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Jade Davenport

Jade Davenport

DAVENPORT, MA (UCT), is a freelance journalist and historian – jade@engineeringnews.co.za

Columnist - Digging Deep

Darwin’s visit to the Cape

By: Jade Davenport     9th September 2016 Victorian naturalist Charles Darwin needs little introduction. His seminal work, On the Origins of the Species, published in 1859, fundamentally shaped the theory of evolution. Having said that, it is perhaps not as generally known that Darwin was, in fact, also an accomplished geologist and that... 

Origins of the International Geological Congress

By: Jade Davenport     26th August 2016 The four-year-long wait for the ‘world cup of geoscientific conferences’, the International Geological Congress, is finally over, with the much-anticipated thirty-fifth session of the event set to start on August 27 in Cape Town. Given that 138 years have lapsed since the first congress was held... 

Brief history of 15th ICG, the first to be hosted in Africa

By: Jade Davenport     19th August 2016 The City of Cape Town is set to host the thirty-fifth International Geological Congress, the most prestigious of geoscientific conferences held every four years, between August 27 and September 4. While it is certainly an exciting occasion for South Africa, it is interesting to note that the... 

The first female pioneer of the Rand gold rush

By: Jade Davenport     29th July 2016 Given that mining has almost always been a wholly male dominated enterprise, information relating to women is disappointingly sparse from the historical record. Of course, there is the odd snippet here and there detailing the more risqué role that women played in South Africa’s early mining... 

Rand goldfield: ‘Not worth hell room’

By: Jade Davenport     15th July 2016 Perhaps the most extraordinary reality of the early history of the Witwatersrand goldfield is that the discovery of 1886 was greeted with a fair degree of scepticism, particularly from career mining engineers, most of whom had not only mining college degrees, but also considerable experience with... 

Second Oppenheimer gem

By: Jade Davenport     1st July 2016 For well over a century the Oppenheimer name has almost exclusively been associated with that most luxurious of coveted items – diamonds. It is, therefore, not surprising that there is more than one famous diamond that has been named in honour of the family. While considerable attention has... 

Mystery of the origins of the Oppenheimer Blue

By: Jade Davenport     17th June 2016 The sale of the 14.62 ct Oppenheimer Blue diamond by Christie’s last month has caused an absolute sensation in global diamond and jewellery circles, not only because it is the largest vivid blue diamond ever to appear at auction but also, more significantly, because it fetched the highest price –... 

The statue that might have been

By: Jade Davenport     3rd June 2016 When the Johannesburg City Council’s management committee decided to commission a commemorative statue as part of the city’s centennial celebrations, they did not have a specific idea in mind as to what the statue should represent. Their only solid specification was that it had to be a... 

Joburg’s answer to the Statue of Liberty

By: Jade Davenport     20th May 2016 It has been exactly 30 years since the enormous 9-m-tall statue of George Harrison, captured in a dramatic Eureka moment, was commissioned to commemorate the centenary of the discovery of gold on the farm Langlaagte. That statue, which stands sentry to the city’s eastern entrance, on Albertina... 

And the official discoverer is . . .

By: Jade Davenport     6th May 2016 In 1936, Johannesburg celebrated the jubilee of the discovery of gold on the farm Langlaagte. In the run-up to those celebrations the Johannesburg City Council made special efforts to do honour to the founders and pioneers of what had become South Africa’s greatest industry. But, when it came... 

Just who discovered the Wits Main Reef Series?

By: Jade Davenport     22nd April 2016 While it is known that gold was found, and even exploited, at various places across the Witwatersrand prior to 1886, the fact remains that the most pivotal watershed moment in that early history of gold mining was the discovery of the Main Reef Series on the farm Langlaagte in the early months of... 

Reflecting on the long-destroyed Struben Monument

By: Jade Davenport     1st April 2016 It has been a year since the controversial activities of the #RhodesMustFall protest movement at the University of Cape Town, which resulted in the removal of a bronze statue of Cecil John Rhodes from a prominent position on the university's upper campus, catalysed a spate of monument and statue... 

The Confidence of the Wits basin

By: Jade Davenport     25th March 2016 It has been established that the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand basin was not a sudden, Eurekalike event but rather a protracted affair, which, at least according to the colonial-era historiography, dates back to the 1830s. While that may be true, it was only half a century later that the... 

Fred Struben and Wits gold discovery

By: Jade Davenport     26th February 2016 In the process of popularising the history of the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand much of the early narrative was sidelined in favour of a crisp, uncomplicated tale in which George Harrison was the first to stumble across the auriferous conglomerate outcrop in February 1886, some 130 years... 

The when, how and by whom controversy of Wits gold discovery

By: Jade Davenport     12th February 2016 One of the most curious realities of South Africa’s mining history is that the precise details relating the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand, an event that was to irrevocably alter the economic and socio-political trajectory of the country, are quite vague. In fact, the ‘when, how and by... 

History repeating itself as SA’s mining sector finds itself in turmoil

By: Jade Davenport     22nd January 2016 One fundamental truth about the march of human progression is that, as much as things may change, they stay the same. Put another way, history has a habit of repeating itself, although not always in the most obvious of manners. Take, for instance, the turmoil in which the South African mining... 

