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UPDATED: 14/06/2017

14 June 1897, Barney Barnato jumps overboard and drowns on his way to England.
14 June 1977, SA cricketer Boeta Dippenaar born.


Barney Barnato (21 February 1851 – 14 June 1897), born Barnett Isaacs, was one of the entrepreneurs who gained control of diamond mining, and later gold mining, in South Africa from the 1870s. He is perhaps best remembered as being a rival and eventual of Cecil Rhodes.

Barney Barnato claimed he had the same birthday as Cecil Rhodes (5 July 1853). Most biographies give his date of birth as 5 July 1852. However, his birth certificate (supported by census data) shows he was born Barnett Isaacs in Aldgate, London on 21 February 1851, the son of Isaac and Leah Isaacs. He was educated by Moses Angel at the Jews’ Free School.

For a while he became a prizefighter and music-hall turn. Barney grew up in Whitechapel, the very poor East End of London in an area that was predominantly a Jewish neighborhood. The Isaacs family lived in the area for nearly one hundred years. Isaac Isaacs, Barney’s father made a living from selling second hand clothing and fabric remnants. When Barney and his older brother Harry reached fourteen, they left school and entered the business. Their mother Leah died in the year after Barney was born, almost certainly following the birth of Barney’s sister Elizabeth. Kate the oldest of the siblings, helped bring up the boys and two sisters Sarah and Lizzie.

When they were in their teens, Barney and Harry liked to perform on stage in the Music Halls of the area, of which there were many. For the longest time Harry was introduced as the Great Henry Isaacs. Legend has it that Barney was added as “and Barnett too” so he suggested to Harry that they call themselves Bar-na-to, the Barnato Brothers. From that time onwards, they were known by that name on the Music Hall stages. Other sources state that when Barney arrived in Kimberley his brother was using the name “Harry Barnato” and that this appealed to Barney.

Barney had a talent for boxing. In his day, the Marquess of Queensberry Rules were rarely used in his amateur boxing bouts. Winning was the all that mattered, and he made money from his bouts, mainly by placing bets with the bookies. He was not scared of anyone. The bigger they came, the better he liked it.

In 1873, Barney joined his brother Harry during the diamond rush which accompanied the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley. His brother had gone out in 1871. Barney saved up enough money to pay for his steerage passage. He left England and when he arrived in South Africa, he could not afford the coach to get to where the diamonds had been found. He ended up walking all the way with a bullock cart that was delivering supplies to the miners. It took him three months to walk there.

Barney arrived in Kimberley to find that Harry was not doing very well. In fact he wasn’t making money from diamonds at all, but from performances on stage and doing odd jobs.

Barney spent his first year learning about diamonds, buying a stone here or there (as a kopje walloper) and selling at a small profit and then buying more. Barney had a good head for figures and was a fast learner. He was shrewd, always able to calculate the odds. Eventually, the opportunity to buy a claim came to Barney and Harry. In fact four adjacent claims were offered to them in the Kimberley Mine. The brothers barely had enough money to buy the claims, but somehow they managed to do it.

Overproduction was only one of the problems that all the diamond miners faced. Huge problems arose where adjacent claims were being mined at different rates and the levels. This was problematic because cave-ins became ever more frequent, especially where they were undercutting the adjacent claims. It was far worse when the rains came and flooded the lower levels.

Consolidation became Barney’s goal. Cecil Rhodes, working the De Beers mine, also had the same idea and became a major competitor in the race to consolidate. Initially there were more than 3,600 claims being mined, but in time this number dropped to less than one hundred, and the Barnato Brothers were one of them. They used this name from the time Barney arrived in Kimberley, completely dropping the Isaacs name. As the Barnato Brothers made more money, they ploughed it back into buying up more claims. Barney’s goal and obsession was the complete consolidation of the Kimberley mine. There were plenty of other players with similar goals, so it was not an easy task to achieve.

A ‘battle royal’ ensued between Barney and Cecil Rhodes. The French Rothschild Bank was involved with Rhodes, as were a number of other wealthy men. All were experienced. All wanted control of the diamond mining interests of both the Kimberley and De Beers mines.


Barney Barnato Headstone

De Beers mine was the first to be consolidated—not by Barney, but by Rhodes, much to Barney’s ire.

