Welkom is South Africa's youngest town and has been the centre
of the gold fields since 1947. The town sprung up after gold was
discovered on a farm called St Helena.
Welkom has grown perhaps with a faster rate as Johannesburg, yet
is proud of the fact that its traffic system of traffic circles
were so well designed that they still have only a few traffic lights.
It is in the Free State the second largest town and the core of
the relatively recent geologic windfall of the Free State.
Places of interest unclude:
Arts & Crafts
The work of the handycapped residents of the Ernest Oppenheimer
Hospital is on show.
Ernest Oppenheimer Theatre
The town's best thespians and ballet dancers grace this modern complex.
Named after the businessman who planned the layout of Welkom.
Welkom's flamingoes inhabit this scenic recreation area.
A complete history of gold and its mining and production is on display
in the library.
Some of the deepest and riches mines can be visited.
Welkom has many monuments including, Aandek Monument, Afrikaans
Language Monument, Joanne Pim Monument, WWII Monument, Voortrekker
Memorial, Dog Monument, Old Indaba bleugum tree and MOTH Memorial.
Museum of Welkom
This public library houses display the discovery of gold in Welkom,
town's history and bird and animal life indigenous to this region.
North Park Fleamarket
Haggle for a bargain every second Saturday of each month.
Parks to visit in Welkom is Central Park, Peter Pan Park, Van Riebeeck
Park and West Park.
South Africa's newest racetrack. It consist of both a high speed
oval and a well designed conventional track.
A municipal sports centre offering rugby,soccer, netball, tennis,
hockey, cricket, bowling and snooker facilities.
A tranquil pan and bird sanctuary
The history of the discovery of the Free State Goldfields ~ the
most fantastic mineral discovery in South Africa this century ~
is essentially the history of Welkom for, without this world-shattering
event, Welkom would not have been.
The clock must be turned back to the latter years of the nineteenth
century when two men ~ a Mr Donaldson who was a prospector, and
a Mr Hinds, an engineer ~ investigated a portion of the farm called
Zoeten-Inval belonging to a Mr Barends Klopper near where the small
town of Allanridge is situated today. This was believed to have
been in 1896, and the pair were interested in a small outcrop of
rock protruding about a foot above the ground and about two feet
in length which appeared to be conglomerate pebble reef. A 60 feet
pit was excavated and samples collected. The men could raise no
interest among mining companies in Johannesburg, which all laughed
off the idea of gold in the Free State.
Then came the first setback in the mineral history of the future
Free State goldfields. The men decided to return to England to have
their samples analysed and, if the results proved favorable, to
form a syndicate to raise capital for the continuation of the search.
Disaster struck. Gossip had it that Donaldson and Hinds sailed on
the ill-fated Drummond Castle which, on that trip, sank in the Bay
of Biscay off the coast of France with the loss of all aboard.
The hot mealie lands surrounding the peaceful hamlet of Odendaalsrust
(as it was then called) lay almost untouched by a rock-pick until
a persistent old prospector, Arthur Megson by name, heard of the
venture and decided to investigate for himself. The farm had been
divided up by this time, and the section on which the outcrop was
situated was now called Aandenk and was owned by Hendrik Petrus
Megson arrived in 1904 and widened and deepened the original pit
to about 100 feet. He took samples of the exposed strata away with
him as they seemed to indicate some promising values. But he in
turn could not obtain any financial interest and was compelled to
close down the shaft. He is said to have filled it with dynamite
"to prevent other from interfering with the work".
For many years Megson did the rounds of the mining companies, his
samples carried in a canvas bag. No one was interested until in
October 1932, when he presented himself at the office of Allan Roberts,
a prospector, and Minnie Jacobs, a young attorney. Megson had come
to the right place at last, for Roberts had recently set himself
up sufficiently by September of that year to turn his attention
to his pet theory "that the Witwatersrand system of rock formation
tapers down to beyond the Orange Free State, resembling the rim
of a lake with Johannesburg lying in the center of the northern
section of that rim".
The reef formation dips gradually to the Klerksdorp mines in the
south west and to Nigel about 40 miles to the south east. The southern
section of the lake ~ being submerged in the Free State.
At about this time Mr Roberts had said to his wife, Gladys, "Now
I am ready to test my theory if it takes all the money I have and
more". Megson's samples and his information gave Roberts, who
had been called the man who "never turns anything down",
a starting point. He and the old prospector left for Odendaalsrus
the following day. After a few days spent in the area investigating
the old pit, the pair returned to Johannesburg to have the new samples
analysed. This job was done by a friend of Robert's, Dave Milne,
an analytical chemist at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Roberts was so excited when he heard the results that he decided
to enlarge the small pit in the middle of the North West Free State.
A Cornishman named King was enlisted, and Roberts set out on another
trip to Odendaalsrus. He was convinced that there was "gold,
nothing but gold - nothing more nor less".
It soon became apparent that the values of the shaft and along the
reef were barren and that the area would have to be tested by drilling.
