14 March 1887, Executioner King hangs murderer Michael King at the Kimberley gaol.
14 March 1891, Movement of earth closes the Harvey Shaft at the Kimberley Mine.
14 March 1920, Herbert Wright killed by love triangle rival Hubert ‘Mad’ Fisher on Egerton Road.
14 March 1947, Michael John “Doc” Doherty, (pictured) Cricketer of the Year 1972, born.
DID YOU KNOW
It was a lovely Sunday evening in Kimberley on 14 March 1920, cool, with just a whisper of a breeze as the sun slipped lower to the horizon. The two lovers were sitting cuddled close together on a bench on Egerton Road, arms around each other, and like many thousands before them, no doubt whispering of sweet nothings, their future plans, and their forthcoming marriage, when suddenly disaster overcame them both.
A man stepped out from under the pepper trees opposite, strode swiftly across the road towards them, and before they could act, he had fired two shots from a pistol – the first hitting Herbert Wright, mortally wounding him and rendering him unconscious, the second striking his companion, the young and attractive Mary Watt Davidson, in her breast, but fortunately for her, was not fatal. She staggered homewards across the pathway from Egerton Road to Boshof Road, reeling from pain, and on occasion holding on to the fence next to the deep drainage canal that still runs parallel to the road. A neighbour of the Davidson family, George Weir, saw Mary struggling along towards her home at 41 Boshof Road, and rushed to her assistance. Weir got Mary home and arranged for a doctor, but when the medico arrived and went to the bench on Egerton Road to check on Mary’s companion, Wright was dead. The police were notified and immediately started searching for the suspect, one Hubert William Fisher, as Mary Davidson knew him. She had seen him quite clearly when he fired the shots.
Fisher, aged 41 years and known to many as “Mad” Fisher, had arrived in Kimberley from England on 4 March 1900 to work for Gibson’s Tramways and by the time of the shooting was the tram car-shed foreman. He had been married when he arrived in Kimberley, but his wife had left him in 1914 to go to Australia with another man. He initiated divorce proceedings in 1916, and divorce was granted that same year. Fisher had known the Davidson family since 1901, and it was not long after his wife had left him that he started boarding with the Davidsons. Indeed, he had been living with the family since October 1915. Mary had been seven years old when the two families became friendly, but when the recently divorced Fisher moved into the Davidson household Mary was 20 years old and single. Fisher, despite the age difference of some 16 years, became quite infatuated with Mary and paid her a great deal of attention. He was in love again and felt quite young, but sadly for him, the feelings he felt for her, were not reciprocated by Mary. She thought of him as a friend of the family – she even called him “mister”, and there was no way she was ever going to think of him as a suitor looking for her hand in marriage. Fisher had even asked her to marry him, but she had declined.
Mary was attractive and there was no shortage of suitors of her own age. The eccentric Fisher was jealous of his younger rivals and tried to make their life as uncomfortable as possible when they visited her. But still Hubert continued pressing home his attentions. He took Mary for rides in his motor car and on a motorbike, he took her out for tea, to the cinema, to the theatre, and, barring the motorbike rides, she always had a chaperone. She accepted many of the gifts that he persistently pressed upon her, but had she known what was brewing in his mind she would no doubt have turned them all down. In fact, after his marriage proposal, she never again went with him for a drive or accepted gifts, and this made Fisher most unhappy. In his mind, Mary “belonged” to him.
It is not every person who writes down in a notebook the costs of absolutely all that is purchased when courting but Hubert Fisher did just that. It was an extremely business-like affair and he thought that the amount (eventually) of some £600 that he had spent on Mary was enough to “buy” her into marriage. Coupled to this obsession with Mary and the monetary expenditure, was how he received his nickname “Mad”. His driving in both motorized forms of car and bike was considered most dangerous, and with his mood swings and unpredictable behaviour he was without a doubt more than a little unbalanced.
One young man who was interested in Mary was Leonard Pollock, and they went out on several occasions together un-chaperoned – much to Fisher’s great displeasure. The one night, after a visit, he escorted Pollock to his own home and told him to stop visiting Mary and to stay away. Pollock took no notice. Later, Fisher stalked them when they returned from a dance and in front of Mary he told Pollock to stop his nonsense and “I’ll do you in yet!”
But it was another young man that had caught the eye of Mary Davidson, and not Pollock.
Herbert Austin Knight was 28 years old, an employee of De Beers Consolidated Mines, and had served in France during the Great War 1914-1918 with the 1st South African Infantry Division. He had known Mary before the war, and upon his return had rekindled their frindship, a friendship that turned rapidly to a love affair, and unbeknown to all, the two lovers had become “engaged to be married” in February 1920.
Fisher turned quite nasty, and accosted Mary on more than one occasion in regard to her relationship with Knight. He warned her on more than one occasion that he would kill Knight if Mary continued with the affair, and there were several arguments. In fact, he told her, if he could not have her for his own, no-one would. In one argument, Mary told Fisher he would hang if he killed Knight – it would be quite a prophetic comment.
It all came to a head when the (obviously-in-love) young couple attended a movie together – and were stalked by Fisher yet again. Knight angrily stormed up to Fisher and told him in no uncertain terms to stop following them around – it must stop immediately and Fisher must stop acting like a child, he said. Fisher slunk off quietly. But he had now reached the stage of no return.
