Barney Barnato was born at Aldgate, London, England on the 5th July 1852 and died at sea, off Madeira on the 14th June 1897), financier, was the second son of Isaac Isaacs, a general dealer, and his wife Leah. After receiving a rudimentary education, he left the Spitalfields Jews’ Free School when he was fourteen to earn his living in his father’s shop. He also worked behind, and occasionally on, the music-hall stage.
Shortly after assuming the additional name of Barnato in his teens, as his elder brother Henry Barnato had done, he followed Henry to Kimberley, arriving at the Cape in 1873, not in legendary poverty, but with fifty pounds.
B. and his brother in’1874 established ‘Barnato Brothers, dealers in diamonds and brokers in mining property’, and B. soon became the dominant force in the firm. Two years later he had accumulated £3 000 and bought his first claims in the Kimberley mine.
B.’s dazzling career was based on a shrewd suspicion that diamonds were not a surface deposit but a volcanic extrusion; thus he was able to buy many ‘exhausted’ claims, whose real value became apparent once the blue sub-surface soil began to be worked. He was also among the first to appreciate that amalgamation would facilitate control of diamond production and thus price maintenance, by reducing the number of producers.
So in 1881, having opened a branch of Barnato Brothers in London the previous year, he floated the Barnato Diamond Mining Company in Kimberley, and set out to be the dominant financial magnate in the diamond industry. C. J. Rhodes,* of the De Beers Company, had similar plans. The resulting struggle for supremacy passed through two main stages: firstly, for the control of the Compagnie Française des Mines de Diamant du Cap, of Paris (better known in Kimberley as ‘the French company’), the only major firm still not controlled by either of the rivals in 1887, and, secondly, to buy up any shares remaining on the open market. The first stage ended with B. (who had merged all his diamond interests in the Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company) as the owner of the French company, but with Rhodes, backed by the Rothschilds and assisted by Alfred Beit,* in possession, through a successful stratagem, of one fifth of the Kimberley Central itself.
B.’s capitulation and agreement to amalgamate with De Beers ended the second stage. Despite his originally superior resources, he had been handicapped because his shareholders, less reliable than his opponent’s, and unable to resist the lure of soaring prices, had persisted in selling, inevitably, to Rhodes or his agents. A new company, De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd., controlling by far the greater part of South African diamond production, was formed on 13.3.1888, but only after B., an orthodox businessman, had reluctantly agreed On the face of Rhodes’s threats to resume buying) that the new company’s profits should be used to further imperialistic expansion.
Fearful of losing all his influence, B. insisted that he should be one of the four ‘life governors’ who would direct the firm. Thanks to Rhodes he also entered the Kimberley Club, and, in 1889, the Cape Legislative Assembly. Despite having been in the Kimberley divisional council since 1880, B. was no politician and was rightly regarded as the parliamentary representative of De Beers rather than of Kimberley. None the less and despite the unpopularity of the company’s policy of restricting the production of diamonds, he survived the election of 1894 and remained a member of Parliament until his death.
During late 1888 and early 1889 B., having changed his mind about the prospects of the Witwatersrand, began buying shares and property there on a scale which, though it eventually did much to inspire confidence in the area and promote its development, cost him dear in the setback of 1889, when the old extraction methods proved inadequate in a pyritic zone. He floated and controlled the New Primrose, the New Croesus, the Roodepoort and Glencairn and the Main Reef gold-mining companies, and he had an interest in most of the others.
During 1888 he acquired a majority holding in the Johannesburg Exchange and Chambers Company, which erected a new and larger stock exchange during 1889-90. The Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company was founded by B. in 1889, with a capital of £175 000. Originally it had been a land company, and through it B. had bought the whole of old Doornfontein, but it soon became one of South Africa’s major mining and financial houses. B. also established the Johannesburg Waterworks, Estate and Exploration Company in 1889. The Barnato Bank, Mining and Estates Company, started in London in 1894, was his least successful venture; it was really nothing more than a repository for B.’s unsaleable stocks. Such a device, only possible in a time of over-speculation such as the ‘Kaffir boom’ of the mid-nineties, marred his reputation and, in 1896, without having ever published a report or an account, he discreetly merged the company with the Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company. B. was one of the principal manipulators of the boom; his loss of £3 000 000 when it collapsed in October 1895, owing, he later suspected, to preparation for the Jameson Raid, is a clear indication of his lack of complicity, even though his nephew, S. B. Joel,* was deeply involved in the Reform Movement. B.’s attempts to set an example and bolster the market were appreciated in London; later, in 1895, he was entertained at the Mansion House and admitted to the Carlton Club.
Uninterested in politics and utterly unwilling to gain the vote in the Transvaal Republic at the expense of his British citizenship, yet able to see the Transvaal Afrikaners’ point of view, B. got on fairly well with Pres. S. J. P. Kruger.* Rather than co-operate with other ‘Randlords’, he preferred to go personally to the head of state, a procedure which Kruger appreciated and understood. B.’s representations helped to bring about the admission of the Cape railway to the Witwatersrand and, though he was unable to obtain the withdrawal of support from the Netherlands Company (N.Z.A.S.M.) or the granting of municipal government to Johannesburg, he regarded the general situation in the Transvaal as reasonably satisfactory and likely to improve.
To a limited extent the leading Reformers owed the commutation of their sentences to B.’s vehement threats to close his mines and so cause large-scale unemployment and loss of revenue. No sooner had their release been effected (11.6.1896) than B. presented Kruger with the pair of marble lions still to be seen at the Church Street entrance to the old Pretoria Presidency, and denounced the Raid as a stupid crime by people who, heedless of the Transvaal Afrikaners’ natural feelings, had diminished the chances of improved political and economic conditions.
Despite outward appearances, Barnato was a sensitive, even a neurotic man, subject to fits of acute depression and troubled by the responsibilities of his position. By 1897 overwork, strain and worry had reduced him to a nervous condition in which he threw himself overboard while on a voyage to England for his health’s sake. At Southampton the coroner’s jury found that he had died ‘by drowning while temporarily insane’ and the body, which had been recovered, was buried on 20.6.1897 in Willesden cemetery, London. The manner of Banarto.’s death caused alarm in financial circles, which subsided when his affairs were found to be in order, though he left less than had been expected: £1 000 000 (in contrast to his brother, Henry Barnato’s, £5 800 000 in 1908).
His main interests, apart from his work, were popular drama, in which he often took part, horse-racing and boxing. Lacking dignity and self-restraint, and being a powerful and aggressive man, he was often willing to settle differences with his fists, especially in his younger days, while his ignorance, rooted in an aversion to reading (though he was a member of the committee of 1889 which founded what became the Johannesburg Public Library) was extraordinary, as he hardly even glanced at newspapers.
There is, however, no doubt that his reputation has suffered as a result of his unwise practice of never contradicting rumours about himself, however malicious, and there are no valid grounds for regarding him as either a fool, or, worse, a criminal whose financial success was founded upon illicit diamond-buying.
He was, rather, a generous, public-spirited man, whose industry and financial acumen benefited South Africa in general and Johannesburg in particular, at a time of enormous economic development.
Barney and Fanny Bees, the daughter of A. Bees of Kimberley, went through a ceremony of marriage at the Chelsea registry office, London, on 19.11.1892. Three children were born of the marriage. Barney was a deeply affectionate family man, his wife and children always accompanying him during his frequent business travels. Barnato and his wife had a daughter, Leah Primrose Barnato, and two sons, Isaac Henry Barnato (who became an airforce pilot and was killed during the First World War) and Wolf Barnato.
B., who did not live to see the completion of his Johannesburg and London mansions, has no actual monument, though Barnato Street in Berea, Johannesburg, is named after him. He paid for the construction of the Barnato Wing at the Johannesburg General Hospital but the name was dropped in the course of extensive rebuilding operations in later years. There is, however, a portrait in oils in the possession of the Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company, and the National Portrait Gallery, London, has a pen-and-ink drawing of him by Harry Furniss. There are further portraits in the McGregor Memorial Museum, and the De Beers boardroom and library, Kimberley. A well-known cartoon of Barnato. appeared in Vanity Fair. In addition, the following books and periodicals (infra) contain portraits of B.: Raymond, Lewisohn, Emden, Joel, Marsh, The Graphic (19.6.1897) and The Illustrated London News (19.6.1897).
