The title evokes thoughts of the early days, of boisterous diggers in one of the many saloons or pubs that studded the winding roads of the canvas and corrugated iron diamond town, swigging draughts and singing along with, dare one say it, scantily clad womenfolk. Great fun indeed, these early days of New Rush on the farm Vooruitzicht, except for the fact that the Colonial Secretary detested both the term New Rush – too vulgar – and Vooruitzicht – he could hardly spell it, let alone pronounce it! So the problem of renaming the town was passed to Richard Southey, then Lt-Governor of Griqualand West, who in turn, passed it on to John Blades Currey, the government secretary.
A very worthy diplomat, Currey made very sure that the Colonial Secretary would be able to spell and pronounce the new name chosen for the town…by naming it after the secretary himself, Kimberley! The name was obviously approved by His Worship, so Kimberley was born, but it can be certain that the diggers did not care two hoots at the time. The new name was proclaimed on 5 July 1873.
The Diamond Fields Advertiser is a mere seven years younger than the city of Kimberley, the township being founded in 1871. The story of naming Kimberley is fairly well known, but what is not well known is who Lord Kimberley was, and what did he do that even today his name is as well remembered as that of his monarch, Queen Victoria?
John Wodehouse was born in Wymondham, Norfolk, on 29 May 1826, the eldest son of Harry and Anne Wodehouse, and a relative of Sir Philip Wodehouse, Governor of the Cape Colony 1861 – 1870. At the age of 20, while still a student at Oxford University, he inherited his grandfather’s title of Baron Wodehouse, his father having predeceased him. Five years later he was appointed Under Secretary for Foreign
Affairs, holding this post from 1852 to 1856, after which he became the British Ambassador to Russia.
In 1858 he resumed his former position until his promotion of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1864, a post he held for two years. Queen Victoria conferred an earldom upon him in 1869. He and his wife, the former Lady Florence Fitzgibbon, were living at their country estate, called Kimberley House, in the village of Kimberley in Norfolk, hence the choice of title. The name Kimberley is derived from the Anglo Saxon word Cynburgh-leah, which means “women were entitled to own land”.
Two years later Lord Kimberley became a member of Gladstone’s first cabinet and from 1870 he served as Secretary for the Colonies. As his appointment coincided with the discovery of diamonds on the ‘dry diggings’ he was prominent in the dispute over the ownership of Griqualand West, and the negotiations for its annexation as British territory.
Although he resigned his post in 1874, he was re-appointed by Gladstone as Colonial Secretary from 1880-1882, one of his major feats during the period being the peace settlement after the battle of Majuba in 1881.
He lived long enough to hear about the siege and relief of the town named after him and died on 8 April 1902.
South Africa’s Kimberley is not the only one in the world. Apart from the village in England, there is a Kimberley in British Columbia and in Ontario, and a Cape Kimberley, a Kimberley Plateau; Kimberley Downs, a Kimberley Range and a Kimberley region in Australia. There are also four Kimberley towns in the USA, but without the “e”.