Diamonds In Brazil

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From The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Vol. XIX. No. 542, Saturday, April 14, 1832

Diamonds In Brazil

The operation of working for these precious jems is a very simple one. The alluvial soil (the cascalhao) is dug up from the bed of the river, and removed to a convenient spot on the banks for working. The process is as follows:-a rancho is erected about a hundred feet long, and half that distance in width; down the middle of the area is conveyed a canal, covered with earth; on the other side of the area is a flooring of planks, about sixteen feet in length, extending the whole length of the shed, and to which an inclined direction is given; this flooring is divided into troughs, into which is thrown a portion of the cascalhao; the water is then let in, and the earth raked until the water becomes clear; the earthy particles having been washed away, the gravel is raked up to the end of the trough; the largest stones are thrown out, and afterwards the smaller ones, the whole is then examined with great care for diamonds. When a negro finds one, he claps his hands, stands in an erect posture, holding the diamond between his fore-finger and thumb; it is received by one of the overseers posted on lofty seats, at equal distances, along the line of the work. On the conclusion of the work, the diamonds found during the day are weighed, and registered by the overseer en chef. If a negro has the good fortune to find a stone weighing upwards of seventeen carats, he is immediately manumitted, and for smaller stones proportionate premiums are given. There are, besides, several other works on this river, and on other streams, but the supply of diamonds falls now considerably short of former periods, and their produce scarcely defrays the expenses.

The Diamond District of the Serro do Frio is about twenty leagues in length, and nine in breadth; the soil is barren, but intersected by numerous streams. It was first discovered by some miners, shortly after the establishment of the Villa do Principe. In working for gold in the rivulets of Milho Verde and St. Goncalzes, they discovered some pebbles of geometric form, and of a peculiar hue and lustre. For some years these pebbles were given as pretty baubles to children, or used as counters for marking the points of their favourite game of voltarete. At last an officer, who had been some years at Goa, in the East Indies, arrived in the Commarca: he was struck with the peculiar form of these pebbles, and from several experiments he made, it struck him that they were diamonds. He immediately collected a few, and sent them to Holland, where, to the astonishment of the lapidaries, they were found to be brilliants of the finest water. It will easily be imagined, that on the arrival of this intelligence in Brazil, the hitherto despised counters suddenly became the objects of universal research, and almost immediately disappeared.

The government of Portugal now issued a decree, declaring all diamonds a monopoly of the crown. For a length of time it was considered that diamonds were confined solely to the district of Serro Frio. But this is an error; they are found in almost every part of the empire, particularly in the remote provinces of Goyazes and Matto Grosso, where there exist several districtos diamantescos. These gems have been even found on the tops of the highest mountains; indeed, it is the opinion of the Brazilian mineralogists that the original diamond formations are in the mountains, and that they will one day or other be discovered in such quantities, as to render them objects of comparatively small value.

The largest diamond in the world was found in the river Abaite; about ninety-two leagues to N.W. of Serro do Frio. The history of its discovery is romantic:-three Brazilians, Ant. de Souza, Jose Felix Gomes, and Thomas de Souza, were sentenced, for some supposed misdemeanour, to perpetual banishment in the wildest part of the interior. Their sentence was a cruel one; but the region of their exile was the richest in the world; every river rolled over a bed of gold, every valley contained inexhaustible mines of diamonds. A suspicion of this kind enabled these unfortunate men to support the horrors of their fate; they were constantly sustained by the golden hope of discovering some rich mine, that would produce a reversion of their hard sentence. Thus they wandered about for nearly six years, in quest of mines; but fortune was at last propitious. An excessive draught had laid dry the bed of the river Abaite, and here, while working for gold, they discovered a diamond of nearly an ounce in weight. Overwhelmed with joy at this providential discovery, they resolved to proceed, at all hazards, to Villa Rica, and trust to the mercy of the crown. The governor, on beholding the magnitude and lustre of the gem, could scarcely credit the evidence of his senses. He immediately appointed a commission of the officers of the Diamond District to report on its nature; and on their pronouncing it a real diamond, it was immediately dispatched to Lisbon. It is needless to add that the sentence of the three 'condemnados' was immediately reversed.

This celebrated diamond has been estimated by Rom� de l'Isle at the enormous sum of three hundred millions sterling. It is uncut, but the late King of Portugal, who had a passion for precious stones, had a hole bored through it, in order to wear it suspended about his neck on gala days. No sovereign possessed so fine a collection of diamonds as this prince.-Monthly Mag.

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