History of Kruger Millions in Barberton
PRESIDENT PAUL KRUGER. The Anglo-Boer war and events at the time gave rise to the legend concerning the existence of the 'Kruger Millions', which many firmly believed were buried somewhere in the Lowveld. Although history has disproved the existence of the treasure, searchers are still hunting. When the British occupied Pretoria on 5 June 1900, Lord Alfred Milner (1852-1925) established that gold to the value of approximately 800 000 pounds had been removed from the S A Mint and National Bank between 29 May and 4 June 1900. Gold to the value of 2,5 million pounds was confiscated from gold mines and according to documentary proof l 294 000 pounds was removed from the S A Mint and National Bank. Gold to the value of about 2 million pounds had disappeared!
Milner did everything in his power to find the gold but rumours began to circulate that the gold was buried somewhere. An event which seemed to substantiate this was a declaration made by a certain John Holtzhausen on 29 September 1905, while in prison in Kimberley, for the theft of a horse and carriage. He was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment. He maintained that he and two others, a man by the name of Pretorius, a veld cornet, and a certain Swartz, were requested by the Republic government to bury gold and diamonds to the value of 2 million pounds. He said that when he had been arrested for the theft, he was on his way to fetch the treasure which was buried fifty miles north of the Blyde River and north of Leydsdorp. He said that Pretorius had died in the war and Swartz had been hanged for the murder of a man called van Niekerk. Holtzhausen was ostensibly the only one left to lead the authorities to the treasure.
Holtzhausen's story was apparently a tale made up by him and it is suspected that he had heard about the murder trial in which Philip Swartz was involved and tried to obtain release from prison. No one knows what happened to him or the treasure. The case against Swartz was heard before Judge Sir James Rose-Innes.
The story began during September 1900 when Philip Swartz and one Pretorius joined General Ben Viljoen's commando. After President Paul Kruger left for Mozambique for his trip to Europe, Swartz and Pretorius were amongst the group who were sent to Komatipoort by train while General Viljoen and his cavalry went on their way to Leydsdorp via Hectorspruit where they crossed the Crocodile River.
A certain number of burgers fled across the Mozambique border to avoid the British and gave themselves up to the Portuguese. Some of them went back across the border to rejoin their commando. Swartz and Pretorius also came back across the border and headed on foot for the Lebombo mountains near Komatipoort and from there in the direction of Leydsdorp.
On the way they came upon a human skeleton with a weathered leather bag close by. In the bag they found three smaller bags containing diamonds and five roughly moulded gold bars. They shared the treasure between them, but decided that in view of the war they would bury it and return after the war to claim it. They went on and buried the treasure east of the Blyde River on the banks of the Brak Spruit.
During the war Swartz was wounded, taken prisoner and sent to Ceylon, while Pretorius was killed in action. While Swartz was in the prisoner of war camp on Ceylon, he wrote to a girl-friend telling her that his days of financial insecurity would be over once he returned to South Africa. His letter was intercepted by the British forces and they resolved to keep an eye on him when he returned.
He was released in 1903 and upon his arrival in the country, found that his girl-friend had married a man called van Dyk. Her sister was married to a Fanie van Niekerk, and Swartz decided that she was really the girl he wanted. He told her that in a vision he had seen that she was soon to be a widow. He began making plans to go and find the treasure he and Pretorius had hidden and the expedition would provide the perfect opportunity for him to get rid of Fanie van Niekerk.
The expedition was arranged and consisted of Swartz, van Niekerk, James Colville, who financed the trip, and a man by the name of Donovan. What Swartz did not know, however, was that Donovan was a member of the Transvaal Detective Service and was detailed to watch Swartz.
On 4 May 1903 they set out for Pietersburg and during the train journey Donovan learnt what Swartz' real intention was concerning the treasure. This put Donovan on the alert. From Pietersburg they travelled by mule wagon via Leydsdorp to Blyde River where they arrived on the night of 16 May. The next morning they set out on foot to Brak Spruit, about 32 kilometres further on. They arrived in the afternoon and while the camp was set up, Swartz invited van Niekerk to come along with him to shoot something for the pot. It was the last time that van Niekerk was seen alive.
