of Important Interests"
had just missed the visit of the famous author Anthony Trollope.
But then he was not likely to have been a reader of the Barchester
novels... Trollope had found Kimberley, still almost entirely corrugated-iron
shacks, unimaginably ugly. Its population, he noted, if Dutoitspan
and Bultfontein were included, was about 18,000, thus making it
the second largest town in South Africa. About 10,000 of its inhabitants
were black. As he peered into the "vast bowl" of the Kimberley
Mine, he immediately felt that it was the "largest and most
complete hole ever built by human hands". This sinister scene
of so many horrible deaths and shattered hopes was then twelve acres
overall and 260 feet deep, crisscrossed by the aerial tramways.
he thought that Kimberley was one of the most interesting places
on the face of the earth, and this was because of the speed with
which "savages" from the heart of Africa were so quickly
adapting themselves to the habits and even laws of Europeans. And
would not these habits lead them eventually to Christianity? "I
have looked down into the Kimberley mine and seen there three or
four thousand of them at work, -although each of them would willingly
have stolen a diamond if occasion came- I have felt I was looking
at three or four thousand Christians." And at least no employer
was allowed now to flog his men at his own pleasure. His comments
on causes of friction between the races, which included IDB, the
illegal sale of guns, and whether or not people of colour should
be allowed the vote, were all the more relevant in view of Griqua
tribal uprisings the following year. These last were due to disputes
over land ownership and the denial of the rights of chiefs to deal
with their own subjects; they were mainly sporadic and directed
against isolated white communities. Nevertheless there were fears
in Kimberley that there might be links with the Transvaal's troubles
with the Zulus. All this took place in a time of great drought and
thus affected the price of food.
alarming was the outbreak of tribal wars some hundred of miles away
in the eastern Cape. There was an appeal for volunteers tojoin the
Diamond Fields Horse. Loftus Rolleston, J. B. Robinson and Barnato's
colleague Louis Cohen, an amusing and scandalous chatterbox, were
among the volunteers. Originally this jolly unit had been the Dutoitspan
Hussars. Julius had been asked to join in view of his experience
in the Franco-Prussian War, but had declined; after all he was a
German. Local casualties were few, but soon Julius reported that
in the eastern Cape a thousand blacks had been killed to only seven
whites. The blacks had good guns but were short of ammunition, so
had to rely on their own weapons, which were only of use in close
fighting. Meanwhile the arming of colonists continued.
a telegraph", Julius said, "we are dancing on a volcano."
Business was "monstrously bad", because of uncertainty
and the scarcity of workers. For months he had not earned enough
to "pay for a breakfast". He blamed the troubles on the
"all too humane treatment on the part of the English".
"Instead of treating half-savages like children, they gave
them all sorts of freedom, which of course the Kaffirs do not know
how to make use of." The approach of winter would be an advantage,
as fires at night would betray the camps of the enemy.
the same there was no lack of activity for him, and profits returned
when the new steam haulage and washing gear was put in working order.
He now employed two hundred people; on occasion, three hundred.
The acquisition of good new claims began to "throw off a good
profit"; presumably this was made easier while rivals were
away at the wars. He did not mention the rumble of resentment against
him and his like that was growing among the smaller claim holders.
For Julius was now a director of the Mining Board, quite an honour.
The Board had the responsibility of removing fallen debris from
the mines, which had developed into a very serious problem. Cash
was limited and there were complaints that "capitalists"
like Julius were receiving priorities, and were thus enabled to
"swallow up" claims of lesser fry who had become hopelessly
burdened by debt through having to cease operations altogether.
firms were now attempting to counter reef falls by sinking perpendicular
shafts with tunnels for entering the mines. Trollope had gone down
one of these shafts, but had not enjoyed the experience, what with
clambering over rubble and the terrific heat.
Julius was leading a very quiet life. In the hot weather he hardly
ever went out in the evenings except to the Levys, where he was
almost a "child of the house". Mrs Levy would be going
to Germany soon. She was the "happiest, drollest soul you could
imagine, if a little sentimental...you will like her very much."
