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Refugees leaving Kimberley

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 07 MARCH

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UPDATED: 07/03/2018

7 March 1896, Theo Samuels takes 7 for 42 for GW against England.
7 March 1900, Refugees given passes to leave Kimberley.
7 March 1923, Diamond buyer William Thompson killed by Delville Wood survivor Arthur Stanley, at Rus en Vrede farm outside Kimberley. He was executed for the crime.

DID YOU KNOW
The popular and well-known Kimberley diamond buyer William John Thompson never saw the sun that rose just after 5 am on the morning of Wednesday 7 March 1923. He lay dead in the front passenger seat of his car, a bullet through his head, at the gate to Frederick Vigne’s farm. The farm, Rust-en-Vrede, is some 7 miles (13 kilometres) out of Kimberley on the Schmidtsdrift road. The driver of the car, Leslie Duncan Seitz, critically wounded, was receiving attention at the farm homestead. 

PT-William_Thompson-1923

William Thompson

The day that had begun so dramatically for Frederick Vigne on his quiet and peaceful farm had started a few hours earlier for William Thompson and his chauffeur, Leslie Seitz. Every Wednesday morning as regular as clockwork, Seitz would pick up his employer and they would go out to the alluvial diggings on the Vaal River to purchase diamonds from the diggers. On this particular Wednesday they would go firstly to Douglas some 100 miles from Kimberley, and then to Mosesberg some 50 miles further where diggers were finding some good diamonds. The earlier the buyer got to the destination, the better the chance of getting the really good diamonds, so Seitz picked up Thompson from his house at 3.30 am, the diamond buyer bringing with him a leather bag containing some £400 in notes, plus a tin box with £35 in coin. He kissed his wife goodbye and Seitz drove off shortly after 3.45 am, first stopping at the offices of the Diamond Fields Advertiser on Stockdale Street for the day’s newspaper before finally moving out towards the Schmidtsdrift Road and their destination. On this particular journey Seitz had received permission to take his young dog on the journey, so that it could enjoy some runs in the veld while Thompson bought diamonds.

It was a long haul in those early days of motoring, with myriad farm gates to be opened and closed, but it was not too long before they reached the gate that led onto the farm Rust-en-Vrede. There was moonlight and the front lamps were burning, but it was clear enough for both in the car to see that ahead of them were two men walking towards the gate, their backs facing the vehicle. Seitz recognized one of the men, exclaiming to William Thompson: “Why, that is Stanley! He probably wants a lift.” The man Stanley came up towards the car on the driver’s side while his companion opened the gate.

“Thank you”, said Thompson to Stanley, and with that the latter produced a revolver and fired several shots at both men in the car. Seitz put his hand up to protect his face, but the first bullet was aimed at Thompson and killed him instantly. Another five bullets were fired, all hitting Seitz and wounding him in the head, arm and hand. He slumped unconscious against the dashboard, but not before he had seen Thompson fall against the windscreen. Seitz had only briefly seen the second man opening the gate, but had not recognized him.

The two men, Stanley and his unknown accomplice, came up to the vehicle and hurriedly took the leather bag containing the money in notes from beneath Thompson’s legs, but missed the tin box in the back of the car. The dog was not hurt, but cowered away from the men. The two thieves (and now murderers) disappeared into the early morning darkness of dawn. Recovering consciousness, Seitz saw that Thompson was dead, but somehow managed to start the car, go through the opened gate and he reached the farmhouse of Frederick Vigne some time shortly before 4.30 am. Vigne called the police at 4.30 am and they sent a mounted policeman to verify the story before notifying the De Beers ambulance service. The ambulance were only advised at 6.12 am, it was on its way by 6.15 am and the unfortunate Seitz was in the Kimberley hospital by 8am. Typical police red tape had interfered with what should have been an automatic call-out for the ambulance.

The two accomplices in crime made their way back to Kimberley on foot presuming that they had killed both men in the car, not knowing that Seitz was alive and indeed, had recognized one of them. When they reached town they decided to hide some of the money and buried £150 in a bully beef tin next to the railway line on the fringes of elite residential suburb, Belgravia. They hid their wallets, together with 11 rubies and two diamonds in a nearby metal drum. The two then went their different ways, Stanley to a room he had hired at 26 Villiers Street, and his accomplice went home. They would not meet again in their lifetime.

