Cultural heritage pages.

  • NZASM. More information on the NZASM (Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg-Maatschappij) and its heritage in our area is available on the NZASM page.

A Short History

The unique village of Cullinan, named after Sir Thomas Cullinan, bears the distinction of being the site of discovery of the world's largest diamond.

The area of the village and Premier Mine was originally part of the "The Cornelis Minnaar Farm", Elandsfontein no. 85. It was registered on 7th November 1859.

Cornelis sold a portion of the farm to his brother Roelof Minnaar in 1861, who in turn sold the northern part of this farm to Willem Prinsloo for £570 on the 7th December 1896.

Thomas Major Cullinan, an influential building contractor, tried to obtain an option on the Prinsloo farm but failed. When Willem Prinloo died in 1898, Maria Prinsloo became the new owner shortly before the Anglo Boer War (1898-1902) broke out.

After the war the brothers of Maria Prinsloo returned to the farm. The Prinsloo family were in dire need of money. When Thomas Cullinan started new negotiations with the family, they agreed to the outright sale of the farm for the sum £52,000.

The company was at first registered as the Premier Syndicate on 6th November 1902 but reregistered on the 1st December 1902 as The Premier (Transvaal) Diamond Mining Company LTD with Thomas Cullinan as chairperson.

Prospecting started immediately and in early April 1903 William McHardy became the first general manager. Production began on 24th April 1903 when the first steam plant, which comprised of three rotary pans, known as No.1 gear, was put into commission.

By 1904 the prosperous mine already employed more than 2000 people.  On the 25th January 1905 a diamond with the mass of 3,106 carats in its uncut state was found in the side-wall of the open pit.

Thus the history of the Cullinan Diamond began. It is still the largest gemstone ever found. Two of the stones cut from the Cullinan Diamond are now found in the British Crown Jewels; the 530-carat "Star of Africa", which is set in the septre and the 317-carat "Lesser Star of Africa" which is set in the Imperial State Crown.

The year 1914 proved to be the start of difficult times. Tree hundred and eighty one European employees were discharged for provoking industrial disturbances at the mine. When the price of diamonds plummeted during the outbreak of World War 1 in Europe in August 1914, all operations at the Premier mine were suspended.

On the 16th January 1916, Premier Mine resumed production and in 1917, the De Beers Consolidated Mines acquired a controlling interest in the Premier mine.

During 1918 nearly every family of the Cullinan communities lost a member to the virulent flu epidemic.

The great depression which started in America in 1929 affected the rest of the world and in 1932 operations at the Premier mine were again suspended.

By 1933 deprivation and hunger were experienced not only in Cullinan but also throughout the country. The retrenched employees were permitted to remain in occupation of the company's houses rent free. They were also provided with water, lights, sanitary and medical services free of charge. The nearby Zonderwater farm came to the rescue by providing soup kitchens for the hungry children. By the time World War 2 started in 1939, the village were nearly deserted.

Between 1941-1945 the biggest concentration of Italian Prisoners of War, over 90,000, who were captured in North Africa, were housed in South Africa at Zonderwater Prison. During this period the army took over the village and even the golf course was used to pitch tents on.

Among these prisoners of war were musicians, craftsman and wonderful artists who painted eight murals during 1942 in the old Recreation Club Hall. These 3m x 4m mural paintings depicted South African and British scenes of historical interest. These paintings may have been copied from photographs or post cards, as most are copies of well-known artists such as Erich Mayer and W.H. Coetzer.

After the war ended in 1945, many POW's elected to stay on in South Africa , though only 30,000 were eventually permitted to remain.  About 264 prisoners were buried in the Italian military cemetery just outside Cullinan.  Throughout the years the descendants of the many Italian POW's have been making an annual pilgrimage to the Italian War Cemetery

In 1945 all the rain water that accumulated over the past twelve years while the mine had been closed, was pumped out of the big hole and the mine resumed production. To this day the mine is still producing some of the world's finest diamonds.

During 1948 the Recreational Hall was converted into a cinema. Unfortunately most of the murals were damaged when boards were put over them to improve the acoustics. The pressed steel ceiling, which dated back from 1912 - when the Recreational Hall was rebuilt after a fire - was also covered by a false acoustic ceiling.

Nearly fifty years later in 1993 the hidden murals were again uncovered thanks to the instigation of Mr. John Lincoln of the Cullinan Heritage Society.

Between 1994 -1998 the next projects were to find sponsors and to restore the murals. Apart from sponsorship from de Beers and Premier mine, the Heritage Society also looked to the Italian community to contributed to the sponsorship of the murals.

An article in "The Pretoria News" dated 28th November 1996 stated that the artists Ted and Colleen Noon were well on their way with the restoration work but that sponsorship for the other four murals were still required.

In 1998 restoration to the murals were finished just in time for the first Cullinan Festival.

Our Towns

The Cullinan Conservancy is near Cullinan and Rayton.

is well known for the Cullinan diamond. Cullinan is located in Gauteng,  approximately 35 km east of Pretoria in  South Africa. The small  town is named after Sir Thomas Cullinan who discovered a rich diamond pipe in 1902.  The famed Cullinan Diamond, the largest in the world at 3,106 carats (621 g), was discovered by Frederick Wells, surface manager of the Premier Diamond Mining Company on
25 June 1905. It was bought by the Transvaal government and presented to King Edward VII.

Rayton is a small town east of Pretoria and south of Cullinan. 'Rayton Junction', as it was first known, started out as a tin shack mining town on the farm Elandshoek.

During its boom days the town served the needs of thousands of diggers and prospecters working for the Schiller, Montrose and Dunmore mining companies. This mini diamond rush was sparked by Sir Thomas Cullinan's discovery of a kimberlite diamond pipe in the town since named after him.

The original Rayton Junction was laid out along a spur of the main NZASM railway line, which was completed in 1895 to connect the Republic of Transvaal's capital, Pretoria to the port in Delagoabay, Mozambique. Officials in the Montrose Diamond Mining Company did the town planning and named the hamlet after Lady Rachel Ray Williston, wife of the company's first manager, Colonel Balliston.

The town's first—and then only—brick building was the original magistrate’s office, which dates from this early time.

During the Second World War Italian prisoners of war were interned at Zonderwater just north of town, and massive military logistics and supply depots were established between Cullinan and Rayton.

After the war, the Stella Diamond Mining Company bought the land around the town and declared a peri-urban municipality with relatively cheap properties. Rayton's proximity to Pretoria's expanding eastern suburbs allowed steady growth from the 1970s into the latter part of the 20th century. Today, Rayton is a thriving town that serves the need of prison wardens at the nearby Zonderwater Prison, staff at the Cullinan diamond mine as well as the surrounding farming community, with the Willem Prinsloo agricultural museum celebrating the area's rich agricultural history on the farm Kleinfontein. Many settled town residents have found employment in surrounding suburbs of Pretoria.

Source - wikipedia


Cullinan Square in which the murals have been painted.

Historical sites

Our area has a rich history. Several farms have ruins or old buildings. If you have noteworthy information about our cultural heritage, please send it to us to upload on this site.

Basuthu ruins


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