A French mining company, Compagnie Française des Mines de Diamants du Cap de Bonne Espérance, held a large block of claims that split the Kimberley mine in two. A wealthy Parisian diamond dealer, a Mr. Jules Porges, owned this company. Rhodes managed to secure substantial backing from Rothschild Bank to purchase this French Company. Barney got wind of the sale and telegraphed Porges asking for an opportunity to bid if a sale were imminent. Rhodes bid £1,400,000 to buy the company. Barney topped the offer by bidding £1,750,000.

Before getting a response from Porges, Rhodes telegraphed Barney and asked him to withdraw his offer. In return, Rhodes made Barney a tempting offer, one that he could not refuse. In return for withdrawing the offer, Rhodes would buy the French Company at his original bid price and sell it to Barney for £300,000 plus a twenty per cent holding in the Barnato’s Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company.

There is no doubt that this must have been a difficult decision to make. It would give him what he obsessed about, the control of the Kimberley Mine, enabling him to convert it to underground mining. The dilemma was that he was giving up a large part of his company to a rival. After several days consideration, Barney agreed to withdraw his offer and a month later the French Company was in his hands.

Rhodes undoubtedly calculated the odds well. He and his partners had been buying up shares in the open market in Barnato’s Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company and may well have had ten to fifteen per cent of the shares at the time of the sale of the French Company. With the extra twenty per cent, they were well on their way to gaining control of Kimberley Central DMC. Barney tried to keep control of his own company, but Rhodes had outsmarted him, finally gaining control of Kimberley Central DMC a few months later. The upside was that shares in Kimberley Central DMC rose from £14 to £49 each because of the competition from both camps. The downside was that it was higher diamond production that was fuelling the buying spree resulting in diamond prices hitting an all-time low.

Rhodes proposed that they merge the De Beers Mining Company into Kimberley Central DMC, forming one new consolidated company; De Beers Consolidated Mines. The merger made sense, even though they both knew that the merger would upset some of the shareholders. Kimberley Central was liquidated and the De Beers Consolidated purchased the company, the Barnato Brothers shares ultimately being bought out for the astronomical sum of £5,338,650 in 1889.

As part of their control of all diamond mining in the Cape Colony, De Beers Consolidated purchased two other mines in the area, Bultfontein and Du Toitspan. The yield on the latter was poor, but the quality of the diamonds found there was far superior to all the other mines. It was a gamble that underground mining could eventually make both of these mines productive.

Neither one of these was showing a return on investment, but they could not be allowed to pass into the hands of a competing company which might mean that at some point, they could undermine the prices, undoing the efforts made to stabilize prices. The most important thing that the merger produced was the 95% control of worldwide diamond production. Both Barney and Rhodes were in full agreement on this.

The purchase cheque, signed by Rhodes, is said to have been the largest such instrument ever presented for payment up to that time. Barnato subsequently became Beaconsfield’s MP in the Cape Parliament from 1889 until his death.

Rhodes and Barney planned to reduce the number of buyers for the rough diamonds to ten companies who would in turn sell to the diamond cutters and set up lines of distribution throughout the World. De Beers Consolidated duly carried out this plan and the ten companies became known as the Diamond Syndicate. The syndicate included Barnato Brothers in London. Only the Diamond Syndicate could buy production from De Beers Consolidated Mines.

Diamond prices leveled off and finally increased steadily in value. Regardless of production levels, supply was kept on or close to demand.

Barney turned his attention to the newly discovered gold area of the Witwatersrand or Rand as it became known. The wealthy diamond dealers and owners of Kimberley understood what it would take. They were prepared to make the investment that was needed and went to the Rand where they bought up the most promising claims.

By 1888, after the consolidation of diamond mining had taken place, the Barnatos were late in coming to the mining town being called Johannesburg. Their big advantage was their coffers were full. And so began the start of a dozen gold mining companies floated on both the London Stock Exchange and the new Johannesburg exchange.

Investing in the Rand became the Barnatos highest priority. With the help of nephews Woolf and Solly, Barney went on a buying spree spending more than a million pounds in one year. Additionally, he invested in all manner of infrastructure that he knew would be needed for the future growth of Johannesburg. He purchased land in the new town to build offices, shops and market stalls, including a new stock exchange. Recognizing the need for somewhere to live in town, Barney purchased a farm in the Doornfontein section and completed the construction of a large house on Saratoga Avenue in a new exclusive suburb. Anything and everything that was needed to stimulate the growth of Johannesburg, was considered.

