Allistair Eveline Fincham

Grandpa's Diary

A True Story of a South African born Grandson of a British Settler
Written by Allister Thornton Fincham (senior)

It was at Hopetown on the third day of February, 1871, that I was ushered into this world.  My parents resided on the farm named Witteputs, which after it had been surveyed, was renamed The Grange.
My parents settled on this farm whilst Griqualand West belonged to the Griqua Tribe under Captain Waterboer who resided firstly near Douglas but had moved to live on a farm on the banks of the Orange River about twenty miles from Hopetown.
The Griquas were wealthy.  They owned their own land and many horses, cattle, sheep and goats.  The Bo-landers, as the Traders were known, came from the Western Province with long tent wagons and carts of various kinds which were loaded with hogsheads of cheap brandy, known by the name of Cape Smoke, and wine.  The wagons, brandy and wine were exchanged for cattle, sheep and goats and, in many instances, for farms which they got at very low prices and in this way the Griquas impoverished.
David Arnot received title to a number of farms of which the Grange was one.  At a later date when Mr. Arnot sold the farms my Dad purchased the Grange for 500 pounds payable within thirty years plus interest at 6% per annum payable half yearly.  The capital and interest was duly paid.  On the farm The Grange my parents raised a family of twelve - nine sons and three daughters.  I am the sixth of the sons.  My parents at the time were very poor.  The whole of their possessions were an old tent wagon, 10 oxen and a few sticks of furniture.  There was no dwelling house of any sort.  Hence Dad and his eldest children had to set to make bricks and commence building to get cover for the family.
Luckily, the water table in those far gone days was near the surface hence there was little difficulty in procuring water for mixing soil and making bricks.  However, it was a struggle to provide for the growing family.  At nights time my Dad was busy making veld shoes and my Mother assisted by way of sewing the upper leather to the soles of the shoes.  There were no schools thus Dad and Mother had to teach the children to read and write and also give them Bible lessons.  Some days Dad would do work for neighbours such as building kraals, painting carts and wagons and in this way he earned money or kind to enable him to feed and clothe the family.
Now something relating to myself.  As a very young boy I became very interested in books and loved to learn and read.  In 1868 the first diamond was found in the District of Hopetown.  The discovery led to more prospecting being done and brought money into circulation of which Dad took advantage.  He, being successful to a moderate extent, provided for further improvements on The Grange.  Then came the discovery of one of the diamond mines at Kimberley.  Happily for us, the main wagon road from the Cape Districts was opened up over our farm and this enabled Dad to open a small supply store where travellers could purchase foodstuff.  Eventually the store became a large one.  Besides the store a relay station for Gibson Brothers passenger busses was arranged there and whilst the teams of horses were being changed Mother was able to supply meals to passengers, all adding a little grist to the mill.  I can remember occasions when the late Cecil John Rhodes stayed one night at The Grange on his journeys from Kimberley to Cape Town.  I can also recall a visit by the late Sir Charles Warren when he passed by with a column of "Rooi-baatjies", British Soldiers, when he was on his expedition to settle a dispute with the Free State.  When this dispute was settled activity increased and more money came into circulation and things became more prosperous.
The second visit by sir Charles Warren was when he came to settle the Griqua rebellion.  At the end of this a Land settlement Board was appointed, Sir Charles ranking as Administrator.  My Dad was elected by the Burghers, who took part in quelling the rebellion, to represent them at the Land Board.  During these happenings I grew older and had reached the age of ten years and naturally became more interested in what was taking place in and about our district.
The third visit by Sir Charles Warren was when he came to settle the matter around Vryburg and Mafeking with the "Free-booters", Transvaal Boers and natives.  By this time Dad had become in a position to engage a tutor to give us schooling on the farm.  The hours were from 9 a.m to 12 noon and from 2 p.m to 4 p.m daily except Saturdays.  On Sundays, an hour of Bible lessons and singing.
At the age of thirteen I had to assist in the store and learn book-keeping.  When eighteen years old I was able to keep a set of books in Double Entry.
Now I come to the most important event in my lifetime.  In 1884 I travelled by oxwagon from Vryburg to Johannesburg to join in happy matrimony with my beloved girl friend, Evelina Gertrude Howarth whom I married on 14th. November, 1894.  We returned by oxwagon to Vryburg, which was my home at that time.  The journey took fourteen days to complete, calling at Potchefstroom, Klerksdorp, Wolmaransstad, Schweizer Reneke.  The country was beautiful, green all over with plenty of grass and veldt flowers.  God willing, we hope to spend our Diamond Wedding Day on 14th. November, 1954.  With God's grace we are both well and happy and have a happy and lovely family.
Things rolled on fairly quietly until after the Jameson Raid.  The Afrikaners had become anti-English.  Then came the Boer War.  Lord Methuen with his column passed over The Grange.  Eleven thousand men arrived on Monday morning and moved off on Wednesday afternoon in the direction of Belmont.  On Thursday morning the battle of Belmont was fought, the results of which I need not here reiterate.
Accompanying Lord Methuen's column was a young gentleman named Winston Churchill, who represented a London Newspaper, had purchased at Cape Town a four wheeled horse-drawn carriage and two ponies.  On his arrival at my farm, The Grange, his driver discovered that a four wheel carriage was too much for two ponies to draw over our South African roads, hence he wished to exchange some for a two wheel Cape Cart and, as I possessed a very good Cape Cart, an exchange of vehicles was made which enabled the young man to continue his journey in comfort without tiring his ponies.  For many years my family and I enjoyed driving in the four wheeler.  The same young man, now Sir Winston Churchill, has become Prime Minister of England.
My Dad and Mother had both passed away prior to this date and I having become possessed of The Grange by purchase price then paid by me was 5,500 pounds.  The Grange being the first watering place for men and horses, it became the first stop after the Orange River.
I carried on farming ostriches, cattle, horses, sheep and angora goats very successfully for some years, when at last a great drought struck parts of the Cape Province, Victoria West, Carnarvon, Kenhardt, etc.. When a great trek with sheep followed, the thousands of sheep which were making for the O.F.S and North of Kimberley all trekked over my farm and left it bare without a blade of food for my animals to feed on, resulting in my having to trek to Vryburg district with my cattle and sheep.  For horses and goats I found grazing on another part of our district.  Ostriches I had to feed Aloes, Mealies, Lucern and bones.  At the end of three years it was possible to bring home such sheep as I had left out of my flocks.  The cattle I disposed of at Vryburg.  The sheep had become infested with many parasites and wire worm, leaving a balance of poor animals numbering 800 out of 3,000 head previous to my trek.  Ostriches also became infested with wire worm resulting in great mortality and loss.
During this struggle I became interested with my brothers in General Businesses in Vryburg, Mafeking and Ermelo wherefore my share of capital was required.  To meet this I raised a bond on my farm.  Then came the slump in Ostrich Feathers, motor cars arrived resulting in a big drop in the price of horses, in fact, no demand for them.  Eventually ostriches were killed, their meat being used for native nations.  Ill luck followed me until at last a general slump came.  Consequently the Banks required money and advances and bonds had to be paid.  During the crises it became necessary to dispose of my farm, a family home where all of us were brought from birth to manhood.  What a tragedy!  The only redeeming factor was that, my wife and I being married by Ante-nuptial Contract, her household furniture and my Life Policy were saved.  Otherwise I walked out without a penny piece to make a new start in life.
Our children, four sons and four daughters, had finished their schooling and were able to assist in a measure to support the family.  A new start had to be mad and we decided to start on the farm named Avoca, near Douglas, on the Vaal River, growing Lucerne and cotton.  This farm was owned by the late Mr. Crump who leased me a portion of his holding at a rental of 250£ per annum.  No accommodation whatever and we had to make bricks of Vaal River clay and build a home and store room, a shop and Post Office.  Here we made a bare living, the price of Lucerne in bales, delivered on rail, being as low as 1/9 to 2/6 per 100£.  Very good quality cotton made 10d. per £ on rail.  This business was hard work and unprofitable. 
My eldest son, Thornton, decided to try alluvial diamond digging.  After months of toil he found a 38ct. diamond which was sold for 832£.  He had taken a partner to support and he received the larger share.  The balance just about covered our new depts.  The new diamond diggings were opened at Lichtenburg, so we decided to try our luck there.  Thornton and Willie, my two sons, and I proceeded there leaving the family at Avoca meanwhile.  We were fairly lucky in finding small diamonds sufficient to cover expenses.  After about ten months another serious tragedy befell us.  My son Willie contracted Enteric fever.  We removed him to the Kimberley Hospital where he lingered for some time and died on the day before Christmas and was buried on Christmas day.  This ended our diamond digging careers.
Thornton decided to join the Post Office and secured a position in South West Africa postal department as telegraph assistant.  I through the friendly action of Minister H.C Havenga got an appointment as Supervisor at Alexander Bay Government Diamond diggings.  Fortunately for me, I knew the firm of Olivier & Havenga, attorneys, who practiced at Fauresmith O.F.S and who were legal advisors to my late father.  I remained at the State diggings for six weeks only when I applied for ten days leave for the purpose of transferring my family from the Transvaal to the Cape.  This leave was refused me hence I decided to vacate my post at Alexander Bay where I handled many thousands of pounds worth of diamonds daily.  Whilst at Alexander Bay my son and a friend had discovered a large area containing Sodium Nitrate, a sample of which he sent to me.  I immediately sent same to a friend who was an Analytical Chemist who replied by wire "Advise you secure as much land as possible wiring you cash for expenses assay 33% Nitrates."  This news put new spirit into my waning soul.  I could not leave at a moment's notice, having to obtain permission from a firm for whom I was managing a Salt Pan near Bloemhof in the Transvaal.  It was not long before this permission was granted.  I proceeded to Marienthal by rail and Stamprietfontein by rail and got busy with pegging claims over this area.  Meanwhile my friend at Cape Town attended to assaying all samples submitted by me and ultimately an application was made to the Administrator of South West Africa for a concession over a large area for all minerals except diamonds and this was granted.  My friends contacted the Imperial Chemical Company which company became very interested.  They sent their geologist, Dr. Reineke to investigate and sample the area, who spent eitht days with me taking samples and discussing problems.  After having Dr. Reineke's report on assays the Company decided that the difficulties such as water, labour, no fuel, etc. made the project uneconomical.  On receiving this report my friends decided to abandon the concern.  Once more I was back on my beam ends and had to find something else to keep the wolf from the door.
"A huge fortune gone West."

