Charles John Alford was a British geologist and mining engineer, and a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. He was sent to South Africa in April 1888 by European investors to inspect two mining properties, one on the Witwatersrand and the other recently acquired by the West Moodie Gold and Exploration Company. He soon settled in Barberton, Mpumalanga, where in June 1888 he was one of the three leading figures involved in founding the Barberton Literary and Scientific Society (1888-1889) and was elected its first president. His inaugural address dealt with the origin of the earth, the formation of geological strata and the fossil record, with some references to the local geology. At the end of his presidency, in June 1889, he proposed that the Society consider establishing a museum and reference library, but nothing came of these plans. At this time Alford left Barberton, though he remained in the vicinity for a while.
During 1889 and 1890 he visited various places of geological interest in the South African Republic (Transvaal), publishing his observations in the Witwatersrand Mining and Metallurgical Review: "The geology of Witwatersrand district" (Vol. 1(1), January 1890, pp. 1-6); "The geological features of the De Kaap goldfields" (Vol. 1(2), February 1890, pp. 1-3; Vol. 1(4), April 1890, pp. 1-4), dealing with the area around Barberton; "The geology of the Sheba Mine" (Vol. 1(5), May 1890, p. 7); "Notes on a salt deposit 25 miles north of Pretoria, Transvaal, South Africa" (Vol. 1(6), June 1890, pp. 1-2), dealing with the soda-ash deposits in the Tswaing impact crater; and "Notes on an expedition to Zoutpansberg" (Vol. 1(10), October 1890, pp. 1-5). The first two of these articles had already been published in the Mining Journal (London) during 1889. Alford's studies culminated in his book Geological features of the Transvaal, (London, 1891, 69p). After introductory chapters on the classification of rocks and structural geology, it deals with the geology of the Witwatersrand and the Zoutpansberg, as in his earlier articles, as well as the coal deposits and economically important mineral products of the Transvaal. There is also a geological map of the country. The preface places the author in Johannesburg in October 1890.
Alford appears to have returned to Britain shortly thereafter, as he joined the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1891 with an address in London. However, from June 1892 to June 1893 he was in Johannesburg again - the letters he wrote from there to his daughter during this period are housed in the Strange Collection of the Johannesburg Public Library. Subsequently he visited Zimbabwe to investigate coal and gold deposits. This led to the publication in 1894 of a "Report on an expedition in search of coal in the district immediately south of the Zambezi" for the British South Africa Company, as well as a note in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society (1894) on gold-bearing rocks from Mashonaland. Other publications by him included a paper in Portuguese, "Da Durban a Beira" in the Boletim da Sociedade de Geographia de Lisboa (1893); some remarks on the Lucknow goldfields, New South Wales, in the Transactions of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy (1899); "Gold mining in Egypt" (Ibid, 1902); and a book, Mining law of the Brittish Empire (London, 1906, 300p), which dealt in some detail with the four colonies now forming part of South Africa.