Early in 1889, Barney floated his first gold mining company on the London and Johannesburg stock exchanges. The New Primrose Gold Mining Company was a combination of a number of claims he had purchased on two adjacent properties. At the same time he floated the Johannesburg Estate Company, which had nothing directly to do with gold mining, only real estate and peripheral businesses in the town.

After the formation of his Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company that year, he went on a major acquisition plan and invested in multiple businesses; building materials, transport, food wagons and liquor.

Barnato doubled his fortune in the boom in South African gold mining shares of 1894–95 before losing most of it in the 1896 share collapse. He built, but never lived in, a vast house on the corner of Park Lane and Stanhope Gate in Mayfair, London, which was bought after his death by the banker Sir Edward Sassoon.

Barney married Fanny Christina Bees. Together they had 3 children: Leah “Lily” Primrose Barnato (d.1933), Isaac “Jack” Henry Woolf Barnato (c.1894-1918), Woolf “Babe” Barnato (1895-1948)

Barnato died in 1897 in mysterious circumstances; records state that he was lost overboard near the island of Madeira, whilst on a passage home to England. Although some have wondered if this were suicide and suggested that the Jameson Raid had had a major impact on him and left him severely depressed, his family vigorously rejected that theory, saying that it was totally out of character for a man who had been a pioneer in the rough-and-ready days of emerging Southern Africa. His body was recovered from the sea and he was buried at Willesden Jewish Cemetery in London.

His will divided up his considerable fortune between his family, amongst which was his sister Sarah and her husband Abraham Rantzen. Another beneficiary was his son, Woolf Barnato, who used part of the multimillion-pound fortune he inherited at the age of two, to become a pioneer racing driver in the 1920s, one of the so-called Bentley Boys.

(Mostly from Wikipedia and corrected and added to where necessary).

14 June 1897, Barney Barnato jumps overboard and drowns on his way to England.
14 June 1977, SA cricketer Boeta Dippenaar born.


SA Cricketer Boeta Dippenaar


Barney Barnato, an English “diamond king,” promoter, and speculator; was born in London on 21 February 1851, and committed suicide by jumping from the deck of the steamship SS Scot on 14 June 1897, although whether it was suicide or murder is still argued about to this day.

Barney Barnato’s success as a speculator caused him to revisit London, where he became known as a daring operator; and for a short time his companies received some public support. In July 1895, he attained the height of his popularity in England and was lionized; but his career was meteor-like. His experience in the London stock market, with which he was unfamiliar, was disastrous. He formed a trust company which he named “The Barnato Building Company”; and the demand for participation in this enterprise was so great that the £1 shares rose to £4 at the opening of the subscription lists, though they fell below par soon afterward, owing largely to the fact that the securities held by the company were of uncertain value. In November 1895 the Lord Mayor of London gave a banquet in honour of Barnato, who, wishing to be under no obligation, handed a massive cheque to him as a donation to the fund for the benefit of the poor in Spitalfields, in whose welfare the lord mayor was then actively interested.


Barney Barnato Headstone

Events resulting from the abortive Jameson raid into the Transvaal, which jeopardized Barnato’s interests, compelled him to return to South Africa, where he remained to adjust his affairs; but the strain was more than he could stand. Hoping to benefit his health by a sea voyage, he sailed for England in the care of his wife and two nurses; but he grew no better. While in a “state of frenzy” about the steamship “Scot”, he succeeded in eluding his attendants, and, jumping overboard, was drowned. His body was recovered, and now lies in Willesden cemetery, near London. As an amateur actor, Barnato was a never-failing attraction, especially as Matthias in “The Bells” — a part he often played in the early Kimberley days.

He met his wife Fanny Bees in the mid-1870s in Kimberley when she was a barmaid and a small time actress in productions at the Theatre Royal. She was one of eight children of John Bees, a tailor who lived in a tent at Bultfontein village, and started working only to help the family finances. She was taller than Barney and considered quite a beauty. They only married in London in a registry office on 19 November 1892, and despite being together for some 16 years, their first child, Leah Primrose, was born in March 1893. The other two children of the union were Isaac Henry (Jack), born in 1894 and Woolf Joel (Babe), born in September 1895.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

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