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 vehicle that was transporting valuables from the Diamond Centre, in Johannesburg’s central business district. The security guards then sped off and a chase ensued into Bedfordview, at which point the security vehicle crashed into two other cars at one of the suburb’s busiest intersections. The gunmen fled the scene without managing to get the loot. As one security guard was seriously injured in the shoot-out, the police have opened a case of attempted murder.
Now, while the incident may have shocked residents of the leafy suburb, South Africa’s history is, in fact, littered with incredible stories and anecdotes of diamond robberies and heists.
One of the most fantastical is the theft of the missing half of the famous Cullinan diamond. In its natural, uncut state, the Cullinan diamond had many peculiarities, the two most striking being its size and shape. The size of half a brick, the 3 106 ct Cullinan diamond is still the largest gem-quality stone ever discovered. But what is more peculiar than its incredible size is the fact that the stone had distinct cleavage planes, which suggests that it was, at one stage, part of a much larger crystal.
On examining the rough gem, Sir William Crookes, president of the Royal Society and one of the greatest physicists and chemists of his day, declared that the Cullinan represented “probably less than one-half of the octahedral crystal”. Other experts of the day were of the opinion that the stone from which this one had broken off had first been a dodecahedron. If one accepts this theory, it is likely that the diamond could have weighed at least 7 000 ct in its original state.
So, the glaring question is what happened to the other half of the Cullinan diamond? One myth, as recorded by mining historians Hedley Chilvers and Eric Rosenthal, is that the second Cullinan diamond was actually discovered not long after the first historic find but was stolen by a mineworker. The legend suggests that, in 1907, two years after the ‘first discovery’ was made, a certain Johannes Paulus, who is believed to have worked at the Premier mine (now the Cullinan mine), let it be known among illicit trading circles that he had an enormous diamond in his possession that he wished to sell. A man by the name of Johannes Fourie heard about this diamond and decided to track down the mineworker.
There seems to be some confusion as to who this Fourie really was and what role he played in the story. Chilvers suggested that Fourie was a criminal of such notoriety that it would be “difficult to find in all South African records a type more worth of criminological study” and that, on learning of the diamond, he sought it out for himself. Rosenthal, on the other hand, maintained that the intentions of Fourie, who was a former farmer, were far more altruistic, as he was actually involved with the Transvaal police in an undercover operation to recover the stone on behalf of the Premier Diamond Mining Company. Regardless of the man’s career and intentions, the story plays out the same in both accounts.
Fourie let it be known in illicit diamond buying circles that he wished to buy the missing half of the Cullinan stone. Not long thereafter, an intermediary approached Fourie with the story that his brother had the big white stone and wanted £1 000 in gold for it. Fourie took the bait and arrangements were made to meet at a rendezvous spot in the lonely veld between Pretoria and the Premier mine under the cover of darkness.
When the fateful moment came, Fourie and a few confederates found Paulus waiting at the appointed spot. It is contended that, in the dim light of the lamp, the men saw what appeared to be a massive diamond, “one side flat and smooth, the other obviously broken from a much larger stone”. When Paulus demanded the money, Fourie produced a heavy bag, the top of which revealed a number of gold sovereigns. Paulus was a wily criminal and decided to check the entire contents of the bag. He plunged his hand into the bag but found only washers beneath the surface layer of coins. Realising he had been tricked, he naturally turned and made a quick dash for it. Although he was pursued for a while, the night proved too dark and Paulus managed to escape, never to be heard of again. Rumours of the stone continued to circulate and Fourie never gave up hope of finding it. However, his investigative efforts were put to an abrupt end when, according to Rosenthal, Fourie was caught up in the dynastic rivalries of the Bahwadebe tribe, near Pretoria, and was subsequently executed for his involvement in the murder of the new chief, Thomas Mathibe.
There is no means of telling how accurate this tale is or, more importantly, if that stone was at all the missing half of the Cullinan diamond. Of course, many people agree that the diamond was once part of a larger stone. However, there is no telling what could have happened to the other portion. If the Cullinan did cleave, it could have happened at any time from when the stone crystalised in the matrix. So, the other part, or parts even, provided they survived the violent volcanic journey to the surface of the earth, may not necessarily have ended up anywhere near the original Cullinan. So, perhaps, there is another monster gem waiting to be discovered in the depths of the Premier mine.
It is likely that we will never know. But this is certainly one of the more wonderful mysteries of South Africa’s mining history.