Barberton's wild days
Did you know?
On 21 June 1884, Graham Barber wrote a letter to the state secretary to inform him that he and his two cousins, Fred and Harry, had discovered payable gold on state land where the Umvoti Creek entered the De Kaap valley. The state secretary then asked the magistrate in Lydenburg to investigate the matter and for David Wilson, the gold commissioner, to submit a report. Wilson investigated, and on 24 July 1884, declared the township of Barberton.
Old-time Barberton was once a raucous gold settlement which resembled, in many ways, the set of the classic movie musical Paint Your Wagon.
Nestled into the Makhonjwa Mountains of modern-day Mpumalanga, young Barberton of the 1880s was awash with prospector-miners equipped with square gin bottles, picks, pans and donkeys. They lived in constant hope of a gold strike. They fought off malaria with the demon drink. They longed for the girls back home, wherever ‘back home’ was. And they laughed in the face of adversity.
Trailing them were the sideshows:
· The shysters, selling gold shares (‘Barbertons’) back on the streets of London for 10 times their real value;
· The hoteliers, fleecing the miners with extravagantly priced rooms, meals, drinks and professional girls;
· The gamblers, filling up the barroom corners with their well-marked decks of cards and stacks of chips, waiting to part a drunken gold-boomer from his earnings.
They were followed by a slew of adventurers, remittance men, faded city ladies, horse traders, chandlers, priests, auctioneers, last-ditchers and dreaded tax collectors on the lookout for the state’s pound of flesh.
Any woman arriving in Barberton was deemed beautiful. There was Cockney Liz, who broke many a heart, from Barberton to Eureka City, and all points in between. Legend says she was auctioned off every evening in 1 of the pubs and the lucky bidder would make off with her.
A certain Charlie Thomas got drunk, woke up and found he had been using a gold-encrusted rock for a pillow. Another man, Edwin Bray, wandered off from a well-used footpath and discovered the magnificent Golden Quarry, the site of the present-day Sheba Gold Mine. Someone called MacDonald followed a honeybird in the hope of something sweet, found a snake instead, killed it and in the process discovered a massive gold reef, known thereafter as Honeybird Reef. Prospector James Mayne was found murdered in a tiny creek. The search party discovered his revolver next to a rock which had been chipped away to reveal yet another gold reef. That became Revolver Creek.
Barberton is comparatively quiet these days, and open for tourism. Just watch out where you lay your head...
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Barberton Community Tourism
Tel: +27 (0) 13 712 2880
+27 (0) 13 712 4281
Email the curator: firstname.lastname@example.org