The diamond and gemstone industries are rightfully concerned about conflict diamonds - diamonds used to fund insurgencies or terrorism - and the human rights of miners in the developing countries where most gemstones are mined.
In the midst of this we sometimes forget just how dangerous gemstone mining can be for the foreigners who go to develop the mining industry in third world countries. The sad story of Campbell Bridges is a case in point.
Campbell R. Bridges was one of the foremost gemologists, miners and gem dealers of our time. He was the first to bring tanzanite from East Africa to the West, and is credited with discovering the first samples of tsavorite garnet in 1967. Sadly, he was brutally murdered in Kenya on August 11, 2009, as he drove to his mine south of Nairobi. He was 71 years old and still actively mining in Kenya.
Bridges was born in Scotland in 1938. His father was the chief geologist for a large mining group and Bridges spent most of his life in Africa, growing up in South Africa and what is now Zimbabwe. He had lived in Nairobi since the 1970s.
Bridges discovered tsavorite in Northern Tanzania in 1967, but it wasn't possible to export gemstones from that country in the 1960s. So Campbell followed the rock belt north into Kenya. In 1971 he found the rare green tsavorite again, in the region of the Tsavo National Park. For a time, he and his wife lived in a tree-house 25 ft (7.62 meters) above the ground to keep clear of wild animals that roamed the territory where he was prospecting.
Bridges had a mining concession from the Kenyan government for his claim south of Nairobi and he was a founder of the Kenyan Chamber of Mines. But he had been fighting against a group of Kenyans who were trying to drive him off his claim for the final three years of his life. Bridges believed that the illegal miners were backed by local officials.
Bridges's tragic death occurred when he was ambushed by a mob of 30 or more men armed with machetes and spears. The attack occurred amid what many see as a resurgence in violence and corruption in Kenya, which is struggling with a sluggish economy and a stalled coalition government that was formed after a disputed 2007 presidential election.
- First Published: October-14-2009
- Last Updated: August-15-2017
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