brought to the surface the field has an estimated life of 400 years. It is to George William Stow, the intrepid geologist who discovered these coalfields, and to Senator Samuel Marks, the millionaire entrepreneur, who made the discovery commercially viable, that Vereeniging owes its existence.
It seems incredible now, in the light of Vereeniging's phenomenal industrial growth, that when Stow - prospecting on behalf of the Orange Free State Republic - made his momentous discovery, it was considered insignificant. Primarily concerned in the presence of diamonds and precious metals, the Free State Volksraad, the Republic's legislative council, was unimpressed by the discovery of the vast coalfield (which was then far too remote from the only important market for coal: the Kimberley diamond fields) and Stow's contract was terminated.
Dejected and unemployed at the age of 56, Stow, nevertheless, was not a man to remain idle for long. He turned to another of his scientific interests, ethnology, and within two years he had produced a history of the native races of Southern Africa, with particular reference to the Bushmen; a work that has since been recognised as a valuable contribution to knowledge of the African tribes.
Stow was born at Nuneaton, Warwickshire, in 1822, and after completing his schooling he was articled to a Doctor Lattey to study medicine. Five years later he abandoned the profession without having received a diploma, and at the age of 21 he immigrated to South Africa, landing at Port Elizabeth in 1843.
It was his early experiences on the turbulent frontier of the Eastern Province that developed his interest in the races of South Africa and the country's geological riches; and these interests were to inspire him for the rest of his life.
In his early years in the Eastern Province Stow was in turn, teacher, clerk, preacher and farmer. For a time he was in business in Queenstown; then in 1871 he set out for the newly discovered diamond fields at Kimberley. Completely self taught, Stow produced a paper: "The Diamond Gravels of the Vaal, South Africa", which was read before the Geological Society of London, and in 1872 he was elected a Fellow of the Society.
When the impis of Mosilikatze, in retreat from Chaka, passed through the southern Transvaal, leaving a ghastly trail of death and desolation in their wake, a native woman with her infant son fled to the secret shelter of one of the many caves for which the Gatsrand is famous. The mother died; the infant survived, tended, according to legend, like the founders of the Eternal City, by animals, but more likely by fugitive natives.
As the trekboers were settling in the neighbourhood one of them adopted the child. As a young man he became the trusted "armour bearer" of Paul Kruger, then also a young man, whom he accompanied on the many forays both against natives and white factions struggling for supremacy.
The native, Wildebeest by name, settled on an elevated sandstone plateau on the banks of the Klip River, about a mile above its confluence with the Vaal.
When late in the year 1891 I came to Vereeniging - not yet known under that name - and opened a quarry for building stone at this spot, Wildebeest was then a lively old man.
He told me that when he was young the whole country swarmed with game of every kind, lions, eland, wildebeest, blesbok, and springbok.
Wildebeest was without doubt the first permanent resident in historic times of Vereeniging.
In these words, Dr. T. N. Leslie, the town's first mayor, introduced his own story of Vereeniging over thirty years ago. He arrived in the village in 1891, two years after President Paul Kruger had proclaimed the township, and a year before the first erven of land were offered for sale in Johannesburg. It is this latter date, 1892, that Vereeniging recognises as the year in which the town was founded; and now ... 75 years later ... the once small village stands as a major centre of the Republic's steel and engineering industries.
However, Vereeniging's story really began in 1878, the year in which the vast coal deposits of the area were discovered. These deposits extend about six miles north of the town, and south 20 miles across the Vaal River. Varying in width from four to ten miles the known deposits occur over a total area of 200 square miles and at the rate at which coal is being