Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Caithness in the Diamond Fields 2

The Diamond Fields At The Cape

The Hampshire Advertiser, on the alert for any news involving ‘Southamptonians’ and their relatives, reported on 29 Oct 1873 as follows:

Donations to the Museum: The Library and Museum Committee reported that Captain Caithness 'had sent a collection of stones from the diamond diggings' at the Cape.

These offerings are likely to have been uncut stones, as the museum (the Hartley Institution) had an interest in geology. What is less certain is whether Captain Caithness acquired the stones at the diggings himself or came by them indirectly.

Sorting Diamonds
It’s probable that the Captain mentioned was George Henry Caithness, whose career is gradually unfolding as more references emerge.

Shipping companies were involved in a rush of their own, making money on the back of the diamond frenzy. Demand for transport to the Cape was unprecedented and new competitors entered the market. 

For example, Messrs G H Payne and Co of London sent two chartered steamers the Westenhope and Beethoven, intended to be the start of a regular Cape line and advertised in the press with the magic words ‘Direct to the Diamond Fields’:

Unfortunately, the 'magnificent' Westenhope, after delivering passengers at Port Elizabeth for the diamond fields, was totally wrecked at Seal Island.

In May 1867 (the year of the Eureka Diamond discovery) Captain and Mrs Caithness were passengers from the Cape to Southampton on the Union Co. steamship, Cambrian. That this may have been a regular trip for the Caithness couple is indicated by another report dated 21 September 1872 listing them as passengers on the Northam, again to Southampton from the Cape:

The Northam’s cargo manifest included over 2 000 pounds in specie, an unstated amount of gold from the Marabastadt fields, ostrich feathers (highly fashionable), ivory – and ‘nine packages of diamonds.’ Numerous vessels departing the Cape at the height of the diamond frenzy would have carried similar items.

Captain George Henry Caithness was then in his mid-fifties. This seems a little late in life for active pursuit of diamonds in the fields. It’s tempting to imagine that James Ernest Caithness, then a young man of about thirty, might have spent some time at the diggings, passing on some of his finds to his uncle, Captain Caithness, perhaps to sell stones at good London prices during the latter’s trips overseas.

James Ernest’s precise whereabouts during the years after his father’s death in 1860 and James’s marriage in London in 1877 remain conjectural. If he was in South Africa for the start of the diamond rush around 1869/70 he could well have tried his luck at the Cape diggings. 

It may be significant that after his marriage he joined the Calcutta branch of Cooke and Kelvey, who were pearl and diamond merchants, jewellers, gold and silversmiths, watch and clock-makers.

No comments: