Barberton, the Daisy town, was named after Henry Barber in 1884, 24 July by the Gold Commissioner David Walson, after Barber and his cousin Fred discovered gold in the area. The mining of gold in South Africa began in Barberton, where Tom McLachlan found the first traces of alluvial gold in 1874. Since then, gold fields flourished as fortune seekers flocked to the area in search of gold. Today, the town has four gold mines that are more than 100 years and still in use. These mines are;
- The Agnes Gold Mine, was named after Jessie Agnes the wife of Jack Greaves. Jack Greaves discovered gold in this area in 1888. After some time he sold the mine to AJ Knuckly for about 1000 pounds. This mine is the main producer of gold and silver.
- The Fairview Gold Mine, Discovered in 1887 and owned by Kidson Reef Gold Mining Company LTD since then, Fairview is the only South African plant that has biox plant to extract gold. Previously owned by Gold Fields was sold to Avgold in 1998 at an estimated price of R95 Million Rands.
- New Consort Gold Mine, was established in 1885, it is currently owned by Metorex LTD, MCI Resources LTD and Crew Gold Crop.
- Sheba Gold Mine, is owned and controlled by the Barberton Area Gold Deposit. This was the first mining area, which was discovered by Edward Bray.
In the absence of documented material it is difficult to establish who the first inhabitants of Barberton were, however, according to some historical accounts; the first group of people to settle around the area were the Swazi people, in 1864 after the defeat of Mswati forces by the Mpumalanga at Mariepskop. Rock paintings in the mountains and the caves of the area provide evidence to the earlier existence of the San group. These paintings include familiar features of the San rock art paintings, which are prevalent in South African rock art.
These paintings are representative of the lives of the San hunters and gatherers, who inhabited the area before the arrival of the Nguni people from the north of the Mpumalanga province. As part of their survival, the San mined Red Ochre in an area known as Dumaneni. Apart from the existence of the San people, archaeologists have also found stone terraced walls, religious icons and gravesites that are evidences of a link with Hindu culture.
Present, the population of Barberton is made up of Africans (47 649), Indians (523), Coloureds (841) and Whites (4730). The main languages that are spoken are isiSwati with an estimated number of 41387 people speaking the language, followed by Afrikaans 4174, Xitonga 2219, English 2208, and isiZulu 1245. Half of the total population is unemployed and a quarter is not economically active.
Like most South African towns, Barberton prior to the 1994 first general elections had a strong apartheid influence. No Black people stayed in town and children of different races attended different schools. But what was most striking about Barberton in the years of apartheid was the notorious Barberton prison. The main prison was built in 1884, it began as a small hut and it accommodated offenders who committed common offences such as public violence, stock theft, general theft and possession of marijuana. In 1911 a Female wing was built which housed women prisoners who committed various crimes ranging from theft to public violence. As apartheid became more intense, women political prisoners were transferred from various parts of the country to Barberton. Some of the women political prisoners that served long-term sentences at Barberton prison were Helen Hendricks from Cape Town, Dorothy Dlamini from Swaziland, Dorothy Kubheka from Johannesburg, Shiela Weinburg, Dorothy Nyembe and many others. This prison was closed in 1995 and female prisoners were moved to Nelspruit Female Correctional Service facility. Presently Barberton has four main prisons, the Maximum Correctional Centre, Medium B Prison, Medium A and Town Youth Development Centre.
Barberton has six tourist attraction which attracts national and international visitors, namely; the Eureka City, the Gold Exchange, Gold Planning, Queen Rose Trail, and Steam Locomotive.
This is a historical site of butchery and a hotel that was established in 1885 by J Sherwood a businessman whose vision was to create a business venture for the miners near the Sheba mine. By 1886 Eureka City had three shops, a hotel, a chemist and a racecourse. Today the only thing that is left is the ruin of the hotel.