Barney Barnato (Barnett
Isaacs 1852 - 1897) was the son of a small
shopkeeper off Petticoat Lane in London's East End
leaving school at fourteen, he obtained a number of
odd jobs including being a 'bouncer' at a public inn
and appearing on stage in music hall.
Several of his relatives left for South Africa after
hearing of the discovery of diamonds in what is now
in the Northern Cape. His brother Harry had gone out in
1871 and had been working as a comedian and
Barnato followed them, joining his brother
on the small stage in 1873, where he would call out,
"...and Barnett too!". This often repeated phrase
evolved to the point that he changed his name to
granddaughter, Diana Barnato Walker in 2003 recalls, "The reason he
went was because his brother Harry had gone
out and he wrote back with these glowing
stories that the streets of Kimberley were
paved with gold, and the diamonds were there
for picking up. Barney got enthused about
this, and his uncle, who kept the King of
Prussia public house in the Mile End Road
gave him four boxes of bad cigars as
capital. When he got there he found his
brother living in a tent with his toes
sticking out of his socks."
Barnato became an itinerant buyer of
diamonds, his genial personality proving a useful
asset. In time, he bought four claims in the centre
of the Kimberley Mine and prospered so that he was
able to form the Barnato Diamond Mining Company.
He kept on buying up claims and
in 1885 he merged his Barnato Diamond Mining Company
with that of Baring-Gould's to form the Kimberley
Central Mining Company.
was actively buying up claims at the same time, but
since his company was going so well, Barnato saw no
reason to join any scheme of Rhodes' for
However, one obstacle lay in the path
of the Kimberley Central, namely the Compagnie
Fran�ais de Diamant du Cap known locally as the
French Company. By virtue of its position within the
Kimberley mine and the policy it pursued, the French
Company impeded any success of future operations by
Barnato's Kimberley Central.
Consequently Barnato made proposals to the French
but Cecil Rhodes had already done likewise and had
succeeded in raising the finance necessary for the
purchase of the French Company in Paris.
Cecil Rhodes then
laid a trap for his rival. He told Barnato that he
could acquire the French Company if he wanted it and
would not ask for cash in payment, only the
equivalent in Kimberley Central's recently issued
shares. By this means Rhodes was able to secure a
foothold in the form of one-fifth of Kimberley
The stage was now set for a titanic battle for the
remainder of Kimberley Central's shares. Both
Cecil Rhodes and Barnato bought recklessly, and at a time
when the price of diamonds barely covered the cost
of production, the company's shares soared from �14
to �49 within a few months.
Eventually Rhodes and
his associates could claim to own three-fifths of
Kimberley Central's shares and Barnato realized he
had been beaten.
Legend has it that
Rhodes, after a weary
twenty-eight hours of negotiation, suddenly produced
a bucket heaped with diamonds. "Sign, Barney, and
it's all yours," Rhodes is purported to have said.
"You can't win me with bribes", Barnato replied,
"but you have your fancy, as other men
have theirs, and I see that I shall have
to give you the means to go North."
Stockdale Street, Kimberley
Originally the headquarters of
Barney Barnato�s Kimberley
Central Diamond Mining Company,
it has been in use since 1888 as
the De Beers headquarters.
In March 1888 Barnato surrendered his control of
the Kimberley Central Mining Company, accepting the
terms which gave Cecil
Rhodes the control he had sought.
However, some of Kimberley Central's shareholders
disapproved of Barnato selling out to Rhodes and
challenged the merger in the Courts.
It was the judge who told them that if Barnato
agreed to put Kimberley Central into voluntary
liquidation, the De Beers Mining Company could
simply purchase its assets.
Cecil Rhodes gained Barnato's
support to amalgamate the two companies and on 13th
March 1888 De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited was
As part of the deal
Cecil Rhodes made Barnato one of the
four life-governors, arranged for him to be elected
as Kimberley's member of Parliament in the Cape Assembly and procured him
membership to the exclusive Kimberley Club.
wrote out a cheque for �5,338,650 for the assets of
Kimberley Central, which in those days was the
largest sum of money ever covered in a single
cheque, four million pounds of which went into the pockets of
the Barnato Brothers.
The new De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited took
over assets which represented the whole of the De
Beers Mining Company, three-quarters of the
Kimberley Central Mining Company and a controlling
interest in the Bultfontein and Dutoitspan Mines.
Barnato remained member of parliament
for Kimberley from 1889 until his untimely
death in 1897.
granddaughter, Diana Barnato Walker recalls
in 2003 that her grandfather was influential
in obtaining the release of
Starr Jameson from the 1896 Boer
government in the Transvaal, "There is a lovely photograph somewhere
with Barney sitting with Oom Paul Kruger on
the stoep of his house in Pretoria, with Oom
Paul in a very tall top hat. It was Barney
who negotiated with Oom Paul to get all his
pals out after the Jameson Raid."
In 1897 Barney Barnato died unexpectedly, reportedly
committing suicide by jumping into the ocean and
drowning from a ship taking him to England. His body was recovered and
buried in Willesden Jewish Cemetery, London,