The discovery of diamonds at Klipdrift on the Vaal River in 1869 drew thousands of prospectors. The area was renamed Barkly West in 1873 after becoming part of the Crown Colony of Griqualand West.
Renowned writer Sarah Gertrude Millin grew up in the district. Her father opened and operated a shop in Barkly West. One of the first towns to be affected by the diamond rush, the district’s economy is driven by stock and irrigation farming and mining.