A friend of mine suggested forming a small syndicate with the purpose of prospecting for diamonds.  The syndicate was brought into being and I had to do the prospecting.  A start was made and we set off for the Orange river Valley which was alive with prospectors from all parts of South Africa.  Nevertheless our party selected a claim on an island in the Orange River, our prospecting pegs were put up, in accordance with regulations, near the mount of Gamkap River not many miles from the mouth of the Fish River.  We did some work without success.  "Rooster koek" and coffee.  I remained at the Camp preparing pegs wherewith to peg another claim and the rest of the party started work.  Whilst busy preparing pegs, a man appeared in the bushes; he came up and introduced himself as Coetzee.  I asked him to sit down and offered him a cup of coffee and a roasted koek.  We talked of prospecting and the difficulties attached thereto, the terrible distances one had to travel before reaching a point of interest.  He said he had just returned from a journey which lasted 110 days on foot through that country - no roads and many mountains.  However, he said he had been very successful;  he had discovered a very rich deposit of gravel containing many diamonds.  He intended returning there soon to procure sufficient diamonds to satisfy himself and a pal who he had to meet at a place about ten miles distant from where we were.  I said that it was our plan to go to the place named by him as soon as we had pegged the claim for which I was preparing the necessary pegs.  He agreed to wait and get a lift in our motor car.  At about eleven o'clock we were ready to make a start and he accompanied us to the place where he stated he had to meet his friend that evening.  My party consisted my son Denis, 15 years of age, Mr. Hendriks and my Native boy Peet (a Griqua named Peet Badenhorst).  After some discussions with Coetzee, he agreed to write a note to his friend telling him that he was returning with us to this wonderful diamond deposit.  He wrote the note and left same with the storekeeper, who owned a shop at his place, who promised to deliver same to his pal on his arrival that evening.  We lost no time and set out to see this wonderful Eldorado, this was on a Thursday afternoon; we travelled all day and camped; Saturday we travelled all day and camped out.  Starting Sunday morning, we arrived at a farm named Kuns, owned by a Mr. Kuuhn.  This was to be the end of our motor journey.  From this point we had to walk thirty miles to reach the diamond deposit, all game to undertake this adventurous journey arrangement had to be made.  (We agreed with Coetzee that, should he point out to us the place where he was supposed to have found the diamonds and, if it was possible and within the Diamond Laws to obtain permission to exploit the property, he would be entitled to 50% of the profits resulting there from.) 
Coetzee said our walk would be through mountains where wild bushmen, tigers and zebras were likely to be met with hence we should have a rifle to protect ourselves.  We had no such weapons with us and it was also necessary to hire two pack donkeys for transport of our kit and water.  I approached Mr. Kuuhn, the owner of the farm Kuns, and explained our mission.  He stated that it was known to them (farmers) that such a place existed, but could not be located.  I arranged with Mr. Kuuhn to leave our motor car in his care until our return; he agreed to lend me a shotgun and five cartridges, all he had, and hire to me two tame donkeys, which I had to return or pay for.  These arrangements concluded, it was not long before our trek started.
We walked about eight miles that afternoon and camped for the night.  Next morning we made a fresh start over rough ground - no roads, plenty of stones and bushes.  At about 11 o'clock Coetzee suggested that he would take our water bag, climb up a mountain and fetch water as he knew of water there.  He also suggested taking the shot gun in case of meeting some wild animals and he explained to us to keep on the foot of these mountains for about four miles where he would meet us.  Coetzee duly carried out his mission and met us at the appointed place at about 1 p.m.  Now came the task, mountains of dolomite to climb and a start was made.  We had to climb and cut or chop down trees, build up stones to make a path for the donkeys.  The Dolomite lay in ledges about 100 feet apart, as we got to the first ledge we had to walk along on top of it for about a mile, then we had the same task to reach the top of the second ledge and again and again we had the same until we reached the top of the fifth ledge.  The time was now about 8 o'clock at night, a beautiful moonlight night and very fine weather.  We camped on top of dolomite banks.  Right alongside our camp was as great donga about 100 feet wide and varying in depth to about the same depth.  Looking down into the donga it was all darkness but water could be seen at its bottom.  There was plenty of dry wood for making a fire, so we were all happy and sat around our camp fire.  Coetzee suggested that, if Peet would accompany him, they could get down into the donga and fill our water cans with fresh water.  Peet agreed and off they went in less than an hour were back at camp with cans filled with water.  I asked Coetzee the following question: "Lo web' Supposing we had no donkeys to contend with and we made a start at 6 a.m to-morrow, at what time is it possible to reach the end of our journey?'  His reply was 'At about 2 p.m."  All tired we got to rest and were undisturbed all night except for the hooting of owls and noises of jackals and other birds which abounded within the precincts of the donga which was miles long.
Next morning, after having coffee and rooster koek, we made a start - Coetzee led the way, always about 100 yards ahead of us.  After following the donga for about two miles Coetzee stopped and awaited our arrival.  He said, "here is water.  The best is to allow the donkeys to have a good drink as there is no water further on."  Coetzee always carried the shotgun and cartridges, a haversack, containing tea, mild and sugar.  He pointed out the way we had to go to get round the end of the donga and the way back on the opposite side of the donga where he would meet us again after he had inspected the best way down the mountain with the donkeys.  All seemed in order and off he started. 
We could see him much of the way as he walked.  The donkeys had thus drunk and we followed Coetzee's footsteps.  Alas, at last we reached a place where it was impossible for any animal to get over.  Human beings could climb over and so could monkeys.  Here we came to a full stop.  We waited, shouted and whistled but Coetzee could not be found or heard.  As it became later in the afternoon we collected plenty of wood and built a barricade inside of which we made a fire, there being space for us all to have our beds.  All we had in the way of implements was a hatchet, spade, pick and handle as Coetzee had our gun.  We took turns watching at night for any sort of adventurers.  Denis, my fifteen year old son, said "This man is a murderer."  "Why do you say so?"  "Well, supposing we had found no water, we would have died of thirst and who knows that Coetzee may not return to-night and blot us all out and throw our bodies down the donga where no person would ever find them."
Well, this put us more on the alert.  Anyway, the night passed silently without any disturbances.   Coetzee has disappeared.  Has he been killed by a tiger or shot by a wild bushman?  What have we to do now?  Follow our footsteps back to Kuuhn's farm.  Just on arrival there a fresh tragedy befell us.  Our donkeys, which were being led by hand, Peet had one and Hendriks the other, the farm dogs barked and ran towards us, the donkeys took frights, broke the reins and went helter skelter away into the veld joining up with other wild donkeys which took fright at our donkeys and their packs.  They went miles into the veld and had to be left to next day.  All our bedding and utensils went with them.
