Born 3 August 1847, Died 16 January 1893
Born in Hohenheim near Stuttgart, Germany to a Lutheran minister, Hermann Ludwig Eckstein received an excellent education. He arrived in South Africa in 1882 to explore opportunities in the diamond- and goldfields, and soon acquired a reputation as a resourceful manager of the Phoenix Diamond Mining Company at Du Toit’s Pan near Kimberley.
He attracted the attention of Julius Wernher, Alfred Beit and Frenchman Jules Porgès. In 1884 he co-founded the company Jules Porgès & Co (later Wernher, Beit & Co) with the three businessmen.
In 1885, Beit arranged for Eckstein and Jim Taylor to report on the firm’s interests in the Barberton and De Kaap goldfields, in which they had invested heavily. The report, officially penned by Taylor, was not received well, prompting Porgès to hurry back to South Africa. Porgès and Beit decided to disinvest, and the firm suffered several losses.
The soaring share prices during the diamond rush boom were rapidly followed by pessimism, plummeting prices and widespread bankruptcy. Just before the collapse there had been rumours of enormous deposits of gold on the Witwatersrand.
These rumours had reached Porgès and Beit whilst visiting government offices in Pretoria. After a small time investigating, Beit hurriedly acquired extensive mining rights in Johannesburg.
In 1888 Eckstein started his own firm under the name of Hermann Eckstein & Co., in the Corner House as a representative of Jules Porgès. He was instrumental in establishing the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg, and acted as its first president until 1892. Eckstein put the infrastructure of the mines on a solid footing by using competent engineers, thus turning mere diggings into established industry.
He was involved in the move to deep level mining when the surface deposits had run out. By the end of 1888 he was in charge of virtually all the mining activities in the central area of the Witwatersrand, and controlled the eleven most important syndicates. He played an important role in the founding of the Wanderers Club.
Eckstein was dismayed by the growing rift between the Uitlanders (foreigners) and Afrikaners – known in Britain as the Boers, more so since he counted Paul Kruger as a personal friend. He played a large part in establishing the National Bank of the South African Republic.
The year before his death he went to England, having been offered a partnership with Wernher and Beit in the Central Mining and Investment Corporation. He left Johannesburg with his wife who was pregnant with their fourth child, but didn’t live long enough to see its birth.
On 16 January 1893 he died of “apoplexy of the heart”, probably a heart attack. His brother Frederick took over the family interests and in 1910 rebuilt Ottershaw Park in Surrey which at the time was described as the ‘Wonder House of Surrey’.
Beit’s company planted more than three million trees on an area of 1,300 acres (5.3 km2), an area Eckstein called Sachsenwald, now known as the Johannesburg suburbs of Saxonwold, Forest Town, Zoo Lake and the grounds holding the Johannesburg Zoo. The forest became a favourite recreational spot for the wealthy Randlords and their families. About 10 years after Eckstein’s death, the area was named the Hermann Eckstein Park.