Barkly West boasts a number of firsts in South Africa, including the first Anglican church north on the Vaal River (1871), the first bridge built over the Vaal river, and the first alluvial diamond discovery.
The site of the first diamond diggings in Africa is now a national monument.
Barkly West stands on the Vaal River close to the fording place called Klip Drift. It is over-looked by Canteen Koppie, a hillock that has signs of occupation going back to prehistoric times. Numerous artifacts left by early inhabitants have been found here.
Many unexpected pools, breakwaters and waterfalls in the course of the river are reminders of the feverish mining activities of the last century. For 150 kilometers the Vaal gravels are rich in diamonds, gemstones and decorative pebbles. To this day diggings still attract many prospectors.
The district of Barkly West is known for its large-scale dairy farming. Various crops are grown under irrigation with water drawn from the Vaal-Harts irrigation works.
Renowned writer Sarah Gertrude Millin grew up on the diamond diggings near Barkly West. Her father opened and operated the first shop in Barkly West.
Barkly West Activities:
Alluvial Diamond Diggings:
Licensed prospectors still shift the sand and gravel of the Vaal River for ever-elusive diamonds.
The original bridge with its tollhouse was the first to cross the Vaal River. The bridge was built in 1885 with steel girders imported from London. It is still in use.
Alluvial diamond diggings from 1869 onwards revealed many archeological sites along the Vaal River. This is one of the most exceptional and was proclaimed a national monument in 1948. Many artifacts found here point to human occupation in prehistoric times.
There is a self-guided walk through the old digging remains.
St Mary’s Anglican Church:
The first to be built on the diamond fields stands on the site of the old digger’s camp.
A small museum with stones, artifacts, fossils and geological specimens on display.
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