ONCE A RHODESIAN ALWAYS A RHODESIAN

Published in Chambers circa 1930s.

Perhaps the witchery lies in Rhodesia‘s sunshine, tempered as it is with cool winds from a myriad of hills. It may be the call of the Wild or the lure of pioneering; perhaps it is largely due to the easiness of life in a most hospitable land. Whatever the causes, few ever come to Southern Rhodesia and leave without regret or intentions of returning.

There are many thousands of Britons either in the homeland or in the Empire’s Possessions who are seeking a kindly land in which to find homes for themselves and their children. To those who have lived in the East, Rhodesia presents unequalled advantages for her climate is superb, native labour is cheap and plentiful, and there is an abundance of social life such as appeals to those accustomed to the Straits, Burma and India.

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But to those who have never been out of Britain before, Rhodesia can also offer whatever they crave for in a life of the open. Mines to discover, big game to hunt, farms, plantations, ranches and industries to develop. The Colony is twice the size of Great Britain yet her white population is hardly that of a small English town. She has millions of acres of rich unsettled soil and only 3000 farmers and ranchers.

These few thousand men possess almost a million cattle, 85 000 sheep, 24 000 pigs and a quarter of a million head of poultry. They are developing half a million acres of agricultural and several million acres of ranching land.

It has been stated that Rhodesia will stand or fall on the success of her tobacco. Such has been said at various times of her mining, cattle and maize industries. Experience has proved that Rhodesia will never be dependant on one support. Her diversity of climate, altitude and soils, her mineral resources and the surrounding markets in which live 50 million potential cash customers, place the colony in a unique position.

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Breaking up the stubborn but remarkably fertile soil of Rhodesia.

Almost every known agricultural product can be grown on a commercial scale. This is amply borne out by the crops produced by 3000 scattered farmers. For 1929 the year of the Rhodesian tobacco slump the Government returns show 1 826 345 bags of 200 lbs of maize; 361 173 lbs of cotton delivered to ginneries, 18 830 bags of potatoes, 4 986 tons of onions, 12 901 bags of wheat, 7 143 tons of edible beans, 567 tons of oats sold by farmers. Many other crops also feature in the list wattle bark, coffee, tea, lucerne hay, fruit and almost 30 000 tons of ensilage amongst them.

The previous year 1928, Virginian tobacco had boomed and no less than 45 711 acres were planted to the crop. In consequence of the slump resulting from overproduction, the acreage was immediately reduced by 29 000 and the yield consequently fell from
24 491 464 lbs to 6 704 986 lbs. Increased plantings of Turkish tobacco were made but owing to a poor season the crop yielded only 337 479 lbs in 1929 as against 451 580 lbs in 1928.

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The last two years have not seen much development in agricultural activity owing to the prevailing depression in Rhodesia’s chief markets. Farmers have been more or less marking time as regards production, endeavouring to improve their farms and to hold their own until the clouds of financial stringency pass.

Rhodesia is fortunately in a remarkably good position. Her 1931 Budget showed only a £25 000 deficit on the previous year’s working. Government and people have co-operated loyally to solve the problems forced on various industries. None of the problems has proved insoluble and the result is that today Rhodesians are facing the future waiting eagerly to launch Rhodesian products on the world’s markets.

50%of the United kingdom’s tobacco requirements can be supplied by Rhodesia. Tea is proving a satisfactory and payable crop, large acreages can grow excellent coffee, wattle bark is an easily grown and very saleable commodity, rice growing offers many opportunities and the possibilities of fruit growing are undoubted, especially in view of the increasing markets opening in the mineralized belts of Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo.

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The Settler can choose his home among the wild Inyanga and Umtali mountains and grow apples, cherries, plums and pears in the terraces made by forgotten race who left Rhodesia one of the most wonderful irrigation schemes in the world. Whilst irrigating his orchards from aqueducts thousands of years old the Rhodesian may watch the flocks of merino sheep dotting the hillside, see his dairy cows dripping milk as they walk byrewards, rejoice over the rapid growth of wattle plantations and gloat on the fatness of his beef herds.

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He has Chipinga to pick a farm in and there grow tea or coffee, produce the best of citrus fruits, devote himself to pineapple or banana growing, or combine any one or all with wool and mutton, beef and cream production on as large a scale as his finances allow.

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In other districts, there are great belts of a level country along the railways where maize fields are reckoned by 1000 acre standards – there are wide and fruitful valleys running for a hundred miles and more where maize and cotton yield the heaviest of crops.

Much of Rhodesia is sandsoil and here tobacco can be grown equal to any produced by Virginia and the Carolinas. Immense yields of groundnuts also given by the sand and to those direct from European latitudes but the scenery and climatic conditions always make an irresistible appeal for these are more densely settled areas. there is no malaria and the amenities of civilized life are always at hand.