From the beginning of time, there have been murderers and psychopaths – if we delved deeply enough into our family we may find that somewhere along the way one of our ancestors either killed someone for revenge, love or by mistake. We now take a look at some famous and not so famous South African murderers – perhaps you are related to one of them?
DAISY LOUISA DE MELKER was born on 1st July 1886 at Seven Fountains, near Grahamstown. She was the daughter of William Stringfellow Hancorn Smith from Grahamstown and Fanny Augusta Mathilda Bird from Ascension Island.
At the age of ten she went to live with her father, who had settled in Bulawayo, and was educated there and at the Good Hope Seminary in Cape Town.
She completed a nursing course at the Berea Nursing Home, Durban. On 3rd March 1909 she married William Alfred Cowle, aged 35, a municipal plumber of Johannesburg. There were five children borne from that marriage, of whom all but one, named Rhodes, died in infancy. William Cowle enjoyed good health until 11th January 1923, when he took Epsom salts prepared by his wife and developed symptoms which soon proved fatal. The post mortem report attributed his death to chronic nephritis and cerebral haemorrhage. Mrs. Cowle inherited £1 250, a house in Bertrams, Johannesburg, and received 550 pounds from the municipal provident fund.
On the 1st January 1926 she married Robert Sproat, a bachelor, aged 46. He, too, was a municipal plumber and was worth about 4 000 pounds in gold shares, municipal stock and cash in a building society. On 6th November 1927 he fell ill after drinking a glass of beer. The doctor diagnosed arteriosclerosis with cerebral haemorrhage. In terms of Sproat’s will his wife was paid about £5 000.
Before long she married again. Daisy married her third husband on 21st January 1931. Clarence Sydney de Melker was a Springbok rugby footballer of 1906 and also a plumber. Rhodes Cowle joined them. He had long been indulged by his mother; often morose, quarrelsome and ill-behaved, he once assaulted her. On 25th February 1932 she visited a Johannesburg pharmacy, bought white arsenic and signed the poison register ‘D. L. Sproat’. Within a week Rhodes fell ill and three days later he died.
A doctor certified death to be due to cerebral malaria. A suspicious relative went to the police and the bodies of Cowle, Sproat and Rhodes were exhumed. In the first two, tiny particles of strychnine were recovered. Rhodes was found to have died of arsenical poisoning. At first the prosecution could not clinch the case, as no purchase or possession of strychnine or arsenic could be traced to Mrs. De Melker. Then a photograph of her, captioned ‘Daisy de Melker’, appeared in a newspaper. The pharmacist recognised her as the woman to whom he had sold arsenic. He supplied the missing link in the evidence.
Her trial began on 17th October 1932 in the Witwatersrand division of the Supreme Court and lasted for thirty-nine days. She was defended by the brilliant advocate H.H. Morris and was tried by Judge L. Greenberg and two assessors. The judge’s finding was that there was insufficient evidence to prove she had murdered her two husbands, but that there was no doubt she had murdered her son. A petition for mercy on Christmas Eve of 1932 was rejected and she was executed on 30th December the same year.
An unattractive woman of medium height, with bushy hair and cold, penetrating blue eyes, at no time did Daisy de Melker admit her guilt or show any sign of remorse. She accepted the death penalty calmly and courageously.
Report on medicine murders (1951); Hedley Chilvers: Out of the crucible (1929); Napier Devitt: Celebrated South African trials (1941); H. H. Morris: The first forty years (1947); Benjamin Bennett: Up for murder (1934); id.: Freedom or the gallows (1957); Too late for tears (1948); The clues condemn (1949); The evil that men do (1950); Genius for the defence (1959); Murder will speak (1962); The amazing case of the Baron von Schauroth (1966); H. J. May and I. Hamilton: The Foster gang (1966).
DOROTHEA KRAFT (later Van der Merwe), the first woman to be hanged after Union, lived on the farm Treurfontein in the Lichtenburg district in 1914. When Louis Tumpowski, a Polish Jew, aged 55, called at the farm as a pedlar, she was divorced and having trouble with her Bantu labourers. Turnpowski offered to manage the farm and she agreed. His attorneys drew up a lease under which he was to pay an annual rental and have the right eventually to buy the property.
For several years he and Mrs. Kraft lived as man and wife. Then he informed her that he intended to exercise his option and buy the farm at the agreed figure, which was below the ruling price. She hired a Coloured witch-doctor, Jim Burds, to induce Tumpowski to marry her by antenuptial contract. When Burds’s potions proved ineffective, she enlisted the aid of Hermanus Lambertus Swartz, a distant relative, who had deserted from the army during the war and turned up at Treurfontein.
On the night of 2nd February 1918, at the height of a great storm, Burds arrived on the farm at Mrs. Kraft’s urgent request. He struck Tumpowski on the head with a heavy stick. Swartz then tied a leather thong round the man’s neck and slit his throat. The body was buried in an ash-pit. Tumpowski’s sudden disappearance caused little comment. Mrs. Kraft moved to another district, remarried and became known as Mrs. Van der Merwe.
Tumpowski’s sister in Johannesburg became suspicious when her letters were returned, and went to the police. A prolonged search and widespread excavations on the farm were unsuccessful until, two years later, a violent wind-storm swept Treurfontein and torrential rain caused a deep subsidence in the ash-pit. The police dug into it and found the body. Dorothea van der Merwe and Hermanus Swartz stood trial at Potchefstroom on 13th June 1921 and were sentenced to death. Burds, who had turned king’s evidence, was acquitted.
MARIA HELENE GERTRUIDA CHRISTINA LEE (born Van Niekerk) was four times married, first when she was 16, and three times divorced. One of her husbands, Jan de Klerk Lee, a Pretoria metal-worker whose name she kept, died in 1941, ostensibly of tuberculosis. From 1946 to 1947 Mrs. Lee worked for a firm of jewellers in Cape Town, from whom she stole jewellery worth several thousand pounds. At the time she was living with her latest lover, Alwyn Smith, a discharged soldier, who sponged on her.
When her thefts were discovered and she was dismissed, his use as travelling salesman for stolen jewellery ended. Mrs. Lee, who by now had made another male conquest, began to add ant poison to Smith’s food. He went into a decline and died on 2nd May. The doctor suspected poisoning and refused a death certificate. A post-mortem was held. Police investigations lasted months and Mrs. Lee was arrested in Pretoria on 14th October.
In the Pretoria central prison, where she was lodged before being remanded to Cape Town for trial, she confided to her cell companion that she had given Smith doses of arsenic. This woman told the police. The trial opened in Cape Town on 6th April 1948 and on 10th May Mrs. Lee was sentenced to death. An appeal was dismissed and she was hanged on 17th September 1948.
MARGARET ELIZABETH RHEEDER was avaricious and sex-hungry. A daughter of Clarence and Grace Harker, she was born at Platbos, near Keurbooms River, Knysna on 6th September 1922 and grew up in grinding poverty. At 21 she married a man who soon left her to support herself and two baby daughters.
After some casual love-affairs she divorced her husband and on 6th September 1952 married Benjamin Fredenman Rheeder, aged 39, formerly a farmer. They lived in Port Elizabeth. She disliked her step-children, Rheeder’s daughters by his previous marriage, and this led to frequent quarrels. It was, however, her sex urges that hastened the crisis. Rheeder surprised her with a paramour one night and thrashed her. On 27th April 1957 she bought a bottle of ant-poison. Two days later her husband fell ill at work, and he died on 7th May. A doctor certified that the deceased had suffered acute gastro-enteritis and then heart failure. A police check of poison registers revealed the woman’s purchase of ant-poison containing arsenic.
Exhumation of the body established that Ben Rheeder had died of arsenical poisoning. The trial was held in Port Elizabeth and Margaret Rheeder was sentenced to death and hanged on 6th May 1958.
A number of mass murders have occurred in South Africa during the past half-century. They were mainly due to self-absorbed brooding over fancied slights, insults or wrongs that led to an outbreak of vengeful violence.
STEPHANUS SWART, killer of five policemen, his wife, two neighbours and three Bantu, declared that he could get no justice from the courts. He was a hard, embittered man. In 1927, at the time of his crimes, he was farming at Potter’s Hill near Majuba on the Natal-Transvaal border. His loss of a civil lawsuit determined him to avenge himself on the world. He assaulted a relative and was jailed for 18 months.
