Henry "Harry" Barnato

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Henry "Harry" Barnato (Isaacs)

Birthplace: London, United Kingdom
Death: Died in London, England
Immediate Family:

Son of Isaac Isaacs and Leah Isaacs
Husband of Charlotte Maud Isaacs (Barnato) and Rachel Isaacs (Barnato)
Father of Leah / Lily Primrose Asher
Brother of Sarah Rantzen; Barney Barnato; Catherine 'Kate' Joel; Elizabeth Nathan and Barney Isaacs

Occupation: Living with Uncle at age 22. Left for SA in 1871
Managed by: Jeffrey Michael Maynard
Last Updated:

About Henry "Harry" Barnato

  • Birth: 1849 - London
  • Death: Nov 30 1908
  • Parents: Isaac Isaacs, Leah Isaacs (born Harris)
  • Siblings: Catherine Joel (born Isaacs), Woolf Isaacs, Sarah Rantzen (born Isaacs), Barney Barnato (Born Issacs), Elizabeth Nathan (born Isaacs)
  • Ex-wife: Rebecca Barnato (born Pollack)
  • Daughter: Leah (Lillie) Asher (born Barnato)
  • 1851 census: 5 Harrow Alley. Age 2.
  • Emigrated from England to South Africa in 1871. Returned to England in the late 1880s.

Some trees on MH have his date of death in 1917. This is not possible. November 30th 1908 is given as his death date in an 'in memoriam' notice in the Jewish Chronicle of December 3rd 1909.

Transcribed Ellen Stanton from South Africa Magazine 5 December 1908







In the last few years death has exacted a heavy toll from among the members of the famous house of Barnato, three of the five who have done so much to make its history stranger than fiction having passed away. Mr. Henry Barnato, the last to follow to the Silent Land the late Barney Barnato and Woolf Joel, passed peacefully away on Monday, and the world is the poorer by the loss of a remarkable personality. Although in recent years the late Mr. Henry Barnato was a comparatively little known man, a singular combination of circumstances and his early actions were entirely responsible for the creation of the house of Barnato, which is one of the steps on which South Africa rose from the insignificant position of a crude farming country to fame as the greatest producer of gold and diamonds the world has ever known. Mr. Harry Barnato—as he was more popularly known—was not of late years a very active figure in the business world. He was living in more or less quiet retirement at his residence in Upper Hamilton Terrace, N.W., when he died. For some time he had been suffering from heart trouble, and it was that which eventually terminated his career at the comparatively early age of 58 years.

Latterly the firm with which the name is connected had been carried on by Mr. Harry Barnato and his nephews. Mr. “Solly” Joel and Mr. “Jack” Joel, although for some years Mr. Barnato had been little more than a sleeping partner. Mr. Harry Barnato held only one directorate, being a permanent Director of the Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company, Limited.


We are in a position to announce that the death of Mr. Harry Barnato will not affect the market as might be expected if any considerable part of his holding was suddenly realized. It is provided that the whole of his interest in the firm will remain untouched, but his private accumulations of wealth will be disposed of according to the nature of the bequests made in his will. How Mr. Harry Barnato founded the fortunes of the famous house is a story which is not surpassed in the realms of fiction. A strong outline is presented in Mr. Harry Raymond’s book, written about the brother, Mr. Barney Barnato, which was published eleven years ago. Mr. Harry Barnato’s adventurous career first began in 1871, when fortune guided his footsteps to the then little-known diamond fields in Griqualand West. He had made something of a reputation at Home as an amateur conjurer and entertainer, and thought he might make money if not fame in beguiling the tedium of the diggers’ lives in what was then an isolated part of the earth. He was at that time known as Henry Isaacs, but having some ambitions as a public entertainer he adopted the professional name of Barnato in addition, and for show purposes was billed as “Signor Barnato, the great Wizard.” But young Harry soon found that success did not attend his efforts as in itinerant conjurer, and he was obliged to turn to more remunerative employment, and he gradually drifted into diamond dealing, or what, in the vernacular of the diggings, was known as “Kopje walloping.” This inelegant term is derived from the fact that the diamonds were obtained from a number of small kopjes, and the dealers traveled on foot from one to another purchasing the finds as they were turned out at the sorting tables. It did not take Harry Barnato long to discover that there was not only a living to be obtained on the diamond fields for himself, but that there were abundant opportunities for his younger brother Barnett Isaacs, and he wrote advising him to go out at once. Barney by this time had reached the age of 21 years, and had already given evidence of his ability as a keen business man. He was already looking about for opportunities for the application of his financial talents and had found little chance of materially improving his fortunes in England, when his brother Harry’s welcome letter arrived and at once opened up a field of great possibilities. He had about £100 carefully saved up, and after purchasing his ticket to Cape Town had a substantial sum left.


Before following the fortunes of the brothers in South Africa it may be as well to learn something of their origin. They were the sons of a worthy and pious Hebrew, Isaac Isaacs, whose ancestors had for many generations been domiciled in London. The grandfather was a rabbi of the synagogue, a very learned, deeply religious man of great reputation among the Hebrews. Their father, however, turned his attention to commercial pursuits. He established himself in a small house and shop in a street leading off Aldgate, as a general dealer, and there he remained until he retired at the solicitations of his successful sons. It will be seen that they were not, as some people would have us believe, men of the humblest origin. Their mother, Leah Isaacs, was a relative of the late Sir George Jessel, Master of the Rolls. Moreover, the business of the family had always been prosperous, consequently their circumstances were very comfortable. The children were all educated exclusively at the Hebrew Free School, in Bell Lane, Spitalfields, one of the noblest of institutions, which from the beginning had been an excellent type of a voluntary elementary school, with a curriculum decidedly above that of the modern higher grade Board School. The boys were fortunate in being under Moses Angel, the most celebrated Headmaster of the School, and an eminent contributor to educational literature. They, however, showed only ordinary ability for book learning, and at the age of fourteen both left school and for a few years aided their father in business.