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Ranching country and its conditions must be known to be appreciated. In rearing beef cattle Rhodesians usually allowed 20 acres per beast, so ranches run from 20 000 to
2 500 000 acres in area. One white rancher with native assistance is supposed to be able to manage 5000 head of cattle so naturally cattlemen lead Robinson Crusoe existences.  To rear beef cheaply, land must be cheap and such is not found close to settled areas. Cattlemen go further afield and their lives are such that only the young and adventurous you are not encumbered with dependants are usually fitted for the loneliness and strain of ranching.

Mining and trading or other activities which one wonders so few newcomers ever attempt to engage in. Rhodesian Government Departments are filled with men who know the country, who absolutely trustworthy advisors and who are always anxious to assist whoever comes to them.

There are wonderful opportunities in the mining industry for level-headed men possessed of small capital and the Government offers not only advice practical and financial assistance. There are literally hundreds of abandoned gold mines scattered about Southern Rhodesia which are worth doing further prospecting work on. Many were abandoned in days when working costs and machinery were far higher than they are today.

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Most whilst not offering any attractions to companies yet afford possibilities for small syndicates or single owners. In many cases, former owners tried to make the mines pay their own development work and gave up immediately serious obstacles presented themselves.

Mine owning is naturally no occupation for those who know nothing about mining but its science and art can be learnt equally as easily as those of farming and ranching. There is no more reason to fear losing money in developing a promising gold reef than there is in farming. True a reef might pinch, values go out, ore become refractory or one of a dozen other mights occur but with farming bad seasons, flooded markets, disease and many other enemies may rob a farmer of all he has worked for. But as the tobacco farmer turns to cotton or maize when his tobacco fails so the disappointed miner goes looking for chrome, asbestos, mica or a new gold reef. A knowledge of prospecting and mining is a most useful asset to anyone settling in a country like Southern Rhodesia.

Most of the maize belt lies in a gold-bearing country and many a farm has a little two to five stamp battery pounding away on a small mine which is often the property of the farmer. In the granite, there is a good deal of corundum and in some districts, the country is full of chrome. The romance of Rhodesia’s mineral deposits has yet to be written but few imaginations could yield the material which the Umvukwes, Hartley, Gwelo and other districts offer the writer.

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Native trading offers perhaps a greatest of all opportunities to energetic business men. The native responds readily to any real interest shown in his welfare and though thousands of native stores are established throughout Rhodesia few traders really trouble to study the natives growing wants. As a general rule, the trader is simply out to make as much money as he possibly can in the shortest possible time. His stock is limited to what he considers will yield him immediate profits and his trading principles are usually those of pioneer days.

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But African natives today travel throughout the Continent, education is causing them to develop new wants and to appreciate good value for their money; quite a number are beginning to use C.O.D. system and import goods from Britain or the South African Union. So there is little doubt but that well-stocked shops offering attractive goods would soon take away the customers of the old-fashioned trading stores with their uninteresting shelves.

Business opportunities are unlimited in Rhodesia. One is apt to consider the country solely from the viewpoint of a settler who wishes to take up farming, to think of mining and trading as being prerogatives of people born in mining camps or trading stores, to overlook the possibilities of exploiting knowledge gained in one’s past.

Homilies are seldom appreciated but when a man’s life is spent rushing about a country settling men of all trades, professions and occupations into a life they have chosen without any experience of it; it may be permissible to express a candid opinion. A hairdresser well on in years arrived in a district which was rapidly filling. With the savings of many years, he bought a small farm and through a slump lost all he possessed. Had he started a hairdressing establishment when you arrived, the probabilities were that within twelve months he would have doubled his little capital and gained sufficient knowledge of the district to pick up a choice little farming investment.

Another an auctioneer by profession had this same experience and the same opportunities. Others again would have saved the loss of time and money by availing themselves of the many openings awaiting at every turn, yet as men are obsessed in a gold rush so settlers coming to Rhodesia seem obsessed with the idea of farming and farming only.

Any gold or diamond digger will vouch for the fact that there is more money in running a business on the diggings than there is in digging. A few diggers are lucky just as a few farmers are lucky, but generally speaking, it is more profitable to be a lawyer, a dentist, a butcher or hotelkeeper when in a community which is spending cash freely. In Rhodesia, a man can pursue any occupation without loss of social status. As long as he is making good and pulling his weight with his neighbours his business is purely a matter for his own concern.

On the surface, there is much of the Gertrude Page atmosphere about Rhodesian life. Underneath there is always steady progress being made. Year after year more country is being settled, new industries are established and old ones are developed. The great concessions being granted mining countries will certainly lead to increased spending powers amongst the native population, and to more marketing available to farmers and business people.