After his release he committed a serious sexual offence on a relative, fired a shot at a man while he awaited trial, and heard that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. He sent a message to the police that he would shoot anyone who came to fetch him. Ignoring the threat, a police posse set out for Potter’s Hill on the morning of 6 th May 1927 to apprehend Swart. Warned of their approach, Swart crept from his farmhouse unseen, outflanked the police and, taking them in the rear, shot five of them dead. He then set out on horseback for Charlestown, where he killed his wife, who was being sheltered by friends, and other innocent people who crossed his path. Trapped by a search party soon afterwards, he put a bullet through his brain.
CORNELIUS JOHANNES PETRUS VAN HEERDEN, aged 22, a railwayman who lived with his parents on the outskirts of Bethlehem, Orange Free State, in 1931, also had unpleasant legal experiences which had stirred feelings of persecution in him. He held up and killed a commercial traveller, stole his car, and shot down a former member of the Bethlehem town council. He continued to fire indiscriminately at a Bantu whom he met on the road and left a trail of dead and dying until he drove into a ditch and shot himself.
PIETER LUBBE, who farmed near Fauresmith in 1953, was in a morbid, prolonged fit of sulks before he gave way to his murderous impulses. Three months previously he had had a nervous breakdown and had been treated by a psychiatrist. He then fell under the influence of some religious sect and began to blame his family for the hardships ‘thrust upon him by God’. He threatened suicide several times -but not until he had ‘cleansed’ his farm of ‘everything impure’. In the ‘impurities’ he included his wife and children. He shot and killed six members of his family and then turned his gun on himself.
PETRUS LAFRAS LOMBARD, aged 48, a farmer near Morgenzon in the Ermelo district, in 1954 assaulted a Bantu who subsequently died. He regarded the court’s penalty – a £100 fine and a suspended sentence of imprisonment – as an injustice and bitter humiliation. He shot another Bantu who had struck him. Then he went berserk, killed five other Bantu and wounded four more. He was cornered while attempting to get away, and committed suicide.
PIERRE CORNEILLE FACULYS BASSON was a different type of mass murderer. He killed a dozen victims, but not in anger. His crimes were inspired by greed and executed with cunning and deliberation. Born in 1880, he showed cruelty at an early age. Aware of the advantages of insurance, he, when he secured the proceeds of his father’s policy, insured his 17-year-old brother Jasper for £3 500 and paid the first year’s premium. Then, inviting Jasper to go fishing at Gordon’s Bay on 14th February 1903, he murdered him.
The body was never found. The insurance company at first opposed Basson’s claim, but was ordered by the courts to pay the full amount of the policy. Basson believed that there was money to be made by offering loans on easy terms on the security of the cession of an insurance policy on the debtor’s life. Several of Basson’s friends (and debtors) were found dead, shot or drowned, and he was paid their insurance cover. In no case could it be proved that he was responsible for their sudden deaths.
The murder of Wilhelm Schaefer, aged 54, who farmed Highlands on the Cape Flats, finally led to Basson’s undoing. He negotiated with Schaefer for the purchase of Highlands, although he had no money to clinch the deal, and inveigled Schaefer to his home, where he overpowered him with chloroform and strangled him with a cord. The body was stripped and lowered at night into a deep hole. A Bantu woman passing by saw the grisly burial and informed the police. When they arrived at his home, Basson watched the digging party from a hiding-place. He locked himself in his bedroom and committed suicide.
Two characters in South African criminal history were fortuitously linked with the lives of important political personalities. One was Franz Ludwig Kurtze, alias Karl Brown, also known as Baron von Veltheim; the other was William Robert Clem Foster. Their deeds had repercussions in the political field which neither of them could have foreseen.
VON VELTHEIM, international crook, bigamist and swindler, was, according to himself, invited to South Africa in 1897 by the mining magnate Barney Barnato. He blackmailed Barnato’s nephew, the millionaire Woolf Joel, sending him letters signed ‘Kismet’. He demanded £11 000 and ten per cent of the ‘millions’ the house of Joel would make on the stock exchange for ‘secret information’ supplied in advance. Joel inserted a notice in The Star inviting ‘Kismet’ to negotiate with him.
Von Veltheim turned up saying that he was the go-between for ‘Kismet’. Joel refused to be blackmailed or to participate in any plot and ordered Von Veltheim to leave. On 14th March 1898 Von Veltheim returned to ‘negotiate’ and offered to take a smaller sum in exchange for his silence. Defied again, he whipped out a revolver and shot Joel dead. Von Veltheim was arrested, but insisted that Joel had fired at him first and that he had returned the fire in self-defence.
In London, New York and Paris the murder was at first thought to have originated in ‘Reformer’ activities, which had been nipped in the bud, and the share-market slumped. Excitement rose to fever pitch on Von Veltheim’s declaration that he had been encouraged to enter the Transvaal from Bechuanaland to plot against the State at the instance of the mining magnates. He was tried, but the jury returned a verdict of not guilty and the judge had to discharge him. Although Von Veltheim may have exaggerated or invented his role of a political catspaw, there is little doubt that his long and sensational trial and plausible story of an anti-Republican plot served to heighten the Government’s mistrust of the Reformers and the magnates and to keep aflame passions that were soon to erupt in the Second Anglo-Boer War.
There were at the time many rumours of a political plot and a conspiracy, even of a design to assassinate President Kruger or members of the Executive Council. Of these rumours C. P. Bresler, Q.C., later wrote in his book Lineage of conflict (1952), after a careful analysis of the evidence: ‘ … one is not surprised that the learned judge directed the jury that the letters’ (written by Von Veltheim to Joel, demanding money with menaces) did not appear to him to have had any political background and that he did not think that there had been a conspiracy…
WILLIAM FOSTER swore vengeance on society when his younger brother was sent to prison on account of a hold-up. Between the time of his vow and its fulfilment, eleven people lost their lives. Foster, born in 1886, was headstrong and undisciplined. After several brushes with the law and a taste of prison, he developed into an embittered juvenile delinquent. He graduated to big crime in 1913 when he organised a hold-up at a jeweller’s shop in Longmarket Street, Cape Town. With his brother and another accomplice he stole £5000 worth of jewellery, but they were caught and sent to prison for 12 years.
Foster insisted that this was a cruel and savage punishment for his brother, a first offender, who had played only a minor part in the affair. After serving nine months, William Foster escaped from prison and joined John Maxim, a Texan cowboy and criminal, and a 19 year-old rascal, Carl Mezar. They formed the ‘Foster gang’ and embarked on a systematic campaign of burglary with violence. They broke into a bank at Boksburg and shot a man dead during their escape. They blew open safes in post offices and, on 13th September 1914, burgled a bottle-store in Doornfontein. They killed two policemen who attempted to arrest them and escaped on a motor-cycle.
Foster and his associates lay low for a while at their base, a house in Regent’s Park, Johannesburg. With Foster were his wife and their baby daughter. When they were traced, Foster shot a detective dead, and the gang escaped in a car with false number-plates. Police found the house crammed with stolen property, false moustaches, tubes of face-paints and hair-dyes. A cordon was drawn round the town and roads leading to Reef towns and the country were patrolled. Cars were stopped and searched.
Anyone who ignored a challenge was to be fired on. Dr. Gerald Grace, on his way to the East Rand to answer an urgent call, did not know of Foster’s latest exploits or hear an order to halt. A volley was fired into his car and he was killed.
In a similar way Gen. J. H. de la Rey was killed while on his way, with Gen. C. F. Beyers, to Potchefstroom. The shooting of Gen. De la Rey caused a furore as it was a time of unrest and, somewhat later, open rebellion, and some people at first inclined to the belief that it was more than an accident. Meanwhile, Foster, Maxim and Mezar had abandoned their car and taken refuge in a cave on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
They were besieged by the police for many hours, but Foster’s wife and child were permitted to join him when he offered to surrender to her and no one else. Other members of the family, allowed to enter the cave to reason with Foster, emerged with the child. Immediately afterwards shots were heard. Foster, his wife, Maxim and Mezar were found dead. Maxim had acted as executioner and then turned the revolver on himself.
The records of murder in South Africa are studded with unusual trials, unexpected verdicts, and bizarre means of death. The rarest type of murder is matricide. The strangest weapons used have included dynamite, poisoned arrows used by Bushmen against police patrols, and blazing pyres on which victims of witchcraft and superstition have perished.