Next morning I hired two horses from Mr. Kuuhn and Peet and Hendriks set out in search of the animals.  They found pieces of our blankets, a Kat Kaross and sundry things but no donkeys which had joined up with numbers of Kuuhn's donkeys.
Now I had to pay Mr. Kuuhn for the hire of his donkeys and for his shot gun and cartridges.  We started on our return journey to the Police Post and reported the whole matter.  After six months I was summonsed to appear at Court at Warmbad, South West Africa, to give evidence against this scoundrel and claim the gun which he had sold to a farmer who came to the Magistrate to register the gun of which I had the number and licence.  Coetzee got off very lightly - one month or 10 pounds - doubtless he served the month.  mr. Kuuhn got his gun back and he returned the amount I had paid for it. 
During this time I was in South West Africa, I met Mr. Fromerz, a Government Geologist residing at Windhoek.  We planned for a journey by car starting from Stampnelfontein.   We went to a place named Pretorius which is situated on the Nossop River.  From there we decided to travel southwards following this river the distance of about 300 miles.  The first thirty miles had bore-holes and water was plentiful but the next 270 miles had no water, thus we had to carry sufficient water for our journey and also oil and petrol.  There were no roads after the first 30 miles, only foot paths of wild animals such as Wildebeest, Haartebeest, Gemsbok and Springbok.
Accompanying us was a young farmer named Delarney who had his rifle and a supply of ammunition.  We travelled all day and continued after dark as we intended to reach the lower part of the Nossop River where it joins the Malepo River, knowing the likelihood of contracting some hunters in that part.  Soon after dark we noticed two shining eys about 100 yards from our car.  One suggested a tiger, another a wolf.  Delarney being a crack shot jumped off the car and within a minute, bang and a yell, and it was a large hyena dead as a log.  We did not trouble about the dead animal.  Being anxious to reach our goal, on we went through trees, bushes and dongas.  At last at about 9 o'clock we noticed a glimmer of light in the far distance.  Not certain what light it was, we were bent to mark it.  At about 11 o'clock we reached the spot and there found a hunting party consisting of a farmer, Mr. Mostert, a school teacher, Mr. Smith and an old Native boy.  A large fire was burning and the trees were full of Springbok biltong and legs and skins.  Mr. Mostert had his spot light of his car alight waiting for lions or other animals to come after his kills.  The night before our arrival five lions came up near his car, the spot light was promptly brought on to them and Mr. Mostert shot three dead and wounded another - a fine bag.  He said he was able to get 15 pounds each for their skins.
We camped there for the rest of the night, had a feed of springbok, filled our car with petrol, oil and water and started on our journey finally reaching the junction of the Malepo and Ovole Rivers.  From this point we followed the Ovole River back in the direction of Stampnelfontein.  We say many wild beasts, Gemsbok, Wildebeest, Hartebeest and Springbok in large numbers.  Our journey to Stampnelfontein was completed by the early hours of the night without incident.  Mr. Fromerz examined the ground water supplies.  I was interested in minerals and took many samples of interest.  "It is a nice country for farming, also of great mineral interest."
We undertook this journey in 1929.  The country at that time was wild and full of interest.  I remained in South West Africa for fourteen months, prospecting and collecting various samples of minerals.  On my return to the Union I arrived at Postmasburg, which at that date appeared to be a likely place to settle.  The Railway from Kimberley was being built, the Manganese fields opened up and generally prospects seemed good. 
Now for a fresh start without capital.
I decided to open up a very small shop.  This proved very successful and led to much larger enterprise.  In 1936 I, through dint of perseverance, interested a Johannesburg house in limestone on the Kaap Plateau, which led to the founding of the Union Lime Co. at Ulco, which is one of the largest lime and cement factories in the Union. 
In 1939 I, together with my son Denis, opened up the famous Manganese Mine, Black Rock, which is doubtless the best and largest Manganese Mine in the Union.  We also found the first deposit of Tungsten in South West Africa which we worked for five years under great difficulties.  Prior to my adventures in South West Africa, I was very largely interested in the production of salt which at that time was a very cheap commodity, the price being as low as 1/9 to 3/6 per 200 lbs. delivered on rail, inclusive of bags.  The distance from rail being 26 miles, donkeys were used to do the transport to rail head.  Nothing daunted I persevered, feeling assured that in time salt would become in great demand and at better prices.  At last the Government decided to build the Railway line from Belmont to Douglas, which line was built via Salt Lake, the pan where I had struggled for years without any success.  In 1918 the late Mr. C.P. Mathewson and I opened the Britstown Salt Works, a salt pan situated very close to the Railway line - De Aar to Prieska - which is still being worked by a Company. 
Many legends of things in which I was interested happened during my life time which is forgotten and I am unable to record. Now I wish to place on record what I have done during my years of prosperity, which unfortunately neither myself nor my family have permanently enjoyed. However, we did until the crisis came. 
The works of a permanent nature which I did are being enjoyed by others, which doubtless has been good for our country, it not for me.
The following farms I built up, opened permanent underground waters, erected windmills on each, made gardens, planted hundreds of trees and fenced miles long.  These farms are all occupied.  Any interested person may see or inspect them.
• The Grange - District Herbert
• Devondale - District Herbert
• Donnybrook - District Herbert
• Chalkfarm - District Herbert
• Hopefield - District Herbert
• Elgin - District Vryburg
• Balfour - District Vryburg
• Devondale Station - District Vryburg
• Punjani - District Mafeking
• Egmont - District Herbert
• Harrowgate - District Herbert
Notwithstanding the above, I am left without even so much land on which to dig my grave.  All this happened in a lifetime and still we are happy and thank God for all His blessings and care.
In conclusion, I wish to tell the boys and girls who may have the courage to read this short history of a son of South Africa, who have not enjoyed the convenience and privileges which they enjoy in these more modern days, of how other girls and boys had to work and enjoy themselves.  In those early days there were no shops to run to buy expensive toys, dolls, etc., which, in any case, the parents could not afford to buy, had there been such shops.  Hence the girls had to make their dolls of any old throw outs of materials of no further use to Mother.  The boys made wagons, carts, horses, soldiers of pot clay, which was dried in the heat of the sun, when dry these were baked in fire, which firstly turned them into a white colour and by further baking turned them into red or brown colour.  As before stated, no schools and no fatherly Government to run busses to collect the children, take them home.  Croquet balls were made of willow wood and rounded by use of sand stones, etc..  Likewise cricket balls were made.  Can you realise what privileges you have compared with above?  Hence it is up to you boys and girls to appreciate all the conveniences you enjoy.
A last word, whether English speaking or Afrikaans, prove yourselves to be worthy of all enjoyments and never forget to be courteous and respect your elders and bed each and everyone the time of the day and become worthy sons and daughters of our Country. 
Remember courtesy costs nothing. 