Rhodesia surrounded by countries which will buy largely from her as they develop.  Bechuanaland, Angola, Portuguese East Africa and the vast Northern territories will look likely to Rhodesia for many products which it is hardly likely they themselves will produce commercially for a long time to come.

The late D.M. Stanley one of the Rhodesia’s pioneers describes most eloquently the Eastern districts to which he and a score of other gallant frontiersmen devoted their lives.

“North and Mid Melsetter are the Highlands of the district and Highlands of a perfect kind. To the east, the towering Chimanimani marks the boundary. These run to the Lucetti River, there cutting into Portuguese East Africa, to reappear as the Sitatunga Mountains. These Highlands are watered by what is almost as a superfluity of perennial streams. Riding over the mountains, one off-saddles for a rest. Listen and you can hear the muted roar of some distant cascade;  as the wind rises or falls the sound reaches you in varying cadence. Then comes the realisation of the meaning of Tennyson‘s words: ‘The beauty born of murmuring sound.’ “

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The ever-changing panorama of the hills, the changing colour of the mountains, the vivid green of hilltops and valleys are bound to hold in a lasting thrall the minds of all who know it. The numerous cascades have not only a beauty for the lover of nature and the artist but also for the agriculturist, who dreams of the wastewater turned into irrigation channels and fertilising hundreds of acres of the richest soil in Rhodesia.

Again it has its beauty for the industrialist. He sees the many thousands of horsepower running to waste and dreams of the time when such, harnessed by modern methods shall be able to work, at a minimum cost, half the manufactures of South Africa.

There is another vision that may strike him who rides down our larger valleys. He sees kloof after kloof, valley after valley, unfolding as the turned leaves of some vast book. One out of three of such hold permanent water, and the imagination runs riot as to the possibilities for the establishment of smallholders – men who would own their little farms and be the forefathers of a race of small yeoman farmers. That would be the most valuable asset Melsetter could give to the Colony of Southern Rhodesia.

 

By
B. M. Leffler
Formerly: Tobacco Adviser Southern Rhodesia (Govt)
Contributor to S.A. Farmer’s Weekly, Farmers Advocate, Argus Newspapers, Feedstuffs U.S.A., Textile Weekly etc.etc.

Rhodesian Mining Law and a Wedding

End of Part 1: Perhaps it had broken the wedge and pushed the bottom half deeply into the material.

Nobody in the District but Mr Baird believed that there remained a portion of the reef below the granite but as only Mr Baird owned the mine and was paying for the exploration nobody interfered with his search nor discouraged his theories – It was nobody’s business but Mr Baird’s.

Breaking hundreds of tons of solid rock four hundred feet below and hauling it to the surface of the earth is expensive work. When there is a streak of other rock containing gold amongst the broken stone it is certainly worth the expense, always provided the gold is sufficient in quantity and in a form which is not refractory to ordinary methods of gold extraction.

The Baird reef was free of arsenic, antimony and other bugbears of the miner. So it’s owner had never worried about the cost of following it into the earth breaking it from the rock in which it was embedded and bringing it to the surface nor did Mr Baird grudge the cost of crushing his ore into powder or of washing it over the shaking copper plates.

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The yellow gold which mercury would catch from the agitated mass paid all the cost of mining and left a good deal over to pay the cost of a pretty daughter and all the comforts Mr Baird wanted.

But when there was no milky stone there was no gold and Mr Baird was distinctly worried. True it would take a year or two to break out all the quartz above the granite and there was another year’s work in recovering gold which had escaped the mercury and would only yield to cyanide treatment.

Two courses lay before Mr Baird – one to acknowledge that his reef had come to its natural end and to concentrate on cleaning up – the other to gamble. Mr Baird decided to gamble.

Eric Ferguson stood at the headgear of the Mascot with a boyish figure in oilskins.

“Not scared, Eunice?” he asked as a wet little truck emerged from the shaft. A remarkably pretty girl shook her chestnut hair as she clambered in.

“No fear – I like going down a little property – the Baird’s like Dad a bit too imposing.”

“Anyway hang on – we’ll go right down to the 5th level, the boys should have cleared away the night shift’s blasting. I’m into some pretty stuff. Jove Eunice if only the blessed reef would widen a bit.”

Down into the darkness dropped the truck and the miner slipped a protecting arm about the slim shoulders a small hand felt and found Eric’s hardened calloused one – In the mirk and drizzle of the mine shaft, a girl’s soft lips met her lovers’.

Down ever down sped the truck its steel rope singing to the winding drum above in the tiny patch of yellow that marked the surface.