PETRUS STEPHANUS FRANCOIS HAUPTFLEISCH , the matricide, was a soldier of the First World War who lived with his aged mother at Richmond (Cape) in 1924. He bore her a grudge for blacklisting him, cutting off his liquor supplies. Also, she possessed £300. He throttled his mother, placed the body on its side on a built-up hearth, sprinkled it with petrol and ignited the vapour with a match. He intended in this way to suggest an accident after his mother had had a fatal heart attack while cleaning the stove with petrol. Lividity patches on the back of the body, however, proved that Mrs. Hauptfleisch could not have died in the position in which she was found. A post-mortem established beyond doubt that throttling was the cause of death. Hauptfleisch was hanged on 23rd December 1924.
HUIBRECHT JACOB DE LEEUW , town clerk of Dewetsdorp, chose dynamite for his crime. To destroy evidence of his embezzlement of town funds, he blew up the town hall and fatally injured the three members of the finance committee who had been deputed to examine the books. Having previously experimented with the explosive properties of dynamite, he himself had remained near an exit and had escaped serious wounding. His experiments and timely escape were to prove decisive evidence of a murder plan. De Leeuw, hanged on 30th September 1927, was one of the few murderers who did not question the justice of the penalty. In any list of unusual verdicts must be included those on the man who was sentenced to death twice, and those on the man who was discharged twice on the same charge of murder.
ALFRED PERCIVAL VON ZELL, an eccentric megalomaniac, shot his wife in Pretoria on the night of 21st April 1952. The defence failed to show that he had acted on an irresistible impulse or in a state of mind providing extenuation. The jury found him guilty and he was condemned to death. The Appellate Division set aside the sentence and directed the judge to pass another on the basis that the jury had, in fact, found various extenuating circumstances. The judge offered to hear mitigating evidence from Von Zell, but when this offer was rejected he re-imposed the death penalty. Von Zell spent nine months in the condemned cell before he went to the gallows on 13th November 1953.
THOMAS ANDREW KERR was tried for the rape and murder of Edith Pinnock, aged nine, on 8th October 1907. Her beaten and outraged body was found in a cellar beneath the golf club-house at Grahamstown. At the conclusion of the trial the jury were unable to agree on a verdict and were discharged. The attorney general withdrew the indictment, but Kerr was retried at Cape Town, on the same facts, for rape and murder. This time he was found not guilty, acquitted and released from further prosecution.
JACOBA (‘BUBBLES’) SCHROEDER, an attractive ‘good-time girl’, was the victim of an unknown killer. Her body was found on Wednesday morning, 17th August 1949, in a plantation near Johannesburg. She was lying on her back as though she had been carried over someone’s shoulder and then carefully laid out. She was hatless and her shoes, bag and coat were missing.
In her mouth were several bits of hard, clay-like material from a near-by heap of lime. According to the post-mortem she had died of asphyxia. Police questioned the youth at whose home, in an affluent suburb, ‘Bubbles’ had been entertained on the Monday night. They also questioned his 20-year-old cousin, who had driven her part of the way to her flat. The youths were arrested, but there were no clues to link them with the crime and they were discharged after a preparatory examination.
JAMES ARTHUR DE VILLIERS, of Cape Town, answered a call at 9:40 on Friday night, 9th August 1929. When he reached the address given in Salt River he found he had been hoaxed – no one there wanted a taxi. Setting out to return to the rank, he was probably picked up by the man who had lured him to Salt River with the bogus call and awaited the opportunity to hail him. An hour later De Villiers was found shot dead near the Woltemade cemetery. He had been robbed of his takings. His taxi was found abandoned 3 km away on the Esplanade. A spent cartridge case lay under the seat.
At 9:30 the following night a masked man, pointing an automatic, attempted to hold up customers at a hotel in Newlands. When someone lurched toward him he turned, fired a shot that narrowly missed the barman, and darted into the street. In the bar the police picked up a cartridge-case that had almost certainly been ejected from the same weapon that had killed De Villiers. A series of other hold-ups followed, but the bandit, who was most likely the murderer, was never caught.
Like De Villiers, ARTHUR VICTOR KIMBER, taxicab owner of Pietermaritzburg, was shot dead by a fare. His body was discovered at the side of the Maritzburg-Durban road on 22nd September 1931. Connected with the mystery were two eloping lovers – Richard Louis Mallalieu (21), a former public schoolboy from England, where his father had been an M.P., and Gwendoline Mary Tolputt (23), adopted daughter of a doctor practising at Tarkastad.
The couple had reached Pietermaritzburg on an illicit honeymoon and were there when Kimber was shot and robbed. They were short of money and were seen in town at the time of the crime. They were arrested in Cape Town. In Mallalieu’s luggage was an Astra pistol. Two spent cartridge-cases which ballistics experts said had been fired from this pistol had been found at the scene of the crime. Mallalieu was tried at Pietermaritzburg on 8th March 1932. During the trial the defence questioned the identification of Kimber’s passengers on the fatal night and the similarity of the markings on the spent cartridge cases. The jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty. Tolputt did not stand trial and she and Mallalieu were deported.
The murder of IRENE KANTHACK, a young Witwatersrand University student, near the Zoo Memorial in Johannesburg, shocked the public. But what was never fully explained was the attempt of a woman to cast suspicion on an innocent man, her former sweetheart. At 6:15 pm on 24th November 1927, Miss Kanthack was seen behind the zoo, returning from a walk. Soon afterwards her pet terrier ran into her home, whimpering strangely. Her father called the police and urgent messages were broadcast. Her body was found beneath a clump of leaves and branches.
Clues showed that she had been killed in a nearby bush after fighting fiercely for her life. The chief of the C.I.D. was certain that the murderer was a Bantu, as the body had been left under a tree and covered with branches – the way in which Bantu usually conceal game they hunt and kill.
Some time afterwards a woman told her friends that her sweetheart, ‘Billy’, had confessed to the murder of Irene Kanthack. ‘Billy’, a youth of 21, was arrested, although handwriting experts were convinced that the letters allegedly written by him were forgeries. The woman took poison in a fit of contrition, but recovered and was called to testify at a preparatory examination. Under cross-examination she broke down and the magistrate described her evidence as a fabrication. He discharged ‘Billy’.
The sequel to one murder verdict remains unique in court records. A young stockbroker’s clerk was charged with shooting a pawnbroker in his shop in Long Street, Cape Town, on 2nd March 1938. The jury found him not guilty and he was acquitted.
Unlike Kerr, he was thus immune from further prosecution; but the victim’s widow sued him in the civil courts for £1 500 damages and a similar sum for her baby son, for depriving them of their bread-winner. On the same facts the judge, who had also presided at the criminal trial, and a second judge found that, on the balance of probabilities, the youth had fired the fatal shots and was, therefore, liable for damages. He disappeared for 20 years, but was eventually traced and compelled to pay. No apparent motive. The trial of Y was one of the causes’ celebres of the 1970′s. It was a case unique in several respects.
A young building tycoon murdered his wife without apparent motive, and he was saved from the gallows by a judge’s finding of extenuating circumstances. In 1958 Y was divorced from his first wife and married a girl of 18 on 26 th February 1963. He was then 34. At Easter, 1970, Mrs. Y and her two small children spent a week with friends at a Cape coastal resort and flew back to Cape Town on Sunday afternoon, 5 th April. Y met them at the airport. He and his wife had a meal alone in the library. About 10.45 p.m. the housekeeper-governess heard a number of dull thuds. Moments later Y ran into her bedroom and called her. The governess saw Mrs. Y’s body sprawled on the library floor. Her skull had been shattered and there were other fearsome wounds, all caused by two heavy library ornaments. Y’s trial lasted four weeks. Announcing a unanimous verdict of guilty of murder, the judge said that the punishment prescribed by law was hanging unless there was evidence of extenuating circumstances. But the law made it clear that the onus of proof of extenuating circumstances, rested, not on the State, but on the accused person. The defence called a psychiatrist to report on his examination of Y. All Y’s actions during the fatal assault, according to the psychiatrist, emanated from a person in a state of lowered responsibility. Agreeing that the death penalty was not appropriate, as he found the crime unpremeditated – this constituted an extenuating factor – the judge sentenced Y to 12 years’ imprisonment. An application for leave to appeal was rejected.
