I return to The Diamond Fields—A Ready Reckoner—Men of the Early Days—"Barney" Barnato.
During a terrible voyage we encountered a heavy gale in the Bay of Biscay, and for five days and nights the ship laboured so heavily that I feared she would never weather the storm. She was a flush deck vessel, with four boats hanging on davits on each side, and when she rolled these boats would skid under the enormous waves. At times I thought she would topple over, but luckily we had a good skipper in the person of Captain Baynton, who remained on the bridge morning, noon and night. En route he tried to put into Cape Ortegal for shelter, but unfortunately he did not succeed. There were over 100 first-class passengers on board, and during the storm they were, perforce, fed on beef tea and biscuits, it being impossible to serve meals in the saloon, or to cook ordinary food in the galley. In those far-off days electric light and cold storage were unknown aboard ship. Cows, sheep, calves and other livestock were carried in bins on the deck, but these were all drowned by the heavy seas which swept over our stout ship.
After a voyage lasting ten days—the storm abated on the sixth day—we anchored at Madeira, where we made temporary repairs, took in more livestock, and started for Cape Town (a distance of 4,700 miles), which we thereafter reached in eighteen days after a calm voyage. For the greater part of this trip the sea was as placid as a lake, which was a great relief to all after the hazardous experience of the storm encountered in the Bay of Biscay.
I lost no time in reaching the Diamond Fields after an absence of three months. Things had changed very little since my departure. Here and there a few small brick dwellings and some corrugated iron stores had been erected. Many of the diggers were now doing fairly well, especially in the Kimberley and De Beers Mines, where claims and portions of claims in the richest parts were changing hands at from £200 to £1,000 per claim. Such was the progress being made that claim brokers had sprung into existence and were doing rather well, notably a Mr. Skill, who covered a lot of ground on a sturdy Basuto pony.
I did not lose much time in re-starting as a diamond buyer, my capital having been so largely increased through the kind attention of the croupier. I immediately decided to stop "kopje walloping," and proceeded to erect a small office in Reitz Street, Kimberley, there to assume a more dignified position by waiting for my customers, instead of going to them.
The structure that I built was a wooden frame covered by canvas, twelve feet by eight. I was the "old firm with the new signboard." With my limited capital I did fairly well, good fortune smiling on me in my sales in the local market. Mr. Anton Dunkelsbuhler was one of my biggest purchasers; he certainly was the largest and most generous of buyers on the Fields.
The quickest mental arithmetician I have ever known, he could calculate correctly a given number of carats at any figure long before the ordinary business man could even work them out on paper. Those in the habit of doing business with him accused him of sleeping with a ready reckoner. I was one of his best clients, and he was good enough to occasionally take dear parcels off my hands at cost. This was a great help to me, as it assisted me in starting buying again.
After residing in Kimberley for several years Mr. Dunkelsbuhler established himself in London as a diamond merchant, receiving regular consignments from an appointed agent who represented him at the home of diamonds. Mr. Dunkelsbuhler died in London about 1913, after having amassed a fortune of two million pounds. This was the practical outcome of his being endowed with more brains than many of those who clamour against capitalists.
Among the early pioneers were Cecil John Rhodes, C. D. Rudd, F. Stow, J. B. Robinson, B. I. Barnato, Woolf Joel, Anton Dunkelsbuhler, J. Wernher, L. Breitmeyer, F. Baring-Gould, Max Michaelis and Sigismund Neumann. Of these there are only two alive to-day—Sir Max Michaelis and myself. Alfred Beit and the two brothers Albu arrived in the early 'eighties.
In 1871 there was not a brick-built house on the Diamond Fields; the first hotels were made of canvas nailed on wooden frames; the diggers lived in tents and wagons. All supplies were carried from the coast by ox-wagons, and the only railway in existence at that time went from Cape Town as far as Wellington. There were thousands of individual diggers owning and working claims under Free State perpetual quitrent title at ten shillings per month per claim of thirty feet by thirty feet surface measurement. The London and South African Exploration Company owned the farms on which the Dutoitspan and Bultfontein Mines were situated, and paid the Free State two shillings and sixpence per claim per month (out of the ten shillings per month received from the diggers) for "good government." When the blue ground was reached, this benevolent concern, knowing that this hard diamondiferous soil must first be pulverised by long exposure to the weather before diamonds could be extracted by machinery, kindly agreed to allot one acre of ground per claim as depositing sites adjacent to the mines at a rental of one pound per month, thus increasing the claim licence from ten shillings to thirty shillings per month.