The Transvaal mining houses were too busy with the Rand and its
extensions to spare any thought, much less time and money, for any
development in the Free State, and Roberts went it alone.
On 5 May 1933 the first borehole was started. As Roberts wrote
in a letter, it was "the first borehole ever put down in the
Free State in the search for gold. I feel very proud to determine
the original site (it was about 200 yards from the pit) for the
first borehole. "Work progressed, and in Johannesburg, Mannie
Jacobs managed to interest one or two business men in the Roberts
venture. They were Fritz Marx, a stockbroker, and Peter Woolf, a
Roberts became known as the "klipdokter" in the area
and farmers were consistently bringing him chips of rock and stone
for inspection, hoping that he would have good news for them. At
a depth of 2721 feet, the borehole penetrated lava formations into
what was recognised as the Witwatersrand system and penetrated a
number of gold reefs, one of which contained fairgold values ~ the
first gold reefs ever discovered in the Free State.
On the strength of these findings, the men who had been interested
in the work Roberts, Jacobs, Marx and Woolf ~ formed Wit Extensions
Company Limited in 1933, and in August of that year the pioneer
company of the as yet unheralded Free State Goldfields was formed
to carry on boring operations. Soon money started running out, and
at 85 shillings a foot boring would not be able to continue for
much longer. All efforts to raise capital were unsuccessful, and
Roberts put every last penny into his scheme. The drill kept going,
In spite of the fact that the bore struck values of 120 in. dwt.,
the borderline of payability, this news was still not incentive
enough to attract financial assistance. The drill, through determination
and back-breaking work, had reached 4 046 feet, when the company
was reluctantly compelled to stop the drill ~ finances were finally
Standing near the door of the only hotel in Odendaalsrus that evening,
Allan Roberts was heard to say: "Someday, someone will believe
and have faith and come forward, and the drill will again start
on its downward trend, eating deep into the earth, and eventually
give up its treasure. I am convinced. I will never give in, "I
have unshaken belief that gold is to be found in these Free State
fields, payable gold, a new goldfields". At that time Roberts
did not know how prophetic his words were. He did not realise that
only 400 feet beneath the now silent drill-bit, payable gold lay
ready to sweep the world's stock markets into a frenzy of excitement,
the excitement caused by the striking of basal reef, which was struck
11 years later when this borehole was deepened to 4 446 feet. A
sample from this borehole assayed at 37,7 dwts over 6 inch per ton.
However, that was a story still to come.
Meanwhile, early in 1933, the Anglo American Corporation secured
options in the Klerksdorp area, and deep boreholes soon proved the
existence of gold-bearing reef and led to the opening of western
Reefs Mine. The fact that gold had been found in payable quantities
in this area induced geologists and others with vision to look beyond
the Vaal River into the Free State. At last steps were being taken
to vindicate Roberts' theory. Borehole prospecting was intensified
over a wide area in the vicinity of Odendaalsrus and it was early
in 1939 that the first high values were found in borehole No 5,
sunk on what has since become the St Helena Mining Lease. By 1940
sufficient work had been done to show that a potential goldfield
did in fact exist where Roberts had predicted.
While other boreholes had given stimulating results the potentials
of the new goldfield became recognised throughout the world when,
in April 1946 the borehole known as Geduld 697 yielded gold assaying
1 252 dwts over 18,4 inch equal to 23,037 inch-dwts. The phenomenal
result of Geduld No 1 borehole was followed nine months later by
the Geduld No 2 borehole, yielding 1 904dwts over 6,58 inch equal
to 12528 inch-dwts. In the region of R 6 000 000 was spent in diamond
drill boreholes to "prove" the new goldfield.
Thirteen separate mining properties were delimited within the area
of the new goldfield which gave rise to the town of Welkom around
which six of these mines are situated. They are St Helena, the first
mine on the new field to come into production when the first bars
of gold from the Free State goldfields were poured by Mr P M Anderson,
chairman of Union Corporation, on 26 October 1951, Western Holdings,
Free State Geduld, Welkom Mine, President Brand and President Steyn.
The resulting development of Welkom ~ and its neighboring towns
~ over the past 50 years was the spectacular climax to the arduous,
prolonged and often disappointing work of exploration that was carried
out in the early days.
It was a triumph of scientific knowledge and of personal courage;
the years of planning and investigations, the appalling dangers
to overcome, and the discomforts and hardships endured. These all
led to the great discovery that was splashed over the front pages
of newspapers all over the world, the story of discovery and the
establishment of a massive mining complex.
For Allan Roberts, his "wild goose chase" had been successful.
The Free State Gold-fields is a fitting tribute to his belief and
perseverance. His memorial still stands in the Free State - the
town of Allanridge named after the true pioneer of the gold mining
industry in the Free State.
(Thanks are due to Mrs Gladys Roberts for a number or quotations
in this story which were taken from an unpublished manuscript).
From The Friend, 14 February 1968).
Article obteined from VISTA's special Anniversary edition April