Oom Paul's People - Howard Hillegas

The Johannesburg Gold Fields

South africa has many stories concerning the early history of the Witwatersrandt gold district, so that it is well-nigh impossible to discriminate between the fiction and the truth. One of the most probable stories has it that the former owner of the Randt region died recently in an almshouse in Surrey, England. He had a marvellous war record, having fought with the British army in the Crimea, at Sebastopol, in the Indian Mutiny, Zululand, and at Majuba Hill. With his savings of four thousand dollars he is said to have purchased fifteen thousand acres of land in the southern part of the Transvaal. He was obliged to forfeit his property to the Boer Government in 1882, because he had taken up arms against the Boers when they were fighting for their independence.

The actual discovery of gold in the Transvaal territory is credited to a German named Mauch, who travelled through that part of the country early in the century. He returned to Berlin with wonderful reports of the gold he had found, and attempted to enlist capital to work the mines. Whether his reports were not credited, or whether the Germans feared the natives, is not recorded, but Mauch is not heard of again in connection with the later history of the country. In 1854 a Dutchman named Jan Marais, who had a short time before returned from the Australian gold fields, prospected in the Transvaal, and found many evidences of gold. The Boers, fearing that their land would be overrun with gold-seekers, paid five hundred pounds to Marais, and sent him home after extracting a promise that he would not reveal his secret to any one.

It was not until 1884 that England heard of the presence of gold in South Africa. A man named Fred Stuben, who had spent several years in the country, spread such marvellous reports of the underground wealth of the Transvaal that only a short time elapsed before hundreds of prospectors and miners left England for South Africa. When the first prospectors discovered auriferous veins of wonderful quality on a farm called Sterkfontein, the gold boom had its birth. It required the lapse of only a short time for the news to reach Europe, America, and Australia, and immediately thereafter that vast and widely scattered army of men and women which constantly awaits the announcement of new discoveries of gold was set in motion toward the Randt.

The Indian, Russian, American, and Australian gold fields were deserted, and the steam-ships and sailing vessels to South Africa were overladen with men and women of all degrees and nationalities. The journey to the Randt was expensive, dangerous, and comfortless, but before a year had passed almost twenty thousand persons had crossed the deserts and the plains and had settled on claims purchased from the Boers. In December, 1885, the first stamp mill was erected for the purpose of crushing the gneiss rock in which the gold lay hidden. This enterprise marks the real beginning of the gold fields of the Randt, which now yield one third of the world's total product of the precious metal. The advent of thousands of foreigners was a boon to the Boers, who owned the large farms on which the auriferous veins were located. Options on farms that were of little value a short time before were sold at incredible figures, and the prices paid for small claims would have purchased farms of thousands of acres two years before.

In July, 1886, the Government opened nine farms to the miners, and all have since become the best properties on the Randt. The names by which the farms were known were retained by the mines which were located upon them afterward, and, as they give an idea of the nomenclature of the country, are worth repetition : Langlaagte, Dreifontein, Rantjeslaagte, Doornfontein, Vogelstruitsfontein, Paardeplaats, Turffontein, Elandsfontein, and Roodepoort.

The railroad from Cape Town extended only as far north as the diamond mines at Kimberley, and the remainder of the distance, about five hundred miles, had to be traversed with ox-teams or on foot; but the gold-seekers yielded to no impediments, and marched in bodies of hundreds to the new fields. The machinery necessary to operate the mines and extract the gold from the rocks, as well as every ounce of food and every inch of lumber, was dragged overland by ox-teams, and the vast plains that had seen naught but the herds of Boer farmers and the wandering tribes of natives were quickly transformed into scenes of unparalleled activity.

