Free State goldfields

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The Oryx Gold Mine near Welkom, South Africa Oryx gold mine.jpg
The Oryx Gold Mine near Welkom, South Africa

The Free State goldfields were only developed after the Second World War even though gold had been discovered in 1938. The development gave rise to major development of the region.



After the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in the 1880s geologists knew that the main reef spread to the east and west, but did so at great depth. At that period the technology to prospect or mine at such depth was not yet available. In the 1930s, new geophysical prospecting methods determined that deep gold reefs could be discovered. The mines in the Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom areas were started thanks to the success of these new methods.

Witwatersrand mountain range

The Witwatersrand is a 56-kilometre-long (35 mi), north-facing scarp in South Africa. It consists of a hard, erosion-resistant quartzite metamorphic rock, over which several north-flowing rivers form waterfalls, which account for the name Witwatersrand, meaning "ridge of white waters" in Afrikaans. This east-west-running scarp can be traced with only one short gap, from Bedfordview in the east, through Johannesburg and Roodepoort, to Krugersdorp in the west.

Klerksdorp Place in North West, South Africa

Klerksdorp is located in the North West Province, South Africa. Klerksdorp is the largest city in the North West Province. Mahikeng, the provincial capital, lies roughly 170 km north-west of Klerksdorp and Johannesburg 170 km in a north-eastern direction.

Potchefstroom Place in North West, South Africa

Potchefstroom is an academic city in the North West Province of South Africa. It hosts the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University. Potchefstroom is on the Mooi Rivier, roughly 120 km (75 mi) west-southwest of Johannesburg and 45 km (28 mi) east-northeast of Klerksdorp. Potchefstroom, together with Rustenburg, is the second-largest city in the North West Province. The largest city, Klerksdorp, is about 45 kilometres (28 mi) away.

The Free State

In the 1890s the trader Gustav Furst had a small shop on the farm Zoeten Inval. It was 13km from where Odendaalrus stands today. Furst showed the prospector Archibald Megson a quartzite vein. Megson and his partners Donaldson and Haines sank an adit and found gold. However, it was in insufficient volumes to attract financiers. Donaldson and Haines took samples with them to London on the ship Drummond Castle. On 16 June 1896 the ship when down at Ushant, signaling the end of the initiative and Furst disappeared from the scene.

Drummond Castle castle in Perth and Kinross, Scotland, UK

Drummond Castle is located in Perthshire, Scotland. The castle is known for its gardens, described by Historic Environment Scotland as "the best example of formal terraced gardens in Scotland." It is situated in Muthill parish, 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) south of Crieff. The castle comprises a tower house built in the late 15th century, and a 17th-century mansion, both of which were rebuilt in Victorian times. The gardens date to the 1630s, although they too were restructured in the 19th century. The formal gardens are protected as a category A listed building, and are included on the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland. The tower house and mansion are both category B listed.

Ushant Commune in Brittany, France

Ushant is a French island at the south-western end of the English Channel which marks the north-westernmost point of metropolitan France. It belongs to Brittany and is in the traditional region of Leon. Administratively, Ushant is a commune in the Finistère department. It is the only place in Brittany, except the name Brittany itself, with a separate name in English.

In the early 1930s Megson managed to interest Allan Roberts, an amateur geologist and dental technician, in the reef and entrance adit. Megson was bought out by Roberts who founded "Wit Extensions". In 1933 Roberts bored a hole of 1 263m near to the adit on the farm Aandenk. It yielded nothing and the venture came to naught. This effort was followed by others, eg: Western Holdings and a company owned by Hans Merensky.

Hans Merensky German South African geologist, prospector, scientist, conservationist and philanthropist

Hans Merensky was a South African geologist, prospector, scientist, conservationist and philanthropist. He discovered the rich deposit of alluvial diamonds at Alexander Bay in Namaqualand, vast platinum and chrome reefs at Lydenburg, Rustenburg and Potgietersrus, which led to some of the largest platinum mines in the world, phosphates and copper at Phalaborwa in the Transvaal lowveld, gold in the Free State and the world’s biggest chrome deposit at Jagdlust near Pietersburg.

Using new technology and instruments he developed himself, the Hungarian geologist, Oscar Weiss, identified a place on the farm St. Helena. In April 1938 he drilled into gold at a depth of 737m. The estimation was more than a half ounce per ton of processed ore. Unfortunately the Second World War broke out thereafter and prospecting work came to a halt.

After the Second World War various mining companies flooded Odendaalsrus and within a year over 50 holes were bored. On 16 April 1946 the great discovery was made on the farm Geduld. With the thirteenth hole he had drilled, a drill operator called "Lucky" Hamilton, struck gold at a depth of 1 200 m. The sample from the drill core yielded 62oz of gold per ton of processed ore, making it one of the richest reefs in the world.

One of the companies found the hole drilled by Allan Roberts, cleaned it out and drilled deeper striking the same reef a further 122m on.


The discovery of the reef led to the establishment of the city of Welkom and the town of Riebeeckstad whilst towns such as Odendalsrus, Allanridge and Virginia enjoyed unbelievable growth. Water was supplied into the region from the Vaal Dam and new roads and railway lines laid in order to service it. Mines that were established were:

Welkom Place in Free State, South Africa

Welkom is the second-largest city in the Free State province of South Africa, located about 140 kilometres (90 mi) northeast of Bloemfontein, the provincial capital. Welkom is also known as Circle City, City Within A Garden, Mvela and Matjhabeng. The city's English name, Matjhabeng means 'where nations meet', derived from the migrant labour system, where people of various countries such as Lesotho, Malawi and Mozambique etc. met to work in the mines of the gold fields.

Riebeeckstad Place in Free State, South Africa

Riebeeckstad is a suburb 5 km east of the city of Welkom located in the Lejweleputswa District Municipality of the Free State province of South Africa.

Vaal Dam dam in Border Gauteng and Free State

The Vaal Dam in South Africa was constructed in 1938 and lies 77 km south of OR Tambo International Airport. The lake behind the dam wall has a surface area of about 320 square kilometres (120 sq mi) and is 47 meters deep. The Vaal Dam lies on the Vaal River, which is one of South Africa's strongest-flowing rivers. Other rivers flowing into the dam are the Wilge River, Klip River, Molspruit and Grootspruit. It has over 800 kilometres (500 mi) of shoreline and is South Africa's second biggest dam by area and the fourth largest by volume.

The region

The following towns are part of the Free State Goldfields:

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