Once again he was having to cope with the tedium of his mother's
worries about when he would marry. She had decided that a young
cousin, Anna Weidenbusch, would be a suitable match, and had obviously
been fanning Anna's hopes. Julius and Anna had been corresponding
a little, but any "significance" had been "far fetched",
just brotherly affection. He had found Anna's letters written in
an "atoning Magdalen style", which he said had often made
him laugh out
He had to be firm when his sister Emilie wrote: "Mother told
me in tears that she hoped you have not given up your idea about
Anna yet." There had never, he replied, been any question of
a declaration of love in his letters. He quoted Schiller: "He
who binds himself for ever should find out whether the heart wants
the heart. The madness is short, the repentance is long." He
said he would probably end up an old bachelor. To his relief, within
six months Anna had been "driven into the arms of a parson".
Julius did not reveal that he was having something of a flirtation
with a girl called Louisa, the daughter of Mrs Stonestreet.
least Frau Wernher was to approve of Mrs Levy, "not a bit like
a Jewess". Julius replied: "Julia Levy is so good and
free, in spite of having been in Africa for years, that everyone
loves her. If only she could master this groundless excitement all
the time. Her husband is an indescribably good old animal, with
whom I am always quarrelling, but we cannot live without one another."
"Kaffir war" in Griqualand dragged on. On 30 July 1878
he wrote: "Today good news. Our people, mostly volunteers from
town here, killed two hundred and took three thousand oxen, three
thousand sheep, two hundred and eighty wagons. How long the affair
will last cannot be foreseen as one can never depend on the words
of these beasts." And early in the following year: "Whilst
in our Province peace has been restored more or less with relatively
few sacrifices, the war has broken out in our sister Colony, Natal.
There have been quite dreadful results right from the beginning.
An English Corps consisting mostly of line regiments was cut off
by a terrific number of Zulus and slaughtered. Fifty-four officers,
among them several I know, personally, and about six hundred men,
were killed all in one day." This was the battle of Isandhlwana,
fought on 22 January 1879, when a British regiment was annihilated.
The casualties, including black troops, in fact amounted to more
than 1,000 killed. Julius put the great defeat down to the commanders'
lack of caution, and an underestimation of the 'brave and manly
and well trained Zulu people. "The excitement is very great",
he added, "especially as one fears the moral effect on certain
chiefs whose neutrality will probably end now."
on both sides continued. The "inept" British leadership
was faced with "unbounded courage and great masses". The
death in battle of the Prince Imperial of France was due to "terrific
carelessness". Then, at long last, the Zulus were crushed at
Ulundi. Their chief Cetewayo fled but was captured.
Kimberley these events of 1878-9 had the effect of stricter segregation,
or the "localization of natives". The war depressed business,
and Julius was so full of gloom that he had decided to leave Africa
for good in 1880. "I love work for its own sake", he wrote
on 4 May 1879, "and if I am frightened of anything it is that
I shall not find such unbounded activity in Europe. My whole position
here is very important and influential, and without stepping outside
the bounds of modesty I might say that nothing of importance is
done here, at least in the business line, without my being consulted
- and my opinion usually has the decisive influence. Yet I seriously
want to get out next year to be near you again".
his plans for return had to be postponed because of dramatic new
developments, namely Porgès's imminent formation in Paris
of the Compagnie Française des Mines de Diamants du Cap de
Bonne Espérance, with a capital of £560,000. It took
place in 1880 and was the first Kimberley-based joint-stock company
to be floated in Europe.
various manoeuvres and manipulations around this period were neatly
summarized in that matter-of-fact document written by Julius in
the third person, "Notes on the Diamond Fields", in which
he recorded :
for suitable machinery, were given [in 1877], more purchases increased
the various blocks [of claims] to a very workable concern, and
a limited liability Company was formed in England under the title
of the Griqualand West Diamond Company. Profitable work resulted,
and it soon became apparent that even now the blocks were hardly
big enough and would be too small for future underground working.