On the Randt the California scenes of '49 were being re-enacted. Tents and houses of sheet iron were erected with picturesque lack of beauty and uniformity, and during the latter part of 1886 the community had reached such proportions that the Government marked off a township and called it Johannesburg. The Government, which owned the greater part of the land, held three sales of building lots, or "stands," as they are called in the Transvaal, and realized more than three hundred thousand dollars from the sales. The prices of stands measuring fifty by one hundred feet ranged from one dollar to one thousand dollars. Millions were secured in England and Europe for the development of the mines, and the individual miner sold his claims to companies with unlimited capital. The incredibly large dividends that were realized by some of the investors led to too heavy investments in the Stock Exchange in 1889, and a panic resulted. Investors lost thousands of pounds, and for several months the future of the gold fields appeared to be most gloomy. The opening of the railway to Johannesburg and the re-establishment of stock values caused a renewal of confidence, and the growth and development of the Randt was imbued with renewed vigour.

Owing to the Boers' lack of training and consequent inability to share in the development of the gold fields, the new industry remained almost entirely in the hands of the new-comers, the Uitlanders, and two totally different communities were created in the republic. The Uitlanders, who, in 1890, numbered about one hundred thousand, lived almost exclusively in Johannesburg and the suburbs along the Randt. The Boers, having disposed of their farms and lands on the Randt, were obliged to occupy the other parts of the republic, where they could follow their pastoral and agricultural pursuits.

The natural contempt which the English men, who composed the majority of the Uitlander population, always have for persons and races not their intellectual or social equals, soon created a gulf between the Boers and the newcomers. This line of cleavage was extended when the newcomers attempted to obtain a foothold in the politics of the country. The Boers, who had been suddenly outnumbered three to one, naturally resented the interference, especially as it came from persons who had no desire to become permanent residents of the country, and who wanted a voice in the conduct of the national affairs only as a means to attain their own ends, without caring about the welfare of the entire republic.

The Uitlanders had many good and honest men among them, but the majority consisted of speculators, cutthroats, "I.D.B.,"and such others as were exiled from their native lands by reason of crimes they had committed. Their cry was "Gold!" and honour and justice were cast to the winds. The Boer Government was blamed for famine, drought, and the locusts, and everything was done to embarrass those who were trying to administer justice to Boer and Uitlander alike.

One example is sufficient to show the conduct of the Uitlanders toward the Boers, but thousands could be given. President Kruger journeyed to Johannesburg in order to learn from the newcomers what his government might do to improve the industry. A crowd met Mr. Kruger, and, after rude remarks on his personal appearance, sang " God save the Queen." Later the Transvaal flag was torn down from a staff in front of the house in which the President was conferring with leading residents of the city. The Transvaal Government, on the other hand, sought by all means in its power to secure the good-will of the newcomers, and frequent conferences between leading men of the Randt and the officials of the Government were held with that object in view. The Second Volksraad was created, so that the Uitlanders might have a voice in the Government, and many reforms, which at the time were warmly approved by the Johannesburg Chamber of Mines, representing the mining population, were instituted, and would have been completed, satisfactory to all, had the Uitlanders waited, instead of plotting for the overthrow of the Government.

When the disturbing element of the Uitlander population found that their efforts to govern the Randt according to their own desires were fruitless, Cecil J. Rhodes, then Premier of Cape Colony and at the height of his influence, began his campaign for the control of the Boer territory. He brought to bear all the power at his command to harass the Pretorian Government, and tried in a score of ways to induce the colonial secretary to interfere in behalf of the Uitlanders, even going to the extent of offering to Secretary for the Colonies Chamberlain the payment of an equal share in the cost of a war with the Transvaal.

Whether Mr. Rhodes's real object in attempting to secure possession of the Transvaal was that he and other capitalists might consolidate the mines and limit the output, as he had done at Kimberley, or whether his earth-hunger impelled him, is known only to himself. Whatever the reason, he planned like a professional South American revolutionist, and by his boldness caused the amateur revolutionists of the Randt to gasp.