During the Anglo Boer War I remained on my farm the Grange as this was the first place where the British army could obtain fresh water for men and animals.  The farm was well protected for that purpose.  After Lord Methuen and his Army arrived from camp at Orange River Station nobody was allowed to move about without a pass granted by the officer in charge.  I still have many of these passes in safe custody.  Before the arrival of the British column we, that is three English men and myself, had many exiting experiences.  The so-called Boers had their camp and forts at Belmont which by road is about ten miles.  Their Patrols visited to within three miles of our homestead and many times we received warnings that this night they would come and loot and burn down our homesteads, etc.  Once I received a note from Commandant de Villiers (a rebel, as he was a resident in the Cape Province and thus a British subject) to be ready (all four of us British subjects) with horse, saddle and provisions for three days.  Of Course, we expected a patrol that night and all we had was a two barrel shotgun.  They did not come.
I sent my wife to Grahamstown shortly before War was declared.  She remained there until after Lord Methuen's Column reached Modder River.  Hundreds of the now enemy were personal friends of ours.  I feel sure that this was the main reason that we escaped unmolested.  I suggest that the name Anglo Boer War should be named "Anglo Republican War" as Boer means farmer.  Thousands of the Republicans were townsmen of many nationalities.
At the age of 21 my Dad decided that I should join my brothers in business at Vryburg and Mafeking.  Our business consisted of General Dealer's, Butchers and Bakers.  Our price for mutton and beef were 41/2d.per 1b. and bread 3d. per 1b.  There were plenty of fat oxen in those districts, but sheep had to be imported from Griqualand West and South of the Orange River.  Both cattle and sheep were cheap and plentiful.  I have known of sales of two year old tollies being sold at fifteen shillings each.  These were imported from Damaraland by traders.
In 1893 we decided to embark on a trading trip with two ox wagons filled with all sorts of goods.  Licenses were procured and all arrangements made for myself to undertake the mission from Vryburg to Griqualand West.  I had two pals, Mr. Klisser, a photographer, and Mr. Andrew Du Toit.  In those days and seasons much rain fell, the veldt was beautiful, roads were the worst.  At one place beyond Kuruman our wagons stuck in mud for two days - thirty six oxen could not move them - and we were obliged to carry our goods over on our backs for some distance and in this way reduce the weight to enable the oxen to pull out our wagons.  Arriving at Kuruman, which at that time consisted of a very small village, one shop owned by Mr. Chapman and a Mission station.  It was a beautiful place, the stream of water about 60 yards wide gushing out of the mountain and running down the Kuruman river.  Trees of many kinds and reeds overhanging the water, clustered with bird's nests, the songs and twittering noises of birds made it a real Paradise.  The water flowed down the river to plots occupied by Natives who grew mealie corn and tobacco.  Provisions of all kinds were plentiful.  The Missionary in charge of the Mission Station was very kind, having much fruit, including oranges and lemons, he said: "send your boys, take as many as you like.  They are ripe and falling to the earth.  We have no sale for them."
I continued my journey, calling at all native villages and doing business with the inhabitants.  The natives were all very civil and kind to me.  At last I arrived at Postmasburg and found one shop, a small Church, the district around was sparsely inhabited with white farmers.  The now dry spruit was a running stream, the country was beautiful, all over green and all seemed happy and prosperous.  Eventually I arrived at a farm named Vlakfontein.  Here existed a pan with water flowing in from the sides; eight farmers were camping around the pan with their sheep and cattle.  They were a merry crowd - every evening they had music, concertina, violin and guitar, dancing and games for amusement.  I remained there eight days, sold all my goods and started on my return to Vryburg, my wagon loaded with wool and skins and a hundred fat oxen to complete a four months trading trip.  The country was teeming with game, ostriches, springbok, Hartebeest, Wildebeest, Gemsbok and Kudu, now unseen or very rarely in Griqualand West.
I am very fond of farming and whilst I had the pleasure of occupying my old farm, The Grange, did all possible to cultivate and produce of all kinds.  In the year 1906 I grew cotton under irrigation which yielded cotton of very high quality, a portion of which was sent to the London South African Exhibition where a first prize was awarded me for which I received a Bronze Medal, my name inserted therein in gold letters on the map of South Africa, which was minted on the face of the medal, which medal I still have and is much valued. 
I grew wheat, oats, barley, lucerne and all kinds of vegetables and fruit, at the same time looking after my livestock.  As already mentioned, the prices obtained for produce were very low compared with the prices ruling to-day.  For instance, Merino wool, nicely sorted and graded, made sixpence per pound on the Port Elizabeth market and I was very pleased as other farmers obtained much lower prices.  Fat sheep for the Butcher brought prices from 10/- 15/- each and lambs 6/6 to 8/- each, delivered on rail at Grange Siding then named Witputs.  Fruit and vegetables were likewise very cheap.  Apples and peaches sold at 2/- per hundred and grapes at two pence per 1b.  Many hundreds of pounds of grapes I made into raisins for which there was a better price locally.
In 1913, on the tenth day of April, at the Kimberley Agricultural Show, I staged many exhibits and was awarded at least sixteen prizes ranging from first to Highly Commended.  I have kept the prize cards up to date.  Lord Gladstone, who opened the Show, commented on the exhibits which were placed on show by me.  A copy of his remarks follows:-
His Excellency, who was received with cheers, said:  "It has given my wife and me very great pleasure to come here on this occasion to open the first show of the Northern Districts Agricultural Society which we wish most heartily every success.  It has been said that the Bloemfontein show is sufficient for you in the Kimberley district.  ('No") Well, I don't think it is - (cheers) - though I may get into trouble for having said that because I am going to open the Bloemfontein show next week;  but I shall hve to put things straight there.  (Laughter) But, after all, Bloemfontein is 150 miles away from you.  It obviously serves a great country in all directions of its own, but I don't see why Kimberley should not take to itself the districts which are specially its own.  (Cheers) Now, it is not an occasion for a long speech, but I want to make one or two remarks to you.  First of all I congratulate you on the exhibits of the first show and your most excellent buildings.  (Cheers)  The promise of these buildings is that they will be used now, year after year, without an omission.  (Cheers)  And one of the most favourable circumstances on this occasion is this.  I am told that the great support of this show has come from the farmers themselves.  (Cheers.)  That is one of the most hopeful things in connection with it.  It shows that they feel the need for the show, the want of the opportunities given to them by it.  They have shown that by their practical support, and, as one of their leading representatives told us an hour ago, at the luncheon: "We appreciate what has been done for us, all the arrangements made; and we shall go home, and next year every farmer who has been here will bring back two or three more." (Cheers.) 
