The last few hundred years have seen considerable speculation for precious metals on Table Mountain. Several remnants of these quests for treasure can still be found scattered on the slopes of Devil's Peak, Chapman's Peak and at the Silvermine Nature Reserve.
Words by Fiona McIntosh
Photographs by Shaen Adey
Siyabona Africa recommended book on Table Mountain:
Table Mountain Activities
Authors: Shaen Adey and Fiona McIntosh.
Copyright © 2004 Struik Publishers Cape Town.
The best known treasure-hunting period was the brief nineteenth century gold rush that followed the announcement by Captain Glendinnings' that he had found gold on his property at Camps Bay. In 1887 The Lion's Head Gold Syndicate dug several shafts to extract rock, which, with much anticipation, was taken to Wilkinson's Mill in Kloof Street where it was crushed and assayed. Small quantities of gold were extracted but the project quickly proved to be uneconomical.
In 1891 the Cape Town Public Works Committee decided that the open shaft on Lion's Head was a source of danger and instructed the Gold Syndicate to fill it in or fence it off. A year later the land was sold and Cape Town's prominent landmark left unscathed. I have searched the slopes above Fresnaye around the neck between Lion's Head and Signal Hill but have never found remains of the shaft (which was apparently bulldozed in the 1950s to avoid accident) so good luck if you seek to verify this!
The remains of the old tin mine on Devil's Peak are more interesting, though the mine itself - opened in 1912 - was shortlived. Photographs show a major shaft out of which the Vredehoek Tin Company extracted tin from crushed ore. Flat terraces and concrete foundations, a small earthwork dam and various other concrete structures are still visible on Prospect Hill, accessible from St James Road in Vredehoek.
If you wish to go exploring, the manganese mine near the East Fort on Chapman's Peak Drive is possibly the most interesting of the treasure-hunting sites. The mine is also marked on most maps of the mountain. Manganese was discovered in the Constantiaberg area in 1873 and was then mined in Hout Bay between 1909 and 1911. The ruins of the manganese ore jetty, where the ore was loaded up after being sent down from the mine on a chute, are easily visible on the east side of the bay beneath the shafts.
Park your car at the parking area on the left-hand side just beyond East Fort - a couple of hundred metres before the toll plaza - and take the old gravel forestry road up the hill in the direction of Hout Bay. A cairn that's about 150m (492ft) beyond the first bend will take you up to a series of zigzags. Follow the path until, after a bend to the left, it divides. Take the lower path, which is blocked by a line of stones and continue along a terrace to a hole in the fence. Once through the fence you will see evidence of old mine heaps.
Continue over these until you see an obvious gash in the cliffs on the right. This is the most impressive of the numerous mine shafts in the vicinity and you will see old timbers and the remains of the corrugated iron high above you. The shaft itself is not deep and the entrance is adorned with beautiful ferns. If you have any energy left you can scramble up the hill to explore other mine shafts, but take note that these are even more inaccessible.
If you return to the main path and up the zigzags in the direction of Constantia Nek, you'll come across several more dumps and evidence of manganese extraction but, to be honest, you'll find the walk more interesting than the mine dumps themselves.
Jan van Riebeeck's records indicate that the Dutch East India Company was prospecting for precious metals as early as 1654. Much excitement was generated when it was thought that silver had been discovered on Table Mountain, but disappointment soon followed. The search for silver was abandoned until Simon van der Stel was appointed governor of the Cape and shafts were dug at Silvermine, on Steenberg, in 1687. Silver was never extracted from the area, now the Silvermine Nature Reserve, but the mine is still marked on most maps.
Should you wish to view the old prospecting shaft, take the Old Wagon Trail from the reserve entrance (turn left as you come past the ticket office) and follow it round past the picnic spots and the nek between Bokkop and its neighbour until the path drops to a lower level and round a buttress (roughly an hour from the start). Alternatively, continue south from the reserve entrance (in the direction of Noordhoek) along Ou Kaapse Weg for about 500m (1 640ft) until you come to a gravel road on your right and ascend the slopes this way.
Table Mountain Earrings
Lady Anne Barnard - the first woman to climb Table Mountain - was extremely fond of collecting the white quartz pebbles, that are found on the summit, to use as earrings. Today, anyone walking around the summit plateau and the other peaks of the Cape Peninsula will also stumble upon numerous such pretty stones. However, these days Table Mountain is a national park, so, unlike Lady Anne, you can only admire your finds and then leave them for others to enjoy.