It is impossible in writing the obituary of Harry Barnato to avoid recounting some of the details of the career of his famous brother, for they are inseparably connected. It was Harry Barnato, as we have already said, who gave his brother Barney his first opportunity to get on in life, and when Barney rose to be a person of importance in the financial world he carried Harry with him. In the early days of the Diamond Fields, the inquiry as to who he was met with the response “Oh, that is Harry Barnato’s brother.” A few years later the reply to the same question was: “That is Barney Barnato; Harry Barnato, the diamond expert is his brother.” On arrival at the Diamond Fields full of energy and determination, Barnett Isaacs adopted the name of Barnato, assumed by his brother, but was generally known as “Barney,” and he desired no more fitting appellation. At this time his brother Harry had all he could do to keep afloat, so Barney set up in business on his own account. He had for a partner Louis Cohen, and they experienced very hard times together. Both brothers were still struggling when, in 1874, they became partners and for a period of six years they directed the whole of their energies to the accumulation of money. Harry Barnato devoted himself to the diamond dealing branch of the business and Barney to all the growing interests of the firm outside the office.


If they had struggled before, they toiled even harder now. It was day and night work. In 1876 they received the first substantial recompense for their toilsome labours, for in that year they were enabled to buy their first claim in the Kimberley Mines, and start diamond mining instead of purely dealing. From these properties a steady income of about £1800 a week was derived. In 1880 the business of Barnato Brothers was established as a London firm of diamond dealers and financiers. At the end of the same year the claims in the Kimberley Mine were floated into the first company, under the title of the “Barnato Diamond Mining Company.” In 1881 several other companies were floated, which were most successful. It was about this time that Cecil John Rhodes floated the first De Beers Diamond Mining Company, and together these two great Diamond Kings—Rhodes and Barney Barnato—worked on, their interests all the time converging. The idea was that Rhodes should achieve the control of the De Beers Mine, and Barnato the Kimberley Mine, without resorting to amalgamation, and control the diamond output and trade. Eventually, to put an end to their conflicting interests, they amalgamated and founded the De Beers Consolidated Mines, Limited, which was established in July 1889. Among the possessions which Mr. Harry Barnato proudly displayed was the famous cheque for £5,500,000, which he kept in a frame. It had been paid as the purchase price of the assets of the Kimberley Mine, of which Mr. Barney Barnato was the principal owner at the time of the amalgamation. Nine years later, on June 14, 1897, Mr. Barney Barnato startled the world by committing suicide by jumping overboard from the Union-Castle steamer Scot while on his way to England. He had been suffering for some time from overwork and insomnia, which must have seriously affected his mind, and brought about his untimely end. Readers of South Africa will readily recall the lengthy account which we gave at that time of the career of the great financier.


To continue the narrative: From Kimberley the brothers turned their attention to Johannesburg when the Rand was discovered, and doubled and perhaps trebled their Kimberley fortunes there. They prospered with everything they touched, and it is estimated that Mr. Barnato’s property was at one time valued at twelve millions sterling. As they prospered they took in as partners their nephews Woolf, Jack, and Solly Joel. Our readers will remember the tragic end of Mr. Woolf Joel, who was shot by Von Veltheim in Johannesburg in March, 1898. Only the two members of the firm of Barnato Brothers are left—Messrs. Jack and Solly Joel, the well-known patrons of the turf, who have both figured rather prominently in the public eye of late. Mr. Harry Barnato appears to have had few recreations, his chief one being horse racing. He had several horses in training at Charles Morton’s stable at Wantage, Berkshire, where Mr. J. B. Joel’s horses are also trained. His most successful horses were Sir Geoffrey (which won the Lincoln Handicap), Le Buff, and Sweet Story. Mr. Barnato’s death has come with remarkable suddenness, and will be a surprise to his many friends on the Rand and in Kimberley. He was at his office as late as Friday of last week, and was then apparently in his normal state of health, though by no means perfectly well. Mr. Barnato was a widower with one daughter, now Mrs. S. G. Asher, to whom we tender our deep sympathy upon the loss she has sustained.

Some time must necessarily ensue before Mr. Harry Barnato’s executors will be in a position to make a settlement of his affairs. He has always been regarded as a very wealthy man, so that nobody will be surprised at the estimate made amongst City men that his estate is worth over £5,000,000. It is understood that Mrs. Asher, his daughter, will receive a legacy amounting to nearly a million. We are also able to state, on the best of authority, that Mr. Barnato has bequeathed about a quarter-of-a-million to the various charities in which he was interested.

The funeral took place at the Jewish Cemetery, Willesden, on Wednesday, before a large gathering of people. The funeral procession from the residence at Hamilton Terrace consisted of about 150 carriages. The Rev. J. L. Geffen, of the New West End Synagogue, and the Rev. Dr. Hogman conducted the service. Among the mourners were Mr. S. G. Asher (son-in-law), Mr. J. B. Joel, Mr. S. B. Joel, Mr. L. M. Myers, and Mr. L. Abrahams, the latter representing De Beers. The interment took place in the family vault by the side of the late Barney Barnato, deceased’s brother. Mrs. B. Barnato sent a large floral urn, and a representation of a broken column in flowers, surmounted by a dove, was sent by Mrs. Asher, both being placed on the grave.




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Henry "Harry" Barnato's Timeline

London, United Kingdom
July 28, 1877
Age 27
Kimberley Diamond Diggings, Northern Cape, South Africa
November 30, 1908
Age 58
London, England

This cannot be correct as Harry would have been 21 when he left for South Africa!