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Barkly west (Barklywest) Attractions, Diamond Fields, Northern Cape.

The cradle of alluvial diamonds and tourism mecca of the Northern Cape on a bend in the Vaal River, 40-km northwest of Kimberley.  It was formerly known as Klipdrift because of a convenient crossing over the Vaal River.

Following the discovery of diamonds in the Hopetown district in 1866, the first diggings took place at Klipdrift in 1869.   Men from all over the world congregated here in search of diamonds.    The flavour of the 1870’s, when Barkly West was a thriving centre, still clings to the town.  Up to 20000 diggers worked in the district.  Canvas tents, houses, carts and wagons, covered both sides of the river.   During the day carts and barrows were constantly on on the move, while at night the canvas towns were lit up.   Music of all kinds was heard from the banks and from small boats on the Vaal, giving the nights a magical atmosphere.   The diggers felt threatened as the Transvaal Republic, the Orange Free State, the Griqua chief Waterboer and the Koranna, Jan Bloem laid claim to the region.  To safeguard their rights, the Diggers Mutual Protection Association was formed which led to the Klipdrift Diamond Fields Republic, with Stafford Parker as its first President, in July 1870. The days of the Republic were however short-lived and ended when a British Magistrate was stationed here. Klipdrift was later named Barkly West after Sir Henry Barkly. It became the capital and the seat of Government of Griqualand West for many years. Attractions include:

•    Canteen Kopje: Site of the first diamond diggings in Africa. It overlooks the town and has been proclaimed a nature reserve. Diggers had to cut through layer upon layer of deposits before reaching bedrock, thus exposing traces of cultures 500000 years old.  The Vaal River Valley is thus one of the oldest inhabited areas in the world.   All kinds of stone implements were found, ranging from primitive chips to relatively well-finished tools.   The world’s biggest handmade stone axe was excavated as recently as 1997. Some of these implements are to be seen in museums in Kimberley, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Barkly West, as well as London, Cambridge, Paris and Rome.

•    Alluvial Diamond Diggings:  Diggers still search for diamonds, washing the soil as in the past.  Should you wish to visit you will be most welcome at Canteen Kopje or the Longlands Diggings, where friendly diggers will show you around.

•    St Mary’s Church: Built in 1871, it is claimed to be the oldest Anglican Church north of the Orange River.   It contains several objects of historical interest, such as:

    Beautiful stained glass windows donated in memory of a local boy killed at Delville Wood
    A font donated by Matabele Thompson and his wife,
    A chased silver miniature communion set for the sick dated 1848,
    A small but beautiful copy of Michaelangelo’s “Pieta”
    A stone from Westminster Abbey linking this “Little Cathedral of the Diamond Diggings” with the “Church of a Thousand Years”

Iron gates bear the inscription “The gift of Kimberley friends 1855” The extensive grounds and flowerbeds together with a belfry and large fountain combine to make a beautiful setting.   It was proclaimed a national monument in 1972 as follows: “St Mary’s was the first permanent church building erected in the Klipdrift area after the recovery of diamonds in this vicinity in 1869.  The foundation stone of the building was laid in February 1872 by Sir Henry Barkly after which the church was consecrated on November 24 1872”.

•    The Bridge and the Tollhouse: The bridge across the Vaal River, together with the Tollhouse on its northern approach were proclaimed monuments in September 1967. It was erected by private enterprise in 1885 and is said to be the first bridge across the Orange River.  The six spans were manufactured in England and transported by ship to Cape Town, brought up to the nearest railhead and then to Klipdrift by oxwagon.   The tollhouse has been upgraded and converted into the Barkly West Museum. See samples of gravel and wash from which diamonds have been recovered and one of the finest collections of ancient stone implements in South Africa.

•    Nooitgedacht Glacial Pavements: The Nooitgedacht open-air site is 16-km from Kimberley on the R31 towards Barkly West. 2500 million year-old Ventersdorp lava was scoured by slow-moving glaciers 250 million years ago. Gravel and rock in the ice gouged striations into the surface of the pavements, which also have a 1500 year-old rock engraving on them.

•    Gong Gong Waterfall: Near Barkly West.

Other places of interest in the vicinity include Sydney-on-Vaal and Vaalbos National Park.

Barkly West is on the R31 northwest of Kimberley, which is on the N12 northeast of Britstown, which is at the intersection of the N12 with the N10. BFBarkly

Contct:            Town Clerk
+27 (53) 531 0671 telephone

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Last update: 2014-05-11 23:26
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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