The murder of Baron Dieterich Joachim Gunther von Schauroth, a farmer of Blinkoog, Karasburg, remains unique. Not only were tragedy and mystery etched against a background of illicit diamond deals and a vast fortune in insurance, but fiction has rarely matched the murderer’s story that Von Schauroth promised him a reward of R10 000 to carry out a plot to swindle the insurance companies.Von Schauroth (born in his father’s castle in South West Africa on 30th November 1924) and his brother inherited Blinkoog on the death of their father, a member of an aristocratic family. Dieterich’s share of Blinkoog, which was mortgaged for R20 000, was worth between
R50 000 and R60 000. But a prolonged drought turned a prosperous Karakul breeding farm into a desert. Von Schauroth decided to move to Cape Town and invest the R10 000 to R12 000 that he had saved. He rented an expensive flat for himself, his wife, formerly Miss Colleen Baron and Colleen von Schauroth and his baby son, and led a life of pleasure.
He opened a banking account with R4 000 and handed over R3 800, to be paid into the trust account of insurance brokers as premiums on a number of short-term policies. Von Schauroth was sold insurance and eventually had cover for R400 000. He was well known for his idiosyncrasy of carrying large sums of money on his person. Early in January 1961 he was introduced to Marthinus Rossouw, aged 24, an electronics fitter on the railways, who was temporarily stationed at Bitterfontein, near the State diamond-diggings, and was on the look-out for a buyer of illicit gems.
On one occasion, with Rossouw as a go-between, Von Schauroth bought a parcel of uncut stones from a man known as ‘The Boss’ for R200. Rossouw appeared dissatisfied with the R10 Von Schauroth gave him for an introduction to ‘The Boss’, and was also disappointed with the amount of a loan he obtained from him. Nevertheless, the two were frequently in each other’s company. On Friday night, 25th March 1961, Von Schauroth left his flat with R4 000 in notes. He met Rossouw and they drove to a hotel in Milnerton, near Cape Town.
The following morning Von Schauroth’s body was found beside the road to Malmesbury, about 25 km from Cape Town. He had two bullet wounds in his neck, both fatal. The diamonds he had bought from ‘The Boss’ lay scattered about, giving the impression of a quarrel or scuffle during an illicit diamond transaction.
Rossouw was arrested. He adhered to his story that he had shot Von Schauroth at his request ‘to relieve him of his grief and marital unhappiness’. In contradiction, evidence was produced that Von Schauroth had left his wife a large sum in insurance money and that the couple had been happy together. The jury returned a verdict of murder without extenuating circumstances. Rossouw was sentenced to death and hanged on 20 June 1962. It was subsequently announced that the estate had approached the insurance companies for a settlement and that all legal actions had been withdrawn on payment of R20 000 by one company and the estate’s costs.
Mr. Justice Simon Meyer Kuper, of the Witwatersrand Division of the Supreme Court, was shot at his home in Lower Houghton, Johannesburg. About two months before the crime a young man arrived, uninvited and unexpectedly, at the judge’s home. The caller did not give his name. Mrs. Kuper told him to make his approach through an attorney or an advocate. Someone rang the next evening, and the judge also advised the caller to consult an attorney. On the night of 8 March 1963 Kuper was shot while sitting in front of an open window in his home. The motive for the crime remains obscure and the murderer is still at large.
The torso of a woman was found in a suitcase in the Boksburg Lake on the East Rand on 27th October 1964. There were many stab wounds in her chest. The legs were recovered from the Wemmer Pan, near Johannesburg, on 7th November and the head in the Zoo Lake on 17th December 1964.
The main problem was identification of the remains. Sketches of the head and features were made and published in newspapers throughout the country, but without result. Three young women, daughters of Mrs. Catherine Louise Burch, told the police that their mother, the fourth wife of Ronald William George Arthur Burch, had disappeared shortly before the torso had been found.
The artist’s sketch in the newspapers had aroused their suspicions, but they were unable to state with certainty that the victim was their mother. Burch, too, had vanished. Investigations continued for several years and it seemed as though the mystery would never be solved. Then in November 1968 chance played a part. A letter written by Mrs. Catherine Burch to her daughters four years previously was found and taken to the police. Investigation proved that the letter had been written by the dead woman. Soon afterwards Burch was traced to his mother’s home in a Johannesburg suburb. When detectives entered the house to arrest him, he locked himself in a room, attached live wires to his arms, and electrocuted himself.
Phineas Tshitaundzi, known as the ‘panga man’, terrorised Pretoria couples for six years, from 1953 to 1959. In spite of frequent police warnings about the danger of parking in secluded places at night. White men and women were repeatedly surprised and attacked in their cars on the outskirts of the city. The men were robbed and slashed with a panga. Some of the women were outraged and severely beaten.
The ‘panga man’ inflicted bodily injuries indiscriminately. Before he was tracked down and arrested he had been responsible for a score of assaults and had stolen a considerable amount of money and many valuables. The ‘panga man’s immunity to arrest made him careless.
When his victims had no money he took their possessions. He kept some and sold others. Among these was a watch which a Bantu bought from him. This Bantu told others of his ‘bargain’ and eventually the police heard of it. They searched Tshitaundzi’s room at Vlakfontein and found a collection of articles taken from the ‘panga man’s’ victims. The panga was also found. Most of the articles were identified by the victims, and a number of them were also able to identify the man. After his arrest Tshitaundzi confessed. He was sentenced to death and hanged on 14th November 1960.
Source: Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa.
The lot of the first soldiers and workmen at the Cape was extremely hard and they had neither time nor inclination for any but immediately available relaxation. Later, when a settlement grew round the Fort and menial work could be done by imported labourers, the garrisoning troops had more opportunity for organised leisure.
In the 18th century these troops were mostly mercenaries – especially German – and Cape Town having established itself as a port of call for the ships of many nations by the middle of the i8th century, cultural life in the town was stimulated by the contact. The Dutch colonists and officials did not incline toward frivolous entertainment, but officers of the garrisoning regiments readily took part in dramatic performances.
Old Opera House, Cape Town, demolished in 1937 (Cape Times)
In 1795 the British came, stayed a few years and returned in 1806 for more than a century of sovereign administration. They had a profound influence on the evolution of the theatre in general and of drama particularly. During the first occupation the British troops felt the lack of distraction among a community that spoke mostly Dutch and was covertly antagonistic.
There were by then a few sports such as hunting, racing and assaults-at-arms, but little else, and they had to organise their own leisure. Some of the more enterprising officers began to stage amateur theatricals in what came to be known as the Garrison Theatre in Cape Town. A few of these men had considerable talent, both as playwrights and as players, and before long they had so stimulated a nostalgic public demand for the drama that the Governor, Sir George Yonge, was successfully petitioned to sanction the licensing of a theatre. This ‘African Theatre’ remained open from 1802 until 1839 and subsequently became, and still remains a church.
The first companies to play on its boards were quasi-amateur and mostly recruited from the garrison. Plays of every kind were staged, although sometimes long intervals separated performances which, in the absence of all facilities, required prodigious efforts. All the female parts were taken by officers and it was not until well into the century that women appeared on the stage. They were nearly all married ladies and participated fully in the terrible struggle to make a living from the theatre which characterised the first non-military performances. At first English plays predominated, but there were sometimes sessions of French plays; possibly inspired by these successful examples, the Dutch community sponsored performances of Dutch drama in their own hall. Many pieces were translated into Dutch for them. When they came to the Cape in 1816 Lord Charles Somerset and his lady had a box at the African Theatre and gave their patronage willingly to the performances produced by the military and by the few professionals who began to attempt dramatic entertainment.
Sundry civilians now offered dramatic presentations, interspersed with variety turns. Two or three short plays would be staged on one night in a reconstructed warehouse or store, accompanied by recitations, musical interludes or even a tumbler or acrobat. Regimental bands often provided music for these non-military enterprises, which were often of inferior quality and attended by stage calamities, but they filled a need in a community hankering after a tradition and with a European culture still fresh in mind despite long exile. The men and women who tried to present drama at this time were often rendered penniless and friends sometimes organised ‘benefit nights’ to save them from starvation. The struggle to provide theatre for the sophisticated though mostly transient section of the Cape community was sometimes assisted by passing players on their way to a more populated Australia or to Mauritius and India. They would be seized from their ships, lying in Table Bay for watering and revictualling, and induced to perform in Cape Town for the few days of their stay. Despite the occasional presence of these professional players, theatrical conditions remained crude in the extreme, with few encouraging features, particularly as the country’s economy was disastrously deflated. The advancement of the drama in South Africa has always been stimulated by historical calamity, through the need to raise funds for its victims. As early as 1835 theatrical performances were given in Cape Town to provide relief for the people – mostly 1820 settlers – ruined by the Fifth Frontier War. Some years later the same efforts were made for the dependants of those lost on the troopship Birkenhead in 1853. Every war in which South Africa has been implicated has had the effect of stimulating the theatre, although post-war depressions have almost killed it.
