Mar. 14, 1842 Saginaw Saginaw County Michigan, USA
Aug. 22, 1922 San Francisco San Francisco County California, USA
Gardner Fred Williams was the first properly trained mining engineer to be appointed in South Africa. Born in 1842 in Saginaw, Mich., he was the oldest son of Alpheus Fuller Williams, who served for many years in the American frontier forces and rose to be a colonel. Alpheus became a civil and mining engineer and, having gone from Saginaw to California in the early days of the gold excitement, he became well known in the mining camps.
Gardner grew up in the Californian mining camps, surrounded by mining activity. His higher education began at the College of California (later to become the University of California), where he obtained a BA degree in 1865, and was completed in Germany at the Royal School of Mines at Freiberg, obtaining his mining degree three years later. In 1868, he returned to California and rounded off his education by gaining an MA at the university in 1869, the first conferred at what is now UC Berkeley.
His mining experience included a survey of the salt deposits on Carmen Island off the coast of Mexico, followed by appointment as engineer to a syndicate in search of gold and silver in northern Nevada. He was an assistant assayer in the US branch mint in San Francisco, and spent 3 1/2 years as superintendent of the Meadow Valley Mining Co. at Pioche, Nevada. Early in 1875 he opened a silver mine at Cherry Creek, and was later appointed manager of the Leeds Mining Company at Silver Reef, Utah. In 1879 he became the consulting engineer to a New York firm interested in hydraulic mining in California and also became superintendent of the Spring Valley Hydraulic Gold Company at Cherokee at the age of 37.
With such a varied career and with experience in so many areas of mining, particularly quartz and hydraulic mining, he was recommended to manage the properties of The Transvaal Gold Exploration and Land Company at Pilgrims Rest in Mpumalanga, Africa, leaving America in 1884 for this position.
After a year at Pilgram's Rest he resigned and spent some time visiting the new gold discoveries on the Witwatersrand. Full of ideas about the exploration of the goldfields, he returned to Kimberley and met, for the first time, young Cecil John Rhodes, then 32 years old. The two men traveled to England on the same ship and spent many hours discussing gold and diamond enterprises in South Africa. Rhodes was most impressed by Gardner's knowledge and enthusiasm.
In the US, The Exploration Company, in conjunction with Rothschilds in London, persuaded Williams to return to South Africa as their consulting engineer. Rhodes heard about this and lost no time in getting in touch with Williams, and persuaded him to cancel his agreement with The Exploration Company and to join De Beers Diamond Company. Under pressure from Rhodes, he agreed to forget about gold and move into the field of diamonds, and finally accepted an appointment as manager of De Beers in Kimberley in May 1887.
(This was during Rhode's legal struggle against the Barnato Mining Company. The end result was the formation on 13th March 1888 of the De Beers Consolidated Mines Co.)
Williams immediately introduced wide changes in the mining methods at Kimberley; it had been the practice to dig haphazardly and to try to shore up the sides and roof of the diggings with masses of timber. Walking about was exceedingly dangerous and unpleasant, and workings might collapse, with serious consequences for both workers and the operation's financial success. Williams knew all about shaft-sinking and tunneling and the use of explosives and, by the end of 1887, proper and relatively safe mining methods had been firmly established. Instead of haphazardly hoisting the ore from a large number of points, he arranged the mine so that all the ground could be concentrated at one point, and hoisted from one well-equipped level by a large winder. His methods were soon repeated on other mines, and on the Witwatersrand as well, and the Kimberley mines came to be known as the most advanced in the world. (By 1889 Rhodes controlled the South African diamond mining industry, and 90% of world production.)
His talents spread far beyond mining. Rhodes had great confidence in Williams's undoubted administrative skills and his talent for financial management, and drew him into the grand scheme of consolidating all the diamond mines under De Beers.
Williams laid the foundations for an excellent system of training apprentices at De Beers, a compulsory system which worked so well it was soon copied on the Witwatersrand. He had the miners' welfare at heart and, in 1892, reduced the underground shift from 12 to 8 hours. He was one of the chief promoters of the South African School of Mines and was chairperson of its governing body for the years 1896-1903, during which it functioned in Kimberley.
After 18 years with De Beers, Williams retired to America and settled first in Washington, DC and finally later in San Francisco. (The management of the DeBeers mines had passed in 1905 to his eldest son Alpheus F. Williams, who did so until 1932.)
A major 1904 donation by Gardner F. Williams to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History preserves the rock types of the De Beers mines at Kimberley. The Williams Collection became the nucleus of the Museum's Ultramafic Xenolith collections.
In recognition of his achievements, the Royal Academy of Science in Sweden awarded him its silver medal in 1905, and the University of California an honorary doctorate of laws in 1910. The University of Michigan awarded an honorary doctorate in engineering in 1917.
The fourmasted topsail schooner "Gardner Williams" was launched on August 6, 1918, the ship being owned at that time by the DeBeers Consolidated Mines Co. of Capetown, SA.
"Williams Memorial Garden" in Sabie, Mpumalanga, South Africa is a tribute to Gardner Fred Williams; and in June of 1967, the Cherokee Monument in Cherokee, Butte County, CA was dedicated to Gardner Fred Williams, et.al.
Gardner F. Williams was a man who enjoyed life and made the most of it, through all his 80 years.
(excerpts from "Forging Ahead, South Africa's Pioneering Engineers." by G.R. Bozzoli, Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg, 1997) ~~~~~~~~~