Jack Caldwell - Mining Engineer - Robertson GeoConsultants

More than a hundred years have passed; much has changed; and yet so much about mining is the same. This thought is prompted by reading Prinsloo of Prinsloosdorp by Douglas Blackburn. First published in1898, reprinted in 1908; and now available in a printing from 1989. Also available as an ebook. It is, as the cover tells us, A Tale of Transvaal Officialdom, being incidents in the life of a Transvaal official, as told by his son-in-law Sarel Erasmus, late Public Prosecutor of Prinsloosdorp, Market-Master of Kaalkop, Small-Pox Tax Collector of Schoonspruit, etc., etc.

In the preface to the 1908 edition, the author assures us: “This portrait of a Transvaal official of the old regime is not a caricature; not one character or incident has been invented, but each and all have had their prototype in actuality.”

The official is Piet Prinsloo, a Voortrekker who comes to the Transvaal, buys a farm, becomes Landdrost of Vrededorp, is verneuked out of his farm on which gold is found, salts his new farm, and becomes Mining Commissioner of Kaalkop. Through no fault of his own, but owing to the ill-reports in the newspapers, the untrustworthy English, the over-concerned Predikant, and sundry prying officials in Pretoria who demand account of the money paid him as Mining Commissioner, he and his family trek to Rhodesia.

In this slim book of but 134 pages, we come to love, admire, despise, and laugh at Piet. But we recognize that he and his type were real and still are real. The same situations occur today in spite of sanctimonious pronouncements by politicians, academics, and starry-eyed young ladies. It is still the pursuit of money with which to clothe the vrou and educate the kerels.

You must read it and to encourage you, here is how he lost his first farm:

When a gold reef was at last found on it [his farm], and he sold the farm, he was again verneuked by science. A Johannesburg syndicate had offered him twenty-five thousand pounds, and he was going to ride into the Rand and get the money, when the great John Brown, who is what is now called a millionaire, came to the farm.

“Piet,” said he, “I will give you a hundred thousand pounds for the farm; not in pieces of paper like those swindling Johannesburg Uitlanders, but in golden sovereigns, Kruger’s and Queen Victoria’s,” and Brown showed him a bag full of more gold than he had ever seen. Next he showed Piet a long writing, which, being in the Taal, he could almost understand, for it was not like the Uitlander’s agreement, which was in English, and full of strange words. So Piet signed it without first consulting Katrina [his wife.]

Brown counted out the money. First he counted one hundred sovereigns, and Piet, who could not write arithmetic, laid them out in rows on the table, like spans of oxen, sixteen in a span, for he knew that six spans made one hundred less four. Next Brown counted out one thousand, which took Piet a very long time to check, for one thousand is sixty-two spans.

“There,” said Brown, “goes one hundred; there goes a thousand–one hundred thousand.”

This tale of verneukery continues. I leave it to you to get the book to see what transpires. Piet gets his own back on the Uitlanders when he salts his new farm.

Sometimes the story is, to our modern ears, brutal. Be prepared but not judgmental. Recall that my paternal grandmother was of Boer stock and they fought the Uitlanders and were incarcerated in the concentration camps. It is a long time ago.