There was at once a howl of discontent. The diggers vigorously resented this impost, and many angry meetings of infuriated diggers were held, and the agent of the London and South African Exploration Company, Mr. Henry Barlow Webb, had a very rough time during these protracted negotiations. But the law was on the company's side, and the law-abiding diggers had, perforce, to submit to what they rightly considered to be an unfair charge, as the farms on which the Dutoitspan and Bultfontein Mines existed—purchased a few years previously for a few thousand pounds—were sold in 1899 to the De Beers Company for nearly one and three quarter millions sterling.
When I first arrived on the Diamond Fields, Stafford Parker was president of the diggers under Orange Free State rule, and shortly afterwards (I think in 1872), by some arrangement with the Orange Free State, which accepted a grant of £90,000, Griqualand West came under British rule, when Sir Henry Barkly appointed three Commissioners to maintain law and order. Mr. Barry, afterwards Sir J. D. Barry, was appointed Judge and Recorder.
About the year 1874 Griqualand West was proclaimed a Crown Colony. Sir Richard Southey was the first Administrator, followed by Mr. Rose-Innes, C.M.G., Colonel Lanyon and Colonel Warren. The Cape Colony had for some time been casting longing eyes on Griqualand West, with its rich diamond mines, which had saved the Cape, if not from bankruptcy, then undoubtedly from financial stress and difficulty. Sir Gordon Sprigg, then Prime Minister, made overtures and certain promises to the inhabitants if they agreed to annexation to the Cape Colony. Subsequently Sir Gordon Sprigg and Sir Thomas Upington visited Kimberley, and met delegates appointed by the diggers. During negotiations they made many alluring promises (none of which were kept), with the result that in 1879 Griqualand West became part of Cape Colony, returning to the House of Assembly four members for Kimberley and two for Barkly West. C. J. Rhodes and J. Hill were the first members for the latter constituency.
Of the pioneers.previously mentioned and those who arrived on the Diamond Fields in the early 'eighties, only three failed to make headway in the diamond industry. These were Sir J. B. Robinson and the Albu Brothers, who went to the Rand in the early days and there succeeded in making fortunes, the former beyond his most sanguine expectations. The latter, comparatively young men, whose success was due to hard work, persistency, foresight and straight dealing, and the other pioneers I have named, made big fortunes in Kimberley after suffering many set-backs, and years of worry and anxiety. Men of less courage would have failed to overcome the numerous difficulties and trials incidental to mining at this period, owing to the frequent falls of reef which covered the blue ground. The diggers and small companies pledged their claims to the banks to obtain funds to haul the fallen reef, but almost as soon as the millions of loads of reef were hauled, and before many loads of blue ground could be extracted from the mines, down came the reef again, and once more ruin stared the diggers in the face.
The banks refused further advances, and the outlook was indeed black and dismal. It was then that Rhodes, who was largely interested in the De Beers Mine, came on the scene. He saw it was a waste of money to continue this dead work. He realised that the only method of saving the mines and preserving the industry was by instituting a system of underground working with shafts and tunnels. This required millions of money. Where it was to come from was a puzzle which was solved by Rhodes, who went post-haste to England, interviewed the Rothschilds, and with his great personality and unbounded confidence in the stability and payability of the mines, induced that firm to provide the necessary funds. They also recommended Mr. Gardner Williams to inaugurate the underground system. He was appointed general manager, and a new and prosperous era dawned on Kimberley—thanks to his great ability as a mining engineer, and Rhodes' genius and inspiration, which saved the industry and laid the foundation of his immense fortune. Of the sixteen men before mentioned, twelve became millionaires, the majority of whom were closely identified with the development of the Transvaal Gold Fields—architects of their own fortunes, endowed with more brains, initiative, ability and foresight than ordinary men.
Rhodes, Robinson, Rudd, Barnato and myself eventually became members of the Legislative Assembly. Those who distinguished themselves in industry and politics were Rhodes, Beit, Barnato, Dunkels, Michaelis, Wernher and Neumann. Modesty alone forbids my naming yet another.
