Tavernier at the Mines 

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-89) has been described as 'the father of the modern diamond trade', and through him our story continues. He was born in Paris, after his father had fled from Antwerp to avoid anti-Protestant persecution, and made his first visit to England, to 'my father's native land', and to Amsterdam, at 15 years of age. Although he never had any formal training it is likely that here is where his lifelong interest in diamonds, precious stones and pearls began. 

Tavernier was ennobled by King Louis XN in 1671 for the remarkable gems he had purchased, and the books of his travels contain a wealth of information about more than 30 years spent visiting lndia. The first, 'The Six Voyages', completed when he was 65 years old, represents a compilation of these experiences. 

On his third voyage (1643-1649), he travelled to Raolconda (Ramalakota, 18 miles south of Karnul), Coulour (Kollur on the River Krishna) and Soumelpour (in the Sambalnur group), returning again 'to the mines' on his fifth (1657-1662). Each was same days' distance from the Palace fortress of Golconda and fell under separate mandates, such as 'the Kingdoms of Golconda and Visapour', 'the Territories of the Raja' and 'the Dominions of the Great Mughal'. 

Tavernier also relates how fiercely protective they all were of their individual rights! Raolconda must have opened his eyes, not only because the miners - 'poor people' - were almost naked and carefully watched, but also because 'to fetch the sand out of the Rock, they are forced to strike such terrible blows with a great lron-leaver, that they flaw the Diamond, and make it look like Crystal.' 

Despite their miserable conditions, it was often they who could determine the ground's potential. Even then, at its maximum, the excavated 'mine' or pit would be no larger than six metres long and nine metres deep! Using crowbars, the men would break through four metres of earth, before hitting the yellowish clay, they called 'matrix'. Without the help of pulleys to hoist the earth, it was a laborious task, climbing into and out of the pit, passing containers from hand to hand in relays of women and children, before throwing it away, often into a worked-out pit. 

It was the 'matrix' which was all important, because it contained the diamonds but, at best, this was only 120 millimetres thick. The sheer scale of the operations at Kollur must have also astonished Tavernier. Never could he possibly have seen so many people before. 'The first time I was at the Mine, there were about sixty thousand persons at work, men, women, and children; the men being employed to dig, the women, and children to carry the Earth.' 

Next to where they worked, the miners would level off an area and enclose it within a 60 cm wall, with holes at appropriate intervals. These would then be covered, and the matrix - earth and gravel from the pit- would be dumped inside the enclosure. Water was then tipped in, bringing it to a thick mixture in one or two days. The holes would be unblocked to draw off the water and mud. More than one washing was often necessary, after which the hot sun would dry off the moisture, leaving only sand containing the diamonds. 

The smaller material would be fanned like corn in baskets to let the lighter material be blown away. The remainder was raked over, exposing many small rocks. These were then broken up by pounding the whole area with large wooden mallets before the fanning process began all over again. Finally, on their hands and knees, all would work carefully to pick out any diamonds that were there.


All historical texts above from: Een Streling Voor Het Oog, Antwerpen 1997





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