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LOCAL TIME: 12:58 pm | Friday, 12 April
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Barkly West, Diamond Fields Region, Northern Cape

Barkly West, Diamond Fields, Northern CapeBarkly West is a small town with a big history. This is the place where diamonds were first discovered in South Africa in 1869. At that time, the place was called Klip Drift and it was not long before there was a dispute as to the ownership of this valuable resource. It was claimed by the Griqua, a Hottentot tribe, and the Tswana, a Bantu people, both of whom lived in the area, and by the Boers of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal and the British.

Finally the British authorities assigned the territory to the Griqua; but in 1870 they bought it back and established a new colony, Griqualand West, of which Klipdrift became the capital. The town was given its present name in 1873 in honour of Sir Henry Barkley, Governor of the Cape and most signs on the road still spell the town ‘Barkley-West’ which is rather confusing.

Let’s look at some of the interesting history.

Wildebeeskuil Rock Art Centre, Kimberley, South Africa ElephantAncient history includes the Wildebeestkuil San rock art drawings. These petroglyphs are from 200 to 2000 years of age, and are still in their original outdoor positions. There is a museum and guided tours around the site.

Thanks to the alluvial diamond diggings from 1870 many archaeological sites were uncovered at Canteen Kopje including 1,500 year old rock engravings.

The beautiful stone bridge was the first steel girded bridge to be built over the Vaal River in 1884, and was transported by rail and ox wagon, in sections, from the United Kingdom. The Tollhouse at the bridge houses the interesting Barkly West Museum which is a treasure trove of information about the early history of alluvial diamond mining in South Africa.

In town, St Mary was the first Anglican Church of the diamond fields was built in 1871.

Barkly West still holds its allure to prospectors. Between June and September, the Barkly West police station issues permits for diamond prospecting, though the prospectors are more likely to find semi-precious stones (tiger’s eyes) than diamonds. On Saturday mornings in particular the town still has a little of the atmosphere of the old diamond-mining days, as diamond dealers come to negotiate with the treasure-seekers for the purchase of their week’s booty.

Today there is a mostly dairy farming community and some of the homes in the village have been lovingly restored and function as guest houses and B&B’s touting Barkly West as a stop en route to the Kalahari.

Barkley West is 32km northwest of Kimberley on Route 31.

For more information on the Diamond Fields, see ShowMe Diamond Fields.

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