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The Diamond Rush

The frenetic activity, the extraordinary web of pulley cables leading to a six-storey staging platform and the sight of up to 30 000 miners working 3 600 claims over 17ha have faded into the sepia memories of photographic archives. Yet, Kimberley’s many old buildings, museums and one of South Africa’s most important art galleries lend an historic ambience to the city that thrust its way to prominence during the diamond rush.

The mad scramble for fame and fortune in 1871, followed the discovery of diamond deposits on a hillock dubbed Colesberg Kopje. This protrusion on the farm Vooruitzicht, owned by the De Beer brothers, was steadily eroded by the fervent delving of money hungry prospectors and their digging crews, until there was no longer a hill but 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 frenzied diggers crowded New Rush, the mining town that had mushroomed around the hillock. Overcrowding, insufficient water, unsanitary conditions, disease, heat, dust and flies were ever present problems in the early days of this town. 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 and spacious homes began to rise from the dust. Shortly thereafter, in 1873, the town was given its current name of Kimberley, after the Earl of Kimberley, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies at that time.

In addition to the Big Hole, another four large holes, and a number of smaller mines, were gouged from the earth, reaching deep into the bluish, diamond-bearing Kimberlite pipes. The Kimberley Mine was eventually closed in 1914 after yielding just under 3 tons of diamonds and what remains is a gigantic crater 214 meters deep with a surface area of 17 hectares and a perimeter of 1,6 km. A reconstruction of the original ‘rush town’ stands alongside the Big Hole, offering visitors insight into the endeavors of a bygone era.

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