A landing stage lit by spluttering candles marking a right-angled drive where naked black men white with clay toiled demonically loading a waiting truck – again a lighted stage, quiet, deserted, a black hole yawning at it.

No. 2 Level – No. 3 – No. 4 – With a jolt, the truck halted and a brawny native wet and clay covered grasping Eunice helped her to a wooden platform – a signal and the truck dropped into the darkness below.

“We’re down another 100 feet – just beginning to drive.” said Eric “We’ve worked out the first 4 levels and have just really begun to stope out the reef in this – the fifth.”

“Yes, what is it Boy?” as a perspiring grinning native spoke asking the Boss’s attention.

The native’s words tumbled out “Baas, we’ve driven into a big reef – plenty money.”

“Come on Eric” cried the girl snatching a candle from a ledge of rock “Hamba Boy, hamba pambeli“.

Grinning the native turned and trotted into the darkness the boy and girl behind.

“Eunice, will you keep quiet about it until I tell you to loosen up?” Eric’s voice though quiet held a worried note.

“Sure. But Oh! Eric! I thought you’d be dancing with delight – the reef’s as big as the old Baird and looks perfect – Poor Old Dad – he’s a broken man since the Baird pinched.”

“That’s the Baird,” said Eric grimly.

Eunice gazed dumbfounded at the great mass of white gleaming dully through the dark.

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“The Baird Eric?” she gasped.

“Aye – a wall of granite broke its thread and pushed the reef over into my claims.”

“But Dad’s down 700 feet, Eric, and he’s driven into both walls.”

“Well, sinking and driving he’s missed the reef – maybe by inches.”

“Then it’s yours now,” murmured Eunice drawing close against her lover’s form.

“I’m not too sure,” muttered Ferguson, “There’s a clause in the Rhodesian Mining Law about extra lateral rights – if two distinct reefs are being developed on adjoining properties the owners can follow their own reef underground right into one another’s claims. I’ve never heard of it happening but that’s the law.”

“Oh, Eric” cried the girl “if Dad gets the Baird again I’ll be forced on Colin.”

“Your Dad hasn’t got the Baird yet – it would be a deuce of a thing to prove anyway – and he’d have to prove it from his side of the mine,” said the miner grinning.

“He can’t come down my shaft, walk into my drive and say “Hullo there’s the Baird – I’ll start a  shift on it right away Fergie me boy.””

“I see” Eunice looked thoughtful – “Eric can you raise a couple of thousand?”

The miner shrugged his shoulders – “If I had something to show, yes.”

“Offer Dad £2000 for the Baird – it’s what he reckons she’s worth now.”

“Has he stopped looking for the reef Eunice?”

“Closed down yesterday and is taking the pillars out from tomorrow.”

“Then there’s no time to waste – I’ll take some samples and we’ll get up.”

“Then you’re prepared to give me a months option on the property Mr Baird?” Eric looked with pity on the man whose twelve-months fruitless hunt had made him look the four and seventy years he’d lived.

The old miner looked troubled.

“What do you want her for Eric – think you know how to find the reef?” a sneer crossed the speaker’s features. “I guess no Ferguson will succeed where I’ve failed.”

“I’m reckoning on pickings – the Mascot’s widening and needs a five-stamp. What with pillars and stringers I reckon the Baird’s got four or five thousand in her – thought £2000 was a good price and I take the one battery over on twelve-month credit – together with the big boiler.”

“You wouldn’t lose” grated Baird.

“I’m not a philanthropist – but you’re fed up with it and I doubt whether there are many buyers.”

“Had two fellows out this morning.”

“Aye! They told me they weren’t doing anything.”

Bair snorted “Have you the money?”

“Can raise it – is it a deal?”

“Aye” – lifting a bottle on the table between them Baird poured two measures of whiskey and pushed a siphon to his guest.

“Take a trip down the Mascot, Mr Baird – I’ve a strange problem at No. 5 Level.”

“To Hell with mining,” answered the other – “I’ve no interest in it.” and the old mine-owner’s head dropped on his breast.

“Come on Daddie” called a fresh young voice “I promised Eric I’d go down and he’s awfully eager to show you the reef.”

Protesting yet curious Baird walked with his companions silent but observant – now and again his eyes rested kindly on the fair girl chatting merrily with the powerful clean looking man.

“She might ha done worse” muttered Baird “Colin’s no altogether her sort – bit dour and wantin that girl from the hills.”

Down into the bowels of the earth rumbled the skip – past the levels stripped of their ore to the one where fresh stoping was beginning.

“She’s opening up a bit Eric,” remarked Mr Baird gazing curiously about him “Ten years since I’ve been down – good little property she’s been £300 a month for fifteen years isn’t a bad output” agreed the Mascot’s owner – But what do you think of this Mr Baird?”