By the middle of the 19th century two factors had emerged to stimulate the development of theatrical entertainment. As the borders of the Colony were continually extended and settlers introduced from overseas, little towns began to appear – Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth, King William’s Town and Durban, where English traders established themselves soon after the 1820 Settlers had come to strengthen the thin population of the Eastern Province. New inland villages, such as Cradock and Colesberg, were founded, and the existing ones, such as Graaff-Reinet, increased in population. Farther afield, settlements had been established at Bloemfontein, Pietermaritzburg and Pretoria, which gradually acquired English-speaking inhabitants.
Interior of Theatre Royal (since demolished) in Burg Street, Cape Town. (Cape Archives)
The second factor was that the people began to be more truly South African. Where before the population had consisted for a large part of transient Europeans, either military or administrative, backed by a comparatively small number of uncultured burghers deep in the hinterland, there now was in existence a public claiming South Africa as its own and ready to vary its existence by dramatic and other diversions. The immediate effect was a burgeoning of local talent, largely in the field of concerts but also in amateur theatricals. Talented singers and instrumentalists could sometimes be counted among the inhabitants of remote villages and frequently gave concerts, usually to raise funds for their church or school. The desire for professional entertainment in the towns and villages was more often met by the early circus, consisting of a few animals, an acrobat and a juggler, and by traveling bands of quasi- professional players. These usually consisted of a former actor and his wife, with such hangers-on as were prepared to share their precarious existence. With high-flown names, usually French, these performers presented programmes of musical items and dramatic sketches in stores, rooms at inns or any available space, moving on, often for reasons of expediency, to the next village as soon as possible. Their transport was mostly by ox-wagon, since few could afford the expense of horse and cart. Their advent marked the beginning of professional entertainment throughout the country.
Hardly any theatres existed and even in Cape Town dramatic companies were forced to play in converted warehouses. Extraordinary enterprise was shown by the first pioneering players, both men and women, and small touring companies began to increase, traveling always by ox-wagon. It was on this basis that Captain Disney Roebuck, the outstanding pioneer of the 70′s and 80′s, later built. His energy in presenting plays in Cape Town and touring the towns and villages greatly helped to habituate the public to drama. There were also the professional players on their way to Australia (where there was a gold rush) who consented to perform in Cape Town and were often acclaimed by sizable audiences. In the larger villages such as Grahamstown the garrison also stimulated the drama and officers sometimes staged a series of plays in halls or public rooms in inns.
However, drama had hardly penetrated to the hinterland, where variety programmes of musical items, acrobats and stunt performers were more likely to gain favour than melodramatic sketches requiring scenery and other features difficult to transport.
The picture of amateur effort was suddenly changed by the discovery of diamonds at the river diggings on the Orange River in 1866 and at the dry diggings in 1870-1871 in the Northern Cape and the Orange Free State. A huge influx of more sophisticated adventurers not only stimulated trade in all the towns along the routes to the diggings, but also provided an eager audience for any kind of entertainment. Even so small a place as Colesberg suddenly boomed with the coach, cart and wagon trade and the manufacture of sieves, cradles and other digging requirements; while the coastal towns, such as Port Elizabeth, hummed with commercial activity. The new population provoked the emergence not only of a host of itinerant entertainers but the building of new theatres, such as the wood-and-iron Theatre Royal in Kimberley.
Although there was money to be had in the booming villages and in the new camp towns, where thousands of diggers, buyers, speculators and officials congregated, the first touring dramatic companies endured daunting difficulties. There were virtually no roads, the old tracks having been destroyed by sudden heavy traffic, so that even the big stage-coaches often traveled across the veld. Few theatrical entrepreneurs could afford horse-wagons, and most traveled slowly and painfully by ox-wagon. The village stores and warehouses in which the little companies played had no stage, dressing-rooms, curtains, seating, lighting or any other facilities – everything had to be improvised. When droughts and floods came, rinderpest and sickness, there were sometimes deaths among the small pioneering bands, apart from frequent desertions or marital differences which sapped the whole enterprise.
The theatre-going public of the eighties preferred variety to straight drama, and in the diamond-camp towns much was provided by local talent of Cockney and other origin, performances being given by potential magnates such as Barney Barnato. But even the amateurs occasionally provided dramatic sketches or excerpts from famous plays, and they were usually included in the programmes offered by the touring ensembles, short domestic dramas being presented with the entrepreneur and his wife in the lead. It was never certain whether they would be greeted with hoots or approbation.
The prosperity following on the discovery of diamonds encouraged more ambitious theatrical enterprises, particularly by Roebuck and others at the Cape. Apart from occasional cryptic mention in the first newspapers, there is no written record of the many little theatrical companies which sought to exploit the situation; but in A show through Southern Africa Charles du Val, a pioneering theatrical manager, recorded his experiences of touring almost the whole country by horse-wagon in 1880-1881. There was hardly a village too small for him to visit and he tells how the townsfolk, now used to the arrival of ‘shows’, would during the day place their own chairs in the store or warehouse destined for the evening’s performance. When Du Val, after participating in the war of 1881 in the Transvaal, left the country there were already several others in the field. An early pioneering theatrical enterprise, traveling by ox-wagon throughout the country, was operated by the Wheeler family – Benjamin (‘Daddy’) Wheeler, his wife, and their little son Frank, who later became one of South Africa’s most energetic impresarios.
It might he said that they put on a show rather than staged a play, but indisputably they helped to inculcate a love of theatre in remote places. The pieces offered were of the type of the sentimental East Lynne (by Mrs. Henry Wood), broad farce or melodrama. The biggest incentive to the development of the drama and theatrical entertainment generally was the building of theatres which occurred at this period. The Theatre Royal in Cape Town, built by Roebuck, was destroyed by fire in 1883; but others took its place, such as the Vaudeville Hall in Loop Street and other halls. In 1882 the old Trafalgar Theatre in Durban was replaced by a Theatre Royal, and in Kimberley the wood-and-iron Theatre Royal and Lanyon Theatre became features of the town. In the smaller towns improved facilities were available for touring companies, which now tended toward light operatic and musical presentations.
The discovery of gold in the Transvaal during the seventies and eighties, which established Johannesburg as a town and not a transient mining camp, provided South Africa with another enormous access of population, and the entertainment field with unprecedented stimuli to development. Entrepreneurs who had struggled at the coastal towns with vaudeville, musical and dramatic programmes now flocked to the Witwatersrand, where finance was soon found to accommodate them. One of the first dramatic enterprises was launched by the remarkably versatile Luscombe Searelle who, successfully performing in Durban at the time, transported his entire company, effects and corrugated-iron theatre by ox-wagon to Johannesburg and established the Theatre Royal in 1889. It was quickly followed by numerous music- halls and by the imposing Standard Theatre, which after many vicissitudes opened in 1891. Elsewhere the same burgeoning in the entertainment field was seen in the opening of the Good Hope Hall and the Opera House in Cape Town, Scott’s Theatre in Pietermaritzburg, the Opera House in Port Elizabeth; and later the Grand Theatre in Bloemfontein, the Opera House in Pretoria and many other venues, including music-halls such as the Tivoli in Cape Town after the Second Anglo-Boer War.
There was by now a large pleasure-loving and affluent public throughout the country and appropriately equipped buildings in which they could be entertained. These provided an incentive for the importation of entertainment companies of every kind of both local impresarios (notably the Wheelers and Frank de Jong) and oversea interests, and for the presentation of drama and light opera by early pioneers such as Searelle, A. Bonamici, and later Leonard Rayne.
