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The Diamond Magnates

By Brian Roberts

The discovery of diamonds in a remote region of the Cape, in the middle of the nineteenth-century, attracted an extraordinary collection of adventurers to South Africa.

From all over the world men flocked to the diamond fields in the hopes of making a quick fortune. When diamond digging gave way to diamond mining, a struggle developed for complete control of the industry. This is the story of the men who, with varying motives, became involved in that struggle.

Cecil Rhodes, son of an English parson, sought financial power to further his vision of Imperial expansion. Barney and Harry Barnato came from London’s East End and, with their nephews, Jack, Woolf, and Solly Joel, were determined to establish the financial supremacy of their family. Alfred Beit, a money-making genius from Hamburg, wanted little more than to assist Rhodes in his grandiose schemes. Joseph Benjamin Robinson, who was probably the richest of them, was mainly concerned with bolstering his own avaricious ego. Their struggle was accompanied by controversy and scandal – both financial and personal – and evolved into one of the most ruthless financial clashes of modern history.

Not until late in their lives did they graduate from Kimberley’s corrugated-iron shanties to Park Lane mansions and splendid country houses; when they did, they fell victim to international charlatans – the pseudo Baron von Veltheim, the Russian-born Princess Radziwill and the French impostor Henri Lemoine – whose intrigues overshadowed their last days. 

This book, based on contemporary documents and unpublished material, explores the diamond magnates’ personalities with revealing candour.

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