Now, I am going to weary you with a speech, but let me tell you why, amongst other things, I attach great value to this show.  Admittedly you have great stock country - (A voice: "One of the best") a great stock breeding country all around.  Now, stock-breeding required care, attention, and scientific knowledge as much as any other department of agriculture does.  You have at the present moment in the new arrangement made by the Union Government and by the shipping companies’ pedigree stock being imported free into South Africa.  Now, the farmers want to know about these things, and they will get to know all about them by having an organised centre from which they will get the necessary information.  I only read yesterday that the "Berwick Castle" had on board 34 bulls, 59 heifers, 3 cows, 1 calf, 11 rams, 3 ewes and one stallion;  and the "Gloucester Castle" had on board 8 horses - a total of 120 head of Pedigree Stock in one week coming to South Africa free of freight.  (Hear, hear.)  Is not that a splendid thing for the country?  That is going on every week during the year and it affords to you who live in this great stock-raising country most hopeful opportunities.  I am indeed glad to know that the most noted breeders of pedigree stock are so amply represented in this, your first show.  (Cheers.)
Well now, the second point.  I am not a very practical farmer myself - (laughter) - but I always like to speak to practical farmers and hear what they tell me.  I read and hear that you have a great difficulty here because of your hot winds in the summer, and consequently agriculture is at a disadvantage some time or another and the duty of farmers is to find out how to get over these disadvantages - how to conquer them.  In Canada they held for a long time they could not grow wheat because the frost went so many feet into the ground.  They insisted it would be impossible to sow wheat but they found out that they could grow wheat and now in the great regions of Canada which were held as in iron by frost, they grow the most magnificent crops, which are sent all over the world.  If they had been content simply with what they had been told, they would not have started wheat growing in Canada.  I believe, in spite of the hot winds which prevail here, by perseverance and study - and perhaps when more thorough attention has been given to the principles of dry farming or deep ploughing, as I prefer to call it - you will be able to get over some of your disadvantages.  And, gentlemen, over in the produce shed, if you look in the right-hand corner, you will find an exhibition of the produce of one farm raised by Mr. Fincham of Grange Siding, which shows what can be done by farmers in the district, in spite of scorching winds and other disadvantages.  It is an admirable exhibit and I recommend it to your close attention; at any rate, it encourages one to think that great things can be done.  Then I come to another point - irrigation.  In a stock-growing country you have to study winter feeding.  Now, some months ago I was walking some miles along the Modder River, which was not flowing - there were only a few muddy pools - and yet we know what the Modder River is when there is rain about;  and I will undertake to say any water engineer, if he had the money, would make dams over fifty or a hundred miles - I do not know the distance of course of the river - to hold up water so as to have it available during the periods of drought and enable farmers all along that river to grow lucerne and other stuff which is suitable for winter feed.  I believe that there are enormous possibilities for that and other farming purposes in South Africa and you farmers in this district require population in order to create demand for your produce.  (Cheers.)  Until you get more population you will not be able to obtain the capital necessary for these great construction works, works which are so desirable in the interests of farmers themselves.  Farmers above all others should desire an increase in population in their own interests and in the interests of South Africa, and I hope every encouragement will be given, here and elsewhere, to the increase of our population.  There is only one more point and that is that Kimberley is in the centre of a country which requires development, particularly with the western and north-western directions.  I have heard something about the country south of the Molopo River and now that the Union Government is paying great attention to it and spending large sums of money in testing for water, and testing the soil to show what can be done with it, before long the railways will be extended.  (Cheers.)  Now, the whole of that country belongs to Kimberley;  Kimberley is the centre of it and Kimberley has a great future value in the development of that country.  From here I see two little piles of iron ore which come from not more than 50 miles west of Kimberley.  A district rich in that mineral - what possibilities are there?  South Africa want this iron ore to smelt it, to turn it into steel, to manufacture the steel into rails, and for other purposes, and if you develop that mineral wealth for which you have specimens here, that country may perhaps grow into a thriving industrial centre, perhaps in the future as thriving as Kimberley is to-day:  and every centre of that sort will be of great benefit and advantage to the farmers of this district.  So, gentlemen, I say you have to look forward to the future with every confidence and I am convinced you have done the right thing in starting your agricultural show at Kimberley.  (Hear, hear.)  I wish it, with all my heart, entire success.  May your efforts be rewarded, may you learn much, may you learn continually more and more and may it be a source of ever-increasing value and productiveness to the farmers of the northern districts in and about Kimberley.  (Cheers.)  Now, my duty is completed, save in one respect - I now have the greatest pleasure in declaring this most excellent and praiseworthy show open.  May it last year by year, so that you and your sons and grandchildren and those who come after them may drive the fullest advantage from it.  (Loud cheers.)
Mr. van der Merwe, speaking in Dutch from the front rank of the crowd, expressed regret that owing to the speed at which His Excellency passed through the streets this morning on his arrival in Kimberley, those who had come "from farm, veldt and stream" to welcome him had not had an opportunity of doing so suitably on that occasion.
His Excellency said, in reply:"I am very much obliged to my friend for what he has said.  I enjoyed my visit to Kimberley, and the very kind reception accorded me.  It was not my motor car and I do not own a carriage and four either in Kimberley or anywhere."    