The opening prelude of the Jameson raid was a mass meeting held in November, 1895, by the Johannesburg Chamber of Mines, which had always shown marked friendliness to the Pretorian Government. The president of the organization, Lionel Phillips, created a sensation by reading a mass of alleged grievances against the Government, as formulated by an organization called the "Transvaal National Union," and threatening that, unless the Government gave immediate remedy, revolutionary methods would be adopted in order to obtain redress. The plot had begun its evolution, and its success was to be attained in a certain well-defined way.

The speech of Mr. Phillips was to serve as Johannesburg's ultimatum to the Boers. If the Government gave no heed, the revolutionary party was to seize Johannesburg by force of arms, declare a provisional government of the country, and march against Pretoria. Once in possession of the seat of government, it was planned to lay their grievances before the world, and ask that the future government of the country be placed in the hands of the majority of the white population. It was believed that if the plans were thoroughly perfected the plot could be carried to a successful conclusion without the firing of a single shot. In order to be amply prepared in case the Boers should make an unexpected resistance to the revolutionists, it had been arranged with Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, who was then in charge of the troops of Mr. Rhodes's British South Africa Company, to ride across the border to Johannesburg, a journey of several days, and assist in the engagement. The revolution was perfectly planned, and it would have required only half an effort on the part of a Haytien revolutionist to carry it out successfully; but Mr. Rhodes, the brains of the movement, was in Cape Town, and unable to do anything more practical than imagine that his plans were being followed. By common agreement among the revolutionists, Dr. Jameson and Mr. Rhodes, it was decided to have the uprising in Johannesburg about the 28th of December, and everything had been planned accordingly. From Kimberley Mr. Rhodes's De Beers Company had sent two thousand rifles—the Boers say twenty thousand—one hundred and twenty-five cases of ammunition, and three Maxims in oil casks across the border into Johannesburg, where the Uitlanders were secretly organizing and drilling military companies. In the British territory Dr. Jameson and his six hundred troopers were polishing their rifles and Maxims, and waiting for the day when they should march toward Johannesburg.

Under pretence that they were to be used in connection with a new stage line to be opened, "canteens," or feeding places, had been established several miles apart on the road over which the troopers were supposed to enter Johannesburg, and all had been bountifully stocked with provisions for soldier and horse. The Government at Pretoria had been led to believe that Johannesburg was armed to the teeth, and that nothing could prevent the dissolution of the republic.

When the 28th day of December arrived, the well-advertised revolution had not materialized, and nothing more martial was to be seen than several regiments of civilians drilling in the streets. Thousands of men, women, and children, fearing that the Boers might attack the city at any moment, besieged the railway station, and fought like so many uncivilized beings to board the trains leaving for Natal and Cape Colony. Among those who displayed the greatest eagerness to escape from the city were many wealthy Englishmen, who several days before had been the most rabid sympathizers of the revolutionary movement. The city was in the hands of the Uitlanders, because the handful of Transvaal police, commonly called "Zarps," had been withdrawn by the Boer authorities, who depended on the power of the guns in the fort on the outskirts of the town to quell any disturbance that might be made. There was no actual revolution, because the Uitlanders were divided among themselves as to the course to be pursued. The Englishmen, as soon as the success of the movement seemed so close at hand, aroused the enmity of the other Uitlanders by asking them to consent to the raising of the British flag as soon as the Boer Republic had been obliterated. This campaign placed the revolution in an entirely different light to those of the Uitlanders who had no particular liking for England, and the result was that the revolutionary party was divided into two camps. On the side of the Englishmen were the Uitlanders from British colonies—Scotchmen, Irishmen, Welshmen, Canadians, Australians, and all the Americans who were employed by British mines. In the other camp were the Germans, Frenchmen, Scandinavians, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, and Finlanders.