Barnett Barnato, better known as "Barney," arrived on the Diamond Fields in the year 1874. We were first cousins, and during our young days we attended the same school together for nearly seven years. I am quite certain he was not the proud owner of a five pound note when he reached Kimberley, but he was full of courage and hope, and, like Micawber, was "waiting for something to turn up." About this time I was buying and selling diamonds with a small capital. "Barney" came to my office daily, and watched carefully my transactions with diggers, thereby gaining a sound knowledge of the shapes and colours of stones, as well as the true value of the various qualities. Never backward in asking questions, he made a good pupil, and soon acquired sufficient knowledge himself to buy on a small scale, though lack of capital somewhat retarded his personal operations.
Having made purchases to the extent of my capital, I left my office one day to sell my stock to one of the many local merchants. I left" Barney'' in charge, and he promised to look after my interests during my absence. In walked one of my Kimberley clients with the query, "Where is Mr. Harris?" With a view to business, "Barney" replied: "He will be back shortly, but have you anything to show him?" "Yes," answered the digger, "I have just found a nice stone, and will sell it to him if I can get my price." "You can show it to me; it's all the same," answered my self-appointed agent. He then proceeded to examine the diamond—it was rather dirty—and he asked the digger what he wanted for it. The customer mentioned a figure of £150, but after some bargaining Barnato eventually gave him £120 for the stone. Having no money to pay for it, he asked the digger to return later because the "firm's" cheque book had been locked away in the safe.
I returned about a quarter of an hour after the deal. "Barney" was all excitement, and appeared quite nervous at having bought a valuable diamond with a knowledge which he considered so limited. I examined the stone, and was highly satisfied with the transaction. Fortunately for me, I had succeeded in disposing of my morning's purchases, otherwise the digger would have had to wait for his cash. I settled with the seller, and as soon as he had left the office "Barney" was anxious to know what I thought of the stone. I indicated my satisfaction, and this seemed to take a load off his mind. I placed the diamond in acid, cleansed it thoroughly, and held it in my hand—a perfect gem. "What is it worth, Dave?" inquired "Barney" anxiously. "About £15 or £16 a carat," I replied, "and whatever it realises you will get half of the profits." It was sold for £300 and "Barney" got £90 for his trouble.
This was his first real start in life, and he fully deserved it. Had he not been keen on looking after my interests, that stone would not have fallen to my lot. It was his keen business acumen that prompted him to question the digger, and buy the gem. It was this commercial instinct which carried him from small beginnings to a great fortune. Indirectly, I had helped him, and he never forgot it.
During the hey-day of his prosperity, when he became a millionaire and a Life Governor of De Beers Company, he appointed me in 1890 his alternate on the Board of Directors. He put my foot on the first rung of the ladder, as in a great measure I owe my present position both financially and politically, to my close connection with De Beers Company, which for twelve years was the means of bringing me into such direct contact with the great Rhodes.
But to return to the pursuits of "Barney" Barnato. With his meagre capital in those rough days of the Diamond Fields, he borrowed a pocket diamond scale, and embarked on a "kopje walloping" business, traversing the mines to buy diamonds direct from diggers. When his capital became exhausted he would frequently bring his purchases to me, and very often I would buy the stones. At times, when we agreed to differ as to terms, he would hawk his parcel round the diamond market and sell his stock to one of the merchants, sometimes even at a small loss, if he could not realise the cost price. He was compelled to do this so as to replenish his capital in order that he could re-commence buying. " Barney " was a diamond buyer for several years, and was very successful at the game. So well did he prosper that he soon acquired some ground in the best portion of the De Beers Mine, out of which he made a "pile." He was later encouraged to ship diamonds direct to England, and this venture also assisted his bank balance to soar. With money "no object," he purchased a small block of claims in the richest part of the Kimberley Mine for £30,000. He worked them at a big profit, and this enabled him to buy more and more claims, and eventually to float the Barnato Diamond Mining Company, which paid big and regular dividends.
In 1885 Barnato was a rich man, and a great factor in the mining industry, for, in addition to his holdings in the Kimberley Mine, he also possessed nearly all the share capital of the Oriental Company, whose claims were in De Beers Mine. So great a force had he become in the mining world, that Rhodes could not have completed his gigantic scheme of amalgamation without first coming to terms with Barnato. These two men carried on negotiations for weeks, and there was a hard tussle before they clinched the deal at 4 o'clock one morning, after a confabulation lasting at least seven hours.