The fate of the Cullinan diamond

By: Jade Davenport     4th December 2015 The announcement of the discovery of 1 111 ct and 813 ct diamonds, the second- and sixth-largest gem-quality diamonds ever discovered, made headlines the world over two weeks ago. While the news has been generally greeted with awe and excitement, the discovery has also provided a platform for... 

The slogan of the century

By: Jade Davenport     27th November 2015 In 1999, Advertising Age magazine described ‘A Diamond is Forever’ as the “best advertising slogan” of the twentieth century. This is no understatement, for that iconic one liner not only dramatically improved the status symbol of the gemstones from the 1950s onwards but also cemented the diamond... 

Cullinan House up for sale

By: Jade Davenport     13th November 2015 Having bequeathed his name to the world’s largest gem-quality diamond ever discovered, it was inevitable that Sir Thomas Cullinan’s enduring legacy would be most closely associated with South African diamond mining and, more particularly, the 3 106 ct Cullinan diamond. In fact, it was precisely... 

The Cullinan diamond mystery

By: Jade Davenport     30th October 2015 My native suburb of Kensington, Johannesburg, could have been mistaken for the Wild West two weeks ago, when, in the midst of early morning traffic, a gun battle erupted during what is believed was an attempted diamond heist. It is alleged that at least five gunmen began firing at a security... 

End of an era for iconic Rand Club

By: Jade Davenport     16th October 2015 At the end of September, the Rand Club, Johannesburg’s oldest club, and certainly one of its most iconic social clubs, closed its doors. The Rand Club was part of Johannesburg’s 129-year history and was also symbolic of the inner city’s struggle between urban decay and renewal, owing to its... 

A monument to SA’s first gold mining efforts

By: Jade Davenport     2nd October 2015 The Eersteling Gold Mine, the site of the first commercial gold mining activity in South Africa’s modern history, has, in many instances, been relegated to mere footnote status in our mining historiography. While this may hardly be surprising, given that those pioneering mining efforts were... 

In the shadow of a derelict asbestos mine

By: Jade Davenport     11th September 2015 For the last three decades, mounting evidence has identified asbestos, a silicate mineral composed of thin fibrous crystals, as one of the most hazardous natural minerals on earth. What makes asbestos so dangerous, particularly to humans, is the fact that, when the millions of microscopic fibrils... 

Flying the flag for South African geotourism

By: Jade Davenport     28th August 2015 The highly niche sector of geotourism, defined as travel to and appreciation of natural landscapes and geological phenomena, could be perceived by anyone other than a geologist or even a miner  to be a 'leisure activity' that fits firmly in the realm of the dull. Indeed, not many people could... 

The mining town that is better than the south

By: Jade Davenport     21st August 2015 As far as the longevity of South African towns is concerned, Phalaborwa, the self-proclaimed tourist capital of Limpopo province, is the new kid on the block, having only been founded in 1958. As with many towns across the country, Phalaborwa was established to service the needs of a burgeoning... 

Mpumalanga natural wonders’ Scottish connection

By: Jade Davenport     17th July 2015 If you have ever driven along the majestic Panorama Route, on the edge of the Drakensberg Escarpment, in Mpumulanga, you will have noticed that the natural wonders that line the route bear the most curious of names. Indeed, tourist hot spots such as MacMac Falls, Bourkes Luck and Lisbon Falls... 

Historic mine manager’s house celebrates centenary

By: Jade Davenport     3rd July 2015   South Africa’s historical mining narrative has placed much emphasis on detailing the harsh living conditions of black migrant mineworkers, who were housed in single-sex, often closed, compounds for much of the twentieth century. Very seldom has that narrative detailed the lifestyle of those who... 

Tati – the site of Southern Africa’s first gold rush

By: Jade Davenport     19th June 2015 South Africa’s modern economy was built largely on the back of the exploitation of the extensive but low-grade goldfield that is the Witwatersrand basin. Such has been that sector’s sheer dominance that South African historiography, in general, has tended to focus on the narrative of the... 

The anti-German riots that drove Oppenheimer out of Kimberley

By: Jade Davenport     29th May 2015 At first glance, the centenary of the Lusitania disaster, in which 1 195 of 1 959 passengers drowned when the cruiseliner was torpedoed by a German U-boat 11 miles off the Irish coast on May 7, 1915, would appear to have nothing to do with the history of South Africa’s mining industry. However,... 

And then there was light

By: Jade Davenport     8th May 2015 There is no doubt that South Africa is in the midst of a social, political and economic crisis of unparalleled proportions, at least as far as the last 21 years of nonracial democracy is concerned. At the helm of South Africa’s plight, specifically from the economic perspective, is the... 

Tourist for a day in the City of Gold

By: Jade Davenport     17th April 2015 If you are a resident of Johannesburg and have ever had visitors come to stay, be they local or foreign, you have probably been confronted with the conundrum of what to do and where to take them to get a real feel for the history of the place.  On the surface, it may seem that there is a distinct... 

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