The majority of the Americans felt that a revolution was unjustifiable, although some of the grievances complained of were undoubtedly just, and ranged themselves on the anti-English side. Another reason for the Americans' attitude at that time was President Cleveland's warlike message to England on the Venezuelan boundary dispute. The real American patriot is found ten thousand miles from home, and those in America who were excited when they heard of England's attempt to grasp a swamp in far-away Venezuela can readily imagine the spirit of the Americans in the Transvaal who saw England attempting to steal a valuable country without the shadow of an excuse.

The following day, the 29th of December, Dr. Jameson and his troopers, believing that the revolutionists at Johannesburg had seized the city, as it had been planned they should do, crossed the border into the Transvaal. Messages had been sent to Mr. Rhodes and others of the leaders, stating the time of the departure from British territory and the time set for their arrival in Johannesburg. Several troopers were sent ahead to cut the telegraph wires, so that no news of the expedition should reach the outside world; but the anticipated joy of reaching Johannesburg and assisting in raising the "Union Jack" intoxicated the men, and they succeeded in cutting only the wire which led to Cape Town. The wire to Pretoria remained untouched, and before the troopers had proceeded fifty miles into Transvaal territory the Pretorian Government was aware of their approach, and made preparations to meet them.

The Uitlanders in Johannesburg had been led to believe by their dilettante leaders that Dr. Jameson's incursion had been postponed, and they were ignorant of his whereabouts until the following day, when a member of the Pretorian Government kind-heartedly gave the information to several of the Uitlander leaders, who had journeyed to Pretoria with rifles in one hand and demands in the other. When the news of the invasion reached Johannesburg the excitement became intensified. A reform committee of about one hundred persons was quickly formed, and into their hands was given the conduct of the revolution. Speeches were made from the balcony of the Stock Exchange, until some practical speaker suggested that it would be proper to unpack the rifles and ammunition from the oil casks if the revolution was to be undertaken.

The suggestion was acted upon, and late that night five hundred of the rifles to be used in the overthrow of a republic were being carried to and fro in the streets of Johannesburg on the shoulders of men who were willing to do the work for ten dollars a night. The following day, while Dr. Jameson and his troopers were marching over the veldt toward Johannesburg, the leaders of the movement made more speeches to the crowd at the Stock Exchange, and waited for news from Pretoria instead of making news for Pretoria.

The first part of the plot—the capture of Johannesburg—had been successful without the discharge of a rifle, because the Boers had withdrawn their police, and there remained no one at which the opéra-bouffe  revolutionists might fire.

The next step was the capture of Pretoria, and for this purpose a small expedition started for the capital city; but returned hastily and without their rifles and ammunition when they saw a thousand Boers, each with the usual accompaniment of a rifle, attending the annual "Nachtmaal," or communion, in the city.

The last day of the year saw the Uitlanders undecided as to what action to take. On the one hand was Dr. Jameson coming to their relief, while on the other was the Pretorian Government preparing to quell an insurrection which had not even started. The Reform Committee, whose members a few weeks before had made arrangements for Dr. Jameson's coming, denied that they had any connection with the invasion. Dr. Jameson having been repudiated, the committee debated for many hours on the subject of which flag should be hoisted in the event that the revolution was successful, and finally sent John Hays Hammond, an American member of the committee, to secure the four-colour of the Transvaal.

Then and there the most ludicrous incident of the Uitlander rising took place. With uplifted hands the members of the committee, who were the leaders of the revolution, swore allegiance to the red, white, green, and blue flag of the Transvaal, which for days and months before they had reviled and insulted. After having vowed loyalty to the Transvaal flag, the committee continued the preparations for the defence of the city and the drilling of the volunteers who were enrolled at a score of different shops in the city. A rumour that Dr. Jameson had been attacked by the Boer forces, but had repulsed them, gave additional zest to the military preparations, and the advisability of sending some of the mounted troops to meet him was discussed but not acted upon. The reported victory of Dr. Jameson's troopers, coupled with a request from the Pretorian Government for a conference to discuss methods of ending the troubles, caused the Reform Committee to repent their hasty action in swearing allegiance to the Transvaal flag, and they were on the point of breaking their obligation, and sending aid to the invading troopers, when, during the last hour of the year, they learned that the secretary for the colonies, Mr. Chamberlain, had repudiated and recalled Dr. Jameson.

The first day of the new year the spirit of the Uitlanders was dampened by the information that the Boers were massing troops on the outskirts of the town; and, fearing that the town might be attacked at any moment, the Reform Committee, which had been spending much energy in informing the Pretorian Government of the city's great military preparation, telegraphed pathetic appeals for assistance to the British High Commissioner at Cape Town. Couriers arrived from the outskirts of the city and reported that Dr. Jameson and his troopers were within fifteen miles of Johannesburg, and plans were made to receive him. One small regiment left the city to meet the troopers and escort them into the city, while the remainder of the revolutionary forces held jubilation festivities in honour of Dr. Jameson's anticipated arrival.

While Johannesburg, which had promised to do the fighting, was in the midst of its festival joys, Dr. Jameson and those of his six hundred troopers who were not dead on the fields of battle were waving a Hottentot woman's white apron in token of their surrender to the Boer forces at Doornkop, eighteen miles away. The Johannesburg revolt, initiated by magnificent promises, ended with an inglorious display of that quality which the British have been wont to attribute to Boers—"funk." The British have their Balaclava and Sebastopol, but they also have their Majuba Hill and the Johannesburg revolt.

The final scenes of the Jameson raid, which might more fittingly be called "the Johannesburg funk," were enacted in Pretoria, where Dr. Jameson and the other prisoners were taken, and in London, where the officers of the expedition were tried and virtually acquitted. The revolutionists in Johannesburg yielded all their arms and ammunition to the Boer Government, which in turn made every possible effort to effect an amicable settlement of the grievances of the Uitlanders. But the raid left a deeper impress upon Johannesburg and its interests than any of its organizers or supporters had ever dreamed of. Almost one fifth of the inhabitants of the city left the country for more peaceable localities in the three months following the disturbance, and business became stagnant. Capitalists declined to invest more money in the gold mines while the unsettled condition of the political affairs continued, and scores of mines were compelled to abandon operations. Stocks fell in value, and thousands of pounds were lost by innocent shareholders in Europe, who were ignorant of the political affairs of the country. For two years the depression continued, and so acute were its results that hundreds of respectable miners and business men, who had been accustomed to live in luxury, became bankrupt, and were obliged to beg for their food. Those who were able to do so sold their interests in the city and left the country, while hundreds of others would have been happy to leave had they been able to secure passage to their native countries.

During the last year the effects of the raid have been disappearing and the commercial interests of the Randt have been improving, but the political atmosphere has been kept vibrating at a continuous loss to the industries that are represented in the country. All South Africa was similarly affected by the depression, which naturally cut off the revenue from the gold fields and that derived from passengers and freight coming into the country from foreign shores. To add to the general dismay, the entire country was scourged with the rinderpest, a disease which killed more than a million and a half cattle; clouds of locusts, that destroyed all vegetation and made life miserable; and a long drought.

After the scourges had passed, and the political atmosphere had become somewhat clarified, the industries of Johannesburg and the Randt returned to their normal condition, and the development of the natural resources of the territory was resumed. Many of those persons who deserted the city during its period of depression returned with renewed energy, and those who had successfully combated the storm joined with the newcomers in welcoming the return of prosperous times. Confidence was restored among the European capitalists, and money was again freely invested and trade relations firmly re-established.

Johannesburg after the Jameson raid was a distressing scene; the Johannesburg of to-day is a wondrous testimonial to the energy and progress of mankind.

If there were no other remarkable features to mark the last decade of the twentieth century, the marvellous city which has been built near the heart of the Dark Continent would alone be a fitting monument to the enterprise and achievements of the white race during that period of time.