During the late eighties and early nineties theatrical entertainment was extremely varied. Although artistes of the standard of the famous actress Mrs. Lewis Waller, Madame Albini (the singer) and Edward Terry appeared at the same time as the Moody-Manners Opera Company and the Wheeler Edwardes Gaiety Companies, music and drama fought a losing battle against variety and the informal atmosphere of the music-hall with its bar and promenade (of which, in Johannesburg particularly, there were a large number). The tension of the times and the ready availability of money among a crowd of adventurers and speculators produced conditions requiring excitement rather than culture. Much of the early theatre was vaudeville and light opera. The circumstances of its presentation could vary from men leaping from the boxes on to the stage and fighting over the reigning footlight favourite, to the theatre catching fire (as sometimes happened owing to faulty wiring). The visiting vaudeville stars commanded high salaries, and gaiety rather than merit ruled the scene.
After the diamond- and gold-rush years and the period of extremely rapid development which diamonds and gold made possible – particularly the introduction of amenities such as electric light and trams, railways, water-supply systems, better roads and other improvements – came a more settled population, with higher standards, and requiring something more than mere distraction. From the early nineties onwards the theatre proper began to assert itself. The Wheelers now imported first-class stars and organised country-wide tours for their companies. Frank de Jong brought out the famed Sass-Nelson musical and dramatic companies and many others. Leonard Rayne, arriving in 1896 as an actor-producer, began to develop his own organisation and to establish dramatic stock companies. There began to be a profusion of theatrical entertainment of high quality, presented in typical Victorian theatres of red plush, shining chandeliers and rows of boxes. The music-hall or ‘‘palace of varieties’, which it was not considered seemly for ladies to attend, continued to be dominant, however.
This very varied entertainment, overshadowed by vaudeville, continued until the outbreak of the war in 1899. The immediate effect, especially of the influx of troops demanding entertainment, was to stimulate the theatre in the non-belligerent areas and also to cause the opening of a host of disreputable music- halls at the ports. Large numbers of dramatic companies were imported from England and legitimate drama flourished. In 1901, for instance, the Wheelers imported the famous American actress Nance O’Neill. In one month in South Africa she played the lead in Sudermann’s Magda, Dumas’s Camille, Sardou’s Tosca and Fedora, Queen Elizabeth, Sheridan’s School for scandal, Peg Woffington and The Jewess. Later star performers were Lily Langtry (1905) and the famous Mrs. Brown Potter (1907).
After the war a gradual decline set in on account of the withdrawal of troops and administrative officials, and the fact that South Africa, still split into four separate units, entered a phase of drastic political and economic depression. Eventually circuses and the new travelling ‘bioscopes’ became the only consistent forms of theatrical amusement. Only Leonard Rayne with his company at the Standard in Johannesburg represented the drama.
By 1909, with the promise of the solution of political problems by unification, the theatre suddenly began to improve and drama proper began to vie with vaudeville. An increasing number of companies playing straight drama were imported and Shakespeare became a vogue. In 1911-1912 Matheson Lang appeared in Shakespearean plays and in Jerome K. Jerome’s “The Passing of the Third Floor back”. In 1911, and again in 1913, Henry Herbert and his Stratford-on-Avon Players presented many of Shakespeare’s plays in the main towns; while H. B. Irving acted in a season of Shakespeare and other plays in 1913. The renascence of the legitimate theatre was accompanied by the first resounding success of a local dramatist, Stephen Black, whose topical Love and the hyphen, presented by Frank de Jong with a South African cast including the author, was first produced in 1909 and rapturously acclaimed in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and other centres. It was followed with al most equal success by Helena’s Hope, but less happily by Jannie Kortbroek and, later, The flopper and Van Kalabas does his bit.
Also after Union, concert parties such as the Steele-Payne Bellringers, the Royal Besses o’ the Barn and the Royal Welsh Choir, Gaiety companies and renowned singers and instrumentalists came in increasing numbers, while old-fashioned variety in the cities fought to withstand new competition. The first permanent cinemas appeared, catering for new strata of society at very low prices and meeting cut-throat competition by presenting their programmes of grotesquely-animated films with intervening vaudeville turns. In this rich field drama continued under healthy conditions; but the bioscope-vaudeville business, over-exploited and over-capitalised by the importation of expensive artistes for whom no mensurate return could be expected from the public, wavered and collapsed.
Early in 1913 bankruptcy faced the music-hall owners, who had provided entertainment from the earliest theatrical days. They appealed to an insurance magnate, I. W. Schlesinger, to save their business and in May 1913, together with other administrative companies, he formed the African Theatres Trust Ltd., later African Theatres, and still later African Consolidated Theatres Ltd., which undertook the administration of theatres and the provision of dramatic and other entertainment. At the same time the Australian firm of J. C. Williamson entered the South African field and presented oversea companies in dramatic and musical pieces in theatres controlled by Schlesinger.
The period of the First World War wrought fundamental changes in the structure of entertainment in South Africa. The attractions of the legitimate theatre came into competition with new forms of entertainment such as the musical revue with topical songs, which attained high popularity, with the new phenomenon of jazz, and with the cinema proper, now organised on a sound basis by Schlesinger. The value of the cinema as inexpensive distraction was greatly enhanced by its presentation of war news-reels. It was no longer possible to import dramatic companies with the same ease as previously (although the war ended with Marie Tempest and a London company playing Good gracious, Annabelle by Glare Kummer in Johannesburg), and it was indeed largely through the consistent efforts of Leonard Rayne and his local stock companies that drama survived.
Afrer the First World War, when the public became tired of escapist frivolity and inclined more toward worthwhile entertainment, the theatre again experienced considerable prosperity, despite the competition of the burgeoning cinema, now patronised by all strata of society. The ten years that followed the First World War saw many companies of merit, led by some of the best-known performers in the oversea theatre. They included Allen Doone with his very popular Irish plays, Ada Reeve in musicals such as Lehar’s Merry widow and, later, Floradora (by Leslie Stuart), Sir Frank Benson declaiming Shakespeare in traditional style, Gertrude Elliott (Lady Forbes- Robertson) playing in Paddy the next best thing (by W. Gayer Mackay and Robert Ord), Irene Vanbrugh, Maurice Moscovitch with his memorable The outsider (by Dorothy Brandon) and The merchant of Venice, the Macdona Players staging Bernard Shaw (then a provocative force in drama), and many others. In addition, Leonard Rayne toured with his companies, in which the immensely popular Freda Godfrey was leading lady, throughout the country and remained in continuous occupation of the Opera House in Cape Town. After this glorious decade, and long before the advent of ‘talkies’, the theatre began to decline.
Today in 2005 – the Theatre again has regained its composure and become a thriving attraction once more. Aspiring small theatres are again in much demand and will be here for many decades to come.
Source: The Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa
The Jewish links to South Africa are said to have originated with the Portuguese voyages of exploration around the Cape in 1452. Jews were involved in these early voyages as mapmakers, navigators and sailors.
In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck led the first permanent settlement of Dutch colonists under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company. With his group were Samuel Jacobson and David Hijlbron, the earliest recorded Jews.
The Dutch East India Company controlled the Cape from 1652 – 1795 and only permitted Protestant Christians to reside at the Cape despite the significant number of Jewish shareholders in the company. Due to this, Jacobson and Hijlbron were baptized Christians on December 25, 1669, with records of these baptisms found in the registers of the Dutch Reformed Church. This was in contrast to the Dutch West India Company, which sent two hundred Jews to colonize Brazil in 1642.
Colorful characters such as the soldier Isaac Moses, known as “old Moses the Moneychanger” and Joseph Suasso de Lima of Amsterdam, who started the first Dutch newspaper in SA, arrived. Nathaniel Isaacs, an early explorer of Natal who befriended the famous Zulu chief, Chaka, was a Jew. Early British families include De Pass, who played a major part in the establishment of the shipping, sugar and fishing industries. Saul Solomon founded the English press in Cape Town.
Increased religious freedom, permitted under the short lived Batavian Republic in 1803, continued after the British took control in 1806. In 1820, the British government gave assisted passage and land grants to people willing to settle in the wilds of the Cape Colony. The first group of settlers was known as the 1820 settlers. Early British Jewish immigration occurred with about sixteen Jews arriving amongst the 1820 Settlers. This included the Norden and Norton families who played a significant role in the early development of the Cape Colony. In the 1860′s, other European Jews started to arrive from Germany and Holland.
By 1880, there were about 4,000 Jews in South Africa. It is estimated that more than half of these were brought out from Hesse-Cassel, Germany, by the Mosenthal family, who developed extensive trading operations in the Cape Colony, the Orange Free State and Natal.
