The 83.50 carat diamond crystal now known as the Star of South Africa, instigated the international diamond rush to South Africa in 1868. A Dutch digger named Corneilsa was allowed to prospect a farm for a 25% fee to the owners, the de Beer brothers (original spelling). News traveled fast and in a very short time, the de Beer farm was inundated with diggers racing to stake their claims on and beyond the farm’s boundaries. In October 1871, the de Beer brothers sold their farm for 6,300 pounds, not realizing the vast wealth that lay beneath the farmland.
In 1880, after years of aggressive claim buying, Cecil Rhodes founded what was then called the De Beers Mining Company. Barney Barnato, like Rhodes, came to South Africa with insight and vision and was eventually able to start a large diamond mining operation called Barnato Diamond Mining Company. He quickly gained control of the Kimberly Central Mining Company, at that time the largest mining company operating. Rhodes and Barnato had to fight it out for ultimate control over the mining and in the end Rhodes came out on top with his larger financial backing and perhaps sharper wit.
On March 13th 1888 De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. was born. Even though Barnato didn’t win the game he still ended up as a major player. Barnato was a key figure in the development of the South African diamond trade and was involved in some of the gold mine developments including the Rand gold fields. Unfortunately at the age of 44, under the stress of running the large financial empire and suffering from mental illness, he jumped overboard from a ship on a journey to England.