Turning a corner of the drive the three were next to a great mass of quartz at which a dozen natives were busy.

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“The Baird The Baird” shrieked the old miner stumbling to his reef.

Eric his arm about the girl drew next to the kneeling figure feverishly working at the rock face.

“Mr Baird”

“What’s it you’re wanting Ferguson – it’s my reef I tell you – I’ve got lateral rights Ferguson – that deal about the Baird’s off you scoundrel.”

“Steady on Mr Baird I was only joking or I wouldn’t have brought you down – its Eunice I’m wanting.”

The gaunt white-haired figure covered with clay and mud rose to his feet.

“We’ll go halves in the Baird Fergie – you’re a white man – and I’ll chuck Eunice in to clinch the bargain.”

Baird held out his hand.

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Copy of the original in Bernard’s handwriting

 

 

Extra Lateral Rights

I am watching a video with a Year 10 class called Storm Surfers in it one of the big wave surfers comments on how finding never-before-surfed breaks is like prospecting for gold. 

A glance at a fissure in a cliff or even a wall – following it from the top it will probably run down more or less vertically. It may be almost a straight line – it may be only a surface split – may go halfway down or right through to the bottom. Gold reefs are the fissure veins.

The dip here is heading ever downward.

David Baird owned a gold mine in Southern Rhodesia – he also owned an eighteen-year-old daughter a fact which filled Eric Ferguson on the adjoining mine with all sorts of longings quite unconnected with gold mining.

Eunice Baird liked Eric which was not very surprising for he was tall and broad-shouldered, had blue eyes and was in his early thirties all factors which to lonely young females make an excellent base around which to weave romance.

Eric shaved every evening and bathed with the aid of a bucket – neither of which acts are looked upon as essentials by all men who live far away from civilisation. Eric also never wore a white tie with a dinner jacket though why he or anyone else wanted a dinner jacket at all frankly puzzled Eunice’s father.

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Mr Baird was also tall and broad-shouldered and had blue eyes but he was not in his early thirties. David Baird was in his early seventies and not the sort of man who needed a pension though he usually needed a shave and quite often a bath.

But though Mr Baird did not consider razors or baths to be essential in his life he did believe that life without the Baird Reef and Miss Baird would be a very miserable existence.

Mr Baird did not believe that the Almighty had been good to him with regard to either his mine or his daughter. He took all the credit for himself. As proof that God had nothing to do with giving him the Baird Reef, he pointed to the adjoining claims where Eric Ferguson and his father before him had worked for twenty years on a 9-inch reef.

He David Baird had worked for old Ferguson and studying the formation evolved a theory. In his spare time, Mr Baird had worked on his theory which was that the Mascot reef of Ferguson’s was only a minor fissure near a major one.

This theory resulted from studying the formation in which the Mascot reef lay. Much of the rock walls of the vein contained gold and numerous threads of rich ore ran into it. After long study of the surrounding country, Mr Baird pegged next to Mr Ferguson, dug many long cuttings and found a four-foot reef full of gold just outside his late employer’s boundary. So while old Ferguson and later his son ran a little stamp battery which yielded a living Mr Baird ran a ten-stamp mill which yielded a nett profit of £2000 per month.

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When nearing sixty Mr Baird married the daughter of a bankrupt Irish gentleman who had committed suicide – he thought farming was an easy way of making money and found it wasn’t. Mr Baird bought the farm together with a stock of solid old furniture and a good range of implements. He also erected a handsome granite cross over the resting place of Eunice’s grandparents for her grandmother had died of heartbreak – an example followed soon after Eunice’s birth by Mrs Baird. A Scottish nephew was called in to make the farm pay (and he succeeded). Mr Baird was anxious to keep both farm and mine in his family.

Mr Baird decided to marry Eunice to his nephew Colin but Colin wanted to marry a Bonnie Highland lass in the land of his Father’s. Eunice, though she liked Colin liked Eric more. However, all realised that what David Baird liked was that everybody connected with him would have to like as well.

John van Niekerk, a miner, scratched his head and gazed worriedly at a pile of broken rock next to his feet. Mr Baird on his hands and knees worked frantically with a tiny prospectors pick in the pool of light given by a red candle held by a half-naked black man.

“Don’t stand looking the hyphen fool you are van Niekerk” bellowed Mr Baird looking up to see whether his assistant had found a solution of a puzzle which was causing the aged blood to chill.

“She’s run dead into blue granite,” said the miner with conviction in his tone “That’s why she’s been pinching the last week.”

Blue granite (Credit: MS International)

Blue granite (Credit: MS International)

Mr Baird spat and resting from his labours filled an old black pipe and lit it.

