Worldwide, old-style gentlemen’s clubs are going the way of the dinosaur. But the venerable Kimberley Club & Boutique Hotel has found a way to combine a modern outlook with tradition and history.
Words by Mike Simpson, photos by Jeanette Simpson, OlivePink Photography
Here are five things you probably don’t know about this historic venue, which is open to paying guests:
1. A London club in Africa
The Kimberley Club was founded in 1881 at the height of the diamond frenzy that gripped the city. The leading businessmen and diamond magnates of the time wanted a meeting place modelled on the famous gentlemen’s clubs of London, where they could seek refuge from the common miners and the heat, dust and noise of the diamond diggings.
2. Impact on history
There are few social clubs that have had as great an impact on the early colonial history of Southern Africa as the Kimberley Club. Cecil John Rhodes was a founding member and it is said that he sat on the club veranda working on plans to colonise what later became Rhodesia. Another founding member was Dr Leander Starr Jameson, who used the premises as his planning base for the ill-fated Jameson Raid of 1895 into the Transvaal Republic. The raid contributed to the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.
3. Benefits of membership
Another colourful early member was Barney Barnato, who walked the 1 000km from Cape Town to the Kimberley diamond fields because he was penniless. He left 15 years later as a very wealthy man after selling his diamond-mining business to Rhodes. According to legend, Barnato was initially reluctant to sell, but a deal-clincher was that Rhodes arranged membership for him at the notoriously exclusive club.
4. Open to all
In 2005 the Kimberley Club and Boutique Hotel became a combination of members’ club and four-star hotel, as a way to stave off closure due to rising costs and waning membership. The bar, guest rooms, restaurants and other historic facilities are thus open for paying guests to enjoy.
5. Blackballing of members
For many years the club used the popular 18th-century system of voting in members using black and white balls. White balls were a ‘yes’ and black balls a ‘no’ (hence the term ‘blackballed’). If a person applying for membership was blackballed, the members who proposed and seconded his application were expected to resign in disgrace for a year. The wooden ‘voting case’ and the balls can still be seen at the club today, although they are no longer in use.
6. Ghostly tales
Kimberley has a reputation as the most haunted city in South Africa, so it’s unsurprising that the 136-year-old club has its share of ghostly tales. On the main staircase, there are reports of a ghostly woman in white. And in the dining room there’s said to be a spectral waiter who wears a uniform from the 1880s. The most famous supernatural visitor, though, is claimed to inhabit a guest bedroom. Its eerie modus operandi is to grab the bottoms of lone female guests.