Page 15 – ‘Notes of a trip’ by Robert Jameson

The explorer needs your aid,
  To lighten his dark labours  
    To dispel the murky shade.
  That lurks like a fiend in the cloudless skies  
    Of this land of sorrow and enterprise

It is a rough life requiring a good physique, a stout heart (as well as stout sole), and dogged perseverance, combined with sufficient capital to enable the prospector to hold out for six months or more.

                     The life has its fascination, however; freedom from restraint of town life, abundant ozone with hope always on the tip-toe of expectation, so much so, that some continue it long after their need for it passed away, the habit having become concrete.

                     We heard a pitiful story of a fine young fellow who went out on one of these lonely hills ‘and was bitten by a snake; no help near, no medicine available. He had tied his handkerchief round his leg above the bitten part, to arrest as long as possible the fatal poison flow, then creeping into his little tent, and scrawling on an old envelope his adieux he had lain himself down to die. Who can fathom the depth of agony of the poor lad, as knowing full well he be should never again see home and friends, he resigned himself to his pitiful fate.

                     Prospecting parties supported by small syndicates are now being sent out from all our towns in Natal, and where the men are judiciously selected, and paid partly by results as an incentive to industry the plan promises well and costs little when divided over eight or ten individuals. Presuming, that, at last something good has been struck, the prospector (who pays 10s. per month license for that privilege) now takes out a diggers license (for which he pays 20s. per month) and proceeds to peg out the twelve claims allowed by law, each 50 x 150 yards, registering eleven of them in the names of his friends or supporters, no person being allowed to hold more than one claim in his own name at one time.

                     The prospector then becomes a digger, looks up the capitalist, produces his specimens of quartz; which undergo rigid testing in the pestle and mortar and the pan; the reef is carefully inspected by an expert, and if so far satisfactory a preliminary few hundreds are spent to sink a temporary shaft to open up the reef for further inspection. . If then sufficiently encouraging the capitalist puts more money on it and brings it into the market. If it is not a paying reef, he loses what he had ventured upon it.

In some cases the prospector and the capitalist worked it without floating a company. But this is exceptional and more rare for the prospector to work the claim alone. When the twelve claims have become amalgamated under a joint stock company with a duly registered name, the names of the twelve claim holders are released, and they are free to peg out again. The country mined or being prospected in this neighbourhood is about forty square miles in extent, and probably is dotted over with some 2.000 workers.