Allan Quatermain opens his account by giving his reasons for recording it: first, because Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good have asked him; second, because he is recuperating from a lion attack which has injured his leg, and has nothing else to do; third, to entertain his son Harry, who is studying medicine in London; and fourth, because it is a strange tale and deserves to be told. After some minor digressions, Quatermain explains how he was aboard the Dunkeld and met Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good. The two men know of Quatermain from his reputation as an elephant hunter. Sir Henry inquires as to Quatermain's knowledge of the legendary mines of King Solomon and of a man named Neville, whom Sir Henry reveals is his brother.
Sir Henry Curtis asks Quatermain what he knows of Neville. Quatermain states that he had heard Neville was heading off to find King Solomon's mines. Astonished at this knowledge, Sir Henry and Captain Good ask Quatermain what he has heard about King Solomon's mines. Quatermain relates the story of another elephant hunter, Evans, who told Quatermain the legend of the diamond mines. Evan had gained the information from natives of the Transvaal, including a witch-doctor, Isanusi, who connected the Suliman Mountains to Solomon's mines. “Suliman” is assumed to be a corruption of “Solomon,” but is noted by the editor to be the Arabic form of the name. Twenty years later, Quatermain was laid low by a fever when he met another traveler, Jose Silvestre, who speaks briefly with Quatermain and bids him farewell, stating, “If we ever meet again, I shall be the richest man in the world, and I shall remember you.”
A week later, having recovered from his fever, Quatermain is hunting with his companions when they come across a man nearly dead from exposure to the elements. This is none other than Jose Silvestre, whom Quatermain and his men nurse back to a modicum of health. Knowing he will die soon, Silvestre bequeaths his link to King Solomon's mines, a document written by his ancestor, Jose da Silvestra, detailing in obscure terms the location of the fabled mines.
Captain Good and Sir Henry are astonished at Quatermain's story, and the latter takes their amazement as disbelief and nearly quits their company. The two men assure Quatermain that they believe his story. In fact, upon learning of Quatermain's acquaintance with both the legend and the man, Sir Henry seeks Quatermain's assistance in locating his brother, who had gone off in a quest to find the diamond mines. He is so concerned for his brother's welfare that he offers to split the diamonds of King Solomon's mines equally between Quatermain and Captain Good, as all he desires is the safety of his only brother.
Allan Quatermain presents himself as a man of experience, “fifty-five last birthday,” who has only now begun an attempt at writing down his personal history. Haggard thereby establishes Quatermain as the first-person narrator, but one who is uncouth with the pen. In contrast to the prevalent novels of the time, Haggard’s narrator is unschooled: “At an age when other boys are at school, I was earning my living as a trader in the old Colony” (Haggard 5). This fact signals the reader that the tale which follows will not be a drawing-room romance, but the account of a man’s own wild adventures. Haggard himself had lived in South Africa, and it is his detail concerning the setting which lends more credence to Quatermain’s account. The “untutored narrator” is also a convention that allows Haggard to make mistakes in his rush to write (he allegedly wrote King Solomon’s Mines in about six months) while blaming any stylistic errors on the narrator’s unlettered past. At times throughout the narrative, and especially here in the first chapter, Quatermain rambles and meanders off-topic briefly in his account, lending a more friendly tone to the narrative than could be found in many of the novels of manners available to readers of the time.
In addition, Quatermain mentions the only two literary works he has spent any time reading, the Ingoldsby Legends and the Old Testament, thereby foreshadowing both his frequent allusions to both works, and his own adventures in a world lost to a distant past.
Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good are also introduced in this first chapter. Sir Henry at first seems familiar to Quatermain, a fact borne out by Quatermain’s earlier acquaintance with Sir Henry’s brother. Sir Henry is described in heroic terms by Quatermain as “one of the biggest-chested and longest-armed men I eve saw” (Haggard 8). He goes on to say that Sir Henry “reminded me of an ancient Dane” (although the editorial note references Quatermain’s unreliability as a narrator, suggesting he is thinking of Saxons). Captain Good is also described in glowing terms, but is set up as a foil for Quatermain. Whereas Quatermain is a rough product of the hunting and trading life, Good is a “gentleman,” a Royal Navy officer. To Quatermain, Naval officers are of a higher caliber than ordinary men, and Good is a proper officer. Good’s fastidiousness, which will play a larger (and more humorous) part in their later adventures, is hinted at by Quatermain: “He was so very neat and so very clean shaved, and he always wore an eye-glass in his right eye” (Haggard 10).
In telling the legend of King Solomon’s diamond mines, Haggard makes several uses of creative verisimilitude to firmly entrench the reader in the reality of this amazing tale. Quatermain tells the legend of the Mines rather than Good or Sir Henry, thus leading the reader into an automatic acceptance of the tale. Quatermain recounts the tale as he has heard it from others, lending a sense of history to the account, while various editorial details support the reality of the story, such as a Spanish-language “original” of Jose da Silvestra’s letter and the footnote that “Suliman” is Arabic for “Solomon.”
Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good offer Quatermain the traditional “call to adventure” of many heroic quest stories. Curtis draws out of Quatermain his acquaintance with Neville, Curtis’ brother, and the desperate plight the older brother must be in. Good evokes Quatermain’s sense of honor and adventure in focusing on the need to rescue a fellow man (Neville) or aid a fellow man (Curtis), but also by bringing the riches of King Solomon’s Mines to the fore. Quatermain, in true heroic tradition, is reluctant to join the quest immediately, but sets some conditions evocative of Odysseus (the welfare of his son) before he will consider the matter.