The town of Barkly West has undergone a few name change in its history. It first was known as Klip Drift ("Stony Ford") in the 1870's after diamonds were discovered in the area. It was then named Parkerton during the period when the surrounding area became the Klipdrift Diggers' Republic. The Republic was governed by President Stafford Parker. The name of Barkly West was applied when the town fell under British rule. The name honours Sir Henry Barkly who was Governer of the Cape Colony during the 1870's. The town had one other temporary name. During the Anglo-Boer war the town was captured by Boer forces who renamed it Nieuw Boshof.
Barkly West is situated on the banks of the Vaal River. One of the main points of interest in the area is the Barkly Bridge, built in 1885, and was the first bridge to span the Vaal River. Interestingly the components of the bridge were made in the United Kingdom and then transported to the site via various methods including ox wagon.
There are various archaelogical sites in the vicinity including Canteen Kopje and rock engravings. One can also visit the Mining Museum and St. Mary's Anglican Church which was constructed on the site of the original miners camp.
The water from the Vaal River helps irrigate crops in the area and there is also a lot of dairy farming.