John Bock: Miscarriage of justice?

Johann Sebastian Bock

Johann Sebastian Bock was a German settler who had been a seaman and gold prospector. He leased land on the Kei from Walter Reynolds, who owned three livestock farms and a market garden.

In 1925 Bock's son found a shiny pebble on a floodplain of the Great Kei River. It was a diamond! After a little more searching they found some more. Bock soon began telling friends and family of his discovery, and with his permission, they too began to search for and find diamonds.

Bock then traveled to Centane to register prospecting rights at the magistrate's office. He began digging in earnest and eventually uncovered around 1000 small diamonds weighing more than 583 carats in total. One diamond was heavy as 3,75 carats.

A diamond fever gripped the area and prospectors soon poured in. They began paying Bock a daily concession rate, or registered mining claims nearby. A dealer in mine properties even came from Johannesburg to float a company.

This was when poor old John's troubles began. For not a single diamond was ever found in the area, except on John's patch which was producing regular, spectacular results. Discontent soon spread amongst the prospectors who felt that "something fishy" must be going on. The Authorities soon placed a ban on further prospecting and mining operations and launched an investigation.

After consulting various experts the authorities came to the conclusion that the region had no diamond-ferous formations and that the diamonds were of Indian origin, not South African.

John was charged with "salting" the area with uncut diamonds, for his own illegal gain. The local farming community was stunned and angered by John's arrest. They knew that John was not a rich man and could never have bought the diamonds that he was accused of salting the land with. He was and honesty 73 year old man and did not need the money. What could he possibly have hoped to gain by doing such a thing?

Amy Reynolds, wife of the owner of Bock's farm, even went as far as writing to a geologist, EHL Schwartz, a professor at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, seeking his help. He replied that he was shocked at the verdict, and that there was no evidence of "salting".

John's evidence clearly stated that he found the diamonds on his property and had not placed them there. None of this made any difference however, as his failure to state that he had already found diamonds when he went to register his claim, an omission to report the six largest stones, and his previous experience as a prospector all counted against him.

In 1928 a guilty verdict was handed down and John was sentenced to three years hard labour. He was led weeping from the courtroom and died soon after his release, a bitter and broken old man. He was buried at Komga.

A plausible explanation was recently put forward by Alan Jefferies in Kei Mouth who has no doubt that John Bock was innocent. He has thoroughly researched the case and discusses it in his book, "The Absolute Border", which was first published in 2001.

He believes that the diamonds came from the Grosvenor which was wrecked near Port St Johns in August 1782. Although the Grosvenor was not known to have carried diamonds as cargo, there were some in the belongings of the captain, John Coxon, and William Hosea, a wealthy passenger.

They took the diamonds along with them when the survivors began trekking along the coast, hoping to reach Cape Town. Coxon and Hosea soon died of privation along the Transkei coast but a companion, George McDonald, made it as far as the great barrier of the Kei before he too succumbed, along with the diamonds entrusted to him by Coxon and Hosea.

It is thought that the diamonds he carried were scattered in the area after his death, to be discovered many years later by the unfortunate Bock.