Founding of Barberton

Moodie, determined not to be robbed by a crowd of diggers, sent Henry Nourse, big strapping fellow, down to the goldfields from Pretoria as his agent. In spite of his physique, Nourse was not a little nervous to what the diggers might do to him, and decided to take an escort. Traveling by way of Lake Chrissie, he met a group of men hunting in the vicinity. There were two brothers, Fred and Harry Barber, their cousin, Graham Barber, and two friends, Edward White and Holden Bowker. They were much traveled hunters and adventurers, and when Nourse asked them to accompany him as a reinforcement, they responded willingly.

Graham Barber

Arriving at Moodie’s, they found the diggers tough but not unfriendly towards a mere spokesman. The Barber party, therefore, left Nourse to argue the case out, and having been infected by the gold mania themselves, wandered off into the valley prospecting. Stumbling into an isolated little creek covered by a drowsy indigenous forest in May 1884, they noticed a white thread of quartz up on the cliff side. They knew little of the appearance of gold, but scrambled up and took samples. And when the samples were crushed and panned they showed a fine result.

Excitedly they pegged their claims and moved their camp to a site at the mouth of the creek. A thousand other diggers, with their ears to the ground, heard the rumour, and a new rush began. It was the greatest of them all up to that time, and Moodie, his reefs and his extortion, were within a short time contemptuously abandoned.

David Wilson, successor to the former gold commissioner Ziervogel at Kaapsehoop, came down to collect claim fees. His own words tell of the founding of the town of Barberton.

“”With the proving of Barber’s Reef a new era may be said to have begun on the fields. I had communicated the facts of the find to the Government, who instructed me to take the necessary steps to declare the vicinity of the discovery a township. So in February, 1884, in the presence of several diggers, including Messrs. Ede, Newmarsh and Taylor, I broke a bottle of gin – champagne being unobtainable – on the rock containing the gold bearing quartz, and named the prospective township Barberton, after the discoverers of the Reef.””

The date has been challenged, and was almost certainly June 24th of the same year. But the event is well authenticated.

Within a short time the two weatherbeaten tents of the Barber party were surrounded by a thousand others. Wagons were outspanned everywhere, and men were beginning to erect shacks along haphazard streets which originated, and were influenced in their direction, by the establishment of innumerable canteens. Along these streets bustled a throng as varied in typ and mood as only that excitable company can be who pursue the will-o’-the-wisp of gold. Men of every language could be heard mixed with the broad dialects of England, the tang of America, the whine of Australia and the homely Afrikaans of South Africa.

Well-dressed speculators and representatives of wealthy syndicates jostled with stiffs and chancers who had tramped to the fields without a shilling in their pockets. Plump-looking rogues sat side by side with gaunt prospectors who each knew with certainty “”the best thing on the fields””. Everywhere was an endless excited murmur of sound underlined by the muffled echoes of dynamite explosions in the surrounding hills.

Throughout the twenty-four hours heavy transport wagons rumbled through the streets loaded with supplies and all the impedimenta of mining. Hordes of pack donkeys and mules, as varied in character as their human owners, thronged the township, each laden with the tools, the pots, the dixies and the blankets of the diggers and prospectors. Once arrived on the field the fortune-seekersscattered to their various occupations. Methods of recovering gold were both ingenious and laborious, and in the first few months clever and original operations were carried out. Crude dolleys acted as mills, and the crushings were panned in water led from distant streams in long races. The optimistic digger hoped for results as high as seventeen ounces to the ton, but the average output from a good claim was seldom more than one and a half ounces.

Proper mills soon began to arrive on the field, J.T. Rimer brought up a 10-stamp battery which he erected in the Umvoti Creek (ever since called Rimer’s Creek), and with the Barbers and sincerely Newmarsh organized a syndicate to work the Barber’s Reef. Several other mills were soon established, and scores of reefs, good, bad and indifferent, were discovered by the prospectors. More and more shops were built, and canteens and bars reached the unparalleled proportion of one to every fifteen persons. Stylish liquor joints were built, and Barberton soon boasted of the Kentish Tavern, the Marble Arch and the Horse-shoe.

Boxing booths, bowling alleys, billiard saloons and music halls sprang up. On July 17th, 1887, the Royal Albert Hall was opened, providing concerts, billiards and of course a bar. Canteen men began importing barmaids, who, legend has it, were all very beautiful, and they fattened on the proverbial generosity of the excited diggers. Some of the more settled type of diggers brought their wives, and with the gradual advent of family life Barberton began to settle down in preparation for a sober maturity. But it was to have one or two final flings before it left its hectic youth behind.

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