Author: By Daniel Howden, Africa Correspondent
Campbell Bridges, who became world famous for discovering tsavorite, famed as the most perfect of coloured gemstones, was killed after a brutal conclusion to a lengthy feud with squatters who were stealing stones from a mine owned by the Bridges family in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park.
The 71-year-old, a legend among geologists, owned a number of mines in the area and was attacked at a makeshift roadblock on Tuesday while he was travelling in the Taita Taveta District with his son Bruce and four Kenyan employees.
Speaking in Nairobi yesterday, 32-year-old Bruce Bridges described a hand-to-hand battle with a mob of more than a dozen men armed with spears, clubs and machetes.
“As we drove towards our mining camp we found huge thorn trees blocking the road,” he said. “Eight men with machetes, spears, clubs, knives, bows and arrows appeared shouting ‘We’re going to kill you all!’ Then more people came down the mountain like ants, 20 or 30 of them.”
Bruce Bridges was slashed in the neck by a machete as his father struggled with the assailants. “My father was fending off one man with a spear when another ran up and stabbed him,” he said.
He eventually fought his way to his father’s side and together with their employees was able to load the older man onto their pick-up. But he was pronounced dead at a clinic in the nearby town of Voi. John Ole Shampiro, the commanding officer of the Taita Police Division, said: “According to witnesses, a group of about 20 people … used a knife to stab the deceased.
“We believe, according to our investigations, that his death was a result of a mining dispute involving the deceased and the locals,” Mr Shampiro told Reuters.
Police were yesterday scouring Tsavo, Kenya’s largest national park which covers a vast area on either side of the main road from Mombasa to Nairobi. The Coastal Province police chief Leo Nyongesa said that authorities were searching for a known suspect but gave no further details.
Tributes were last night pouring in for a man described by fellow gem experts as a legend who had been a director of the International Coloured Gemstone Association (ICA).
Mr Bridges came to prominence after his 1967 discovery of tsavorite, a deep green version of garnet. The Scottish-born adventurer first saw the stone in what was then northern Rhodesia but was unable to collect a sample. “I had never seen a green like it. It was pure in every sense,” he said in a recent interview.
He had to wait six years before re-encountering the precious gem, this time in northern Tanzania near Mt Kilimanjaro. However, local export rules prevented him from selling the gem to the prestigious US jeweller Tiffany’s and he decided to camp out on the other side of the border in Kenya and search for deposits there.
He is reputed to have built himself a treehouse in Tsavo to protect himself from the park’s legendary man-eating lions and other predators.
He was also supposed to have stationed a python in his stash of tsavorite stones to deter any potential thieves who came near it.
Pavel Sokolov, the ICA’s representative to Russia, led industry tributes for the murdered geologist.
“He was a king for us. He was a legend among gemmologists and geologists,” Mr Sokolov, the head of a leading Russian gemstone company, told Reuters. “He was very famous among gemmologists. The jewellery market is not so open, but he was open with everybody.”
Mr Bridges also pioneered the deep-blue gemstone tanzanite on the international jewellery market.
A British Foreign Office spokeswoman in London confirmed that Mr Bridges had died on Tuesday from injuries sustained in an attack.
“As his immediate next of kin is American, the US officials are providing consular assistance. We are in close contact with them and offering our full support,” she said.
Robert Nicoletti, a close friends of Mr Bridges and his family, said: “Campbell Bridges was a great man and he will be forever missed. His son Bruce, one of my best friends, closely follows in his father’s steps. This tragic event was unnecessary and an act of evil that is unfathomable.”
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