About Dirk Graham
DIRK: Dutch Short form of DIDERIK.
From League of Veterans database
- Surname: GRAHAM
- Full Names: DIRK
- Date of Birth: 24.10.1861
- Address 1899: LYDENBURG
- Name of Last Officer: VELDT SCHOEMAN
- Date Surrendered / Captured: MEI 1902
- Date Killed / Past Away: N/A
- Name of Widow: N/A
- Current Address: OUETEHUIS, KRUGERSDORP
- Branch: KRUGERSDORP
Dirk/Dick Graham was responsible for melting and pouring the gold. Melting the gold to get a homogeneous product and then pouring it out in a steady stream, for a good product, needs much skill and practice. Mr JT Becklake, later head of the Royal Mint in Pretoria made special reference in his book to the skill with which the gold at the Mint on the Field was melted and poured. Pienaar mentioned Graham's excellent knowledge of gold. He received 5 Veldpond for the work he did at the Field Mint. It is said that Dirk/Dick was a jolly fellow and very strong. His strength helped a lot to drive the metal lathe, the rollers and the hand-punching machine with muscle power. After the war he worked at Sabie. While before the war he worked on a mine in Lydenburg.
Die Staatsmunt te Velde. (The State Mint in The Field)
Towards the close of the Anglo-Boer War coined gold had become very scarce. To a considerable extent, the forces in the field were dependent upon the natives for their food supplies, especially mealies. The natives, however, were not willing to accept the current inconvertible government notes, which strangely enough were called blue backs though they were not blue at all. They demanded gold coin for their products and actually preferred the pounds with the horse on i.e. British sovereigns.
The government at the time still possessed a small quantity of gold in the form of bars. General Ben Viljoen, who was in command of the forces in the Pilgrims Rest area, had also had the gold plates of the mines in the region scraped, which had yielded an appreciable quantity of gold, while some was also obtained from the alluvial digging in the vicinity. Some of this gold General Viljoen had been able to dispose of but when General C.H. Muller took over the command some Â£500 worth was still on hand which could not be realized. Ways and means had therefore to be devised of turning this gold to use.
General Muller consulted Field-Cornet A.G.E. Pienaar on the possibility of converting the gold into coin. There were some mine workshops on hand containing various pieces of machinery that might be adapted for the purpose, and fortunately they had an engineer, Mr W. Reid, and several other persons with them, who could help on the mechanical side. Accordingly it was resolved to proceed with the coinage of pound pieces having Z.A.R 1902 on the one side and Een Pond on the other.
Mr Pienaar was appointed chairman of a Mint Commission, which was to supervise the venture, and was assisted by various other members whose names he had suggested to General Muller. The commission was instructed to make the necessary arrangements and to get everything into order, but no coinage operations were to be begun until the approval of the President and the Government had been obtained. Within a week the necessary authority was received and thus the Staatsmunt te Velde (The State Field Mint) came to be established and Mr P. J. Kloppers appointed Hoofd van de Staatsmunt te Velde (Head of the State Field Mint). In addition General Muller gave orders again to scrape the gold plates of the local mines so as to obtain an adequate supply of gold for the coinage operations.
Mr Kloppers, who had been giving thought to the matter, at first had an idea merely to refine the gold, rolling it out, cutting it up into small square pieces which were then to be offered to burgers in the neighbourhood in exchange for gold coins, the idea being that these pieces would be exchangeable for gold coins again after the the war. As an inducement, it was intended to make these pieces of slightly higher bullion content than the pounds. Upon further consideration, however, it was felt that that round discs would probably be more readily accepted. Later he thought that the discs would more nearly resemble a coin if a stamp were impressed upon them. Finally he even deemed it desirable to give them a milled edge, not only to obtain a closer resemblance to coin, but also because the process involved helped to regulate the size of the coins. After much experimenting along these lines, and after a measure of success had been obtained, Mr Kloppers was ready to proceed with the task entrusted to him.
The mining machinery of the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates, Ltd at Pilgrims Rest was electrically driven, but had been put out of order at the beginning of the war. Similarly, essential parts of the machines had been removed. Nevertheless, there was much material left which could be adapted and which came in most useful. Amongst other things was found a hand-punching machine originally used for striking round holes for rivets into metal and which worked on the screw and press principle, like a copying press. Similarly there was an electric lathe which could however also be worked by hand. This came in most useful for making a punch to strike holes of a diameter slightly less than a pound piece. With the help of these two machines it was therefore possible to produce the gold discs or blanks which would ultimately become the veldponde. A furnace was at hand, as also crucibles, while a small hand operated rolling press was put together by which the cast gold bars could be rolled between two cylinders into strips of suitable thickness for the punching of the blanks.
On the mechanical side Mr Kloppers had the assistance of two burghers "bittereinders" (die-hards), Messrs W. Reid and D. Graham, who acted as mechanic and smelter respectively. In addition, an American assayer, Mr W. Cooney, helped at the outset with testing of the fineness of the gold. Later on, however, this was no longer necessary as the gold had been refined and brought as nearly as possible up to 24 carat.
