George Swale Alefounder - Interview

A fascinating insight into the life and work of George Swale Alefounder is afforded by an interview which appeared in the Daily Picayune, a newspaper published in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, on 27 September 1899:

  George S. Alefounder, a native of Brighton, Eng., is an unusually interesting traveller. He is stopping at the Commercial Hotel, waiting for a boat to Havana, Cuba, and while in town is seeing all there is to see and taking snap photographs of some of those features that strike him most. A short, muscular young man, with a grey soldier hat and very sharp-pointed shoes, Mr. Alefounder, shows at first glance few of the characteristics of the average Englishman.
  He is direct from Alaska and the far northwest. This thrifty young Britisher crossed the Atlantic ocean and the American continent to investigate some gold mining claims near Sitka, Alaska, for some English capitalists who had an idea of investing out there.
  "I filed my report immediately upon finishing my work out there, and I rather suspect the company has invested in the property ere now," said the traveller from afar, folding up a map of the Sitka region. "You see, most of these big deals are engineered through some American land company or firm of real estate brokers, but English money is becoming a trifle timid about going into everything that is sprung on this side, because so many financial bubbles have been floated in London at the expense of the men who put up the stuff. That is why you find so many alleged representatives of English syndicates and English stock and bondholders floating around in this country. In most cases these men are employed by a few of the individual parties to the deal, and the company or organization does not know of their existence at all.
  "In other words, they are a kind of financial detective sent over to America to scout about and see if the proposition is sound and all right, and report privately to the men who hired them. A regular system of such work is now going on. For that reason, when I tell you the legal name of the company that proposes to buy up the entire Pande basin, twelve miles from Sitka, you must not print the name, as it would give away my real mission. The concern engineering the deal is a New York aggregation, but they know nothing of my trip to Alaska, and my journey from London, Eng., to the little bay on the Alaskan coast.
  "An option has been secured on the Pande basin, and I believe they will take it. This basin is 160 feet deep, and they will drain it before commencing to mine the rich gold deposits there."
  Mr. Alefounder was also at Skaguay and went through the White pass to Atlin. He was there in June, the middle of the summer, and his experiences in this territory, adjacent to the Klondyke, are of the most pleasant. The summers are picturesque and even delightful.
  Four years of Mr. Alefounder's life were spent in South Africa, in and about the fabulous mines of the Cape Town territory. He was an official assayer for a time, but his innate desire for travel and roaming about unrestricted led him to visit many of the different nations and tribes of the South African country. When one speaks of the Transvaal war, you are speaking of matters and places as familiar to George S. Alefounder as the scenes of one's childhood.
  "Do you think the Boers will go to war in the Transvaal?" was a subsequent interrogation.
  "I hope so," came the quick, snappy answer, and the speaker put both feet on the floor and leaned forward in his chair, with a resolute expression.
  "I certainly hope so, and I will be gravely disappointed if they don't. I can see nothing so propitious as that prospective war, because it would mean the utter extermination of the Dutch from South Africa. That is what England needs, and what she must do eventually. I hope it will come now. The Zulus would unquestionably side with the English. In brief, the division in such a war would be just what England would want. The objectionable races would go with the Boers, and those tribes that can be easily governed as colonists would join forces with England. I would like to see that line up."
  Mr. Alefounder has a pocket full of pictures taken by himself in South Africa. He has views of Cecil Rhodes' hunting lodge and forests and of his palace. Zululand has been pictured by this sly globe trotter, and he has it in all its reality.

A further item in the Daily Picayune, September 30, lists G. S. Alefounder as a passenger on the Anselm, a British steamship which had departed for Port Limon, Costa Rica, the previous day.

The Pande Basin is near Sitka on Baranof Island, off the coast of the southern part of Alaska.

According to the New York Times, 12 March 1899, a New York syndicate leased the property of the Pande Basin Gold Placer Company, but that "many mining men here disbelieve the report of the lease". Water is said to have been drained from a lake through a tunnel to expose gold-bearing sand. A further report, on the 27th of November that year, said that the final blast to complete the tunnel had caused the beach with the gold to slide into the lake. All this, of course, supposes that there ever was any gold there in the first place. If George S. Alefounder was employed by a group of London investors to investigate dubious mining deals and to "report privately", it is hardly to be expected that he would give away his findings to a newspaper reporter that he met in a hotel. In this case, there is now no evidence either of gold nor that any mining ever took place there. Such a lack of activity is something that would surely have been clear to any visitor to the site at the time. A former "official assayer" for South African gold mines could also be expected to have noticed the absence of significant gold deposits. He only said that the company might have taken up their options in the property, not that his employers might have invested in the company.

The Boer War began on 11 October 1899 when the Boers invaded Natal, and was brought to an end by the Treaty of Vereeniging on 31 May 1902. The Dutch lost the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, but did not suffer utter extermination.

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Last updated 17th April 2008 by Peter Alefounder

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