In the early 1870’s, considerable deposits of alluvial gold were panned by prospectors in the Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga). Small amounts were also found on the Witwatersrand before the discovery of the main reef in 1886. In 1880 gold fever ran high throughout Southern Africa and sure enough two ambitious Englishmen thought they had found their El Dorado on the farm Hansiesrivier, presently owned by Mr Kosie van Zyl, in the Napier district. Following the vein of gold bearing quartz, for almost nine years they dug a 85 meter long tunnel, removing between 200 and 300 tons of gold-bearing rock by hand.
These enterprising men built themselves a small, stone cottage and planted some fruit trees and a vegetable garden. The foundation of the house is still there, as well as some of the fruit trees.
By 1889 they floated a company with the name of The Napier Gold Searching Company and sold one pound sterling shares at ten shillings.To a degree the share selling must have taken off, because written evidence exists that a certain Mr P.H.Giliomee from the farm Soutkuil held shares number 232 to 236. The share was signed by a Mr G. Herbert. The descendants of the Giliomees are still living on Soutkuil and one wonders if they are aware that they are shareholders in a gold searching company!
One can only speculate as to whether this was premeditated fraud or an honest way to seek further investment for the development of the mine. What we do know, is that they sailed off to England with the money presumably to buy mining equipment for the processing of the ore, and never returned. It is believed that one partner died while in England and the other was too weak to return. Nothing was ever heard of them again, but that there is gold-bearing rock on Hansiesrivier seems to be true, although not a viable amount. Mr Henk Swart, the previous owner of Hansiesrivier, had a sample of the quartz assayed. The result – 0,3 grams per ton. Compare it to the average yield of 15 grams of gold per ton of rock in the Witwatersrand reef.
It was not only at Hansiesrivier that men were mining for gold. A certain Dr Thompson, and later also Mr G. Herbert got permission from the Dutch Reformed Church Council to prospect not only for gold, but also for other precious metals and stones on ground belonging to the church. No one knows if they had better luck than the two Englishmen.
After publication of this article in Village Life magazine, we received the following letter from Jean Malan, Chief geologist, PetroSA, Cape Town:
I enjoyed the article “Napier’s forgotten gold mine” which took me back to my time as geologist working for the Geological Survey. In 1984 I visited several seemingly gold prospecting sites in the Overberg. These are on Klein Zandrif (west of Bredasdorp), Bloemfontein (south of Napier), Fairfield and the one on Hansiesrivier. The latter remains the best example of how the fortune hunters followed quartz veins in search of unfound richness. On Hansiesrivier a 0,8 metre wide fractured quartz vein was mined out over a distance of some 120 m. The vein contains some ferruginous and magnesium oxides and traces of pyrite (fool’s gold). The Hansiesriver mine is situated on a prominent northeast- southwest striking fault that can be followed as far as Papiesvlei. I agree with the very low grade of less than 0,5 gram/ton of gold.
In the Cape Town geological map sheet explanation by JN Theron (1984) the following is written: “Reports of reputed gold finds have appeared in local newspapers since 1859 spurred on by events up in the Transvaal. The only local recorded discovery was from a shaft sunk on the slopes of Lion’s Head which assayed 21,7 to 27,4 gram/ton. The Lion’s Head Gold Mining Company was formed but no further promising indications of economic proportions was found and the venture came to an end. Sad for them, but how would Table Mountain have looked today with mines all along its lower slopes!”
Only localised spots of gold, silver and tin were ever found scattered throughout the Western Cape and none of any commercial size. The only mineral deposit of size is manganese of which an example is the occurrence on the major fault at the Caledon spa, some 100m in diameter around the original spring. High grade manganese ore is interlayered with ferruginous and siliceous layers.
De Villiers (1964) estimated that with selective mining there could be 250 000 tons of ore at an average grade of 40% manganese – again far too small for any commercial mine. Thus the only present known “mines” in the Cape are the casinos!