Kimberley Club

The Kimberley Club is synonymous with the early history of Kimberley’s diamond rush and reflects the impressive ambience of one of South Africa’s oldest clubs. The building, with its original fixtures and fittings, allows guests a rare opportunity to experience an exclusive tradition. The Club has seen the comings and goings of some of the foremost personalities in the world, has entertained sovereigns, princes and princesses.

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. Cecil John Rhodes was the prime mover in the founding of the Club. Some of the original members were Cecil Rhodes and his partner, Charles D. Rudd and Dr Leander Starr Jameson, as well as mining magnate Lionel Phillips and JB Robinson. Needless to say it was the men of the diamond industry who predominated.

A visitor to Kimberley once said, “the place was stuffed with money.” There were more millionaires to the square foot than any other place in the world. The members were all young, ambitious and adventurous. Cecil Rhodes himself was only 28 years old at the time of the founding of the Club. It was on the veranda of the Club that he worked on plans and ideas to colonize the land north of the Zambezi, Rhodesia, which was named in his honour. The iron arrow on the pathway in the main door of the Club was placed there in 1889 to point north, as Cecil Rhodes’s sense of direction was not of the best. It can still be seen today.
The original building burned to the ground on 1 November 1886. All that remained were two side walls. The fire started while members were at dinner when an oil lamp chandelier fell in the upstairs Billiard Room. The building included a great deal of wood in its construction which burned fiercely. Naturally residents of Kimberley rushed to view the disaster. Kimberley’s inadequate water supply could not extinguish the blaze. Residential accommodation was added for the first time when the Club was rebuilt eight months after the fire. Four outside bedrooms were built behind the Club as well as a communal bathroom. Electricity, generated by a plant, was installed at the beginning of 1888. De Beers agreed to supply the Club with electricity from the Kimberley Mine in 1890.

Early Club rules included “No Women in the Club, “No Dogs on the Premises and “No Smoking in the Dining Room, later amended to “No Smoking until one hour after the commencement of the meal. Rhodes and Jameson were inveterate smokers.

The second building was destroyed by fire just nine years later in October 1895. Nearly everything was destroyed except the stores in the wine cellar and papers and documents rescued from the Secretary’s safe. The kitchen remained unscathed and three days later meals were again being served in a house nearby. Salvaged from the ruins was the famous weighing chair, presented by Lord Randolph Churchill, father of Sir Winston Churchill in 1892 which now stands in the lounge off the bar on the ground floor.

The third Kimberley Club building was completed in mid 1896. Plans had been drawn by Greatbach who also designed “Dunluce” in Lodge Road as well as the original buildings of what is now Girls High School. A lot of the furniture still in daily use was ordered from London; the bentwood chairs in the bar lounge date from this time as well as the mahogany sideboard in the Dining Room.

Cecil John Rhodes presented his portrait, painted by Herbert Harkomer, to the Club in 1898, and this is to be seen in the bar lounge. Prince George, later the Duke of Kent, visited the Club for three days in March 1934. So pleased was he with his visit and reception at the Club that he sent a signed photograph of himself which is still among souvenirs of well known visitors to the Club. In 1947, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and the two princesses Elisabeth and Margaret, used the Club during their one day visit to Kimberley. The Queen left a diamond ring in the bathroom which was found after their departure. It was sent on and the Club received a letter of thanks from the King’s aid-de-camp.

The Kimberley Club had always been a Men’s Club. Ladies Nights were held very occasionally but it wasn’t until 1937 that a Ladies Annexe was made available (now the Rhodes Room). A banquet was held on 12 May 1937 to celebrate the opening of the Ladies Annexe as well as the coronation of King George VI. At this stage ladies still used the back gate into the Club premises. The present Ladies Lounge off the Dining Room used to be the Billiard Room, and was brought into use towards the end of 1962 after much rebuilding and alterations were done. At last the ladies had an entrance on Du Toitspan Road, not the front door as such, but they no longer had to use a back door to the Club. It was only in April 1965 that women were admitted to the Club as Associated Members instead of having to be invited guests. After discussions at the Annual General Meeting on 25 July 1980, women were finally allowed to use the front door, the Dining Room, accommodation at the Club. including The Bar and Bar Lounge.
During the siege of Kimberley one of the club members, Fergus Carstairs Rogers was on his way home from the club when a boer shell exploded and wounded him in the leg. Willing helpers dashed to the rescue, and Mr. Carstairs Rogers (an architect in Kimberley and some of the buildings he designed are still in use) was advised to go to hospital. His reply was: “Hospital be blowed, take me into the Club!” One of the dining room tables in the Club was used as an operating table, he was plied with whisky and the splinter removed. He later had this made into a brooch and on the reverse the following inscription is seen “Taken from FC Rogers’ leg during Anglo Boer War 1900”. The shell splinter was presented to the Club by Mrs. Margaret Harvey in 2009 in memory of her late husband Frank Harvey, who was the grandson of FC Rogers.