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Bloemhof




 

Edited and Updated 6 Oct

 

Bloemhof is situated on the Vaal River roughly 50 kilometres between Christiana and Wolmaransstad. The name, meaning "garden of flowers", is derived from the flowers cultivated by the daughter of the founder of Bloemhof, one John Barclay. Barclay, who survived the wreck of the "Birkenhead" in 1852, established the town on his farm in March 1866. He had actually been drawn to the district as diamonds had been discovered there two years before.








 
Access to the town from across the Vaal river was provided by a ferry known as "The North Star". The populetion is about 30,000 people. The black population is mainly concentrated in the 'township' of Boitumelong, ad the coloured residents mainly live in the neighbourhood of Coverdale.

Subsequently in 1970 a massive dam was built on the site of this crossing point at the confluence of the Vet and Vaal rivers.  Originally called Oppermansdrift, it is now simply referred to as the Bloemhof Dam, and is a major drawcard for the town, which during the twentieth century became an agricultural centre, maize being the predominant crop. The Bloemhof Dam Nature Reserve is located next to the dam resevoir. A few kilometres outside Bloemhof the signs, in the form of trenches and holes, of the earlier diamond rush are still visible along the course of the Bamboespruit stream.
 


Bloemhof was the site of the significant Bloemhof Arbitration in April 1871. Following the territorial dispute over the diamond fields, a court was established at Bloemhof to arbitrate between the contending parties comprising the Griqua, the South African Republic (SAR) and the baTlhaping. It drew many people, who arrived by horseback, wagons or Cape carts, either because they had a direct interest or merely out of curiosity. For two months the court heard the testimony of hundreds of witnesses. The judges could not reach agreement, so Lieutenant-Governor Keate of Natal was called in to give the final decision. The subsequent "Keate Award" was an elaborate means of ensuring that British interests were protected in the diamondiferous lands south of the Vaal River. The claims of the SAR and baTlhaping to the heart of the diamond fields were overridden, and the Griqua granted control of them. The Griqua under Nicholas Waterboer appealed for British protection, a request which had virtually been secured before Kearte's ruling,  and the area, which was to prove fabulously rich in diamonds, was simply annexed by the British in late 1871.      


During to so-called Bechuanaland Wars in the early 1880's when the mercenaries and freebooters from the SAR were expanding onto land held by the independent baTswana to the west, Bloemhof became a focal point for these elements, as it was close to the disputed land. Initially a number of burghers from Bloemhof agreed to assist the baTlhaping kgosi (chief) Mankurwane, but they were outgunned by other mercenaries backing Mankurwane's Kora rival, Mossweu.
 
The diamond rush reached Bloemhof in 1909. There was a spectacular, if short-lived, fortune to be made at Bloemhof for a number of diggers. In 1909, the diamond fields yielded only 783 carats, but, following the discovery of a more extensive at nearby Mooifontein, production doubled within a year, realising 37,000 carats worth nearly £200, 000. The proclamation of the Mooifontein field brought five thousand diggers to the site, and another thousand to the vicinity of the "Bloemhof Townlands". "This was followed by an influx of attorneys, traders and storekeepers..and at least half a dozen buyers representing the largest houses in London made a weekly visit to the new industrial centre".[1] A brewery, several stores, two hotels, a theatre, and a newspaper, The Diggers Friend, provide an indication of the extent of the boom. 
 
After the rush was over, maize farming took hold, and a number of wealthy Boer landowners settled in the region around Bloemhof. In an area of low population density where Africans were concerned, these farmers relied on African tenants and sharecroppers to provide a workforce.       
 




[1] C. Van Onselen, "The Seed is Mine"; The Life of Kas Maine, A South African Sharecropper, 1894-1985" (Cape Town 1996), p.35. 



South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

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