While those left behind were setting up camp they heard two shots from the south-west. A little while later a further two shots were heard further east, and then silence. The men in the camp presumed that the two hunters had shot some animal. They did not return and it was thought that they had lost their way. However, much later that night Swartz turned up alone. Van Niekerk, he said, must have lost direction and climbed into a tree to await the daylight. Donovan had a presentiment that all was not well and would watch Swartz closely.
During the night shots were fired to indicate to van Niekerk in which direction the camp was situated, but by daybreak there was no sign of him. They left a note in the camp for him and went in search of the treasure. From the top of a hill a further hill could be seen in the distance and Swartz asked the group to wait for him while he went in search of the landmarks. After a while the group followed him but he had disappeared!
Understandably the group was incensed at being left in the veld and went back to camp. After they had broken camp they went to find the mule wagon which had been left on the bank of the Blyde River. They found a note left by 'van Niekerk' placed in the spokes of a wheel. He wrote that he was tired of the fruitless search for the treasure and was going back to Johannesburg. He had to go to Bulawayo and in view of the fact that time was of the essence he was going on ahead. Donovan pocketed the note.
Examination of the wagon revealed that ammunition, blankets, brandy and several other items were missing, but no sign of van Niekerk, who wore very distinctive boots.
Donovan and his group took the shortest route to Leydsdorp to reach there before Swartz and van Niekerk turned up. After they had passed through the Olifants and Selati Rivers, they came upon a black man who, when questioned, told them that a white man had passed that way a short time before. Shortly after, a shot was heard and Donovan recognised it as coming from his own revolver. They found Swartz at a creek with his feet in the water. He looked tired and dishevelled and his shirt was torn. They immediately wanted to know where he had been. He explained that they should have followed him. He had removed the treasure and buried it next to the river. After this he had taken the shortest route to Leydsdorp to wait for them there.
The group arrived at Leydsdorp on 22 May and Donovan reported van Niekerk's disappearance to the police. The police were not keen on the task of searching in the bush for the man and expressed the opinion that lion would probably have devoured him.
At Pietersburg Swartz asked for change, and tendered two gold coins, which Donovan found strange. He knew that Swartz did not have any money and that van Niekerk had had two gold coins. During the journey home by train, Donovan asked van Dyk to get Swartz out of the compartment for a while and keep him busy. Donovan found Swartz' note book in his suitcase and compared the writing with that of the note that 'van Niekerk' had supposedly written. The handwriting was identical!
Upon their arrival in Johannesburg, Donovan reported the matter to his Chief, Howard Chadwick. An official search was launched and van Niekerk's remains were found. Although the body had been damaged by wild animals, it was possible to identify that van Niekerk had been killed by a bullet from Swartz' rifle. Swartz was arrested and charged with the premeditated murder of van Niekerk and sentenced to death. He was executed on 15 February 1904.
This murder case and the John Holtzhausen story, fired the imagination of many as well as that of the writer, Gustav Preller. In 'The Star' of 7 November 1931, he wrote of the important role he played in preventing the gold of the ZAR from landing in the hands of the British forces. This story gave the impression of being a true story and the headline in 'The Star' proclaimed 'A True Story of the Kruger Millions' by Gustav Preller, who helped to move the gold from Pretoria.
In the article he said that on about 28 May 1900 he was given instructions to obtain transportation for a very 'important load' to be removed from Pretoria. Armed with a pistol he dramatically commandeered a mule wagon in Sunnyside, drawn by two mules. That night one load of gold was transported by the mule wagon, and four loads by a horse cab, to a waiting train on Pretoria station.
In the Preller collection, in the State Archives in Pretoria, there is a typed copy of the article in which Preller says: 'I think it was on 28 May 1900, because on 31 May I left Pretoria ... say it was 28 May. In any case it does not seem that the precise date is important now'. The precise date is indeed important as it is a historic fact that the gold was removed on 4 June 1900, a day before the British forces occupied Pretoria.
