Kimberley and its ghosts
Kimberley, in the Northern Cape, is known as the “City of Diamonds”. In 1871, diamond deposits found on a hillock dubbed Colesberg Kopje on the farm Vooruitzicht, owned by the De Beers brothers, led to a mad scramble for fame and fortune and the world’s largest, hand-dug excavation, the colossal Kimberley Mine or Big Hole. Kimberley is now a modern city and the diamond capital of the world. The city played an important part during the Anglo-Boer Wars, and the city’s museums are a must to the visitor. Included in these has to be the Kimberley Mine Museum Village and Big Hole, where the visitor will find many original and reconstructed buildings that demonstrate what life was like in a boom town more than a century ago.
The town was renamed Kimberley, after the Earl of Kimberley, British Secretary of State for the Colonies. Despite the town’s severe dose of diamond dementia, it was, by 1900, a prosperous town. The Kimberley Mine was closed in 1914. Covering 17ha, it reached a depth of 1 097m and yielded three tons of diamonds. A bawdy shanty town born of a desperation and greed redolent of the American Wild West, Kimberley swiftly donned a mantle of architectural elegance.
Today Kimberley is a prosperous, thriving metropolis with Victorian buildings that complement the more modern buildings of the CBD. Lacking the furious pace of South Africa’s larger urban giants, it is perhaps the country’s most innovative town. Home of our first flying school, our first stock exchange and the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric street-lighting, it is mining a brilliant future from a glorious past.
Kimberley has round about 158 haunted houses and buildings with well over 200 still to be verified by paranormal experts. Death on the diamond diggings and later during the Anglo-Boer War, gave Kimberley many haunted corners. So too did failed romance and other downright gory deaths, like a huge fire in the old De Beers Mine in which hundreds of miners perished. According to some, the Great Mine Disaster of the late 1800s in which more than 200 miners died when a fire broke out, left many souls trapped underground. Today, the shivering facts and fallacies about ghostly visitations are packed in a fun and entertaining guided ghost trail. The thrilling Kimberley Ghost Tour is renowned for the number and variety of its resident spirits. Many apparitions haunt some of the old mining town’s most historic houses and monuments, while on an Anglo-Boer battlefield just outside the town, a lonely phantom Scottish piper can be heard playing on moonlit nights.
Kimberley has many genuine stories of ghost sightings in haunted places. The ghost trail starts at the imposing Honoured Dead Memorial. Guides lead you to some of the reputedly haunted corners of Kimberley that could include the Kimberley Regiment’s Drill Hall, the Kimberley Club, Rhodes’ Boardroom and Rudd House. The tour ends just before the clock strikes twelve at the grave of the Frankensteins in the Gladstone Cemetery. There are several alternative Ghost tours available, including the recently launched Big Hole Ghost Walk as well as a visit to Magersfontein battlefield at night where perhaps one may see the swinging lanterns of the stretcher bearers and hear the ghostly bagpipes. Several battlefield graveyards are also visited on this unique tour.
The Honoured Dead Memorial is a provincial heritage site in Kimberley in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. It is situated at the meeting point of five roads, and commemorates those who died defending the city during the Siege of Kimberley in the Anglo-Boer War. The memorial was dedicated on 28 November 1904. Cecil John Rhodes commissioned Sir Herbert Baker to design a memorial which commemorates those who fell during the Kimberley Siege. Rhodes sent Baker to Greece to study ancient memorials. The monument is built of sandstone quarried in the Matopo Hills in Zimbabwe and is the tomb of 27 soldiers killed during the Siege of Kimberley between 1899 and 1900. It features an inscription that Rhodes specifically commissioned Rudyard Kipling to write:
THIS FOR A CHARGE TO OUR CHILDREN IN SIGN OF THE PRICE WE PAID
THE PRICE WE PAID FOR THE FREEDOM THAT COMES UNSOILED TO YOUR HAND
READ REVERE AND UNCOVER FOR HERE ARE THE VICTORS LAID
THEY THAT DIED FOR THE CITY BEING SONS OF THE LAND
The Kimberley Regiment was founded in 1876 and has famous personalities like Cecil John Rhodes and Harry Oppenheimer as former honorary colonels. The Drill Hall is also a turn of the century building reflecting the architectural style typical of Kimberley. The Drill Hall is reportedly home to a very active ghost believed to be that of Sir David Harris. At the William McGregor museum, once a nunnery, a phantom nun wanders, while at the Terry Hall of Militia, a baby’s wail can be heard as the lid of a tin trunk mysteriously opens and closes.