 In 1939 I became interested in Manganese Mining for a Company whose head office was in London and who was good enough to make advances on Manganese, assayed and stacked at Grass.  I continued to mine and produce Manganese until 1942, but as the South African Railways were unable to supply trucks for loading the Manganese mined and stacked, it was decided to stop mining operations. 
My youngest son, Denis, and I then decided to try our hands at mining Tungsten which we had previously discovered in the district of Warmbad in South West Africa at a place named Komsberg.  Here we erected machinery to crush, mill and gravitate the ore, also a pumping plant to lift the water out of the Orange river for the use in our plant.  Tungsten, at that time, was much lower in price to what it has been for some years.  However, we persevered and carried on mining for some time, approximately two years, within which time my son had married and lived in a small iron room, about 12' X 14' which was lined inside with ceiling boards and a small kitchen built of stone.  We made a verandah in front of the room of reeds and placed reeds on the roof of the room to break the intensive heat of the hot sun which at midday reached 120 degrees on the Barometer.
 About fifteen months later Denis developed appendix trouble.  He was brought to the Kimberley Hospital for an operation which unfortunately was unsuccessfully performed and caused his death.  A severe blow to us all, to lose so fine a man as he was.  I carried on for some time after his death and his wife decided to join her Mother who lives at Turfontein, Johannesurg.  My wife, who in the interim had stay with my elder son Thornton, who was in business at Postmasburg, was suffering with rheumatism and decided to join me at the Tungsten mine.  Before arriving at the mine it was necessary to cross the Orange River by boat.  We possessed a 16' flat bottom boat which served our purpose very well.  My wife was suffering badly with rheumatism in her feet and knees, she was safely brought over the river, then came the task to help her up the river bank about 70 feet high, which I had worked down to a slope.  It took three of us to assist her up the incline.  After performing this task, another 100 foot climb had to be accomplished before reaching our room.  Step by step that feat was successfully performed.  I had a wind charger and a wireless, so we were able to get the daily news.  We also had a refrigerator and I constructed large filters of 44 gallon drums thus we always had clear, fresh, cold water.  I am thankful to say that the hot climate proved to be a healing of rheumatism and within a month my wife was able to walk without any assistance down the rocky incline about 100 yards to where our machines were in operation and watch us at work and return to our room unaided.
Eleven months after my son Denis had died his poor wife also had an operation at the Johannesburg Hospital and did not leave the operating table alive.  She left behind a small daughter and son who remained in care of the grandmother.  This was a sad event for us all.
I then decided to give up Tungsten mining - a further task lay ahead.  My wife decided to return home to Postmasburg.  The Orange River was in full flood, so much so that we were isolated from all surroundings, the nearest provision store being thirty two miles distant, food for the natives and ourselves was running out.  So we decided to risk the crossing of the Orange River and to make for our home at Postmasburg.  The river being a mile wide at our usual crossing place, the boat was dragged upstream for at least a mile.  My wife and I got on to a donkey wagon with our luggage and travelled upstream until we reached a place where the water in the river was about 200 yards wide and there we got into the boat.  I had one white man named Myberg and an old trustworthy native boy named Stoffel.  These two men took the oars and had hardly gone fifty yards, when one of the oars snapped and broke, both of the men were capable and knew what to do.  They drifted the boat back to the side of the river, some distance from where we had landed, tied her up and brought the broken oar to me.  Within an hour we had fixed the oar and set out to fetch our luggage which was safely landed.  Myberg and Stoffel were left in charge of all until some months after I proceeded to the mine and dismantled all machinery including the room.  Much of the plant and room found buyers at Kakamas and Upington.  The refrigerator is still in use in perfect order after so many years.
My wife and I thank God for his loving kindness to us and praise God always.
On 14th November, 1954, we celebrated our Diamond Wedding, having travelled to Port Elizabeth.  My wife, who on the third day of January, 1955, will have reached the age of 78 years and is still able conduct all household duties.  Whilst on the third day of February I shall attain my 84th anniversary and still able to do much work to enable us to live an honest and Christian life.  

