S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

North, Mr Frederic William (geology, mining engineering)

Born: 1843, Bilston, Staffordshire, United Kingdom.
Died: June 1917, United Kingdom.

Frederic William North, British mining engineer and geologist, was educated at Wolverhampton and completed an apprenticeship in mining engineering under his father, William North, with whom he became a partner in 1866. Frederic became an experienced mining engineer, particularly in British coal mining, and was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. In 1877 he was contracted by the British government to investigate and report on the Stormberg coalfields in the Cape Colony. He concentrated his investigations along the Indwe River, but the work was cut short by the Ninth Frontier War of 1877-1878. His findings were reported to the parliament of the Cape Colony in the Colonial Mining Engineer's report on the coal-field of the Stormbergen (G47-78, 1878, 37 pp, 58 figures). In 1878 North was asked by the administrator of the crown colony of Griqualand West to look for coal and bore for water in the Kimberley area. Upon his return to England he provided the first reliable engineering information about the diamond fields in a paper read before the South Staffordshire and East Worcestershire Institute of Mining Engineers in Birmingham. The paper, "Kimberley diamond mine, South Africa", was published as a pamphlet (1878).

The next year North obtained a contract for the construction of the Port Elizabeth water works and, with J. Mackie, supervised the construction of the Port-Elizabeth-Van Staden's River pipeline. In 1880 the government of Natal appointed him as mining engineer, with the task of reporting on the coalfields of that colony. The investigation occupied him for 15 months and was described in a comprehensive Report upon the coal-fields of Klip River, Weenen, Umvoti, and Victoria counties (Natal Government Publications, Pietermaritzburg, September 1881), with two maps at scales of 15 miles to the inch (1:950 400) and 4 miles to the inch (1:253 440) respectively. A preliminary "Report upon the coal fields and deposits of iron stone in the Colony of Natal" was published in the Natal Government Gazette of 21 September 1880, listing 26 geological sections observed around present day Dundee. Analyses of his samples, performed by P.D. Hahn*, were published in the Government Gazette of 26 October that year. Extracts from this preliminary report were included in the Natal Almanac for 1881, while two short papers on the investigation were published in the Colliery Guardian in 1880 and 1882. He found that about 2 000 000 000 tons of workable coal occurred over an area of some 3500 square kilometers and that much of it was suitable for use in steam locomotives. His report remained the most authoritative publication on the Natal coalfields for some thirty years and led to the founding of the Dundee Coal Company in 1888, increased use of Natal coal on the Natal Government Railways, and helped to establish Durban as a coaling port.

North still showed an interest in the development of the mineral resources of Natal in 1906. That same year he requested a pension from the government of the colony.

List of sources:
Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 3, 1977.

Guest, B. Commercial coal mining in Natal: A centennial appraisal. Natalia, 1988, Vol. 18, pp. 41-58.

Mendelssohn, S. South African bibliography. London, 1910.

Natal Government Gazette, 21 September 1880, pp. 677-681; 26 October 1880, pp. 785-787.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to F.W. North.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Price, R.R.M. Catalogue of publications of the Geological Survey and government publications dealing with earth sciences. Pretoria: Council for Geoscience, 1997.

Wyley, C. A bibliography of contemporary writings on the natural history of Natal and Zululand in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Journal of Natal and Zuly History, 1990-1991, Vol. 13, pp. 91-110.

Compiled by: C. Plug