S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Struben, Mr Hendrik Wilhelm (economic geology)

Born: 9 October 1840, Lower Rhine, Germany.
Died: 18 October 1915, Cape Town, South Africa.
Mr Hendrik Wilhelm Struben

Hendrik Wilhelm (also known as Henry William or "Harry") Struben was a son of Johan H.M. Struben, an official of the South African Republic, and his wife Frances S. Beattie. He was born on his father's yacht on the Lower Rhine. The family emigrated to Natal in 1850, but settled in Pretoria five years later. Hendrik became a transport rider between Natal and the Transvaal and in 1862 acquired the farm The Willows near Pretoria where he practiced progressive farming. Between 1859 and 1868 he also prospected for minerals and found some gold, copper and iron in various places. In 1872 he and Piet Marais bought two farms in the Lydenburg district. He married Mary L. Cole in January 1868 and they eventually had eight children. In October 1876 he was elected to represent Pretoria East in the Volksraad - the parliament of the South African Republic.

Having lost mucht of his wealth during the turmoil of the First Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881) Struben began investing his remaining funds into mining ventures on the Witwatersrand, with his younger brother, Frederick P.T. (Fred) Struben*, doing the prospecting and mining. They formed the Sterkfontein Junction Mining Syndicate in 1884 to prospect on, among others, the farms Sterkfontein and Swartkrans. At that time, like almost all other prospecters, they concentrated their efforts on quartz reefs, not suspecting that gold on the Witwatersrand occurred mainly in conglomerate beds. In August 1884 Fred discovered a promising quartz reef on the farm Wilgespruit, south-east of Kromdraai, which they named Confidence Reef. The Transvaal government promised state aid for its exploitation in 1885, but the results were disappointing. However, their activities helped to attract other prospectors to the region, which led to the discovery of the extremely rich Main Reef conglomerate on the farm Langlaagte in 1886.

Hendrik Struben became a gold-mining pioneer of the Witwatersrand. In March 1887 he was elected to fill a vacancy on the first Diggers' Committee in Johannesburg. In October that year he was elected as the first president of the Chamber of Mines, formed to collect information on and to promote the mining industries of the Transvaal, particularly on the Witwatersrand. He became a board member of several early mining companies. However, in 1889 he sold most of his interests, including his mining rights on the farms Driefontein and Vogelstruisfontein, and settled in Rosebank, Cape Town, for the rest of his life. His activities were limited by health problems, but he was a member of the South African Philosophical Society for a few years during the early eighteen-nineties. In 1893 he made his only contribution to geology, in the form of a chapter on "The mineral wealth of the Transvaal" in Diamonds and gold in the Transvaal (pp. 159-162), by T. Reunert*. His autobiographical Recollections of adventures: Pioneering and development in South Africa, 1850-1911 (Cape Town, 1920) was revised and edited by his daughter Edith. Strubenskop in Pretoria was named after him.

List of sources:
Appelgryn, M.S. Johannesburg: Origins and early management, 1886-1899. Pretoria: University of South Africa, 1984.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 3, 1977.

Hall, A.L. A bibliography of South African geology to the end of 1920. Pretoria: Geological Survey, Memoir No. 18, 1922.

Heese, J.A. South African genealogies. Pretoria and Stellenbosch, 1986-2005.

Rogers, A.W. The pioneers of South African geology and their work. Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa, 1937, Annexure to Volume 39, pp. 1-139.

Shorten, J.R. The Johannesburg saga. Johannesburg: J.R. Shorten, 1970.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

South African Philosophical Society. Transactions, 1890-1892, Vol. 6-8: Lists of members.

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

Compiled by: C. Plug