Extract from the Eastern Province Herald, Monday, November 15, 1954.

For Mr. and Mrs. A.T. Fincham, the highlight of their diamond wedding celebrations at Port Elizabeth yesterday, was the reading of a cable of congratulations and good wishes from Buckingham Palace. Although the cable arrived at the home of their daughter, Mrs. Jane Adams, of 59 Victoria Park Drive, on Saturday, they were not told about it.
Yesterday afternoon when more than 60 relatives and friends had assembled at Mr. Adam's home to wish the old couple good luck at a garden party to celebrate the diamond wedding, the cable was read.
Sent by the Queen's secretary it said:  "The Queen send you warm congratulations and good wishes on your diamond wedding day."

A telegram from the Governor-General and Mr. Jansen was also read.  It said:  "Their Excellencies, the Governor-General and Mr. Jansen, send you their heartiest congratulations on the occasion of your diamond wedding."
Mr. and Mrs. Fincham received more than 100 other telegrams of good wishes.  At the party were their five children, 10 grand children and five great-grandchildren, the youngest of whom is only three weeks old.
Mr. and Mrs. Fincham, who live at Postmasburg, came to Port Elizabeth specially to celebrate their diamond wedding with their children and relatives.  Mr. Fincham is 83 and Mrs. Fincham 77.
They were married in Johannesburg in 1894.  

Extract from the Evening Post, Saturday, November 13, 1954.

