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Barnato, Barney


BARNATO, BARNEY (Barnett Isaacs ; 1852–1897), South African financier and mining magnate. Born in London, Barnato was educated at the Jews' Free School and went to Kimberley, South Africa, in 1873, during the diamond rush. He joined his brother Henry and they began buying diamonds as well as claims which were becoming unworkable as separate units. Within a short time the mines were bringing in an income of $9,000 a week. In 1881 the Barnato brothers formed the Barnato Diamond Mining Company, with capital of over $500,000. It soon rivaled the De Beers Mining Company of Cecil J. Rhodes, who was aiming at control of the diamond fields. The struggle between Rhodes and Barnato ended in 1888 with the amalgamation of the two companies into the De Beers Consolidated Mining Company, in which Barnato became a life governor. In the same year he was elected to the legislative assembly of Cape Colony. With the discovery of the Witwatersrand gold fields, Barnato acquired large holdings in Johannesburg, where the Barnato group eventually became one of the big mining units. In 1895 his optimism and business acumen saved the Rand from a serious slump. He denounced the Jameson Raid of that year which was aimed at overthrowing the government of Paul Kruger, but interceded with Kruger to reduce the offenders' sentences. Barnato was a colorful figure who loved to act in Shakespeare and sport fancy waistcoats. His wealth, financial shrewdness, and mode of living made him almost legendary. His vast interests, however, imposed a considerable strain on him and on a voyage to England in 1897, apparently emotionally disturbed, he jumped overboard and was drowned.


H. Raymond, B.I. Barnato (1897); L. Herrman, History of the Jews in South Africa (1935), 228ff.; R. Lewinsohn, Barney Barnato (1937); S. Jackson, The Great Barnato (1970). add. bibliography: G. Wheatcroft, The Randlords (1985), index; odnb online.

[Lewis Sowden]

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