From 1880, Jewish immigration increased rapidly. The pogroms (1881-1884) and other catastrophes – droughts, floods, deportation and fires, particularly in Kovno Gubernia, the Russian province with Kovno ( Kaunas now) were major factors in the emigration. The choice of South Africa was determined by special circumstances and not, on the whole by the attractions it offered to the general run of settlers who were not refugees. There was strong potential for success – in particular with the discovery of the diamond fields in Kimberley in 1869 and the goldfields in the Transvaal in 1886.
Sammy Marks, from Neustadt, Suwalki Gubernia (province), is regarded as the pioneer of Lithuanian emigration – he became a friend of President Paul Kruger and was highly successful as an industrialist. Barney Barnato, London born, was a partner of Cecil John Rhodes in the formation of the De Beers Diamond Company (later control passing to the German Jewish family of Ernest Oppenheimer with the assistance of the Rothschilds).
Over 47,000 Jews were enumerated in the first nationwide census of 1911. Most of these were Lithuanian (Litvaks) from the then provinces of Kovno, Vilna (Lithuania), Courland (Latvia), Northern Suwalki (East Prussia and later Poland) and Minsk, Grodno, Vitebsk, Mogilev (Belarus).
As an undeveloped country, South Africa offered opportunities to early immigrants that were far better than anything they could have had in Eastern Europe. The travelling hawker or “smous” became an institution in the remote rural areas. Many settled in small towns as shopkeepers and tradesmen. A number of very efficient entrepreneurial farmers were founders of the wool industry, ostrich feather industry and the citrus industry.
The distinctive characteristics of this community as compared to other new world communities are:
The predominance of Litvaks (Jews from Lithuania, Latvia and portions of Belarus), hence the unusually homogenous composition of the community.
The very strong influence of Zionism in the South African community.
The amalgam of Anglo-Jewish form and Lithuanian spirit which characterizes the institutions, both lay and religious of the community. The Jewish day school movement is a powerful educational presence and its pupils consistently get excellent scholastic results.
The distinctive situation where Jews had formed part of a privileged minority dominating a multiracial society. This has also led to Jews becoming prominent in the anti-apartheid and liberation movements.
In the past 30 years, there has been a large emigration of Jews to the USA, Canada, Australia, Britain and Israel. Political and economic change has led to an influx of Zimbaweans, Israelis and Russian Jews.
At various times attempts were made to limit the influx of Jews, e.g., in 1903, by excludion on the grounds that Yiddish was not a European language. This was successfully countered in the Cape Legislative Assembly.
Jewish immigrants came by ship with the major port of entry being at Cape Town (a small number entered at Port Elizabeth and Durban). The major waves of migration occurred from 1895 onwards. Shipping agents, Knie and Co. and Spiro and Co., had subagents in shtetls (small towns) who accepted bookings for passage to South Africa.
Embarking initially at the port of Libau (Latvia), a good proportion of the Jews were transported on small cargo boats under rudimentary conditions to England. A much smaller number passed through Hamburg or Bremen.
Upon arriving in England, many came first to Grimsby or London and were taken to the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter (PJTS) in Leman Street in the East End of London.
The Shelter inmates received assistance in the form of board, lodging, medical treatment and travel advice was given by the Shelter. In one year alone, from November, 1902, 3,600 out of 4,500 Shelter inmates went on the Union Castle Line to the Cape. In 1902, the fare was £10.10.0 (ten guineas) – more than the fare to America (For a more detailed discussion of these and shipping records see the article by Prof A Newman SHEMOT Vol. 1:3 1993).
Ships’ Passenger Lists at the Public Records Office, Kew, London, are stored under reference BT 26 Passenger Lists, Inwards, 1878-1888 and 1890-1960, these lists give the names of all passengers arriving in the United Kingdom where the ship’s voyage began at a port outside Europe and the Mediterranean Sea.
Names of passengers who boarded these ships at European ports and disembarked in the UK are included in the lists. Passenger lists for ships whose voyages both began and ended within Europe (including the UK and the Mediterranean Sea ) are not included.
BT 27 Passenger Lists, Outwards, 1890-1960, give the names of all passengers leaving the UK where the ship’s eventual destination was a port outside Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. Passenger lists for ships whose voyages both began and ended within Europe (including the UK and the Mediterranean Sea ) are not included.
The Cape Town Archives also houses immigration records of Jewish people which are held in the CCP collections.
The Johannesburg Jewish Helping Hand and Burial Society (Chevra Kadisha). The majority of Jews have been buried in large cities. Johannesburg probably accounts for over 75% of all burials. The earliest record is that of Albert Rosetenstein in May 1887. Burials commenced in 1887 for Braamfontein cemetery, Brixton in 1914 and West Park in 1942).
Specific information about individuals or communities may often be obtained from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
Synagogues and communal records include:
Marriages: Marriage authorization certificates and copy Ketubot marriage certificates) and ‘Gets’ (religious divorce)
Orthodox : The Office of the Chief Rabbi can give copies of marriage and divorce certificates. (United Hebrew Congregation). The vast majority of Jews in South Africa are Ashkenazi Jews, also known as Ashkenazim. These are Jews descended from the medieval Jewish communities of the Rhineland. Many later migrated, largely eastward, forming communities in Germany, Poland, Austria, Eastern Europe and elsewhere between the 10th and 19th centuries. There is also a strong Lubavich (Chabad branch of Hasidic Judaism founded by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi ) movement and smaller Sephardi (Sephardim are those Jews associated with the Iberian peninsula and whose traditional language is Ladino.The name comes from Sepharad, a Biblical location that may have been Sardes, but identified by later Jews as the Iberian Peninsula (and southern France). In the vernacular of modern-day Israel , Sephardi has also come to be used as an umbrella term for any Jewish person who is not Ashkenaz) and Masorti congregations. There are 48 Orthodox Religious groups listed in Johannesburg.
Reform communities keep separate records (United Progressive Jewish Congregation of Johannesburg). Many Jews remain with a strong identity but outside the religious net. Intermarriage is very common, but emigration is the main limiting factor to population growth. (Reform Judaism affirms the central tenets of Judaism – God, Torah and Israel – even as it acknowledges the diversity of Reform Jewish beliefs and practices. All human beings are created in the image of God, and that we are God’s partners in improving the world. Tikkun olam – repairing the world – is a hallmark of Reform Judaism as we strive to bring peace, freedom, and justice to all people).
The Southern Africa SIG (special interest group) was founded in 1998.The SIG publishes a quarterly newsletter. General information about the SA Community and genealogical research is on
The SA-SIG has an electronic discussion group with a free subscription on JewishGen WebForm Centre for Jewish Migration & Genealogy Studies
Our intention is to create a comprehensive database of records and information relating to Jewish immigration to South Africa.
The thinking behind the inception of the Jewish Migration and Genealogy Project is twofold:
to map the entire history of Jewish migration to South Africa with the aim of providing authoritative and definitive data for the Discovery Centre at the South African Jewish Museum (SAJM).
To integrate the genealogical data in multi-disciplinary research initiatives under the auspices of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre at the University of Cape Town.
The primary aim of the project is to research the estimated 15,000 core families who migrated to Southern Africa between 1850-1950 from England, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus.
In broad terms, the research will focus on the locations where the families originated, patterns of migration to South Africa, where families first settled, communities they established, growth of families, and subsequent movements and emigration. As such, aspects such as passenger arrival lists, naturalization lists, community records, records of marriages, births and deaths, family trees, etc., will be looked at.
The centre is under the umbrella of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Institute for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town and will also have a public access section located at the South African Jewish Museum.
South African Jewish Rootsweb
South African Jewish Museum South Africa Jewish History Virtual Tour
S. A. Special Interest Group for Jewish Genealogy
Jewishgen – Jewish genealogy main site
Witbank Jewish Genealogy site
Jewish South Africa – the South African Jewish community on the Web. Beyachad South Africa Board of Deputies
African Jewish Congress
Telfed – the website for the Southern African Jewish Community in Israel
Notable Personalities, Civic affairs, charities:
Dr Henry Gluckman
Sir Raymond Hoffenberg Philip V. Tobias
Sir Anthony Sher
Commerce and Industry
Esreal Lazarus – potato king
Motion Pictures- Schlezinger
Sir Mark Wienberg
Acknowledgements and Source: Saul Isroff