“You cursed fool” he growled – “the Baird’s a true fissure vein it’s only an intrusion of granite that’s pushed the reef over – maybe cut it clean. We’ll find her in place below or maybe the fissure is diverted. We’ll pick her up again John – Don’t you think so Man?”

“Maybe Mr Baird maybe you’re right – there’s always strange things happening in mining.”

The old mine owner glared savagely through the candlelight “You bloody fool” he shouted, “there’s nothing strange about underground earth movement – don’t you know enough ’bout mining to know that when two rock formations are up against one another it’s only reasonable for there to be all kinds of breaks in the contact with the newer rock dovetailing into the rotting older formation.”

“That’s so Mr Baird! That’s so, but even fissures come to an end and when a reef runs into granite…”

His employer rose gripping his pick menacingly “See here van Niekerk the man that says that the Baird’s pinched in the granite will get his neck twisted. Got me?”

“Yes, Mr Baird.”

Alright! Shove on a double shift – sink and keep on sinking, also drive into the walls – the granite mebbe fifty foot thick mebbe ten – she may have pushed in a couple of hundred feet and mebbe only twenty – we’ll pick up the Baird if it costs me every damned farthing I’ve got.”

But as van Niekerk remarked, “Strange things happen in mining.”

Supposing one dark night you or I armed with a lantern walked along the edge of a cliff two thousand feet deep. If we came on a small crack and climbing into it tried to trace it to the very bottom of the cliff our chances of success would be small. A ledge might run across it and yet quite possibly the crack might continue below but then again it mightn’t.

The intrusive bar may have caused our crack to narrow almost to nothing but it could possibly have found a way around the obstruction or be behind it. Quite likely, however, the crack ends for good.

Mr Baird was in the position of such searches. He believed the fissure which contained his gold to be under the bar. But there was no proof to encourage Mr Baird’s optimism. For four hundred feet from the surface of the earth, a hole showed how nicely Mr Baird’s gold reef had behaved – on two sides of the hole a dull white streak stained with oxidised metals showed what a very nice reef Mr Baird possessed.

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Along the roof of many tunnels, the same milky band proved that the reef was a four-foot wide wedge which was like a white wedge that went into a solid mass of grey stone.

What Mr Baird disliked was the thought that all the wedge had been taken out of the material. For years he had broken the milky wedge out bit by bit working from its top until now it seemed suspicious there being none of it taken out – that a molten stream had forced through the middle of the wedge and cooled, melting away only a little of the middle. Perhaps it had broken the wedge and pushed the bottom half deeply into the material.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 37 Walking The Belt

End of 36th Entry: No-one had appeared to have bothered about washing face or hands and to Mick, the whole crowd looked the toughest set of hard men he had ever seen, or read of.

Little time, however, was given for him looking about – the waiters seemed possessed by demonical energy and hardly had he given his order when his wants were supplied. As the waiter put the food before Mick he asked what shift the lad was on and what he wanted.

Stopping the work of mastication Mick asked what the other meant and found that mine shifts were 6am to 3pm, 3pm to 11pm, 11pm to 6am. Breakfast was from 6am to 9am. Lunch noon to 3pm, dinner 6pm to 9pm, so that except when on the second night shift one of the three meals would be missed and in its place the mine provided a can of tea, coffee or cocoa and a parcel of sandwiches.

Asking the way to the excavator Mick was directed to a line of immense iron tanks – on either side of these ran a single line of rail on wooden platforms high above the ground. Over one of the tanks stood an engine puffing vigorously and on asking for Roberts he was directed to the engine. Here he found a worried looking man cursing fluently at the engine driver who retorted in kind. Seeing Mick the two looked round.

“What the Hell do you want?” asked the worried man.

“Please, Sir I want Mr. Roberts.”

“I’m Roberts – no bloody Sirs or Masters here there ain’t.”

“I’m Osmond, told to report to you for work,” answered Mick.

The worried man flung his hands to Heaven and blasphemed freely.

“A kid in a choker collar and pretty suit, a man five feet four high and five feet round the guts, thirty years in a Haberdasher’s shop whatever the Hell that is – a Dutchman six foot seven inches high that’s a bloody telegraph pole, two half-starved rats from gaol and one tank ahead of the Battery with only two men beside the trash heap.”

Turning to Mick he told him to come along and dashed off.

The engine driver winked at the lad who grinning scrambled after the worried man to a little office where Mick was implored to throw away his collar and tie, discard his coat and waistcoat, sign his name and the time in a large book, and come along.

At another little room, Mick was issued with a four-gallon tin of grease by Roberts, led back to the tanks and shown a wide belt revolving rapidly under the tanks.

