John Thoburn Williamson was born in Montfort, Quebec on the 10th February 1907 and went to McGill University Montreal where he gained a B. A. degree in 1928, an M. Sc. in 1930, & a PhD in 1933. A rugged Canadian geologist who was employed by the African Diamond Development Corporation in South Africa. Doc was convinced that diamonds must be in central Africa, and applied for the company to prospect there, they refused so Dr Williamson resigned in 1936 and began prospecting for diamonds in Tanganyika, now Tanzania. In 1938, the operators of the Mabuki diamond mine near Mwanza invited Dr. Williamson to conduct a geological survey of the area, with a view to identifying prospective diamond mining areas. Dr Williamson discovered several small pipes at Mabuki and at other areas of the country in 1938 and 1939. Doc aquired the company and continued his search for a primary Kimberlite pipe.
On the 6th March 1940 after heavy overnight rain Doc set out from his camp by the Baobab tree to continue prospecting in the bush, under the remorseless tropical sun. Doc had followed the same routine for the last five years. Isa and Ibrahim, his two native helpers picked up some gravel containing a large dirty pebble, "Iko Hapa, Bwana, Iko hapa!" (It is here boss, it is here). Williamson held it up to the
sun, then examined it with his pocket eye piece and immediately saw that it was a green diamond. He scraped the mud
away beneath his boots, the rock under was Kimberlitic, he had found his
volcanic pipe at last. That day they excavated a further twenty three gems from their immediate surroundings. Now he had to survey the the pipe without raising any suspicion, he spent months digging trenches and then backfilling them on his covert surveying mission. Over the years his Asian Lawyer and friend, Mr I C Chopra who he had met in 1936 while employed by the African Diamond Developement Corporation, was the only person he could trust to deal with staking his claim in Dar-es-Alaam. Williamson kept a 90% stake with Chopra having the remaining 10%. He had found the largest diamond deposit ever, the oval-shaped volcanic pipe which was filled with diamondiferous ore covered some
361 acres on the surface; more than four times larger than any of the diamond pipes found in
Williamson Diamonds Limited was registered on 19th March 1942 in Dar es Salam with two shareholders and two directors, Williamson and Chopra, spawning a legend. Dr Williamson named the site after the local Tribal Chief Mwadui.
With the backing of his friend Iqbal Chand Chopra KC, the Mwanza lawyer and later (1951) a member of the Tanganyika Legislative Council, Williamson began excavating the diamonds with a task force of local African's. Later he was able to use Italian POW's to operate the heavy plant, and by 1946, he had several thousand workers & families living at Mwadui, and over 250 Askari guards protecting his budding empire.
As the diamonds began to pour out of Mwadui, De Beers became increasingly concerned about its ability to control world prices. The corporate minutes of De Beers on June 20, 1946, reflect this growing apprehension. Sir Ernest Oppenheimer the chairman said that he was sure that a satisfactory outcome would result from negotiations with the British Colonial Office over a prospecting license for De Beers, but he said that the position would not be secure until they were able to come to terms with Williamson. He mentioned that the Tanganyika production was now one and one-half million pounds per annum. He very much doubted whether, at the moment, he had 65 percent effective control of world production. Oppenheimer pointed out that this uncontrolled production could prove embarrassing if there was an economic recession, and he recommended, according to the notes of the meeting, "that their efforts should be energetically directed towards obtaining effective control of all African production."
The diamond sights in London proved to be one effective means of reasserting control of the Mwadui diamonds. Dr. Williamson had to sell the low as well as high quality diamonds he mined to diamond cutters in order for his mine to be profitable. Most of the major cutting factories, especially for the more difficult-shaped diamonds, were clients of De Beers. When these clients came to the London sights, they were told, according to reports reaching the U.S. Department of justice, that they should not buy any of Williamson's diamonds. The threat was implicitly made that they might find their consignment drastically reduced or even abruptly ended if they bought any diamonds from Williamson. Since few of the cutting factories in Antwerp were willing to risk their sight in London by violating this rule of the game, Williamson found that he could only sell the clear, octahedron crystals that were in demand by small, independent cutters. He had to store most of the clear diamonds. This severely squeezed his cash reserves.