The old Kimberly library, now the Africana Library, houses one of the largest and most valuable collections of old books and manuscripts in the world. The building was completed in 1868. Bertrand Dyer sailed from England to South Africa some years later, and established himself as the librarian. He sorted and referenced the books in the collection, even then estimated as one of the world’s largest, and began the process of restoring and preserving its most valuable pieces. He is also said to have fiddled the account books. When his deception was discovered, he committed suicide by swallowing arsenic. He took three days to die. Today people still hear the footsteps of a man pacing the library from room to room. Many people have seen a man in period dress walking the corridors. Shown a picture of Bertrand, they identify the ghost as him. Many visitors have seen books inexplicably crashing to the floor, and heard teacups tinkling at 4pm.
On the Kimberley Ghost Tour you’ll also visit the beautiful old Kimberley Club, where a ghostly waiter serves in the dining room, an elderly man walks the upstairs passage, and a woman in period dress stands on the staircase. The Kimberley Club was founded in August 1881. Leading men of Kimberley wanted a meeting place along the lines of London clubs where they could enjoy a drink or two, good food and the company of their peers, in comfort, away from the dust and dryness of the diggings. A visitor once said “the place was stuffed with more millionaires to the square foot than any other place in the world”. Many historic decisions have been made at the club, affecting not only Kimberley, but southern and central Africa and the international diamond industry.
Rhodes’ Boardroom is on Warren Street, Gladstone. It is a National Monument and was the De Beers Mining Company Head Office from 1886 to 1889 when it moved to Stockdale Street. Here, in 1888, mine magnets Cecil John Rhodes and Barney Barnato met to form De Beers. Rhodes wrote Barnato a cash cheque for 5,338,650 pounds for control of the company at the very table that occupies the centre of the room today. Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe had their origins in this room, where Rhodes wielded his political power. De Beers board members would often see a large dog sitting patiently in the corner of the room by the door. They would also hear the footsteps of a man walking through the room, during a meeting, in broad daylight. But there was no one there. The lampshade over Rhode’s old desk is said to suddenly start swinging and just as suddenly to stop. Various secretaries over the years have claimed that a man wearing old-time clothing will sometimes stand in the doorway to watch over them while they work. Many artifacts of Rhodes, Jameson, and others are on display, including the original boardroom table and chairs.
The Rudd house was built in the 1870s and donated to the McGregor Museum by De Beers when the Rudd family abandoned their increasingly haunted home in the 1970s. As the Rudd family expanded, so did the house. The wooden building has 22 chambers and rooms, each one with its own peculiar story. The dinning room, for instance, has been the subject of many paranormal investigations by a Dr PK le Sueur, a Scotsman who holds two PhDs and an interest in the unexplained. He has pointed to the existence of several orbs of light that often appear on photos taken in the house. According to le Sueur, the orbs are manifestations of ghosts in this dimension. The cold one feels as these orbs manifest is the ghost sucking in energy.
A few years ago three journalists sat at the dinning room table to write three horror stories. A photo was taken when they finished. Only two of the three journalists appeared in the picture. A lady in white also appears on the balcony and the former sick room is said to be haunted by Percy Rudd the first owner. Caretakers had initially resided in a flat attached to the house. But these caretakers never lasted longer than six months. One caretaker said he had heard plates crashing in the pantry, next to his bedroom wall as he slept. Fearing a burglar he got up and called the police. They searched the house but found nothing. The officer was skeptical, the caretaker petrified. He heard the crashing of plates in the pantry every night until he resigned. Others have heard screams of a child in pain in the nursery.
If you visit the Magersfontein Anglo-Boer battlefield on a moonlit night you may well hear a phantom Scottish piper and see the flickering ghostly lanterns of the stretcher-bearers. More than 50% of visitors to the battlefield claim they have seen or heard something unexplained. The Battle of Magersfontein took place during the second Anglo-Boer War on 11 December 1899. The Boers scored a decisive victory in what became known as Britain’s ‘Black Week’. The Battle of Magersfontein was a triumph for the Boer forces, a disaster for the British army, and came close to wiping out Scotland’s proud Highland Brigade.
During the second Anglo-Boer War, the Boers had besieged Kimberley and its 50 000 inhabitants since November 1899. Supplies were scarce in the diamond-mining town and relief was imperative. The British public and press were demanding action. British forces advanced north along the railway line in an attempt to relieve Kimberley, but a Boer force was in their way at Magersfontein. The British mistakenly believed that the enemy was encamped on the slopes of the surrounding hills and were confident that their superior artillery would win the day. The troops advanced under cover of darkness and prepared to storm the Boer positions at daybreak. The plan proved horribly wrong.
The Boers had dug trenches at the base of the hills and the flat trajectory of their Mauser rifles raked the advancing British troops. The soldiers of Scotland’s Highland Brigade who survived the rifle fire were pinned down on the battlefield in the heat of the day. Over 200 British were killed during the battle, many of them dying of sunstroke and exposure. Today you can take a tour of the Magersfontein battlefield with an experienced guide and military historian to relive that grim day. You’ll visit some Boer graves in the veld before stopping at the Burgher Monument. Listen closely when you walk around these haunted hills, you may well hear the mournful notes of the phantom Scottish piper.