Main: The rough Cullinan Diamond (public domain). Inset: One of the nine stones it was cut into (public domain)

Find of a Lifetime: 3,106-Carat Diamond Worth US $2 Billion Takes Its Place in History

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Created an unimaginably distant time in the past, diamonds are the most coveted and valued of precious stones. The story of the discovery and destiny of the Cullinan diamond, to this day the largest gem-quality diamond ever found, is one to be marveled at, just like the staggering array of gems that were cut from it.

The 3106-carat Cullinan diamond, uncut (Cullinan Mine Archives

The 3106-carat Cullinan diamond, uncut (Cullinan Mine Archives

Vulcan strikes

About one and a half billion years ago, Vulcan, the blacksmith of the gods, struck a spark on his anvil, deep in the bowels of a sleeping volcano in Southern Africa.  The result was a spectacular display of fireworks, when the earth was blasted up a subterranean chimney and a fountain of rock gushed out twelve miles (twenty kilometers) up into the sky literally showering diamonds, embedded in kimberlite rock, down to earth.

The subterranean chimney shooting up earth and diamonds in an explosion. (Cullinan Tourism and Heritage Centre)

The subterranean chimney shooting up earth and diamonds in an explosion. (Cullinan Tourism and Heritage Centre)

Less than one percent of volcanoes on earth, are diamond bearing.  Under pressure of a volcanic heated explosion, carbon crystalized into diamonds, captured in kimberlite rock.  Exposed to the elements of the weather, eroded by rain, wind and sun, the kimberlite crumbled and the diamonds were freed. Some washed into rivers and streams and found their way thousands of miles away to the west coast of Africa, but many lay untouched for millennia within the perimeter of the volcanic crater.

The Great Trek

By 1836 many inhabitants of the Cape colony were fed-up with British rule and decided to hitch their ox-wagons, cross deserts, mountains and rivers to find the proverbial Canaan of Africa, where they could farm in peace and establish their own independent republics.  The first family to arrive in the vicinity of the volcano, was the Minnaar family, who named their farm Elandsfontein, probably in honor of the multiple eland antelope species that still roamed these lands. Soon enough the Minnaar children were picking up alluvial diamonds in the vicinity of the erupted volcanic pipe.

They hitched their ox-wagons and trekked (Public Domain)

They hitched their ox-wagons and trekked (Public Domain)

Minnaar’s eldest son was not cut out to be a farmer and in 1896 he sold the northern section of the farm to a man called Willem Prinsloo for £570.  Now Prinsloo had previously owned a farm on the Witwatersrand, but soon gold was discovered in this area.  From all over the world people swarmed to the Witwatersrand.  The influx irritated Prinsloo terribly as they were invading his land.  He sold up, trekked north and bought Elandsfontein, not knowing he had just bought one of the richest diamond fields in the world.  Perhaps Prinsloo was an incarnation of King Midas and everything he touched turned into gold.  All that glitters is not gold, and in this case, it was diamonds.

Don’t even get off that horse

Thomas Cullinan had bought another farm in the vicinity, called Fransport.  One day, Cullinan encountered a prospector called Percy Tracy, who bragged with a 3-carat blue-white diamond, he kept in his pocket.  When Cullinan asked him where he got the diamond, Tracy told him about the farm Elandsfontein, but warned Cullinan about the feisty owner, who could not tolerate trespassers on his land.  Despite the warning Cullinan sent an emissary to the farm.  Tired and dusty he arrived at the farm house, expecting hospitality, but Zeus’ policy of filoxenia apparently did not apply to Prinsloo, for the emissary found himself staring down the barrel of a shotgun and Prinsloo threatening him not to even get off his horse.  The emissary turned the horse around.  As Prinsloo turned his back on his good fortune, Tyche the goddess of good fortune, turned her face from Prinsloo, and the third goddess of fate, Antropos, cut his life’s thread.  Prinsloo crossed the Stix and joined Hades, shortly after he had chased Cullinan’s emissary from his land.

Statue of Sir Thomas Cullinan at Petra mine. (Image: Micki Pistorius)

Statue of Sir Thomas Cullinan at Petra mine. (Image: Micki Pistorius)

War casts its dark shadow on the land

Gold was to be the curse of the independent farmers of the Boer republics.  At the end of the nineteenth century, the gold on the Witwatersrand was the motivation for the British to annex the Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and in 1899 the Anglo Boer War broke out.  During the war, the British had a policy of scorched earth, where they set the farmsteads of the Boers alight and interred the women and children in concentration camps, to force the Boers to give up the fight.  On 31 May 1902, the Peace of Vereeniging was signed. 


Interestingly the treaty of Vereeninging was signed in the capital city Pretoria and not Vereeninging. it was also not an acceptable treaty to all South Africans at the time and it has been said that it was signed by colaborators/traitors and without the wishes of the majority. Should you visit South Africa then Cullinan is worth while.


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