Who Opened up the Kimberley Diamond Mines?
Cecil Rhodes, son of an English vicar, and Barney Barnato, son of a London Jew, both made fortunes by opening up the Kimberley diamond fields. The great diamond rush began in 1866 after a Boer farmer’s son discovered a glittering stone on the Orange River near Hopetown, South Africa.
As the number of mines increased, the walls began to cave in, and water flooded the deeper pits. Rhodes bought a large steam pump and hired it out. With the money he acquired more pumps and then began to buy claims, gaining control of the vast De Beers mine.
Meanwhile Barnato had secured a large amount of stock in the Kimberley mine. A struggle for the control of both mines ended in Barnato turning over his Kimberley stock to Rhodes in return for shares in De Beers. The result was the formation in 1888 of the De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited. Kimberley Mine (now called the Big Hole; 0.9 mile [1.5 km] in circumference), long the richest diamond-producing mine in the world, was closed in 1914, but several other mines remain productive, and diamond mining and cutting remain prominent industries.
The Kimberley diamond deposits are believed to have come from 150 miles beneath the earth’s surface, having been formed from carbon subjected to great heat and pressure. The volcanic rock bearing the diamonds is called “Kimberlite”. As the miners dug, they came across a strange heavy rock in the shape of pipes, which were filled with Kimberlite. These pipes were the throats of ancient volcanoes, up which the Kimberlite is thought to have been squeezed at least 70 million years ago.
Kimberley’s gardens and squares are dotted with memorials, including an equestrian statue of Rhodes. Important collections of Khoisan artifacts are in the Alexander McGregor Memorial Museum, and the Duggan-Cronin Bantu Gallery contains early 20th-century photographs of African miners. The city has Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals.
Kimberley is the main city of Griqualand West. It is the market and service centre for a prosperous irrigated-farming and cattle-raising area. Iron, salt, and gypsum are also worked in the vicinity.