This led eventually to amalgamation with neighbouring holders,
especially the firms of Lewis and Marks, and the various concerns
were merged into a Company having its seat in Paris ... a Company
which held the largest blocks of claims in Kimberley Mine. The
holdings were at first in different and divided blocks, but all
the strategical points were quickly secured, connecting all the
principal blocks and placing the Company in such a position that
no combination of other holdings could injure it seriously. At
that time a great deal of jealousy existed between the various
large holders, and in their short-sightedness they overlooked
their true interest which was to combine together. The management
of the Compagnie Française devolved upon Mr Wernher, as
Messrs I. Lewis and s. Marks soon retired from active participation
to devote their energies elsewhere. Following above amalgamations
several other important combinations took place, such as the Central
Diamond Mining Company [Baring-Gould], the Standard Company [J.
B. Robinson], all working in rivalry and trying to kill one another,
working without method or plan.
formation of the French Company, as it was generally known, did
indeed precipitate cut-throat competition, not only in the Kimberley
Mine. At De Beers, where in April 1880 Cecil Rhodes floated his
De Beers Mining Company, the firm of Lippert emerged for a while
as the largest claimholder. Barney Barnato and his brother went
to London to form Barnato Brothers, and on their return launched
four new companies.
Julius said that Isaac Lewis and Sammy Marks "retired",
he meant that they were squeezed out of the French Company. But
they did, as he said, "devote their energies elsewhere with
notorious success" - in the 1890s in Johannesburg they switched
to producing cheap liquor. Lewis and Marks were originally from
Lithuania, and had come to South Africa as pedlars. After Porgès's
spending spree in 1877 they had invested £20,000 on acquiring claims
in Kimberley Mine, and almost immediately had combined their holdings
with those of Paddon Brothers to form the Kimberley Mining Company,
and it was this that in turn was amalgamated with the French Company.
Levy returned from Europe in June 1879, and for some reason had
to stay a month or two in Julius's house, "which I do not like,
for in spite of the veneration in which I hold her she is much too
excitable for daily intercourse". The house was admittedly
larger than the one Julius had bought in 1873, but even so it must
have been cramped, for he was sharing it with three other bachelors.
at once she embarrassingly began to confide in him that her husband
did not return her love sufficiently. Worse, she transformed the
house into a "dovecot" for the ladies of Kimberley, all
anxious for a peep into this establishment, "a perfect specimen
of order and cleanliness" where a German cook "cursed
and shouted like a trooper from the kitchen". Obviously primed
by Frau Wernher, Julia Levy nagged him about not being married yet,
and he retorted that he was rich enough not to have to bother. As
it happened, that August, his "flame", "whose eyes
had looked very sympathetically into mine"', Louisa Stonestreet,
married none other than Loftus Rolleston, greeted by all as a hero
back from the wars. As Julius wrote later: "The fault was mine.
Had she spoken German all might have been different." There
may have been more to it than that, for Louisa was known to have
a hot temper.
three who shared Julius's house were Charles Rube, the young man
whom Porgès had brought out in 1876, Martin van Beek,
and Alfred Beit, "a joyous, lusty fellow of extraordinary goodness
of heart and very great business ability, compared to whom we are
Philistines". Beit was not only to become Julius's closest
friend but his partner in a firm of world renown that bore their
names. Three years younger than Julius, he had been born in Hamburg
and, like Porgès, was of Portuguese Sephardic descent.
His father imported silk from France. Because of the "ugly
monster of anti-Semitism rearing its head" in Germany, his
parents had converted to Lutheranism, to give their children a better
chance in life. He had gone to Amsterdam to learn about diamond
cutting, had reached Kimberley in 1875 as a representative of his
cousins' firm, W. & A. Lippert, and soon afterwards had shared
Julius's house at Old De Beers. In 1878 he had returned to Hamburg
for a while.
Julius, Alfred Beit had a "horror of publicity" and a
reputation for honesty. He also had an amazing memory and an almost
uncanny knack of spotting a good diamond. Physically they were quite
different. Beit was small, delicate, with bulbous, mild blue eyes
and a large head. He was also a bad horseman and bad at practical
things; but he was tremendously energetic, walking over the roughest
country without showing signs of fatigue. In the ballroom, again
unlike Julius, he would invariably choose the tallest woman in the
room, and dance round her in a wonderfully comic manner. Both men
were shy. Julius was merely reserved, but Beit was highly strung,
with a habit of fiddling with his tie and biting his handkerchief.
