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South Africa Holiday: The Big Hole diamond mine in Kimberley

South Africa Holiday: Kimberley Big Hole

The Big Hole is an astonishing sight. Mined to a depth of 240m with a perimeter of about 1,6 km, it is the largest hand-dug excavation in the world. The original buildings in the open-air museum preserve the city's fascinating frontier past.


New Rush

In 1866, Erasmus Jacobs found a small white pebble on the banks of the Orange River, on the De Kalk farm near Hopetown in the former Cape Colony. The pebble turned out to be a 21.25 carat diamond.
The Kimberley Mine Big Hole in 1875Five years later and 122km further north, the De Beers brothers gave Dutch diamond-prospectors permission to dig on their small Vooruitzicht farm. An even larger 83.50 carat diamond was found on the slopes of a small hill called Colesberg Kopje, which led to the first diamond rush into the area. Besieged by fortune-hunters, the De Beers brothers sold their farm and moved elsewhere.
As miners arrived in their thousands a frontier town, New Rush, was formed in the area. Spacious homes began to rise from the dust and, in June 1873, New Rush was renamed Kimberley after John Wodehouse, Earl of Kimberley and British Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Birth of the De Beers

Among the most ambitious prospectors were two Englishmen, Cecil J. Rhodes and Barney Barnato. Ambitious and enterprising, they bought one holding after another and became the biggest miner owners in the area.
In 1888 they merged their companies, and so was born De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited, the forerunner of the firm that still plays a leading role on the diamond stage today, and still has its headquarters in Kimberley.
Kimberley's complex, higgledy-piggledy web of roads is a topographic reminder of a chaotic past. And not one, but five big holes, and a number of smaller mines, had been gouged out of the earth, reaching ever deeper into its bluish, diamond-bearing Kimberlite pipes.
Plan showing the relavtive positions of all holidngs in the Kimberley Mine in 1883The largest, the Kimberley Mine or "Big Hole" covered 170,000 m², reached a depth of 240m and yielded 3 tons of diamonds. The mine was closed in 1914, although three of the holes – Du Toitspan, Wesselton and Bultfontein continued operating until 2005.

The Big Hole Mine Museum

Today the Big Hole is part of a larger museum. This is a unique open-air museum with viewing platforms and a wide selection of original houses, offices and shops.
South Africa Holiday: Reconstruction of the ‘The Digger’s Rest’ pub at the Kimberley Mine Museum, Northern CapeThe museum boasts Kimberley’s oldest house (imported from England in 1877), ‘The Digger’s Rest’ pub, Barney Barnato’s boxing academy, a tobacconist shop, a reconstruction of the De Beers’ homestead, and mock diamond diggings.
South Africa Holiday: The oldest surviving house in Kimberley, imported from England in 1877Major reconstruction of this fantastic bit of history took place during 2006, funded by the De Beers Group, and opened for new visitors in 2007.
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