature in
South Africa was the diamond-crater. The Rand gold fields are a
stupendous marvel, and they make all other gold fields small, but I was
not a stranger to gold-mining; the veldt was a noble thing to see, but it
was only another and lovelier variety of our Great Plains; the natives
were very far from being uninteresting, but they were not new; and as for
the towns, I could find my way without a guide through the most of them
because I had learned the streets, under other names, in towns just like
them in other lands; but the diamond mine was a wholly fresh thing, a
splendid and absorbing novelty. Very few people in the world have seen
the diamond in its home. It has but three or four homes in the world,
whereas gold has a million. It is worth while to journey around the
globe to see anything which can truthfully be called a novelty, and the
diamond mine is the greatest and most select and restricted novelty which
the globe has in stock.
The Kimberley diamond deposits were discovered about 1869, I think. When
everything is taken into consideration, the wonder is that they were not
discovered five thousand years ago and made familiar to the African world
for the rest of time. For this reason the first diamonds were found on
the surface of the ground. They were smooth and limpid, and in the
sunlight they vomited fire. They were the very things which an African
savage of any era would value above every other thing in the world
excepting a glass bead. For two or three centuries we have been buying
his lands, his cattle, his neighbor, and any other thing he had for sale,
for glass beads and so it is strange that he was indifferent to the
diamonds--for he must have pickets them up many and many a time. It
would not occur to him to try to sell them to whites, of course, since
the whites already had plenty of glass beads, and more fashionably
shaped, too, than these; but one would think that the poorer sort of
black, who could not afford real glass, would have been humbly content to
decorate himself with the imitation, and that presently the white trader
would notice the things, and dimly suspect, and carry some of them home,
and find out what they were, and at once empty a multitude of
fortune-hunters into Africa. There are many strange things in human
history; one of the strangest is that the sparkling diamonds laid there
so long without exciting any one's interest.
The revelation came at last by accident. In a Boer's hut out in the wide
solitude of the plains, a traveling stranger noticed a child playing with
a bright object, and was told it was a piece of glass which had been
found in the veldt. The stranger bought it for a trifle and carried it
away; and being without honor, made another stranger believe it was a
diamond, and so got $125 out of him for it, and was as pleased with
himself as if he had done a righteous thing. In Paris the wronged
stranger sold it to a pawnshop for $10,000, who sold it to a countess for
$90,000, who sold it to a brewer for $800;000, who traded it to a king
for a dukedom and a pedigree, and the king "put it up the spout."
--[handwritten note: "From the Greek meaning 'pawned it.'" M.T.]--I know
these particulars to be correct.
The news flew around, and the South African diamond-boom began. The
original traveler--the dishonest one--now remembered that he had once
seen a Boer teamster chocking his wagon-wheel on a steep grade with a
diamond as large as a football, and he laid aside his occupations and
started out to hunt for it, but not with the intention of cheating
anybody out of $125 with it, for he had reformed.
We now come to matters more didactic. Diamonds are not imbedded in rock
ledges fifty miles long, like the Johannesburg gold, but are distributed
through the rubbish of a filled-up well, so to speak. The well is rich,
its walls are sharply defined; outside of the walls are no diamonds. The
well is a crater, and a large one. Before it had been meddled with, its
surface was even with the level plain, and there was no sign to suggest
that it was there. The pasturage covering the surface of the Kimberley
crater was sufficient for the support of a cow, and the pasturage
underneath was sufficient for the support of a kingdom; but the cow did
not know it, and lost her chance.
The Kimberley crater is roomy enough to admit the Roman Coliseum; the
bottom of the crater has not been reached, and no one can tell how far
down in the bowels of the earth it goes. Originally, it was a
perpendicular hole packed solidly full of blue rock or cement, and
scattered through that blue mass, like raisins in a pudding, were the
diamonds. As deep down in the earth as the blue stuff extends, so deep
will the diamonds be found.
There are three or four other celebrated craters near by a circle three
miles in diameter would enclose them all. They are owned by the De Beers
Company, a consolidation of diamond properties arranged by Mr. Rhodes
twelve or fourteen years ago. The De Beers owns other craters; they are
under the grass, but the De Beers knows where they are, and will open
them some day, if the market should require it.
Originally, the diamond deposits were the property of the Orange Free
State; but a judicious "rectification" of the boundary line shifted them
over into the British territory of Cape Colony. A high official of the
Free State told me that the sum of $4,00,000 was handed to his
commonwealth as a compromise, or indemnity, or something of the sort, and
that he thought his commonwealth did wisely to take the money and keep
out of a dispute, since the power was all on the one side and the
weakness all on the other. The De Beers Company dig out $400,000 worth
of diamonds per week, now. The Cape got the territory, but no profit;
for Mr. Rhodes and the Rothschilds and the other De Beers people own the
mines, and they pay no taxes.
In our day the mines are worked upon scientific principles, under the
guidance of the ablest mining-engineering talent procurable in America.
There are elaborate works for reducing the blue rock and passing it
through one process after another until every diamond it contains has
been hunted down and secured. I watched the "concentrators" at work big
tanks containing mud and water and invisible diamonds--and was told that
each could stir and churn and properly treat 300 car-loads of mud per day
1,600 pounds to the car-load--and reduce it to 3 car-loads of slush. I
saw the 3 carloads of slush taken to the "pulsators" and there reduced to
quarter of a load of nice clean dark-colored sand. Then I followed it to
the sorting tables and saw the men deftly and swiftly spread it out and
brush it about and seize the diamonds as they showed up. I assisted, and
once I found a diamond half as large as an almond. It is an exciting
kind of fishing, and you feel a fine thrill of pleasure every time you
detect the glow of one of those limpid pebbles through the veil of dark
sand. I would like to spend my Saturday holidays in that charming sport
every now and then. Of course there are disappointments. Sometimes you
find a diamond which is not a diamond; it is only a quartz crystal or
some such worthless thing. The expert can generally distinguish it from
the precious stone which it is counterfeiting; but if he is in doubt he
lays it on a flatiron and hits it with a sledgehammer. If it is a
diamond it holds its own; if it is anything else, it is reduced to
powder. I liked that experiment very much, and did not tire of
repetitions of it. It was full of enjoyable apprehensions, unmarred by
any personal sense of risk. The De Beers concern treats 8;000 carloads
--about 6,000 tons--of blue rock per day, and the result is three pounds of
diamonds. Value, uncut, $50,000 to $70,000. After cutting, they will
weigh considerably less than a pound, but will be worth four or five
times as much as they were before.
All the plain around that region is spread over, a foot deep, with blue
rock, placed there by the Company, and looks like a plowed field.
Exposure for a length of time make the rock easier to work than it is
when it comes out of the mine. If mining should cease now, the supply of
rock spread over those fields would furnish the usual 8,000 car-loads per
day to the separating works during three years. The fields are fenced
and watched; and at night they are under the constant inspection of lofty
electric searchlight. They contain fifty or sixty million dollars'
worth' of diamonds, and there is an abundance of enterprising thieves
In the dirt of the Kimberley streets there is much hidden wealth. Some
time ago the people were granted the privilege of a free wash-up. There
was a general rush, the work was done with thoroughness, and a good
harvest of diamonds was gathered.
The deep mining is done by natives. There are many hundreds of them.
They live in quarters built around the inside of a great compound. They
are a jolly and good-natured lot, and accommodating. They performed a
war-dance for us, which was the wildest exhibition I have ever seen.
They are not allowed outside of the compound during their term of service
three months, I think it, is, as a rule. They go down the shaft, stand
their watch, come up again, are searched, and go to bed or to their
amusements in the compound; and this routine they repeat, day in and day
It is thought that they do not now steal many diamonds successfully.
They used to swallow them, and find other ways of concealing them, but
the white man found ways of beating their various games. One man cut his
leg and shoved a diamond into the wound, but even that project did not
succeed. When they find a fine large diamond they are more likely to
report it than to steal it, for in the former case they get a reward, and
in the latter they are quite apt to merely get into trouble. Some years
ago, in a mine not owned by the De Beers, a black found what has been
claimed to be the largest diamond known to the world's history; and, as a
reward he was released from service and given a blanket, a horse, and
five hundred dollars. It made him a Vanderbilt. He could buy four
wives, and have money left. Four wives are an ample support for a
native. With four wives he is wholly independent, and need never do a
stroke of work again.
That great diamond weighs 97l carats. Some say it is as big as a piece
of alum, others say it is as large as a bite of rock candy, but the best
authorities agree that it is almost exactly the size of a chunk of ice.
But those details are not important; and in my opinion not trustworthy.
It has a flaw in it, otherwise it would be of incredible value. As it
is, it is held to be worth $2,000,000. After cutting it ought to be
worth from $5,000,000 to $8,000,000, therefore persons desiring to save
money should buy it now. It is owned by a syndicate, and apparently
there is no satisfactory market for it. It is earning nothing; it is
eating its head off. Up to this time it has made nobody rich but the
native who found it.
He found it in a mine which was being worked by contract. That is to
say, a company had bought the privilege of taking from the mine 5,000,000
carloads of blue-rock, for a sum down and a royalty. Their speculation
had not paid; but on the very day that their privilege ran out that
native found the $2,000,000-diamond and handed it over to them. Even the
diamond culture is not without its romantic episodes.
The Koh-i-Noor is a large diamond, and valuable; but it cannot compete in
these matters with three which--according to legend--are among the crown
trinkets of Portugal and Russia. One of these is held to be worth
$20,000,000; another, $25,000,000, and the third something over
Those are truly wonderful diamonds, whether they exist or not; and yet
they are of but little importance by comparison with the one wherewith
the Boer wagoner chocked his wheel on that steep grade as heretofore
referred to. In Kimberley I had some conversation with the man who saw
the Boer do that--an incident which had occurred twenty-seven or
twenty-eight years before I had my talk with him. He assured me that
that diamond's value could have been over a billion dollars, but not
under it. I believed him, because he had devoted twenty-seven years to
hunting for it, and was, in a position to know.
A fitting and interesting finish to an examination of the tedious and
laborious and costly processes whereby the diamonds are gotten out of the
deeps of the earth and freed from the base stuffs which imprison them is
the visit to the De Beers offices in the town of Kimberley, where the
result of each day's mining is brought every day, and, weighed, assorted,
valued, and deposited in safes against shipping-day. An unknown and
unaccredited person cannot, get into that place; and it seemed apparent
from the generous supply of warning and protective and prohibitory signs
that were posted all about, that not even the known and accredited can
steal diamonds there without inconvenience.
We saw the day's output--shining little nests of diamonds, distributed a
foot apart, along a counter, each nest reposing upon a sheet of white
paper. That day's catch was about $70,000 worth. In the course of a
year half a ton of diamonds pass under the scales there and sleep on that
counter; the resulting money is $18,000,000 or $20,000,000. Profit,
Young girls were doing the sorting--a nice, clean, dainty, and probably
distressing employment. Every day ducal incomes sift and sparkle through
the fingers of those young girls; yet they go to bed at night as poor as
they were when they got up in the morning. The same thing next day, and
all the days.
They are beautiful things, those diamonds, in their native state. They
are of various shapes; they have flat surfaces, rounded borders, and
never a sharp edge. They are of all colors and shades of color, from
dewdrop white to actual black; and their smooth and rounded surfaces and
contours, variety of color, and transparent limpidity make them look like
piles of assorted candies. A very light straw color is their commonest
tint. It seemed to me that these uncut gems must be more beautiful than
any cut ones could be; but when a collection of cut ones was brought out,
I saw my mistake. Nothing is so beautiful as a rose diamond with the
light playing through it, except that uncostly thing which is just like
it--wavy sea-water with the sunlight playing through it and striking a
Before the middle of July we reached Cape Town, and the end of our
African journeyings. And well satisfied; for, towering above us was
Table Mountain--a reminder that we had now seen each and all of the great
features of South Africa except Mr. Cecil Rhodes. I realize that that is
a large exception. I know quite well that whether Mr. Rhodes is the
lofty and worshipful patriot and statesman that multitudes believe him to
be, or Satan come again, as the rest of the world account him, he is
still the most imposing figure in the British empire outside of England.
When he stands on the Cape of Good Hope, his shadow falls to the Zambesi.
He is the only colonial in the British dominions whose goings and comings
are chronicled and discussed under all the globe's meridians, and whose
speeches, unclipped, are cabled from the ends of the earth; and he is the
only unroyal outsider whose arrival in London can compete for attention
with an eclipse.
That he is an extraordinary man, and not an accident of fortune, not even
his dearest South African enemies were willing to deny, so far as I heard
them testify. The whole South African world seemed to stand in a kind of
shuddering awe of him, friend and enemy alike. It was as if he were
deputy-God on the one side, deputy-Satan on the other, proprietor of the
people, able to make them or ruin them by his breath, worshiped by many,
hated by many, but blasphemed by none among the judicious, and even by
the indiscreet in guarded whispers only.
What is the secret of his formidable supremacy? One says it is his
prodigious wealth--a wealth whose drippings in salaries and in other ways
support multitudes and make them his interested and loyal vassals;
another says it is his personal magnetism and his persuasive tongue, and
that these hypnotize and make happy slaves of all that drift within the
circle of their influence; another says it is his majestic ideas, his
vast schemes for the territorial aggrandizement of England, his patriotic
and unselfish ambition to spread her beneficent protection and her just
rule over the pagan wastes of Africa and make luminous the African
darkness with the glory of her name; and another says he wants the earth
and wants it for his own, and that the belief that he will get it and let
his friends in on the ground floor is the secret that rivets so many eyes
upon him and keeps him in the zenith where the view is unobstructed.
One may take his choice. They are all the same price. One fact is sure:
he keeps his prominence and a vast following, no matter what he does. He
"deceives" the Duke of Fife--it is the Duke's word--but that does not
destroy the Duke's loyalty to him. He tricks the Reformers into immense
trouble with his Raid, but the most of them believe he meant well. He
weeps over the harshly--taxed Johannesburgers and makes them his friends;
at the same time he taxes his Charter-settlers 50 per cent., and so wins
their affection and their confidence that they are squelched with despair
at every rumor that the Charter is to be annulled. He raids and robs and
slays and enslaves the Matabele and gets worlds of Charter-Christian
applause for it. He has beguiled England into buying Charter waste paper
for Bank of England notes, ton for ton, and the ravished still burn
incense to him as the Eventual God of Plenty. He has done everything he
could think of to pull himself down to the ground; he has done more than
enough to pull sixteen common-run great men down; yet there he stands, to
this day, upon his dizzy summit under the dome of the sky, an apparent
permanency, the marvel of the time, the mystery of the age, an Archangel
with wings to half the world, Satan with a tail to the other half.
I admire him, I frankly confess it; and when his time comes I shall buy a
piece of the rope for a keepsake.