“The Excavator’s got four beams each with a score of big iron discs,” said Roberts “after the cyanide solution has drained away from the tanks the excavator comes along and ploughs the slimes throwing them to the centre of the tank. The stuff drops down a hole on to this endless belt which carries it to the headgear over the dump – the headgear is 120ft high and damned slippery. Your job is to walk the length of the belt to the top of the distributor and keep the grease pots full – there are two thousand of them and God help you if I come along and hear a squeak – I’ll chuck you over the side, I bloody well will. Now you know your job – get on like Hell. Just a moment – this is all new-fangled machinery which nobody understands and the damned excavator is always choking – if you hear the engine whistling run along and give a hand to free the discs, Savvy! Away with you then.”

A fortnight passed. Mick found the work hard but not monotonous for as the shift boss had prophesied the excavator discs were continuously clogging and the scratch gang hastily engaged to work on the new plant were continually being rushed into a tank where with picks and shovels they laboured furiously under the lash of the shift boss’s tongue until the wet sticky masses of slime were picked and dug from between the discs.

Ferguson the Irish engine driver was no man to waste time and at Robert’s shout of “All Clear” would instantly put the engine in action the long beams would slowly move and the numerous discs revolve giving little time for the working gang to scramble on top of the moving beams and from thence climb out of the tank.

It needed no little agility and there were some hairbreadth escapes from a horrible mangled death but Mick could not restrain his delight at the telegraph pole Dutchman and the stout Haberdasher, desperately leaping for the beams and from them despairing attempts to spring to the tank edge to haul themselves to safety. Both Ferguson and Roberts delighted in the agonies of mind and the queer contortions of the ill-matched pair and were never so happy as when one or other missed disaster by the very skin of his teeth.

However, the shift soon became accustomed to the work – the Haberdasher’s corporation diminished daily and the hop-pole seemed to broaden and thicken. Mick’s only complaint was about his sleeping quarters. He had been given a beautiful little room with electric light and a fireplace but otherwise as bare as when the builders quilted it. With a thin raincoat, sweat-soaked garments, no blankets and not even a towel it was pretty miserable after work.

Mick hadn’t a penny – his suitcase contained only spare shirt and socks and nights were bitterly cold. Tired as he would be after a shift of hard manual work – and in his first week he put in 35 hours overtime – it was impossible to sleep on the cold hard boards with nothing under or over him. The nights were inexpressively long and when the hooter went for a change of shifts Mick felt more dead than alive.

He had started at the beginning of the month and somehow the thought of applying for an advance never crossed his mind. He was too proud to confess his misery to his companions or superiors and doggedly tried to fight out the month planning in anticipation what he would do with the money he would draw at the end. Blankets, working clothing, towels, soap – Jove he would have ten pounds with all the overtime.

But Mick was young and impulsive and his companions except for Ferguson were wasters. Knowing that any stoppage of the excavating process would hold up the Battery with its nine tube mills and hundreds of stamps, the shift persuaded Mick to head a deputation to ask for an increase of pay – gallantly Mick interviewed the much-harassed Cyanide Manager – received a clout which made his ear ring, and whilst he saw his mates disappearing back to work, he himself was led to the office received what money was due to him and with some seven pounds sorrowfully wended his way from the mine.

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As he took his way towards Johannesburg the boy felt as though a landslide with himself as the principal figure in it had taken place. The life had suited him well, Ferguson, the engine driver and Roberts the shift boss had both treated him kindly and he had been taken from greasing to help Ferguson.

There were developments proceeding daily on the Reduction Works and Roberts had assured the lad that any day he might be able to snap up a position worth having – another fortnight and his troubles would have been over for his cheque would have been sufficient to clothe and equip him fairly well.

Bitterly the lad cursed his easy-going nature and lack of caution. He had had no complaints, he was well satisfied. Why oh, why had he let himself be a tool in the hands of a rotten crowd of shirkers?

£11.5 per month almost doubled by overtime and one of the first men to be employed on a modern type of plant certain to be introduced on every mine on the Rand. What a damned fool he was.

 

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 36 Advice From A Stranger

End of 35th Entry: The third day Mick decided that however bad his own plight might be he could not retain any self-respect by remaining with his friends. Knowing that they would scornfully repudiate any idea of his presence adding anything to their expenses or making any difference, he told them that a friend of his father had invited him out to his place and hoped to find him a job.

So on the fourth morning, Mick once again ventured forth. Night came and the youth now entirely desperate flung himself down in a little pinewood and sobbed his heart out.

In four days he had had one meal a day and that mostly a scanty one – he had interviewed a hundred men without receiving one word of encouragement or hope.

