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This is a story of two men who created a company that would rule an industry and an age. They forged the image that "diamonds are forever" in order to promote the carefully constructed illusion of value. These two men are Barney Barnato and Cecil John Rhodes who together through their exploits in Africa created the diamond and mining company of De Beers Consolidated Mines. This company, cartel really, controlled 95% of all diamond trading in the world. The only other entity history has ever seen that may have rivaled De Beers in power and influence was the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. However, even this analogy falls short of the sheer authority and dominance that De Beers possesses, not just in its industry but in all fields. Two very different men created this empire, and this is their story.
Barney Barnato was perhaps one of the greatest South African legends. He found his fortune and fame as a young man in the quest for the diamonds of Africa. Born Barnett Isaacs on July 5, 1852 in the East End of London, he was the son of a poor second hand clothing salesman. Barnato was not very well educated, dropping out of school at age 13. However, he was incredibly intelligent and shrewd, and thus a perfect businessman. He could change his personality to fit any situation, playing the role of either a powerful man or a helpless fool in order to make a deal. From the time Barnato entered school he would trade anything that could bring him a profit. He, amongst his schoolmates, would trade any number of things, including licorice, lace, toffee, brass buttons and beer bottle labels. Due to his lack of education however he did not enter the professional world directly.
His first job was as a bouncer and tapster at a bar, owned by his sister Kate's husband. Barney's brother, Harry, would perform magic shows there as entertainment and Barney would be his assistant. Harry considered himself the main attraction of the show and hogged the show and all of the applause, until a kindly stage manager decided that Barney should also receive some credit and after a show yelled out from the wings "and Barney, too!". The brothers liked the sound of Barneytoo and adopted it as their name, and were from then on known as the Barnato Brothers.
The Barnato Brothers show would not last long, however, because very soon Harry was touched by diamond fever after hearing about the glowing reports of diamonds coming from South Africa. He left in September of 1872, but Barney did not yet have enough money to leave. He worked all sorts of odd jobs he could find to save up enough money, he even gave up smoking. Finally he made L4000 and left on his twenty first birthday, July 5, 1873, for South Africa, traveling steerage.
Once he got to South Africa he could not afford a wagon seat for his trip to Kimberly. Kimberly was the center of the diamond mining industry, and he would set off that way to find his fortune. He was able to book on his luggage, but had to make the 700-mile trek by foot. Once in Kimberly he began to work as a laborer for the boers living in the area. He would carry their products to market, and work on their farms. He also found work as a clown. Finally he had saved up enough money to enter the diamond business. He began at the bottom, as a kopje-walloper (literally: hill basher). These people would go from digger to digger buying diamonds right there on the spot.
His first big break in the business began with the retirement of another kopje-walloper he had befriended. He was selling all of his tools, including his pony for L27.10s. The reason this was such a find was that, Barnato noticed, the man would ride his pony with very loose reigns, the pony was so familiar with the route it was taking it would take it by habit. He reckoned that by buying what the man had to offer he was also purchasing the man's supplier list. Shortly after making his purchase, Barnato had enough money to form the company of Barnato Brothers, Dealers in Diamond and Brokers in Mining Property with his brother. He would still go out among the miners to buy diamonds and use the negotiating skills he had honed while a kopje-walloper. He mostly dealt with the Boer miners and due to his amicable nature developed a loyal clientele. The Boers preferred his warm nature to the coldness of the established German trading houses. When trading with the miners he would pick up useful information from them concerning the output of various parts of the mine. He became convinced that he would be able to find the largest concentration of diamonds deep under ground at the center of the mine. Consequently, he and his brother bought four mines at the center for L3000. The purchase soon paid for itself and the mines made L2000 a week. He continued his bold speculation in mining claims and expanded to become Kimberly Central Mining Co. and the richest man in South Africa.
Quotes talked about in this paper
Names referenced in this essay
the "imperial factor, the single largest shareholder, Paul Kruger, Bechuanaland,
Organizations talked about in this paper
Locations mentioned in this research material
South Africa, London,
Facility mentioned in this research material
Kimberly Central Mine,
Companies included in this report
De Beers, De Beers Diamond Co., De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd.,
Keywords mentioned in this report
Rhodes, diamonds, De Beers, Africa, South Africa, De Beers Consolidated Mines, diamond industry, Cecil John Rhodes, boer, British government, mining, Bechuanaland, company, the british government, Barney Barnato, british empire, Rhodes Scholarship, market, high commissioner, Cape, the british empire, British South Africa Company, Transvaal, protectorate, Cape Colony, South West Africa, diamond mine, Bechuanaland Protectorate, Cape Town, crown colony, rhodesias, show, Griqualand West, Lobengula, Southern Africa, Blood Diamonds, diamond fields, the diamond, chartered company, British prime minister, bankers, greatest south african, free trade, United States, British Crown, farm, Matabeleland, South Rhodesia, Paul Kruger, deputy commissioner,