Meanwhile, the police had moved swiftly after the debacle of the ambulance earlier that morning, and after interviewing Seitz, knew they were looking for Arthur Cromwell Stanley, a diamond digger who lived at Mosesberg. Stanley, aged 34 years, of slender build and 5’ 9” tall, was sunburnt dark brown through hours of searching for diamonds under the hot Northern Cape sun. He was a war hero from the Great War of 1914-1918, and was one of the few South Africans that had survived the battle of Delville Wood in France. An army officer – he was a lieutenant – he had been gassed at “The Devil’s Wood”, and later in the war had been wounded by shrapnel. The police learnt that he was married, had four children living with him at Mosesberg, and more importantly, that he was very down on his luck, having sold all his possessions, including furniture and his watch, to survive. He needed money, and he needed it fast.

It was 9 am when Stanley finished washing up in the room he had hired at Ella Robinson’s boarding house, and the news of Thompson’s murder had spread like a wild fire. Stanley even had the audacity to talk with his temporary landlady about the murder before leaving for the Town Hall on Market Square where he hailed a taxi he had used the previous day in bringing his family into Kimberley. He had left an important clue at the boarding house; however, the bloodstained shirt that he wore in the shooting was carelessly left in the lowest drawer of the dressing table in the hired room.

Frederick August Beeby was the taxi driver and they were soon on the road to Schmidtsdrift, traveling the exact same route taken a little earlier that day by the ill-fated diamond buyer. When they reached the scene of the murder, there were police detectives combing the veld for clues – Beeby even stopped and talked with the police for a while before continuing the drive to Schmidtsdrift on the Vaal River. Interestingly, the police at the scene of the crime were not aware of the identity of the murderer at that stage, but by the time the taxi reached the pont needed to cross the Vaal river, the message had been relayed through to the police station at Schmidtsdrift. The message given to Detective Sergeant A.J. Turner was that a man answering the description of Stanley had taken a taxi to Schmidtsdrift, this information coming from other taxi drivers in the rank outside the Town Hall, and he waited patiently for the taxi to arrive.

At 11 am Stanley was arrested on suspicion of murder and by midnight he was safely ensconced in the Kimberley gaol on Transvaal Road/Hull Street. The next day, a preparatory examination was held at the Kimberley Hospital under Magistrate J. Bruce Brand, with Mr R. Kidman prosecuting. The badly injured Seitz, swathed in bandages and in bed, told his story, and an identification parade was held.

“That is the man!” he said, pointing directly at Stanley, who was then taken back to gaol to stand trial for the murder of William John Thompson.

Later that same day the graveside funeral service of the slain diamond buyer was held at the West End cemetery. As can be imagined, it was a moving and heart rending ceremony that saw the Very Reverend Dean Robson officiating. Thompson, aged 58 years, had not been a diamond buyer all his life – he had previously been a detective with the Kimberley Diamond Detective Department, so was well known throughout the region. His sorrowing family, wife, six sons, three daughters and three grandchildren led the mourners who included such local luminaries as Lt-Colonel Herbert Harris, H. F. Lardner-Burke DSO, MC, “Klondyke” Raaff, the Springbok rugby player, J.R. de Melker, brother-in-law of the infamous Daisy, Joseph van Praagh, Mrs Seitz, mother of Leslie, as well as most diamond buyers and those in the diamond industry. Wreaths and floral tributes abounded. It was an emotional day for all concerned in the murder of William Thompson.

The trial of Arthur Cromwell Stanley began on 7 May 1923 at the old Magistrate’s Court on Market Square, close to where Stanley had caught the taxi that took him to the waiting arms of the law at Schmidtsdrift. Mr Justice Howell Jones was presiding over the jury, C.C. Jarvis was the Crown Prosecutor and S.B. Kitchin, an Old Boy of the Kimberley High School, was defence counsel for Stanley.

Kitchin’s main line of defence for Stanley was what the war veteran had gone through in the Great War and particularly at Delville Wood. That perhaps Stanley’s condition at the time of the shooting of Thompson was because his mind had become unhinged through the trials and tribulations suffered during the war. In other words, that Stanley was medically insane at the time of the shooting, and that the charge should be for culpable homicide rather than for murder. Evidence was led by the defence from highly qualified doctors in connection with his possible mental imbalance caused by the war, but was counteracted to a degree by the prosecution’s medical team. Even his wife pleaded for his life from the witness stand, saying that his nerves had gone, and that it had been caused by shell-shock. Despite all this, he had remained a considerate and devoted husband, always putting them first in his life.

