History of West Australia/William Griffith


THE Rand and Western Australia are powerful competitors for the prizes which English capitalists offer. Neither has had an easy lot, nor is embowered in a country where vine and fig tree and honeycomb abound. Each has demanded the very choicest of enterprise and hardihood to develop it, and herculean labours to make it profitable. These two goldfields of the last decades of the nineteenth century promise great things.

William Griffith HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

South Africa has to everlastingly thank the unresting enterprise of her leading colonists. Cecil Rhodes is as a mountain of strength at which the world gazes, and he is not alone in the work of development, extension, and aggrandisement. Many brave names—men who willingly staked their lives in their daring ventures—are associated with his, and among them Western Australia at the present moment holds one, Mr. William Griffith, who, engaged in superintending extensive mining interests in Western Australia, passed a brilliant career in South Africa. His reputation was won by deeds of bravery and skilful pioneering discoveries. His life teems with romantic exploits of human interest.

William Griffith was born in Wales in 1853, and educated at the Carnarvon High School, North Wales. On completing his education he became partner in a slate quarry. Bent on amassing a cumulative knowledge of mining, he took a rotatory course of study and practice in each of its departments. In the offices, mines, and mechanical branch of this extensive property he served with vigour, and by diligence realised for himself extensive knowledge in a short time. He soon embarked for Victoria. In the Ovens and Beechworth districts, in that colony, he pursued mining with unabated eagerness. From these historic scenes he repaired to the Burra Burra copper mines in South Australia, where for some considerable time he was engrossed in the various methods of mining operations. Having learnt his lesson in Australia he returned to Wales, and immediately took up some Welsh gold mines. He was largely interested in them for several years, and altered the general management. Then he sailed for South Africa, and attached himself to the diamond industry in Kimberley. He travelled over considerable portions of the fields, and gathered experience.

Again he went to the homeland to spend another period in the slate mines of Wales. His interests at home were altogether too wealthy to admit of protracted absence from them. His stay was short, and he returned to South Africa, after receiving certain commissions from various London companies to report on mines and to invest money. These responsible duties were performed with great satisfaction, and his newly-acquired trust necessitated extensive and exhaustive acquaintance with every quarter of the fields.

From this period he played a conspicuous part in the history of South Africa. His energetic capabilities, and his mental resources, soon attracted the vigilant attention of men of prominence like Mr. Rhodes, whose eagle eye is ever open in its watch for men of enterprise and ability. Mr. Griffith had been gradually winning favourable notice for his adventurous exploits, which drove him into the secret haunts of marauding foes far beyond the ken of civilisation.

Acts of bravery proved him a bulwark of stout unyielding stanchions. Mr. Rhodes knew his worth, and appointed him the leader of an expedition sent out to prospect and report. This pioneering band of explorers plunged into the great dark, then unknown, territory of Southern Central Africa to open it up to the clear daylight of civilisation. The commander's orders were obeyed, and over trackless wastes, through treacherous thickets and ravines, from which might spring the poisoned darts of lurking ambuscades, the men pushed their way amid fatiguing toils and labours. The records of their brilliant achievements shall never be effaced. To-day Britain possesses Mashonoland, Matabeland, and a stretch of country northwards to the Zambesi, for which wealthy, extensive territory she must actually, gratefully, and graciously thank the heroic courage of Mr. Griffith and his gallant comrades. Their pains and cruel sufferings were engulfed in the glories of their exploits. Feats like these cannot often illumine the pages even of a world's history.

On his return from his great expedition he did not repose on the laurels of his success, but, after taking a brief respite, once more proceeded into the interior in charge of the De Beer Mining Company Expedition. This extensive prospecting tour was one of incalculable success. Several wealthy areas were pegged out as highly auriferous, and time alone, that great anticipatory truth-revealer, confirmed the verdict as to their productivity. Now the wealth of the De Beer's mines is proverbial. Not only gold, but diamonds—these costly and lustrous carbon gems—became the enviable possessions of this lucky company. Mr. Griffith's reputation as a successful prospector and explorer was thus fully established throughout the length and breadth of Cape Colony. Various companies sought his scientific skill and talents to further the promotion of their interests. Gradually his name became a synonym for happy exploit. The next to avail itself of his services was the celebrated Chartered Company—a company which in these latter days has figured with great prominence before the world. Under Dr. Jamieson, the hero of the Transvaal raid, Mr. Griffith went to examine the mineral resources of the Chartered Company's properties, and report exhaustively on the country traversed. He made various journeyings into distant parts, and wrote extensive reports, which were favourably commented on by the Times. Interesting and copious information was furnished on the geographical aspects of these wide territories, and in recognition of his learned results and useful discoveries he was made a Fellow of the Geographical Society, and a Fellow of the Geological Society. It was in the course of this last expedition that he discovered and mapped out new rivers, mountains, and country. These valuable contributions to the geographical and geological knowledge of South Africa cannot be over-estimated.

