The Golden Town Of Barberton

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

When we think of the ’Wild West’, we tend to focus on small towns in the US. However, although the small town of Barberton in Mpumalanga may have never had cowboys riding through its streets, when the gold rush hit the similarities were startling.The precious metal was discovered in 1881 and the Sheba Reef Mining Company was formed. The prospect of jobs and potential wealth attracted gold diggers from all over the world and the gold rush began. The town boomed.Billiard saloons, bars, and hotels flourished in the neighbourhood drawing a wealth of colourful characters who, keen to get onto the bandwagon, plied their trade in the town. Cockney Liz and the Golden Dane were two of the better-known townsfolk of the day and there escapades are well documented. Legend has it that the two women who lived in Barberton in the late 1800s, and labelled by the womenfolk of Barberton as “brazen hussies”, boldly competed for the attention of the local men. Cockney Liz danced and sang in the bars and saloons, much to the disgust of the ladies of the town who frowned on the activities of so-called ladies of ill repute. Regardless of her reputation and dubious beginnings, she eventually opened her own business and made her fortune before disappearing, some say to marry. The slightly more mysterious Golden Dane was so called because despite being regarded as the most beautiful women in Barberton and therefore a popular companion for the locals, she neglected to tell a single sole her real name. The only hint of her identity was in the form of letters that she regularly sent to Denmark. The nickname stuck as did the mystery of her origins and when she died she took her secrets to the grave – no next of kin were informed. Perhaps the town’s most famous former resident was a dog called Jock. A statue of this famous canine stands in the town and numerous hotels, lodges, shopping centres and other buildings still bear his name. When Sir Percy Fitzpatrick put pen to paper, recounting the life of this amazing animal in the book Jock of The Bushveld, it became an instant best seller. Published in 1907, the story was written at the urging of Fitzpatrick’s good friend Rudyard Kipling who overheard him recounting the tales to his children. The book tells the story of how Fitzpatrick saved the runt of the litter and how this brave, loyal hound became his faithful companion.While the ‘gold rush’ may be over, the Sheba mine still remains and is regarded as not only one of the oldest mines in the world, but also one of the richest. The wily characters and prospectors may have disappeared, but the town remains an extremely popular choice for both tourists and homeowners.Lightstone statistics reveal that there were a total of 452 sales concluded in the area over the last 12 months. A staggering 392 sales were first time sales in the freehold sector and the fact that only 78 new bonds were registered in the period indicates that a vast number of the properties were bought for cash. The average price paid for a freehold unit was R550 000. The history of the town as well as its close proximity to the Kruger National Park have added to the allure and, unlike some of the ghost towns of ‘The West’, it is doubtful whether this small place that has such a colourful history is going to fade away like the gold prospectors who once made it a boom town.

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