In 1871, diamond deposits found on a hillock dubbed Colesberg Kopje on the farm Vooruitzicht, owned by the De Beers brothers, led to a mad scramble for fame and fortune and the world’s largest, hand-dug excavation, the colossal Kimberley Mine or Big Hole.
By 1872, the tents and shacks of more than 50 000 feverish diggers crowded New Rush, the mining town surrounding the hillock. Overcrowding, insufficient water, unsanitary conditions, disease, heat, dust and flies were ever present problems in the mining town’s early days.
In the fledgling city’s many gambling dens, card- and loan sharks thrived on a diet of other people’s blood, sweat and tears. The stakes were high and the ruthless ruled as fortunes were made and lost in a day. Some found only despair and heartbreak, but others struck it rich.
Spacious homes began to rise from the dust and, in 1873, the town was renamed Kimberley, after the Earl of Kimberley, British Secretary of State for the Colonies. Despite the town’s severe dose of diamond dementia, it was, by 1900, a prosperous town. Its complex, higgledypiggledy web of roads is a topographic reminder of a chaotic past. And not one, but five big holes, and a number of smaller mines, had been gouged out of the earth, reaching ever deeper into its bluish, diamond-bearing Kimberlite pipes! The Kimberley Mine was closed in 1914. Covering 17ha, it reached a depth of 1 097m and yielded three tons of diamonds. A bawdy shanty town born of a desperation and greed redolent of the American Wild West, Kimberley swiftly donned a mantle of architectural elegance.
Today, it is a prosperous, thriving metropolis with Victorian buildings that complement the more modern buildings of the CBD. Lacking the furious pace of South Africa’s larger urban giants, it is perhaps the country’s most innovative town. Home of our first flying school, our first stock exchange and the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric street-lighting, it is mining a brilliant future from a glorious past.