Steve on Sunday

2 May 2021

Greetings my fellow May Day celebratees,

There are many towns and cities in South Africa named after people, quite a few after Voortrekkers from the 1830s, and probably a few more than those such towns named and honouring politicians. These towns (and cities) include such wonderful places such as Durban (Sir Benjamin D’Urban), Upington, Carnarvon, Barkly West (and East), Krugersdorp, and naturally, Kimberley. There are more.

The town (or city) Kimberley today has been swallowed up into a larger municipal area known as the Sol Plaatje Municipality. Smaller towns such as Ritchie and Platfontein were also brought into this bigger picture, but certainly did not help very much financially as their unemployment figures were quite horrific. And still are. For that matter, Kimberley’s unemployment figures are also very high, which is quite worrying for the future both immediate and far distance.

But who or what was Kimberley named after?

The song “Kimberley O Kimberley” evokes thoughts of the early diamond days, of boisterous diggers in one of the many saloons or pubs that studded the winding roads of the canvas and corrugated iron diamond town, swigging draughts and singing along with, dare one say it, scantily clad womenfolk.

Great fun indeed if one ignores diseases and lack of medical facilities, those early days of New Rush on the farm Vooruitzicht, except for the fact that the Colonial Secretary detested both the term New Rush – which he considered too vulgar – and Vooruitzicht – he could hardly spell it, let alone pronounce it! So the problem of renaming this instant town was passed on to Richard Southey, then Lt-Governor of Griqualand West, who in turn, passed it on to John Blades Currey, the government secretary.

A very worthy diplomat indeed, Currey made very sure that the Colonial Secretary would be able to spell and pronounce the new name chosen for the town…by naming it after the secretary himself, Kimberley! The name was obviously approved by His Worship, so Kimberley was born, but it can be certain that the diggers did not care two hoots at the time. The new name was proclaimed on 5 July 1873.

The story of naming Kimberley is fairly well known, but what is not well known is who Lord Kimberley was, and what did he do that even today his name is as well remembered as that of his monarch, Queen Victoria?

John Wodehouse was born in Wymondham, Norfolk, England, on 29 May 1826, the eldest son of Harry and Anne Wodehouse, and a relative of Sir Philip Wodehouse, Governor of the Cape Colony 1861 – 1870. At the age of 20, while still a student at Oxford University, he inherited his grandfather’s title of Baron Wodehouse, his father having predeceased him. Five years later he was appointed the Under secretary for Foreign Affairs, holding this post from 1852 to 1856, after which he became the British Ambassador to Russia.

In 1858 he resumed his former position until his promotion to Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1864, a post he held for two years. Queen Victoria conferred an earldom upon him in 1869. He and his wife, the former Lady Florence Fitzgibbon, were living at their country estate, called Kimberley House, in the village of Kimberley in Norfolk, hence the choice of title. The original name Kimberley is derived from the Anglo Saxon word Cynburgh-leah, which means “women were entitled to own land”. This is often debated…

Two years later Lord Kimberley, or to be more accurate the Earl of Kimberley, became a member of Gladstone’s first cabinet and from 1870 he served as Secretary for the Colonies. As his appointment coincided with the discovery of diamonds on the ‘dry diggings’ he was prominent in the dispute over the ownership of Griqualand West, and the negotiations for its annexation as British territory.

Although he resigned his post in 1874, he was re-appointed by Gladstone as Colonial Secretary from 1880-1882, one of his major feats during the period being the peace settlement with Transvaal after the battle of Majuba in 1881.

He lived long enough to hear about the siege and relief of the Kimberley – the town named after him – and died on 8 April 1902.

South Africa’s Kimberley is not the only one in the world. Apart from the two villages in England, there is a Kimberley in British Columbia and in Ontario; and a Cape Kimberley, a Kimberley Plateau, Kimberley downs, a Kimberley Range, and a Kimberley region in Australia. In Tasmania Australia there is also a Kimberley warm springs. There are also at least ten Kimberley towns in the USA, but without the “e”.

There may be more.

Kimberley, with or without the “e”, is also a popular girl’s name. On occasion the shortened version ‘Kim’ is both a girl and boys name.

Have a good week.

I thank you.

One thought on “SOS – Steve On Sunday”
  1. I thought this was a prelude to the name changes we white Zimbabweans had to accept. It has happened in every African country, No doubt it has happened in RSA. Of course it has…Free State, Transvaal et al. I cannot accept it especially considering the BANTU did not have a written language. Reality? These names are based og guesstimates.
    Do not start me off on the re-writing of British and European history – I tend to become incandescent – watch my tracer boet!
    Remove Rhodes? OK but stop certain races accepting his largesse in the form of scholarships!

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