Diamond rushes in South Africa were often unpredictable; devastating on the environment and often disappeared as quickly as a Highveld storm. The first rush (1869) started when diamonds were discovered in the walls of a farmhouse. Diggers pulled the house down, pegged out the area around the house and eventually left the area with only a large hole in the ground.
About 2 years after the first, another rush started when diamonds were discovered on a small hillock close to the first discovery. The frantic rush caused the small hill (koppie) to disappear and to be replaced by a hole. However, this rush never came to an end and the hole grew bigger and bigger. Around the verges of ``The Big Hole" buildings sprang up and kept on expanding. The city of Kimberley was born.
Nobody could possibly have dreamed that the koppie would become the vigorous pit of the Kimberley Mine.
There was no end to the diamonds and people became unbelievably rich. According to stories successful diggers lit their cigars with bank notes whilst their women bath in champagne. Kimberley became the gathering place for the ``new aristocracy" mainly swindlers, rogues, adventurers, Madames and other characters. From this two famous ``diamond giants", Cecil John Rhodes and Barney Bernato, emerged.
Kimberley became a very bright place. Races, lotteries, ballrooms, boxing booths, pubs, merry-go-rounds and dance halls flourished. It was the first city in Africa to have electrical streetlights. In 1887 a tramway started to operate. The Halfway and West End Hotels offer a ride-in bar service. Horsemen could order a drink without even dismounting.
Places to Visit
* The Big Hole - the hole in itself is an extraordinary site and is surrounded by a reconstructed town dating from the days of Cecil Rhodes.
* McGregor Museum - displays a large selection of historical objects including a selection of Bushmen relics.
* Duggan-Cronin Gallery - houses 8000 photo's of African customs, exhibits of ethnological interest as well as beadwork.
* Humphreys Art Gallery - exhibits of South African and European art.
* Public Library - collection of Africana and material on the history of the diamond rush.
* South Africa's First Flying School - outdoor display of the county's first flying school.
* De Beers Mine - treatment and recovery plants are open to visitors.
The Big Hole
When the diggers started to work the Kimberley diamond pipe, nobody knew how deep it would go. The deeper the workings the more complicated life became for the diggers. It resembled the inside of an ant heap. Up to 30 000 men were working day and night to clear the rubble and rock.
At the turn of the century the Hole was about 160 meters deep with an outside diameter of about 1200-meter. When mining stopped it was about 800 meters deep and more than 14 million carats of diamonds have been extracted.
The Diamond Giants
Cecil John Rhodes was even more remarkable. He left the UK for South Africa to recover from tuberculosis and rushed to the diamond fields when the news of the first discoveries broke. He started his career by making and selling ice. In 1880 he formed the De Beers Mining Company.
When Barney Bernato sold out to Cecil Rhodes in 1888 for 5,4 million Pounds, he became a multi-millionaire. He left his job as barman in the music halls of London with his brother to become a diamond buyer in Kimberley. However, he was shrewd and made his fortune within 5 years. Bernato will always be remembered as one of the most flamboyant and audacious characters of diamond era.
He was a genius in negotiations and getting people to work for him. When Bernato sold out, he became the major shareholder of the world's largest diamond company and he was only 35 years old. Rhodes' energy was applied as statesman, developer, farmer and businessman and he is undoubtedly one of the great contributors to the development of the Southern Africa region.
The cottage in St James near Cape Town in which Rhodes died, is serving as museum and houses many of his possessions and photographs.)