18 February 2013 by Chris Marais

The Tale of Fearless Fred

This blog is in celebration of Fred Cornell, a true adventurer who wrote a great travel book called The Glamour of Prospecting.

The road east to the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park

When you’re finally on your Great Richtersveld Adventure – and believe me, such a trip should be on every red-blooded traveller’s bucket list – spare a thought for one Fred Cornell as you drive east along the Orange (Gariep) River.

You’re heading from Alexander Bay, where they used to recover fortunes in coastal and offshore diamonds, on the oddly named Grootderm (Large Intestine) road towards the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.

See the dry moonscapes about you, the tortured geology, the river bed and the distant ragged mountains. It’s another world up here, harsh at noon, almost indescribably lovely at the bookends of the day.

It is here, in this country neither fit for old men or sissies, that Fred Cornell came to prospect about a century ago. He sniffed about here for diamonds. He knew they were here, but the universe decided he should not be the one to find them.

And so he searched and searched, up and down the Orange, having all sorts of wonderful adventures with his fellow prospectors. They lit fires at night, drank a little brandy, sang songs and good-naturedly tore strips off each other.

And then, come daylight, they would be back at the river on their endless quest for diamonds.

Fred Cornell never found a diamond in all his sainted life – but he did write the fabulously stirring The Glamour Of Prospecting. It’s a humorous travel book telling of his times in the dry land, sleeping rough and living with a constantly flatulent partner-in-crime.

What happened after that is a little tragic, but also an essential part of a good narrative.

After all those wild adventures on the frontier, he met his end in one of the safer cities of the world.

Fred went to England in 1921 to raise some more funding, and was run over and killed by a London taxi cab. After all those wild adventures on the frontier, he met his end in one of the safer cities of the world.

Near the park you’ll find Cornell’s Kop. Stop a while, say hi to the spirit of Fred and continue on your adventure. And if you want to read The Glamour of Prospecting, then ask for it at the Springbok Lodge & Café when you’re back in, um, Springbok.

The Orange River – where Fred Cornell searched in vain for diamonds

Category: Culture & History

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