De Beers also applied pressure on Williamson through the British Colonial Office. When its representatives privately advised the British Exchequer of his stockpile of diamonds, De Beers quickly brought pressure on the Colonial Office to remedy the situation. Diamonds, after all, earned at that time more foreign exchange for Great Britain than almost any other export. At about this time, Colonial Secretary Arthur Creech Jones advanced the idea to nationalise Williamson Diamonds Mine Ltd. In a white paper, Creech Jones suggested that the Colonial Government, through nationalisation, might better be able to control the exploitation of a mineral resource than a private company.
For Williamson, the message was clear: Either he made his deal with De Beers or his mine might be nationalised. Finally, Williamson acquiesced to these pressures, and Harry Oppenheimer flew to Mwadui to negotiate a deal with Dr Williamson in 1952. Creech Jones announced in the House of Commons that Williamson had agreed to sell his entire output through the Diamond Trading Company in London, part of the Central Selling Organisation (C.S.O.), a subsidiary of De Beers. . Williamson was now part of the arrangement.
Harry Oppenheimer arriving in Mwadui in March 1952 to negotiate with Dr Williamson and end his diamond selling dispute with the Diamond Corporation of Debeers.
Photo from the Burgess family collection ©Harry F Oppenheimer : "When that difficult Canadian, Williamson, was causing us some anxiety about the uncontrolled sales of his diamond output in Tanganyika, my father chose me to go and negotiate with him. He snubbed me at first, but in the end we had our way."
Bwana Williamson was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1956 and eventually died of it at 3 o/c in the morning on the 8th January 1958 just a few days before his 51st birthday. He was buried that same afternoon in the cemetery where it all began at his beloved Mwadui. His siblings who had no mining experiance inherited the mine and immediately proceeded to negotiate it's sale.
Williamson Diamonds Limited was sold 50/50 to De Beers and the Tanganyika Government on the 13th August 1958 for just £4 million GBP. Harry Oppenheimer was appointed Chairman and held the post for fifteen years. Harry also represented Kimberley in South Africa for the United political party.
The Doc, Dr John Thoburn Williamson was inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in 2011
It was three days and two nights flying from London to Nairobi. The plane was a
Vickers Viking with seating for about 27 passengers, and
flying was daytime only. The first leg was to Nice for refueling and lunch. Then it was onto our overnight destination Malta, encountering a severe electrical storm en-route.
The following day was onto Cairo where we enjoyed our first taste of curry and coca cola as there had been rationing back home with no sugar available for luxury drinks. After lunch it was on again to Khartoum where we stayed in a floating hotel on the (Blue) Nile. The desert was something to
wonder at for me. The following morning it was on to Nairobi where we stayed with family friends for five days. I still have my air
ticket from Airworks [ £48.10 shillings ].
From Nairobi it was a short flight to Mwadui in Doc's VIP De Havilland Dove [in the cockpit for me] with Mike Croft at the controls.
The famous Williamson Pink (54.5 carat rough) was found on the surface in 1947 by two local native boys, they took it to the Doc's house. Dr Williamson gave the priceless cut Pink round [23.6 carat] to the then Princess Elizabeth as the centerpiece of a brooch for her forthcoming wedding to Prince Phillip.
[ 142 carat's = 1imperial oz]
Dr Williamson died of throat cancer in January 1958, and was buried in Mwadui. The Mine was taken over by his brother Percy B Williamson & Mr I C Chopra the Asian Lawyer who financed his early days prospecting. Mr Chopra held a 10% stake in the mine from day one. We also left Mwadui in 1958, shortly after the Doc's death and returned to England after one last flight to Nairobi in the Dove. We stayed with relatives in Nairobi for a while before getting the over-night train to Mombassa. Here we used to go swimming in the clear waters of the Indian Ocean at Nyali beach. Then it was back to England by ship, The Braemar Castle of the Union Castle Line. I then went to join my elder brother at the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook.