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Williamson the Diamond Seeker of Mwadui

Williamson Diamonds Mine Mwadui 
A Royal Diamond

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Map showing the layout of Mwadui in the mid nineteen fifties

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Diamonds come to the upper mantle of the Earth by high temperature magma through volcanic eruptions, and then cool into igneous rocks known as kimberlites.

Diamonds also move out from the kimberlites through natural erosions and accumulate in the form of gravels on the Earth's surface, which is called alluvial diamonds deposit.

A major expansion plan has been underway since 2010 to extend Williamson mine's life by increasing its mining depth to about 260m with the eventual target of producing 600,000ct of diamond per year.

WDL





















Dr John Thoburn Williamson

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.Dr Williamson on his 43rd birthday 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 South Africa.
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 Iqbal Chand Chopra KC 
	Photo from the Chopra family ©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

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

 

My Story

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.

 

 

Dr Williamson and his diamonds

 

Publications on JTW & Mwadu The Diamond Seeker by Heinz Hedgen. First published in Austria in 1955 as The Diamantensucher in Tanganjika by Verlag Stria, Graz in German. This translation by Isabel and Florence McHugh was published by Blackie & Son Ltd in London in 1959. Although of the same title as Gawaine's book it is not the same.

Illustrated

BooksThe Diamond Seeker
by John GawaineThe Diamond Seeker by John Gawaine was published by Macmillan South Africa (Publisher's) (PTY) Ltd in 1976. (ISBN 0 86954 029 7)The author, who writes under a nom-de-plume, was educated at Dulwich College, England. He was seconded from his regiment into the Special Operations Executive (SOE} during the war. He was involved in Intelligence & Commando operations in North Africa, Sicily, Yugoslavia, & Greece, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After the war he & his wife emigrated to East Africa, Then in 1968 they moved to South Africa where he was engaged in Industrial research.

BooksDIAMONDS UNLIMITED by P.H.E. BURGESS

In this autobiography ex-Chief Inspector Percy Burgess of the C.I.D. tells of the challenge he accepted when he became Chief Security Officer of the Williamson Diamonds Mine at Mwadui, Tanganyika.
We arrived in Mwadui shortly after Percy Burgess left and I can personally relate to many of the anecdotes in his book.

Published by The Adventure Club, UK - 1960

My family arrived in Mwadui just after Percy Burgess left and found The Doc just as Percy describes him.

 

 

PublicationsKnave of DiamondsKnave of Diamonds by Mona Fourie

"Knave of Diamonds" is a collection of anecdotes of Dr John Thoburn Williamson and his diamond mine; not necessarily in chronological order; some of which I was witness to while growing up in Mwadui.
Mona Fourie  lived on the mine and was close to Dr Williamson.

Published by Arthur H. Stockwell Ltd, Ilfracombe, Devon 1961

For UK readers; Kensington library hold a copy of this very rare book.

 

Along with other publications on Doc and his mine this magazine portrays him as the myth that was generated during WWII and the severe austerity that followed.

 

 

 

 

 


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