The Kimberley Club
Did you know?
Membership to the Kimberley Club was an essential part of the agreement in the historic Rhodes-Barnato amalgamation deal that saw Rhodes and Barnato merging their shares in the diamond-rich Kimberley Mine - today the Big Hole.
Back in the 1880s, the Northern Cape town of Kimberley was, literally, a very large diamond in the rough.
Higgledy-piggledy streets, mawkishly leaning shacks, ramshackle watering holes and an occasional dust storm that turned everything and everybody instantly khaki – that was early Kimberley.
But amongst the hardbitten ‘kopje wallopers’ (diggers) and the accompanying phalanx of chancers, dancers and card sharks, there was an upper-crust of ambitious men and their families.
Led informally by mogul Cecil John Rhodes, they were the deal makers and empire builders of their time. And when the Kimberley Club was founded in August 1881, they flocked together and were later described as men who would ‘rather live on bread and butter than drop out of that great institution’.
Rhodes’ good friend Neville Pickering was particularly pleased with the Kimberley Club: ‘We have our dinners and dances – one finds oneself in evening dress every night. It’s ruination to health and pocket. And then our Club is such perfection. Electric bells wherever you like to touch. Velvet pile and Turkey carpets to walk upon and then one loses oneself in a luxurious lounge.’
The diamond finds in the Kimberley area and the international business taking place right here on the dusty veld made ‘The Club’ very exclusive. A certain Archibald Colquhoun was impressed: ‘The place was stuffed with money – more millionaires to the square foot than any other place in the world.’
The Kimberley Club burnt down twice, was rebuilt both times and when the South African (formerly Anglo-Boer) War broke out in October 1899, it was the focal point for town relief when Kimberley was besieged by Boer forces shortly after.
The Kimberley Club Christmas menu for 1899 included turtle soup, mutton cutlets, aspic of foie gras, plum pudding and Stilton cheese. That was the last time anyone in Kimberley ate so well. As the siege continued and rations dried up, luminaries like Rhodes were served horseflesh disguised as ‘grilled prime veal fillet garni a la Siege’.
Two royal visits to the Kimberley Club in the 20th Century yielded 2 potentially embarrassing incidents. In 1933 Prince George (son of King George V) choked on a fishbone during a gala dinner at the club. A local dentist (and club member) carefully removed the bone and there were no hard feelings.
When Queen Elizabeth visited in 1947, she left a diamond ring next to the wash stand in the cloak room. The bedroom steward found the ring, returned it and was rewarded.
These days, the Kimberley Club also operates as a 4-star boutique hotel, offering 17 rooms decorated with original club furniture and added period pieces. There are 3 dining areas and a ‘ladies' lounge’ available to guests.
And if you are lucky (or unlucky) you may see the ghost of Joe van Pragh that's reputed to haunt the club. Van Pragh was a wealthy bachelor-philanthropist who lived at the club until his death in 1948.