On the afternoon of the Sunday that would bring so much grief to two families, Fisher took Mrs Davidson, Mary and the next-door neighbour Mrs Weir, for a drive in his new motor car. The drive lasted an hour or so, and after dropping mother and daughter at their home, he had tea with Mrs Weir. The Weirs were aware of his infatuation with Mary as Fisher had spoken quite openly about his own spurned overtures towards her and about the men interested in her. Mrs Weir mentioned that Fisher seemed unhappy, and he agreed, adding that there was going to be trouble later that night. Little did Mrs Weir know, there would indeed be trouble, big trouble.
Mary and her beau Herbert were to publicly announce their engagement to marry the same evening that saw Herbert gunned down. What should have been a happy day turned out to be the worst day of their lives.
His deed done, Fisher ran up Egerton Road towards the Halfway House Hotel, adjacent to where the tramways sheds were, and hid for a few hours before making his way to a colleague’s home. It was at 22h50 when George McCartney opened his front door to what appeared to be a very calm Herbert Fisher. Upon querying whether there had been a tramcar crash, Fisher replied in the affirmative and both walked off. During the course of the walk, which had changed direction towards the police station on Transvaal road, Fisher told McCartney that the police were looking for him and he wanted to hand himself over before they found him. He told McCartney a story that was not entirely truthful regarding the shooting of Knight, and when they reached the station told McCartney to hire Louis Lezard as his lawyer.
In one thing though, Fisher was right, the police were indeed searching for him and his arrival at the Charge Office was a bonus that was not expected. A frightening discovery upon being searched by Sergeant O’Brien was that the pistol Fisher was carrying was loaded with dum-dum bullets, a dum-dum being a bullet tampered with to cause maximum distress, injury and a painful death as it splits into four sections upon impact.
The trial of Herbert Fisher on a charge of murder, and of attempted murder, began on 16 August 1920 before the Honourable Mr Justice D de Waal (a son-in-law of the late South African Prime Minister General Louis Botha), Dr F Krause KC leading the defence counsel which included Advocate F Loewenthal and Fisher’s choice, Louis Lezard. The State prosecutor was the Attorney-General for the Cape Province, Advocate E Wingfield-Douglass KC.
The case lasted four days before a jury headed by JJ Collins, and each day the court on Kimberley’s Market Square was packed. Outside too, there were many who just waited to hear of the events within the courtroom itself. On the last day both the prosecution and the defence put forward their final case. Fisher himself, as he had done all four days, sat quietly and on occasion rested his head upon his hand when listening to the statements. Much of the evidence for the prosecution came from Mary Davidson herself, including his jealousy, his threats against her and her male friends. Fisher’s own diaries he kept, told a similar story. In summing up, Wingfield-Douglass stated to the jury: “Gentlemen, this is her story. She tells you on several occasions this man had threatened Knight, on several occasions he had followed them when they went out together, and on this occasion had followed them apparently to the seat, and did this poor fellow to death. Gentlemen, do you believe that story? If so, there is no necessity to go any further, and I would submit on that evidence alone you should convict this man”.
Wingfield-Douglass continued, referring to discoveries made around the bench, the spoor leading to and from it, Fisher’s movements prior to and after the shooting, as well as to statements made by Fisher himself that were particularly damning. “Do you want any further corroboration to show that this was a deliberately planned killing of this man?” queried the Attorney-General. He mentioned the diary entries as showing that Fisher intended to kill Knight at some stage, that Fisher indeed had a most malicious mind.
Dr Krause, for the defence, said that the jury had a tough job, “because your verdict is a final verdict”, and that where Mary Davidson’s statements differed from that of Fisher the jury would have to make up their own minds. He said that Fisher was a man of eccentricity, worried over trifles, and a man who was very quickly aroused and affected by any untoward incident. Dr Krause recalled that Fisher had stated in his evidence that Knight had approached him, and it was in self-defence he had used the Browning pistol, but only as a knuckle duster – it had fired accidentally. “More I cannot do,” defence counsel advised the jury, “the rest is in your hands”.
Justice de Waal summed up the case by saying that both the prosecution and defence had put their cases fairly and fully and that the jury must decide on the prisoner’s guilt: “The question for you to decide is to determine whether the accused deliberately took the life of Knight, or whether he was negligent in the use of a firearm…and it was a pure accident”.
The jury retired for an hour and a quarter to deliberate, an unusual occurrence being that Fisher remained in the dock due to the large amount of spectators in and outside the court. In a hushed courtroom, the jury foreman, JJ Collins, advised the Judge that they found Fisher guilty of murder as charged. Before sentence of death was passed upon him, Fisher was asked if he had anything to say. “I had no intention of killing this man,” he told the packed courtroom. He, at that stage, was cool, calm and quite collected, even when Justice de Waal placed the black cap upon his head and passed sentence of death by hanging.
The cool calmness would not last, as the days leading to his execution were crossed off the calendar, he became more and more emotional, the petition signed by 3000 Kimberley residents did not earn him a reprieve, and when he went to the gallows in October 1920 for the murder of Herbert Austin Knight he was a broken man, and not at all ready to meet his Maker.