The big amalgamation took place in 1888, and there arose, phcenix-like, the great De Beers Consolidated Mines, Limited. Here was the flotation of a company with very wide powers, with Cecil Rhodes elected as its first chairman. Four Life Governors were appointed—Rhodes, Barnato, Beit and Stow (subsequently Sir Frederic Philipson-Stow, Bart). They were entitled to share between them one quarter of the profits exceeding £1,440,000 made in any one year. The rights of the Life Governors were purchased by the Company at the end of 1901 for 160,000 De Beers shares, at that time worth about £3,000,000. Barnato died in 1897, so that he did not participate in the deal—his Life Governorship having died with him. Therefore, each of the three remaining Life Governors benefited to the tune of a quarter of a million as a result of "Barney's" untimely end. Rhodes passed away about three months after the company had commuted the Life Governors' interests. Barnato was a great admirer of Rhodes, and would have gone a long way to serve him. He loyally supported Rhodes in Parliament when he was Prime Minister, and he stood solidly by him after the Raid when many alleged friends, who were actually under an obligation to Rhodes, turned their backs on him.
Barnett Barnato was a good speaker, though not an orator, and he presided at one of the first annual meetings of De Beers shareholders. His speeches were invariably interesting, and bristled with the common sense that counts. He was a keen student of Shakespeare, besides being an excellent amateur actor. In several amateur performances in the early days of Kimberley he sustained the roles of Othello, Shylock, Macbeth and Matthias (The Bells). He also played the principal parts in The Octoroon, The Ticket of Leave Man, and The Silver King.
When he was the candidate for the Cape Parliament, he addressed a big political meeting at Beaconsfield. An organised opposition shouted him down, and he failed to get a hearing. During a momentary lull in the boisterous atmosphere, "Barney" shouted, "If you won't listen to my speech I will give you a recitation." The large audience echoed their approval, and shouted "Bravo, Barney." He then proceeded to keep them in good countenance, and for over an hour he had them "eating out of his hand" with long quotations from his extensive repertoire, including Shakespeare and modern dramatists.
In the noble art of self-defence, Barnato was no mean exponent. His father (my uncle) was a sportsman of the old school. He devoted two evenings a week to boxing lessons, and Henry, Barney and myself were his pupils. Many a good set-to did we have with the gloves. Henry proved the best pugilist of the trio, and there was very little difference between Barney and myself. In the rough and tumble of the early days of the Diamond Fields we had cause to be very grateful for this useful tuition.
Barney's father was a storekeeper who just managed to make a comfortable living, which enabled him to give his children a fair education. Soon after Henry and Barney had laid the foundations of their fortunes, they prevailed on the old man to retire from business. They made him a handsome allowance, which enabled him to live in ease and comfort, and keep a phaeton and a pair of fine horses. They were kind and loving sons, and nothing was too good for their dear father. To him, on the other hand, they were as "the apple of his eye," and he did for them all that his limited means would allow.
During their visit to London one very frosty winter, Barney and Henry took a fancy to a beautiful fur-lined coat which they spotted in a West End shop window. Ever mindful for the welfare of their " Dad," they thought it would be just his style, and that it would keep him warm during the time that King Frost made his unwelcome presence felt. They bought the coat for £150, and the old man was delighted with the thoughtfulness of his sons. He inquired as to the cost, and not wishing to appear extravagant, or wanting their father to believe that they had spent too much money on him, they modestly said that the coat had cost them only 30.
A week or two later, during one of their periodical visits, Mr. Barnato informed his sons, with beaming countenance, that an old friend had admired the coat very much, and that he had sold it to him for £75! "It is the easiest £45 I have ever made in my life," he added, "and here is the return of your £30 " (handing them bank notes). Barney and Henry stood aghast, but they could not say anything. Soon recovering from their surprise, they exclaimed in unison, "All right, Governor, we will buy you another, but you must promise not to sell it again as we don't want you to catch cold."
Barney had a heart of gold, and never turned a deaf ear to a deserving cause. A man of poor means, whom he respected, was lying ill in a small room in Kimberley. For several weeks his friends engaged a doctor, and they took it in turn to look after him. They could no longer, however, afford to continue the expense, and were compelled to seek other financial assistance. During the poor man's illness, a Mr. Lewis and another friend called at the office, and in my presence they detailed to Mr. Barnato all the tragic circumstances surrounding the case. "Poor fellow," said Barney, "I am awfully sorry for him. Let him have the best medical advice, ample nourishment and a day and night nurse. Get a water bed for him as quickly as possible. I am going to Johannesburg, but the Major (that was me) will pay all expenses." After lingering for some time the man died. When Barney returned to Kimberley soon afterwards, I told him that I had paid out £700 on his account in connection with the case. I really anticipated that he would be unpleasantly surprised, but he only answered "I would not have cared if it had cost three times that amount if it would have saved the poor fellow's life."
