Alfred James was an early expert on the treatment of refractory gold ores with cyanide. He became technical manager of the Cassel Gold Extracting Company of Glasgow, and represented the company in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. In 1890 he erected a small plant at Salisbury Mine, Johannesburg, to test the MacArthur-Forrest process, which consisted basically of leaching the gold from its ores with a weak solution of potassium cyanide and precipitating it on zinc shavings. Small amounts of tailings (crushed ore from which the gold had been extracted by the methods then in general use) from various mines were treated more or less successfully, though the commercial success of the process remained in doubt. The investigation was continued later that year, using the same plant, by George A. Darling*.
After gaining further experience in New Zealand James returned to Johannesburg on a brief visit during October 1895. He delivered a paper, "The direct treatment by cyanide and dry crushing", before the Chemical and Metallurgical Society of South Africa, which was published in its Proceedings (Vol. 1, pp. 187-191). He also published papers on his work in the Transactions of the (British) Institution of Mining and Metallurgy (1894/5, 1899), and the American Institute of Mining Engineers (1898). These papers, updated and expanded, formed the basis of his book, Cyanide practice, published in London in 1901, with a second edition following the next year. The book contains many references to the Witwatersrand mining industry.