Misfortune had dogged him since the war ended, Stanley told the packed court, and with his diamond digging business in trouble, a fast-growing family totally dependent on him, income dried up, and expenditure growing, he had thought about suicide but had rejected the idea. He had started a friendship with another returned war veteran and discussed his problems, particularly the lack of finance, and it had been his friend who had thought of robbing a diamond buyer. “I chose Thompson.” Stanley continued, “I blamed him for my financial position but that was merely because he was associated with Mosesberg.” He had seen Thompson draw money from the bank the previous day and knew for certain he was going to the diggings the next day.

The plan was that he and his accomplice would wait for the vehicle to arrive, have handkerchiefs placed over their faces, stop the car, rob Thompson at gunpoint and then use the vehicle to return to Kimberley. “We had no idea of taking anyone’s life…” but the plans all came to nought as the vehicle drew up alongside him the fateful day on the Schmidtsdrift Road. “I do not know exactly what happened then but I found that I had fired several shots”, he continued telling the court, “…I rushed from the car…then I turned back…I needed the money…and ran towards Kimberley.”

Stanley then said that he was more than sorry he had killed Thompson and wished it had not happened. Unfortunately for Stanley and his defence counsel, there was some very damning evidence that quite probably swayed the jury’s mind. He had told Charles Hopewell, the postmaster at Schmidtsdrift, that he would commit murder rather than see his family starve. Similarly, he had said to a former partner, Sydney Smith, that it would be easy to rob a diamond buyer simply by hiking a ride in his car, hitting the buyer over the head, and stealing the money and whatever else he had. The idea had long been there it appeared.

In his summing up for the defence, Kitchin asked the jury for sympathy, and for respect in what Stanley had gone through during the war recently finished. He did not deserve the death sentence, argued Kitchin, but a verdict based purely on mercy. The jury retired for two hours to consider all the facts, and when they returned the foreman advised the court that Arthur Stanley was guilty of murder as charged. They had, however, recommended mercy because of his military record during the war, the ordeals he had gone through in the trenches, and the disheartening position he had been in to even consider breaking the law, let alone commit murder.

It was not for the Judge to apply clemency, but the Governor-General’s prerogative, and all Justice Howell Jones could do was to pass sentence of death upon Stanley. A later petition, signed by many Kimberley residents, also failed to save the life of the murderer Stanley, and he died on the gallows on 11 June 1923, a mere few months after committing murder. Despite intense questioning, Stanley refused to give the name of his accomplice in crime, and went to the gallows with his lips still sealed.

A postscript from the condemned cell was that Stanley accused the government of not looking after the old soldiers who had fought for South Africa and the Empire. It was their fault he was where he was. Was that their way of thanking servicemen for their sacrifices?

UPDATED: 07/03/2017

7 March 1896, Theo Samuels takes 7 for 42 for GW against England.
7 March 1900, Refugees given passes to leave Kimberley.

7 March 1923, Diamond buyer William Thompson killed by Delville Wood survivor Arthur Stanley, at Rus en Vrede farm outside Kimberley. He was executed for the crime.

PT-Theo_Samuels-1896

Theo Samuels

DID YOU KNOW

There were two types of black refugees during the siege, those who came from farms, villages and other towns, and who were genuine refugees; and then there were the internal refugees, those forced by either military or civil authorities to leave their homes for various reasons. Many hundred refugees came into Kimberley in the ten weeks prior to the war, and the night before the siege, at least 400 were housed in the City Hall. Many blacks living in Numbers 1, 3 and 4 Locations within the municipal limits were removed to the centre of the horse racecourse in the south-east. Although the Africans in No 2 Location were able to stay in their homes, many came into the town and were housed at the Salvation Army Barracks and the Jubilee Hall. Nearly 7000 people left Kimberley after the siege, mostly to Cape Town. Of the 3623 free railway passes issued to destitute residents and refugees on 7 March 1900, two thirds were blacks, mostly so-called coloureds and Indians.

Pictured are some of the refugees leaving Kimberley.

 

 

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