He could never be persuaded to make a speech.
brimmed over with enthusiasms. "You could not help loving the
dear fellow." It was said that he attracted money like iron
filings to a magnet. Borrowing from his family, he bought land at
New Rush and erected a row of corrugated-iron sheds for use as shops
and dwellings, which soon were earning him £1,800 a month in rents.
Later he sold the land for £240,000. The Lippert business connection
had not been much of a success and he Soon found that there was
much more profit in dealing privately. "In those years of securing
properties and organizing them", Julius wrote in his "Notes", succinct
as ever, it was almost impossible to give full attention to the
diamond business itself, hitherto the mainstay of the firm. "Mr
Wernher therefore arranged with several younger men with a good
knowledge of the article to operate on joint account, the firm supplying
capital for shipment. One of the earliest connections of this kind
was Mr Alfred Beit., And he added: "The account worked extremely
well" - another of his little understatements. Meanwhile Beit -
like Julius himself - continued to buy his own claims in the various
mines, particularly in De Beers, where he came in contact with Cecil
Rhodes, about whom Julius appeared to have personal reservations.
October 1879 Julia Levy decided it was time for Julius to give a
ball. Seventy people were invited. The German cook excelled herself,
and there was champagne cup. The dancing ending at 4 a.m. "But the
expense?", he imagined his mother complaining. "And you say business
is bad." The answer was that he didn't care. The cost was as much
as a family holiday on Lake Maggiore, and even six such balls would
not ruin him. He told his parents that his personal interest in
the Kimberley Mine was now worth £12,500.
had another shock waiting for his parents. He had determined that
on his return to Europe he would live in England. "In Germany business
is a chain of intolerable nuisances. Liberal development is fettered
[a reference to anti-Semitism], in a way that is terrible for anyone
who has experienced the English way of life."
other bachelors, unnamed but very likely Hermann Eckstein and Rudolph
Hinrichsen, came for meals at Julius's house, forming a mess of
six. One of them was to remember how they would take turns in organizing
the catering. "Interviews with the woman cook were never much cherished
by any of us, and frequently Wernher would be called upon to appease
her temper, and it was amusing to see how he could settle the trouble
of the menu in no time." In the end she was so overbearing that
she had to be sacked.
six went on a spree over Christmas. "At half past nine at night
on Christmas Eve we got on our horses and rode to a farm about twelve
miles distant. The moonlight on the plain was beautiful. We slept
at the farm, and were in the saddle again at half past three in
the morning, in order to ride to a little village in the Orange
Free State called Boshoff, another twenty miles. At that place there
were several ladies we knew who were convalescing, and we spent
a very high-spirited day. "Then it was back to Kimberley on Boxing
Day, a five hours" ride, to be followed by a ball at Rothschild's.
"In spite of the heat there was a lot of dancing. Mrs Levy forgot
that she had sprained her ankle."
the letter of 22 January 1880 in which Julius told his parents about
the formation of the French Company, it is clear how much he had
been the driving force: "Before I managed to get my friends [in
Paris and London] so far as to realize the usefulness of this step,
and in the end to accomplish it, I had to write reams of letters,
and I only achieved my goal after the greatest difficulties." But
he still had to contend with his parents' outrage over his remarks
about Germany. In his reply he hinted at his own hurt feelings when
an anonymous critic in Kimberley accused him of being a humbug and
one can be happy in Germany only as a German has not become a
dogma yet, and at least there is evidence to the contrary. Even
if I have changed through living abroad it does not mean that
I have lost all sensitivity. If I had remained a little wheel
in a huge machine in London it would have been easy to go back
to Germany. But early in life I became independent and a moving
force - I might say the centre of important interests - and I
cannot now shake that off. Thus I belong in everything that means
business on the grand scale, in everything that demands the power
of man and the sharpness of intellect in a foreign land. It is
not in my nature to boast of my position and to explain myself.