Barnato was at all times a very restless man. He could not devote himself to anything for very long. He would think, talk and discuss matters, and then he would do something, but his peace of mind would not be lasting. He possessed a very active brain, and always seemed to be trying to gather what was running through the other fellow's mind. This was the case especially when the big amalgamation scheme was under discussion. One day he said to his nephew, Woolf Joel," Rhodes is a very able man. I think he means well. He has big ideals and will not allow a million to stand in his way. He is offering us a big price, but not more than to others. His generosity will entice all interests to combine. It's a mighty scheme, and Rhodes is the only man capable of pulling the thing through." He was right. Rhodes succeeded where others had failed in establishing the great company which flourishes to-day, and which is known throughout the length and breadth of the world.
Barney came from Johannesburg a week before the annual meeting of the De Beers Company, over which he was to preside in the year 1889. There was a mass of figures to be tabulated, summarised and put into proper sequence before the meeting, besides matters of general interest to be arranged. At the time Barnato was my guest, and he was proud at the thought that he was going to make what he considered to be the speech of his life. "The sooner you start going through the figures and making notes, the better," said I. "All right," he replied, "we'll start to-morrow." But to-morrow never came. He was so busy interviewing different people, discussing diamonds, gold and political questions, that I could not induce him to spare a single moment to his great task of speech-preparing. And so it went on from day to day. Whenever I approached him to "get busy" on his epoch-making task, he proffered some excuse for not preparing his speech. Three days before the meeting there remained his usual procrastination. "All right, Dave, I'll devote the whole of to-morrow to it," but it was a pie-crust promise. Matters were now becoming desperate, as only forty-eight hours remained before the momentous meeting. I managed, however, to get hold of him again, and in the meantime I had made a few hurried notes, suggesting some of the topics he should touch upon. "For goodness' sake, Barney," I said, "get a move on. Unless you prepare your speech now, you'll make a mighty mess of things." He answered, "Quite right, Dave. I'll be round at the office in a minute or two. I have nothing more to do so I can slog away at it."
I waited impatiently for hours, but he did not turn up. The upshot of many disappointments was that he and I at 4.30 on the morning of the meeting walked to my office, lit two candles, and by their flickering light waded through a mass of figures. Barney made hurried notes on small pieces of paper which he crumpled up and thrust into his pocket. We reached my house at about 7 a.m., Barney still confident that he would make the speech of his life. After attending to our creature comforts, we proceeded to the meeting. He spoke for over an hour, and I must confess that he did wonderfully well, tackling his subject with the vigour of a good and wise debater. I was on pins and needles all the time he was speaking. When the meeting was over, he came to me and asked "Well, Dave, how did I get on?" I answered laughingly, "Much better than I expected." Barney was indeed a genius.
In 1895 Barnato was on his way from Johannesburg to Cape Town, en route to England. At that time there was no direct railway communication between Kimberley and Johannesburg. As I had important business matters to discuss with him I joined the mail train at De Aar. When we had finished our business chat I said "Barney, you must do something for Kimberley. You have made your money in this country and should show some tangible appreciation of the success you have achieved." He asked me what he could do, and I suggested that he should establish an education trust of £10,000, the interest to be used for annual scholarships. "The Kimberley Hospital appeals more to me," he said. "Why not endow children's cots in that Institution, and devote the balance of the interest to education?" I agreed that this was not a bad idea Without a moment's hesitation he agreed to give the £10,000. He added "Use your own discretion, but don't forget the hospital. I should like Judges Hopley and Lange to be the first trustees with you."
On my return to Kimberley I communicated with these gentlemen, and they readily assented to act. They drew up the trust deed, and the good work was commenced. To-day about £20,000 has been spent in the alleviation of human suffering, and in assisting Kimberley youths to continue their education. The Barnato Bursaries have helped many enterprising youngsters to acquire knowledge which has materially assisted them in after life.
"Barney" died in 1897 in his forty-sixth year. Had he lived to a ripe old age, he would have been a generous benefactor to South African Institutions. Indeed, he had a heart of gold, and a sympathetic disposition which never refused aid to a good cause.