31 March 1855 – 8 June 1936
Hammond was the son of Major Richard Pindell Hammond, a West Point graduate who fought in the Mexican War, and Sarah, daughter of Harmon Hays and his wife, née Elizabeth Cage. Sarah was sister to Captain John Coffee Hays of the Texas Rangers.
The family moved to California in 1849 to prospect in the California gold rush, and John was born in San Francisco. After an adventurous boyhood in the American Old West, Hammond went East to attend the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University, where he earned a Bachelor of Philosophy in 1876. He later attended the Royal School of Mines, Freiberg in Germany, from 1876 to 1879, where he met his wife-to-be, Natalie Harris.
Hammond took his first mining job as a special expert for the US Geological Survey from 1879 to 1880 in Washington, DC. He returned to California in 1881 to work for Senator George Hearst, the mining magnate and father of William Randolph Hearst. In 1882, he was sent to Mexico to become superintendent of Minas Nuevas. When a revolution broke out in that country, Hammond barricaded his family in a small house and fought off the attacking guerrillas.
From 1884 to 1893, Hammond worked in San Francisco as a consulting engineer for Union Iron Works, Central Pacific Railway and Southern Pacific Railway.
In 1893, he left for South Africa to investigate the gold mines in Transvaal for the Barnato Brothers. In 1894, he joined the British South Africa Company to work with Cecil Rhodes and opened mines in the Rand and Mashonaland. In 1895, he was managing Rhodes’ property in Transvaal, with headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.
An early advocate of deep-level mining, Hammond was given complete charge of Rhodes’ gold and diamond mines and made each undertaking a financial success. While working for Rhodes, he cemented his reputation as an engineer. He continued to work for Rhodes until 1899.
When Hammond arrived in the Transvaal, the political situation was tense. The gold rush had brought in a considerable population of foreign workers, chiefly British and American, whom the Boers referred to as “Uitlanders” (foreigners).
These immigrants, manipulated by Rhodes, formed a Reform Committee headed by Colonel Frank Rhodes (brother of Cecil), Hammond, and others. They demanded a stable constitution, a fair franchise law, an independent judiciary, a better educational system and charged that the Government under President Paul Kruger had made promises, but failed to keep them.
These demands were orchestrated by Rhodes, knowing that President Kruger would never accede to them, justifying subsequent intervention by the British government to protect the growing interests of British miners. When Leander Starr Jameson invaded the Transvaal with 1 500 troops in the ill-fated Jameson Raid, Hammond and most of the members of the Reform Committee were arrested and held in ‘deplorable conditions’. The U.S Senate petitioned President Kruger for clemency.
The Reform Committee case was heard in April. Hammond, Lionel Phillips, George Farrar, Frank Rhodes and Percy Fitzpatrick, all of whom had signed an incriminating document found with Jameson’s raiders, were sentenced to be hanged, but this was commuted to 15 years imprisonment.
Eventually, their sentences were commuted entirely, and Hammond and the other lesser figures each ordered to pay a £2,000 fine. All fines, amounting to some £300,000, were paid by Rhodes. Shortly thereafter, Hammond left for England, and would not return to Africa again.
John Hays Hammond died in 1936 at the age of 81.