Therefore rumours are being circulated here. Nevertheless I know
that there are other people, some of them complete strangers,
who have trusted me beyond bounds, and as I am not without honour
or even ambition this trust gives me a higher point of view about
my duties than is usual. If that is my crime so be it.
was even contemplating setting up on his own in London. After all
he was now aged thirty. Yet he was torn by his loyalty to Jules
such a resounding manifesto his mother could only suggest that maybe
it would be better for his health to come back to Germany. But no:
"Sometimes I laughed as a stupid boy, when Father was running up
and down the station platform watch in hand and waiting for the
last train. But I am just as bad, and the capital I have to administer
is much greater than the late Taunus railway." He admitted that
he had anxieties. For instance, there was the responsibility for
the safety of his workers, "who through braving constant dangers
become incredibly careless. Now that we are employing between five
and seven hundred men there is a lot of trouble. Luckily I have
a very cool head; someone with an excitable nature would be driven
mad by my position."
the next months he would be "utterly taken up" with the organization
of the new company. Expenses, especially because of reef falls,
had been greater than expected. "It causes me many a sleepless night,
as you may imagine, with a concern that needs at present fourteen
steam engines, nearly a hundred horses, and very many hundred hands.
Our daily expenses are sufficient for you to live in Limburg for
the whole year, so you can realize how many diamonds have to be
found every day to do some good business." A shaft was being sunk,
already two hundred feet deep, and the earth for the first seventy
feet had been so loose that a "fantastic" amount of wood had to
be used to shore it up. At present he did not know how deep the
tunnel would have to be. The deepest claim in the mine was 320 feet.
The company possessed about a hundred claims, and "we therefore
have at least twenty-three million cubic feet before us, which at
the present prices of diamonds and according to the experience of
years is worth about three and two thirds million pounds sterling."
A miner earned usually £9 a week, gunpowder cost two shillings a
pound, and five hundred pounds might be used in a week.
letter exists mentioning the rise of the Transvaalers against British
rule, sometimes known as the first Anglo-Boer War, and their victory
at Majuba Hill, which forced the British to give them back their
independence. As the end of the year approached, he was admitting
that he might even miss Kimberley.
hope I shall have brought everything into sufficient order by
the end of the year so that my successor will be able to work
on the lines that I have laid down. If the worst happened, I might
have to come back again next year, which I dread. The thought
of being near you again is alone enough for me to give up Africa,
in spite of years of quiet satisfaction, in spite of many dear
friends...Even if as a merchant I am striving after possessions
and affluence, yet I have no insatiable thirst for them... In
spite of the many unusual chances that get offered to me, I am
quite contented with what I have got.
natural successor was Charles Rube. Paul Keil was selected to represent
the firm for the shipping of diamonds. Porgès was
trying to persuade Julius to stay on at least for a few more months,
but he was determined to leave in November. Looking back over the
past nine years, Julius said, he could not thank Fate enough for
having led him to such a man as Porgès. The only differences
of opinion had been not who should take the greatest part but who
should take the smallest. Porgès had written to him:
"As far as I am concerned I shall never leave you."
the last weeks his head was "buzzing", he was so overloaded with
work. He kept on thinking of new projects years ahead. In almost
his last letter he wrote about the "very curious feeling" he had
at leaving what had been a virgin wilderness, "where the activity
and the creation of the individual is brought into relief much more
than in the densely populated countries of Europe."
have always tried in spite of all my wealth to keep my needs as
modest and small as possible; even if I am always aware of the
vicissitudes of life, need or necessity could never be the touchstone
of my honour. If tomorrow I lost everything, that indeed would
not make me happier, but it would not disturb the peace of my
soul. I am not proud of my riches, for I know how much is due
to luck. That alone does not make me happy. I am happy because
I am trusted, and changing fortune could not destroy that happiness.
30 November 1880 he sailed from Cape Town in the Dunrobin Castle,
a rough and disagreeable voyage.