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He wanted to be a mining engineer and his father sent him to the Sheffield Scientific School (Yale). His first job was in California under the great mining magnate, Senator Hearst, father of William Randolph.
In 1882 he was commissioned to go into Mexico to work a mine. He had married Natalie Harris two years before, and had a young son Harris. He left them behind and went into Mexico, 250 miles from Guaymas, through country infested by Indians on the warpath. His first job was to establish law and order around the mine. Then he sent for his wife. The second day after she and the baby arrived at Guaymas, a revolution broke out. Guerrillas attacked. The engineer barricaded his family in a small house and fought them off till they went away disgusted. The party then rode inland to the mine. Mrs. Hammond carried a revolver with which to shoot herself rather than be made captive.
That was not the last of his dangerous experiences in Mexico. After leaving there he penetrated into the Andes prospecting for gold; ran a mine in Idaho through a lawless strike in which guns were more his working tools than picks.
By 1893 he had so great a reputation as a mining engineer that Barney Barnato called him to South Africa to investigate the gold mines there. He reported that the surface mines which were being worked were of small importance as compared with the deep mines that might be opened. The Barnatos were not inclined to take the expensive risk of finding out. So Hammond resigned.
The Revolutionary. Cecil Rhodes snapped Hammond up—at a salary of $100,000 a year and a share in the profits. They opened mines in the Rand, in Mashonaland (now known as Rhodesia). In 1895 he was managing Rhodes' property in the Transvaal, with headquarters at Johannesburg, South Africa.
The situation in the Transvaal was unbalanced. The gold rush of the last few years had brought in a considerable foreign population—chiefly British and American. The foreigners ["Uitlanders"], who were by far the wealthiest part of the community, formed a Reform Committee headed by Colonel Rhodes (brother of Cecil), John Hays Hammond, a few others. They demanded a stable constitution, a fair franchise law, an independent judiciary, a better educational system, etc. The Government under President (Oom Paul) Kruger made promises but failed to keep them. A desperate situation arose when Dr. Leander Starr Jameson with 1,500 men, sympathizers with the Reformers, invaded the republic. The Reform Committee opposed his act, gave him no aid, and surrendered its own arms to save Jameson's life when he and his men had been made captive by the Boers.
Then the Boer Government, using a list of Reform Committee members furnished by the Committee itself, arrested 64 of the 78 members. The four leaders including Mr. Hammond were kept for two weeks in a windowless cell, with a dirt floor, 11 ft. by 11 ft.—and overrun with vermin. The prisoners were most of them elderly men, pillars of the community. It was said that the prisoners represented $250,000,000. Their arrest paralyzed business and even the Y. M. C. A. After a time their wives were permitted to take them necessaries, such as flea powder.