On reviewing his past consequences in that fascinating realm, we apprehend that he has done a valiant share in the expansion and development of that wealthy colony, and his name, associated with his great discoveries, will always hold its place in the annals of her chief pioneers. But subsequent to his last return South Africa became involved in a serious war. On all sides, surrounding a narrow circle of enterprising pioneers of rigour and daring, were savage hordes of treacherous natives. They did not stand idly by and see their country swallowed up by foreigners. Again and again they made desperate efforts to concentrate their numbers, and equip their uncivilised hosts with warlike weapons to resist the white intruder. Full of resentment, their chiefs called the obedient yelping clansmen to arms, and prepared themselves to meet the enemy. Meanwhile Mr. Griffith had enlisted his services in a common cause. British colonists seized their arms and went out to teach the Matabele the lesson of submission. Twice in this campaign Mr. Griffith saw active service in the engagements at the Tokwi River. The stubborn spirit and trained skill of the Britisher struck terror into the primitive heart of the native.

After a cessation of hostilities, and when peace had been restored, Mr. Griffith was commissioned to proceed into the interior again, and open up and report on the Lake Nyanza district. He was on the point of undertaking this perilous expedition when his health seriously broke down, and he was obliged to seek a complete change and respite from toil. He went to London and remained in comparative leisure, recruiting his health in the country. As soon as he felt restored his old vital energy returned, and he must needs once more seek the free unfettered life of the colonies. In London he became associated with the African Gold Recovery Company, a large and wealthy corporation possessing mines all over the world, and the fortunate patentees of the McArthur-Forest Cyanide Process. He was appointed the representative of their extensive interests in Western Australia, and sailed for his new sphere of enterprise immediately afterwards. His company in Western Australia owns a very large number of properties. In Kalgoorlie it possesses the Bendigo group, of seventy-six acres (which lies due south of the Great Boulder), and the Star of the West, with twenty-four acres. In the Mount Malcolm district it owns the Birk's Find, Mount Alice, West Mount Alice, Mount Alice North-West, the Ruddland Castle, and the Ruddland Castle Extended. At Lake Carey the company possesses 480 acres, which is called Griffithston, after Mr. Griffith, where the great Aber mine is situated. Since ever Mr. Griffith's arrival he has been developing these properties at a rapid rate. Under his management and superintendence they should prove remunerative to the company. If we judge, as we must do, everything by the standard of the past, then, assuredly, Mr. Griffith's career in Western Australia will he as commercially bright as it was in South Africa.

Mr. Griffith, socially, has a highly cultivated and polished mind. All his rough experiences, and his active, energetic enterprises have not blunted his refinement or his demeanour. He is a true type of a British colonist, a man who dared all in the truest interests of his country, and who now deserves her highest awards. While pursuing his explorations he was one of the first to examine the famous ruins of past glories in South Africa—the supposed home of the Queen of Sheba and her vassals. He was the first to thoroughly explore some of those whimsically weird old places, once the luxurious rendezvous of kings and queens and lords of many broad acres of golden lands. He opened up mines, which for centuries had been abandoned, perhaps centuries nearly extending to the period of the Wise King of Jerusalem. Such sights, indeed, has he witnessed that the mind revels in the unfathomable channels of contemplation which they beget, and one feels the spirit of the traveller and searcher for truth course through his veins. Mr. Griffith has full appreciation of the importance of his discoveries of antique things. Consequently he presented to the world much valuable information in his reports, and in a book he produced, Teithian Cymro yu Africa—"Notes from a Welshman's Diary on a Journey Across Africa"—has run through three editions, and is now in its fourth. He has also contributed articles to magazines and journals. In his writings he portrays the immensity of the wildernesses of Africa, the enduring, all-pervading spirit of them, and describes how scenes of old-time activity are now silent—where, as Henry Lawson would say, "Nature cries out to have her wounds covered, and the wilderness replies by reclaiming its own again."