As he lay on the fragrant pine needles a boot kicked him in the ribs and turning over Mick saw a ruffianly individual regarding him.

“What’s the matter Sonny?” asked the tramp Mick explained and the man laughed.

“Just starting to find life ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Come spit out your whole history kid and let Uncle think what’s best to be done.”

The man’s voice was kindly and accustomed to fish and mountain folk as Mick was, he saw nothing to alarm him in a rough exterior. Mick was young but he numbered some tough acquaintances in his circle of friendship and he knew that nobody was likely to hurt him if there was nothing to be gained by it.

So the boy explained the circumstances which had brought him there giving the impression that he was a farmer’s son – the father had been ruined by the drought and in consequence, Mick had been thrown on the world to make or break.

After relating his experiences in seeking employment the boy heard a sarcastic balancing of his mental abilities. The Tramp wanted to know why he hadn’t gone from one business house to the other seeking employment – Buttons, errand boy, office boy, junior assistant, stable boy or anything else.

“With your build and weight and being from a farm the Racing stables would have jumped at you – going to the business firms you’d have had a choice of a hundred jobs – and you damn little fool, you go hunting round on gold mines where there isn’t a hope for a kid. What the hell use would you be on a mine? The Batteries, all the Reduction Works are run by learner labour but the learners are all College youths who have matriculated – the only non-Varsity men are miners and tradesmen and they employ Blacks to do the rough work. If you want to go mining get a job in town so that you can live, then get to know miners and mine tradesmen, and when through one of them you hear of a decent thing, go to it.”

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“Well I guess you’re pretty peckish and so am I – came out of goal this morning – six months hard for battery and assault – anyway I’ll go down and get some food and we can doss down here – you needn’t be frightened kid I won’t hurt you.”

Mick assured his new friend that fear had not entered his mind and promised to remain where he was until the ex-convict returned.

As darkness fell Mick lay under the trees wrapped in an overcoat he had luckily bought and gazed at the flaring headlights of a score of the world’s greatest gold mines – all around shone thousands of lamps and lights and the night seemed alive with the thunder of stamps crushing the rich gold ore and the volleying crashes of trucks emptying their loads of refuse rock or delivering gold-bearing quartz to the tube mills and stamp batteries.

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Hungry and overtired the lad found the feverish activity around him soothing and lulling so that when laden with eatables the man returned he found a boy curled up fast asleep. Waking him the man laughingly invited his young guest to a supper of cold roast fowl, thick slices of brown bread heavily buttered, with a can of hot sugary tea to wash down the feast. A cigarette completed Mick’s satisfaction with the evening’s entertainment.

Next morning on his companion’s advice Mick set out for one of the great racing establishments but on his way passed through City Deep Mine – more out of devilment than anything else he paused at the Reduction Works and asked a man who appeared to be one of the bosses whether there was a job going.

“7/6 a shift on the Excavator, start right away.” snapped the man who happened to be the Cyanide Manager.

“Done” quoth Mick eagerly.

“You look half starved, had any food?” asked the manager rather less abruptly.

Mick gulped – “Not since last night, Sir.”

The man scribbled a note on a leaf of his pocketbook, “Run down to the office with this – give them your particulars and you can get over to the boarding room and wade in – the office will give you a room if you want one and fix you for meals. Report at the Excavator to Roberts the shift boss and get started as soon as you can – if you have any pals I can take on half a dozen men for surface work. Righto Son.”

Dismissed Mick once again an eager boy brimful of happiness skipped off to the office.

Here a document was read to him. He was engaged as a Reduction worker at 7/6 per shift. He would be provided with a room at 10/- per month, board at £6. 2/6 per month would be deducted towards Reading and Recreation room and 15/- towards the medical and Burial fund. In the event of death, he would receive a £15 funeral. Overtime would be at a rate of time and a quarter – eight hours notice on either side could terminate the agreement.

Overjoyed Mick signed the contract and being provided with a note to the mess caterer ran over to the mine boarding room.

Here he found a score of long tables piled with great platters of bread, hot scones, buns, and cakes – dishes of butter and jars of half a dozen jams were scattered over the board where scores of men were eating as he had never seen men eat before. As he paused a waiter came to him, took his note and showed him a vacant place handing him a menu which appeared to contain the names of every dish Mick had ever heard of.

Giving an order for bacon and eggs he turned to look around. The seats were only half filled but their occupants were well worth looking at. Every race seemed represented, every man appeared ravenous and all were uninformed in blue copper rivetted dungaree trousers, heavy boots and dark blue and white striped boiler shirts – many were black with oil and grease, others white and yellow with dust and mud. No-one had appeared to have bothered about washing face or hands and to Mick, the whole crowd looked the toughest set of hard men he had ever seen, or read of.