The story behind "Barney" Barnato

Barney Barnato was born on the 4th July 1852 in the Whitechapel slum of London. His original name was Barnett Issacs but changed it to Barney Barnatto when he was acting as a comedian. Barney was the son of a small shopkeeper off Petticoat Lane, one of the best-known streets in London's East End, Barnato was in every respect the complete antithesis of Rhodes. Barnato (image right) was an extrovert, imbued with Jewish-Cockney wit and humor. After leaving school at fourteen, he obtained a number of odd jobs including being a 'bouncer' at a public house and appearing on stage at a music hall. Several of his relatives left for South Africa after hearing of the discovery of diamonds there, so Barney eventually followed them. His only capital on arrival at the diamond fields consisted of a box of cigars - of doubtful quality - which he hoped to sell to the diggers. He became an itinerant buyer of diamonds, his genial personality proving a useful asset. In time, he bought for claims in the center of the Kimberly Mine and prospered so that he was able to form the Barnato Diamond Mining Company. Like Rhodes, Barnato kept on buying up claims. In 1885 Barnato merged his company with that of Baring-Gould's Kimberly Central Mining Company, thus giving him a strong hold in the Kimberly Mine as that of Rhodes in the De Beers Mine.

Since his company was going so well, Barnato saw no reason at all why he should join any scheme of Rhodes for amalgamation. However, one obstacle lay in the path of the Kimberly Central, namely the Compagnie Français de Diamant du Cap. By virtue of its position within the Kimberly Mine and the policy it pursued, the French Company impeded any success of future operations by Barnato's company. Consequently Barnato made proposals to the French: but Rhodes had already done likewise and had succeeded in raising the finance necessary for the purchase of the French Company in Paris. 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 of the price paid in Kimberly Central's recently issued new shares. By this means Rhodes was able to secure a useful foothold in the form of one-fifth of Kimberly Central's issued capital; all the time this had been his real objective, not the control of the French Company. Barnato acquiesced in his plan, falling right into the trap Rhodes had set for him.

Image right: the famous "Tiffany" Yellow Diamond (cushion-cut brilliant of 128.54 (metric) carats (rough stone 287.42 carats), measuring 27 mm wide, 28.25 mm long and 22.2 mm deep) found by the French company and valued in 1983 at twelve million dollars.

The stage was now set for a titanic battle for the remainder of the Kimberly Central's issued capital. Both 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 Kimberly Central's issued capital and Barnato realized he had been beaten. He surrendered in March of 1888, accepting the terms which gave Rhodes the control he had sought. On March 12th, De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited was formerly incorporated. The new company took over assets which represented the whole of the De Beers Mine, three-quarters of the Kimberly Mine and a controlling interest in the Bultfontein and Dutoitspan Mines. Cecil Rhodes and Barney Barnato were appointed among the company's first Life Governors.

The Kimberly Central's shareholders, however, disapproved of Barnato selling out to Cecil Rhodes and challenged the merger in the Courts. It was the judge who told them that if Barnato agreed to put Kimberly Central into voluntary liquidation, De Beers could simply purchase its assets. Accordingly this is what the company did: Rhodes wrote out a check for £5,338,650 for the assets of Kimberly Central, which, in those days, was the largest sum of money ever covered in a single cheque.

He was a big figure in the gold town of Johannesburg in the 1890s, his buying up of the evoving stock markets gold shares and his infamous antics, including the one below, etched in South African History.

The elite in Johannesburg held regular get togethers. Nothing but the finest silver cutlery and finest crockery was par for the course. Within the inner circles the theft of cutlery by someone had become a major concern. At this particular party Barney spotted the culprit subversively putting a silver spoon in his pocket. In those day, before television and gramophones, the guests often provided the ligh-hearted entertainment. Barney took his cue. Unexpectedly he rose between acts and proclaimed that he was a magician, something he had never done before... The stunned audience gathered around as Barney stated that he would produce a valuable silver spoon from nowhere. He calmly walked up to the thief, put his hand in his pocket and produced the spoon. The thief was exposed and never again invited to the elite's parties. 

The Jameson Raid in 1895/96 had a major impact on Barney's world and he left South Africa a depressed man. Barney Barnatto committed suicide on his way home to London. He jumped off the boat and drowned himself in 4 July 1897.