Joburg is 130 years old – this is what it looked like back then

South Africa’s biggest city is celebrating its 130th birthday this month, and has come a long way from a handful of farms digging for gold back in 1886.

Johannesburg was formally established by the Boer government in 1886, after gold was discovered along the Witwatersrand reef.

By the time the Anglo-Boer war kicked off, the city had already grown significantly, with a working railway system, horse-drawn trams and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) in full operation.

In its earliest days, Joburg was a small grouping of around 9 farms that had acquired claims to dig for gold. The area, known as Ferreirasdorp today, is the oldest suburbs of Joburg.

ferreirasdorp-today
Ferreirasdorp today
ferreiras-gold-mine-1886
First digging in Ferreirasdorp in 1886
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Ferreira’s Camp 1886

The digging camps were set up by former Boer adventurer, Ignatius Ferreira, who established the region, and his land became the spot for many firsts for the city.

Historians are not certain how Johannesburg got its name beyond knowing that it was named after someone called Johann. Unfortunately, Johann is a common Dutch name, and the records of which Johann in particular got the honour, was blown away on a stormy night.

The most likely candidate is Johann Rissik, who served as the first clerk in the office of the surveyor general, who was left to declare the new city’s name in a hurry.

Today, Joburg has grown to cover over 2,300 square kilometres – a space larger than Sydney, London and New York. It is home to over 4.6 million people, and is one of the world’s richest heritage sites.

Here are some images of Johannesburg in its earlier days – more can be seen here.

Joburg Market Square circa 1900
Joburg Market Square circa 1900
Joburg City Centre in 1896
Joburg City Centre in 1896
Joburg circa 1900
Joburg circa 1900
Joburg government buildings circa 1900
Joburg government buildings circa 1900

Image sources: Wikipedia Commons

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Joburg is 130 years old – this is what it looked like back then