The complete coining process involved the melting and refining of the gold in the furnace house of the mine. The refined gold was poured out of the gold crucibles on to flat stones. Thereafter it was thinned down in the small hand operated rolling mill, which was a very difficult task. As the gold thus obtained was hard and brittle, it also had to be annealed by a process of reheating and slow cooling.
Considerable difficulty was experienced with the Lydenburg gold which developed large and small cracks during the rolling process, thus making it useless for coinage. After much experimentation it was found that by adding a little mercury sublimate, an antiseptic from the ambulance stores, to the crucibles, the gold became soft and could be rolled without cracking, though the sublimate immediately evaporated in the process.
The rolled gold was thereupon subjected to the punch, which produced the gold discs or blanks, the scrap being re-melted and used over again. The discs having been slightly smaller than the pound but also slightly thicker and consisting of almost pure gold, had a gold value of approximately 22/- each.
In the meantime the dies had also been produced by Mr Kloppers. At first two steel cylinders were made which fitted into the punching machine, and could take the place of the disc punch. The bottom cylinder was rigid, while the top one could be pressed down on the lower one. After the cylinder had been turned, the steel was softened by means of heating and slow cooling to make it soft enough for the engraving operations. The official designs Z.A.R. 1902 and Een Pond respectively were then engraved upon the two cylinders in reverse. Thereafter, the completed dies had to be hardened again by means of re-heating and sudden cooling in water or oil. This proved to be one of the most difficult tasks of the whole operation. For want of the necessary equipment, his dies cracked six times in succession during the cooling process. Mr Kloppers was prepared to abandon the plan, when he decided to make one more attempt which actually proved a success. So successfully had they been hardened that this one set could be used throughout the existence of the Field Mint, without showing any sign of wear.
As the blanks would have tended to expand laterally when inserted between the dies and subjected to the pressure of the hand press, and would thus have increased in size beyond that of the pound pieces, and also have left raised edges around the impressions, Mr Kloppers saw the necessity of having a collar, which would at the same time give the coins a milled edge. A circle, ring or collar of the size and depth of the pound piece was cut out of steel. The inside was neatly grooved by means of a file. Thereupon it was hardened like the dies and fitted over the lower die.
The gold blanks or discs were now placed inside the ring or collar and over the lower die, while the upper die was brought down forcibly upon the blank be means of the screw. The discs still expanded but could not go beyond the size of the collar. As a result of the pressure applied, the gold was forced into the grooves of the collar, thus giving the coin the desired milled edge too. Naturally it needed experimentation to determine how much pressure had to be applied. Though a bigger machine was adopted for the purpose later on, and yielded better results, it remained a most arduous operation as everything had to be done by manual labour and the sweat of their brows.
Throughout this production process, the weight of the coins was checked repeatedly. In all 986 veldponde were produced in this fashion. Upon their completion they were partly forwarded to the Government and were partly exchanged among the burgers of the Rand commandos for ordinary pounds.
As stated earlier, the activities of the Field Mint were subject to the supervision of a Mint Commission of which Mr A. G. E. Pienaar was chairman, the other members being Messrs. J. S. Joubert, P. Minnaar (Secretary), and J. H. Barter. (Treasurer). In the mornings they would weigh gold and deliver it to the Master, while in the afternoons they took delivery of the days output and the gold scrap, all of which was duly weighed again. In addition, they reported to General Muller from time to time. So conscientious did everybody concerned carry out his responsibilities that during the whole period of the existence of this Field Mint, less than two ounces of gold were lost.
In recognition of their services, the Government presented a clover leaf shaped medal, which had been produced by the Field Mint, to General Muller, Messrs A. G. E. Pienaar, P. J. Kloppers, W. Reid, D. Graham, W. Cooney, A. Marshall and W. Barter, respectively, with the veldpond monogram Z.A.R. 1902 impressed in the centre of the one side and the inscription Geschonken door de Regering der Z. A. R. (Presented by the Government of the S. A. R.) around the monogram while on the other side there appeared Staatsmunt te Velde 1902 and the name of the recipient. In addition, Messrs Pienaar and Kloppers received a further medal consisting merely of a veldpond disc, with the veldpond monogram, Z. A. R. 1902 impressed on the one side. On the other there appeared, in the case of Mr Pienaar, his name and Staatsmunt te Velde, and of Mr Kloppers, his name and Muntmeester, Staatsmunt te Velde.
ADDENDUM: When peace was declared on May 31st 1902, there was still some uncoined gold left. As the Commando had not surrendered as yet, coinage operations were continued until June 7th or 8th, when only 5s worth of gold (the equivalent of a quarter of a pound piece) remained, which obviously could not be coined. This last remaining piece of gold has been in the possession of Mr. Kloppers ever since.
The day before the final surrender, Mr. Kloppers personally handed the one pair of dies which had been used throughout the Mints existence, to General Muller. So successfully had they been hardened that they were both still intact at the time, possibly also because they had only been used on virtually pure, soft, Pilgrims Rest Gold.
The coinage presses were left behind at Pilgrims Rest, where the larger of the two, which had been specially adapted for the purpose, is said still to be found in the machine shop and to be actually in use.
This article is written by none other than Prof E.H.D Arndt and taken from his book, The South African Mints, published in 1939.