Historical characters of the Eastern Transvaal Part 2

Written by Nick Grabe

STRUBEN, Henry (Harry). Harry’s father had emigrated from Germany in 1840. In 1856, Harry bought his first span of oxen and became a transport rider between Durban and Pretoria. In 1862 he bought a farm ‘the Willows’ in Pretoria, where he settled, with his wife and seven children. After his father died in 1869, Harry took over responsibility for his five siblings. Fred and Harry visited Kimberley after diamonds were discovered there in 1871, but returned to Pretoria because Fred took ill. Once Fred had determined that some of the rocks on the farm Wilgespruit on the Witwatersrand might be gold-bearing, Harry bought the neighbouring farm Sterkfontein. They found only traces of gold on Sterkfontein, and then Harry and Fred together bought the eastern portion of the farm Wilgespruit, where they discovered more gold and started the Confidence Reef Mine, but by 1885 the reef was running dry. Harry, stayed long enough to be appointed the first president of the Chamber of Mines in 1887. In 1889 he retired to Cape Town, and lived in a suburban mansion until his death, at the age of 75, in 1915. Struben’s Valley in Roodepoort was named after the brothers.

MERENSKY, Dr Johannes (Hans), Born on 16.3.1871 in Botshabelo (son of Berlin missionary and writer Alexander Merensky). Hans studied geology and mine engineering at the State Academy of Mining and the University of Berlin, Germany, returned to South Africa in 1904, geologist and discoverer of minerals in SA, predicted diamond finds in Namaqualand, discovered (among many others) a platinum reef near Lydenburg (named Merensky Reef in his honour). He became very wealthy and supported many educational institutions. He died on 21.10.1952 on the farm Westphalia, South Africa. Very involved in the forest and wood and industry in eastern Transvaal. Following this amazing find, he decided to become a farmer and settled down on Westfalia, a farm close to Duiwelskloof in the north of the old Transvaal. He still did geological research and planted plantations to develop new ways to prevent erosion. He also experimented with new grass types, researched fruit, researched animal breeding, built a large dam and produced timber. These experiments cost a great deal of money but contributed hugely to the development of South Africa.

Merensky never stopped prospecting and took part in the research that led to the development of the Orange Free State goldfields. He also found large chrome deposits near Pietersburg and phosphates near Phalaborwa and established the Phosphate Development Corporation Ltd. (Foskor).

von BRANDIS, Carl, captain, mining commissioner and landdrost (magistrate), Born in 1827 in Burgdorf, Hannover, Germany, served in the Austro-Hungarian army, joined the British German Legion to fight in the Crimean but was sent out to the Cape instead as a military settler, was private secretary to President Brand of the OFS, moved to the Transvaal and worked in the Public Prosecutor’s office in various towns before becoming landdrost in Middelburg; from 1881 in State Attorney’s office in Pretoria, 1886 became first mining commissioner for the new Witwatersrand goldfield, initially stationed in a tent. When the British took over the Transvaal he remained in his position. He retired at the age of 75, only a few days before his death, June 1903. He was renowned for his wisdom, tact and never-ending endeavour to improve life for the citizens of the Witwatersrand. A street in central Johannesburg was named after him.

Part three will be published in the next edition of GPS News.


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