"I could have been a millionaire today", said an old miner and prospector from Griqualand West in Port Elizabeth today.
He is Mr. Allister T. Fincham, 83, of Postmasburg who claims to have made the first discovery of tungsten - a rare metal used for hardening steel - in South Africa.
Mr. Fincham who is on a business visit with his 77 year old wife, celebrates his diamond wedding tomorrow.
They were married in Johannesburg in 1894.  Mr. Fincham met his wife, formerly Miss Evelina Howarth, in Vryburg two years earlier.  It took the couple 14 days by ox wagon to return to Vryburg after their wedding.
Recalling his early prospecting days, Mr. Fincham said he made his find of tungsten in 1929 in South West Africa, near the present town of Komsberg.
For five hot, hard years Mr. Fincham and one of his sons worked on their site.
"Of course the price was nothing like it is today" said he.  "It costs about 500 pounds a ton today, in the old days we got 160 pounds a ton."
The old miner said he recognised the metal instantly - he had seen specimens in various museums, he said.  There were many difficulties.  Explosives and equipment had to be transported long distances and the mined metal had to be trucked almost 100 miles to the nearest railway line. 
All the metal was exported to London, added Mr. Fincham.
Eighteen months after the discovery of tungsten, large teams of Government prospectors and workmen "invaded" the territory.

Mr. Fincham said he could have made "more than a million" if he had secured financial backing to mine vast finds of manganese in the Kuruman district.
His finds, however, were later mined by large financial groups, the old miner said ruefully. 
Mr. Fincham also claims to be one of the first to have discovered uranium in South Africa.  He said he made finds in the Kenhardt district in 1932.  At the time he did not know it was uranium.
The uranium was still “lying idle” as no mining without a permit is allowed, Mr. Fincham added. 


Excerpt from his memoirs

1898.  While the Anglo Boer War raged, during the regime of Lord Methuen in Bechuanaland Sir Charles Warren had been commissioned to quell a disturbance there, caused by natives, which, in turn involved European farmers then known as ‘Reservists’.
Sir Charles records in his memoirs that he had a disagreement with one of the turbulent Reservists, named John Thornton Z. Fincham, who was an influential personage holding an official position.  Angry words ensued with the result that Sir Charles being obliged to enforce his authority ordered Mr. Fincham out of the military office.  The irate man obeyed the just command and felt much rebuked.  Upon leaving he exclaimed, “I shall await my opportunity and I shall hunt you as I should hunt a wild porcupine on a moonlight night.  Time passed.
Upon a bright moonlight midnight a loud door knocking aroused the Fincham family.  When opening the door Mr. Fincham was somewhat abashed to see Sir Charles in full uniform accompanied by his Staff.  “I have come”, said Sir Charles, to allow you to fulfil your threat, that of hunting me as you would a porcupine on a bright moonlight night, I have never seen a brighter!”  Mr. Fincham felt baffled and murmured an incoherent reply.  “Oh! No”, jeered Sir Charles “you must keep to your vow – hunt me – if you are ready!”  Mr. Fincham then proffered a ready apology, and the ent-anile acquaintances relished an early morning cup of cheer.
Here is another excerpt:  Sir Charles records: - “How unprogressive are South Africans in general.  Upon calling on Mr. Fincham I noticed the old fashioned was plant (Hoya Cunosa) flowering on an indoor window ledge, years later the same plant flourished there!”  Sir Charles also writes.  “We bivouacked usual the ground was hard, dry and red saddles were our pillows.   Towards dawn unaccountable sounds arrested my attention.  When the gloriously bright sun beamed on the horizon we were much surprised to see tiny blades of green spikes just above ground level. 
Does this explain our term of, ‘sprouting’, ‘springing up’ and ‘shooting’?  Apparently a previous sprinkling of rain had caused the phenomena”. 



(circa 1897)

A superlative wagon had been designed and constructed at Cradock, S.A., to be used by Lord Randloph Churchill for the occasion when he went, “Op Safari”, making for the sparsely inhabited country North of Pretoria, Transvaal.  When the tedious tour terminated at last, the huge, cumbersome craft, which had proved altogether unsuitable for exceedingly rough tracks, was to be auctioned on the historic Mafeking market square.
John Thornton Z. Fincham happened to be in that Town, he purchased the wonderful wagon for £80.1.0.  He too experienced many an, “Op Safari” in the Hinterland.  His urge for adventure eventually expired;  he then, sold or gave the wagon to his eldest son, Arthur W. Fincham (my Father).  In turn, his family endured numberless “treks” sometimes pleasant, but mostly risky, we were in hostile surroundings.  Whilst the wagon was in my Father’s possession it had been borrowed by Rev. Sharpe, who intrepidly ventured to distant Matebeleland, hoping to quell the threatening native rebellion there.  His quest proved futile, the Matebele war raged.  As a small child I only too well remember seeing the lumbering big wagon trundling over the rough, sandy roads of Vryburg;  filled to capacity with bedraggled, wounded, weary men, drawn painfully along by equally weary oxen.
During the Anglo Boer War, Arthur W. Fincham assumed the rank of Colonel for he had gained the monopoly of supplying the British troops with provisions.  The commodious big wagon, “did it’s stuff” in this respect, and woefully enough, owing to war conditions was for ever lost to the Fincham family.  Allister Thornton Fincham (Father of the S.A. Diamond millionaire) was married in Johannesburg on the 14th. Of November, 1894.  He, together with his bride travelled to Kimberley after their marriage in the big wagon.  This couple received a cable from Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of their Diamond Wedding.   


An amusing cartoon appeared in one of the Transvaal newspapers soon after the departure of Lord Randolph Churchill for England.  It featured Oom Paul Kruger, standing upon a map of the Transvaal wearing a gargantuan boot which savagely expedited His Lordship, hurtling through the air, back to his own Country.  Many words and phrases of our country puzzled brave Tommy Atkins, a wit composed the following:

 â€œI lay upon the lonely veld
Where all is silent as the tomb.
When lo! Upon the desert waste
I hear the Dissel boom!
Oh! Dissel! Lonely Dissel,
How I love to hear thee boom!”
Dissel boom – S.A. for wagon shaft, wagon pole, or more correctly wagon thill.


John Thornton Fincham died at Grahamstown, 1898.  His wife Louisa Anne died some years later.  They buried side by side in the Methodist Cemetery.  

© Lyneve Trust