August Prister, an Austrian professor of chemistry, came to South Africa from Trieste, Italy, before 1897 and settled in Johannesburg for several years to practise as a technical chemist. By January 1897 he was a member of the Chemical and Metallurgical Society of South Africa (founded in 1894), and was still a member when the society resumed its activities after the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) as the Chemical Metallurgical and Mining Society of South Africa. He read several papers before the society during 1898-1905. Although he spoke several European languages he had some difficulty with English, which led one rude member to remark that "Professor Prister will now address the meeting in several foreign languages" (Goode, 1969, p. 512). His first paper, delivered in January 1898, was on "The manufacture of nitro-explosives" (Proceedings, Vol. 2, pp. 191-204). He discussed the problem of having to import the basic materials for explosive manufacture (mainly glycerine, sulpher and sodium nitrate) and his paper helped to reduce the animosity of mine managers against the recently established explosives factory at Modderfontein and its State monopoly. His second paper, "The coagulation and rapid settlement of slimes" appeared in the society's Journal (Vol. 1, pp. 82-83, 131-133) in 1898. In December 1903 he read "A colorimetric method for the determination of the gold in cyanide solutions" (Journal, Vol. 4, pp. 235-237). Though based on various earlier methods, Prister regarded it as practically new. His next paper, "An industrial method for the determination of oxygen in working cyanide solutions" (Journal, Vol. 4, pp. 364-369) was delivered in April 1904 and described the adaptation of an existing method to local conditions. During the next year he contributed "Some studies on the white precipitate formed in the zinc boxes of cyanide works" (with Dr. B. Bay*) and "Some suggestions on the cyaniding of the tailings" (Journal, 1904/5, Vol. 5).
By 1897 Prister had also joined the Geological Society of South Africa (founded in 1895), and he was still listed as a member in 1906. Though he did not regard himself as a geologist he made a number of contributions to the society's Transactions. Several of these consisted of notes with comments on papers by Dr G.A.F. Molengraaff*, David Draper*, M.S. Allison*, and W.E. Bleloch* on a variety of topics. He also presented "Preliminary notes on glacial phenomena at Pretoria and on the Rand" (1898, Vol. 3, pp. 70-82 and 109-121) and "A few observations on two pieces of sandstone found...near Orange Grove, Johannesburg" (1898-1899, Vol. 4, pp. 173-174). However, his most important geological paper was entitled "Notes on the origin and formation of the Witwatersrand auriferous deposits" (1898-1899, Vol. 4, pp. 19-36). In this paper he reviewed the various theories relating to the origin of the gold deposits and offered some ideas of his own. He added his support to the view of Bleloch and others that the banket originated as a series of shoreline deposits, and hypothesized that these were distributed by tidal currents flowing westwards in a large bay extending from the present Lebombo Mountains to Potchefstroom. His views elicited some comments by Franklin White* and criticisms by Julius Kuntz*.
In August 1899, just before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in October that year, Prister offered his services to the government of the South African Republic (Transvaal) as a manufacturer of explosives for the defense of the country. It seems that his offer was not taken up, for in April 1900 he applied for employment at the government's ammunition factory.