S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Bettel, Mr William (metallurgy, analytical chemistry)

Born: 1853, England.
Died: 1 December 1912, Johannesburg, South Africa.

William Bettel, a graduate of the College of Science in London, appears to have come to Johannesburg in the early eighteen-nineties. He practiced as a consulting metallurgist, assayer and analyst with his own laboratory, and at times worked for, among others, Messrs. Eckstein and Co. and the African Gold Recovery Co. In March 1894 he was elected as the first president (for 1894-1895) of the newly founded Chemical and Metallurgical Society of South Africa, dealing in his presidential address with the chemistry of the extractive metallurgy of gold. He remained a staunch supporter of the society for some years, serving as vice-president in 1895/6 and 1896/7 and as a member of council until 1902.

During these years Bettel presented papers before the society on "Sweep smelting and refining of gold, silver and platinum metals" (Proceedings, 1894, Vol. 1, pp. 18-22), "On the technical analysis of cyanide working solutions" (1895, Vol. 1, pp. 163-170), "Notes on the estimation of sulphides and cyanates in commercial cyanide" (as co-author with W.R. Feldtmann*; 1896, Vol. 1, pp. 267-271, 272-276), "Estimation of oxygen in working cyanide solutions" (1896, Vol. 1, pp. 276-281), "Fire assaying of gold-bearing materials" (1898), and "A reverberatory furnace for smelting gold slimes" (Journal, 1899, Vol. 2, p. 41). Other publications by him included "Separation of gold from the platinum metals" (Chemical News, 1887) and five papers in German journals between 1881 and 1902.

Bettel is credited with finding the first small amounts of platinum and osmiridium in a gravity concentrate of gold bearing conglomerate from the Witwatersrand as early as 1892. However, recovery of these metals commenced only in the nineteen-twenties. In November 1906 the South African Mining and Engineering Journal reported that he had assayed several samples of chrome-iron ore from an olivine gabbro of the Bushveld Igneous Complex and had found up to 1,86 g/ton of platinum - the first finding of platinum-group metals in these deposits.

From 1896 to 1898 Bettel was an examiner in chemical technology and metallurgy for the first mining examination of the University of the Cape of Good Hope, for candidates of the South African School of Mines (then part of the South African College, Cape Town). In addition to his work in metallurgy and chemistry he later wrote extensively on the possibility of establishing an iron smelting industry in Johannesburg. He remained in the city until his death in 1912 and was survived by his wife, Clara Helen Bettel, and five children..

List of sources:
Bartholomew, R., Hieber, R. & Lee, C. The Merensky Reef and JCI. Geobulletin, 1989, Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 29-31.

Chemical and Metallurgical Society of South Africa. Proceedings, 1894-1899, Vol. 1-2.

General directory of South Africa, 1908, 1911.

Goode, R.C.J. The institute - in retrospect and prospect. Journal of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, 1968, Vol. 69, pp. 25-42.

Google scholar. http://scholar.google.co.za Publications by W. Bettel.

National Archives Repository, Pretoria (TAB). Source MHG, Reference 21464. Estate documents, William Bettel.

Rosenthal, E. Southern African dictionary of national biography. London: F. Warne, 1966.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Scientific African, January 1896, p. 45, untitled note.

Standard encyclopaedia of southern Africa (SESA). Cape Town: NASOU, 1970-1976.

University of the Cape of Good Hope. Calendar, 1896/7,1897/8.

Viljoen, M.J. & Schurmann, L.W. Platinum-group metals. In M.G.C. Wilson & C.R. Anhaeusser (eds), The mineral resources of South Africa (6th ed., pp. 532-568). Pretoria: Council for Geoscience, 1998.

Compiled by: C. Plug