The DeBeers diamond company was not actually named for the founders, but for two farmers who discovered diamonds on their land in 1871, and sold the farm to be developed into a diamond mine, the place coming to be named Kimberley after an English politician. It soon attracted tens of thousands of people looking for work in or around the mines.

What transport was available for getting to Kimberley? Suppose you were a hopeful miner in, say, King William's Town, as likely a starting point as any. That's 675 kilometers away. The landscape around Kimberley looks like arid scrubland. I don't think there would've been any railways near there at that time; presumably not many roads, nor many places to stop along what roads there were. Horses were expensive, and needed food and water. And it doesn't seem like it would be easy to walk hundreds of kilometers through arid scrubland with few signposts or resting places.

What transport did people use to get there?

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    Those who could afford it would use ox-carts. Those who couldn't would walk or take one of the scheduled stages. And no, it wasn't easy, but then neither were the gold rushes in the Americas and Australia. See, for example The South African Diamond Fields, and a Journey to the Mines on JStor. Aug 25 '20 at 1:32
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    Looks like there is some relevant info, including photos, in the book Capital and Labour on the Kimberley Diamond Fields, 1871-1890 by Robert Vicat Turrell. The Google preview is limited but it looks like on p.15 it says the railway was still about 100 miles away in 1885.
    – Brian Z
    Aug 25 '20 at 14:27
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    How did they get supplies in? Was it feasible to get a job bringing them in? (If not, it might still be feasible to travel with the supplies, which is safer than going alone.)
    – Mary
    Sep 8 '20 at 16:14
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    @Mary many of the farmers in the surrounding area farm with livestock (even today). The meat would come from the immediate surrounding area. Vegetables would be grown next to the rivers. The nearest "large" river is the Riet river (about 45km away) and then the Orange river (about 120km) away. Water would possibly come from a well or a fountain nearby. As for the mining equipment, those would have to be transported from the nearest harbour with ox-carts or donkeys.
    – Stochastic
    Sep 8 '20 at 16:29

I agree with the comment of @sempaiscuba


In 1871 there we no railways to Kimberley. The town of Kimberley was established in 1878. It become part of the Cape Colony in 1880. The railway to Kimberley was only completed in 1885. I assume the planning of the railway started shortly after the diamonds were discovered there in 1871. (Kimberley history)


The nearest large town/city is Bloemfontein. That is about 150 kilometers away if you walked. With that being said the railway to Bloemfontein was only completed in 1889. I believe that the railway to Kimberley was of greater importance than the one to Bloemfontein. Also important to note that Kimberley was part of the Cape Colony and Bloemfontein was part of the Orange Free State. Kimberley was under British rule and the Free State was an independent republic. (Bloemfontein railway) (Colonial history Bloemfontein)

Travel times

King William's Town is about 550 kilometers from Kimberley if you walk. Depending on rivers and mountain ranges this could be closer to 650km. For a miner to travel form King William's Town to Kimberley could easily take more than a month (this is under the assumption that someone can travel 15km by foot per day).
The chances of a miner having an ox-cart would have been very small given their living standard. If they were lucky enough to have a horse this journey could be shortened by about two weeks (assuming that a person can travel 35km per on a horse). (Travel times)


It is important to bear in mind that the miner would have the Orange river among other rivers to cross. There might have been some bridges, but these would be far apart. Other challenges include the scarcity of water. While there would be small towns on the way to Kimberley, there would probably not be a lot of water in between apart from a few rivers. This is especially true the closer you get to Kimberley. The landscape close to Kimberley is considered by many South Africans as semi-desert.

Other options could include taking a coach for Port Elizabeth, but I doubt that any miner would be able to afford it. These miners often went away from home in order to make money that they could take back home to care and provide for their families.

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