In his 'Memoirs of the Boer War', General J C Smuts said that the British forces had progressed as far as Six Mile Spruit on 4 June 1900, just outside of Pretoria. Here the Boer forces resisted the British to keep them from entering Pretoria, so that there was enough time to remove the money and gold which belonged to the government, as well as a large amount of ammunition and cannons, that were still in Pretoria. The removal of the money and gold belonging to the government from the National Bank was Smuts' specific responsibility.
Ernest Meyer, Master of the Mint in 1900, was involved in the removal of the money and gold from Pretoria. On 25 October 1949, as a result of what Preller wrote, Meyer drew up a document in which the removal of the money and gold on 4 June 1900, is described.
In Meyer's version of the events General Smuts, who was State Attorney at that time, was left behind in command at Pretoria, while the government headquarters moved quietly and almost unobserved to Machadodorp. On 2 June 1900 the British forces were approaching Pretoria from the South. The Mint was still in operation and as was usual was closed on Saturday 2 June. He was amazed that no preparations had been made for the removal of the gold. The British would enter Pretoria within the next few days and Meyer reported this to Jules Perrin, head of the Mint. Perrin's answer was that he had not received any instructions to remove the gold and that they would have to submit to the authorities whoever they might be.
On the Sunday the sound of cannon fire could be heard and on Monday morning 4 June, reports were received of fighting at Six Mile Spruit, occupation by the British was imminent.
The staff at the Mint started the day at the usual hour of 7 am and Perrin distributed the metal to the different departments for processing. Perrin and the office staff then went home to return at 9 am, while the technical staff continued working. During Perrin's absence, Meyer took the opportunity to warn the smelter and purifier not to proceed with the processing of the gold, but to await the directions of the State Attorney. Everyone at the Mint was willing to co-operate as they were also at a loss to understand Perrin's inexplicable behaviour.
Meyer proceeded to General Smuts' home in Sunnyside and informed him of the situation. In shocked tones he exclaimed "What, has the gold not been taken away yet!" He told Meyer to return to the Mint immediately and to await him there.
Smuts arrived at the Mint just before 9 am and after a few words to Perrin and Hugo, the National Bank manager, Smuts ordered the gold to be collected, weighed, recorded and made ready for despatch to the Pretoria station.
The weighing and recording of the gold took time and consisted of gold bars, unprocessed gold and approximately 100 000 Kruger pounds to the value of three quarters of a million pounds sterling.
At 12 o'clock all was in readiness and the gold loaded into the train's baggage compartment. Meyer and an armed guard of between 4 and 8 men travelled in the passenger compartment. Thus the last train under the flag of the Republic left Pretoria, amidst the thunder of cannon fire, taking the precious freight to safety.
The train arrived at Machadodorp at 2 am where Kruger was residing. Here Meyer assisted with the payment in gold to several claimants and with the help of the auditors and treasury personnel had a busy time.
After Meyer left for the front on 17 July 1900, to join Max Theunissen's Scouts, Commandant General Meindert Noome, Chief Clerk to the Auditor General, took over from Meyer.
Noome left a diary in which he had noted clearly and carefully in detail that on 31 August 1900 the gold was handed over to a German firm, Wilken and Ackerman, in Lourenco Marques, (Maputo). There were 62 cases of gold and this firm credited the account of the government of the Republic for the full value. They supplied the Boer forces with a large amount of provisions and necessities amongst which was a total of 44 000 bags of flour. Large amounts were made available to burghers who fled to Europe.
Many Lowveld burghers and their families availed themselves of the opportunity and boarded the 'Zaire' and sailed to Lisbon where they arrived on 25 April 1901. Originally the Portuguese wanted to intern the 89 burghers, 56 women and 172 children on their arrival in Lisbon at a place called Sagres, in the south-western corner of Portugal. However for practical reasons the plan was abandoned and the group was taken to Caidas da Rainha by train. From there they were transported by horse - drawn carriages. The streets were lined with Portuguese, some crying and others tossing flowers to the Boers in sympathy. These refugees returned to South Africa from Lisbon on 18 July 1902.
The myths and legends surrounding the 'Kruger Millions' persist to fire the imagination and many believe that the treasure is buried somewhere in the Lowveld.
Acknowledgement Barberton Museum