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Today in Kimberley's History

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 7 OCTOBER

UPDATED: 07/10/2019

7 October 1889, Wiener’s Day first celebrated in Kimberley, after MP Ludwig Wiener.
7 October 1893, William Wilson accidentally killed on the De Beers Floors steam tram.
7 October 1901, Two miners die in a mud rush in the De Beers Mine.
7 October 1928, St Peters Mission opens in Greenpoint.

DID YOU KNOW

Mud rushes are sudden inflows of mud from draw points or other underground openings, and the rapidity of the mud inflow is such that escape of personnel in its path is most unlikely. Considerable violence, in the form of an air-blast, is often associated with a mud rush. Sources of mud involved in mud rushes include readily weatherable materials, such as shale and kimberlite.

In-rushes of water/mud are normally caused by striking a fault that retains large volumes of water above or at the same level as workings approaching it.

Mud rushes in the various Kimberley mines have over the years since the 19th century been responsible for many deaths among the miners.

The following newspaper extract is from the Cambridge Sentinel, Volume IX, Number 31, 18 May 1912:

“Miners from the diamond pits of Kimberley need not fear falling rock, suffocation by choke damp or sudden death by explosion, but they have perils to face, nevertheless. One morning a band of natives hard at work in a corner of the mine were startled by a dull noise, as if a few tons of some soft substance had been hurled against the high door that separated the spot where they worked from the long tunnel that led to the shaft. “The mud!” they cried, and dropped their picks in an instant. A mud rush means certain death to all in its track. It gives no warning. It comes silently like an ugly, wriggling snake; it works its way swiftly, spares nothing, covers everything. The Englishmen at the opening to the tunnel roared out, “Climb to the top of the wall!” which the natives promptly did. There for the time at least they were safe. Soon the tunnel was a tunnel no longer, but a mass of quivering slime. The mud flowed for hours. Then it gradually slowed and ceased. The Englishmen outside sat around on a neighbouring rock and looked down helplessly into the pit. All manner of suggestions were made, most of them worthless, but in the end it was decided to try to reach the men, not by removing the mud, but by passing over it. One man laid a plank upon the mud and stretched himself on it. A little spade was handed to him, with which he began to cut into the mud and pull himself along as a man face downward in a canoe might pull himself forward with a paddle. He worked bravely on, half-inch by half-inch. Then another man put down a plank and followed him. In half an hour six men were laid flat on six planks in the midst of the mud. There were many feet of mud, and between them and it were these thin planks that might keel over at any moment and send them to a suffocating death. And behind was the hidden spring of destruction that might loosen the slime again, flood the tunnel and capsize the planks like cockle shells in a turbulent sea. When the man on the first plank reached the wall on which the natives were huddled he called to them: “You’ve seen the way I’ve come. Well. I’m going back, but I’m leaving the planks for you to follow on. Crawl along the planks as much like a snake as you can.” Slowly the men on the planks slid back, leaving the wooden line behind them. Slowly the natives followed. Nobody spoke. The black mass underneath looked as hard as a rock, but was as soft as porridge and trembled horribly. As each man reached the end plank he was hauled in to safety and carried half-fainting out of the tunnel. The rest dragged themselves wearily on. When the last native arrived his mates thought he was a stranger. His hair was perfectly white.

Veteran of the Diamond Mines.”

Note: This “veteran” is mistaken as miners in the Kimberley mines have died from falling rock as well as from explosions.

UPDATED: 07/10/2016

7 October 1889, Wiener’s Day first celebrated in Kimberley, after MP Ludwig Wiener.
7 October 1893, William Wilson accidentally killed on the De Beers Floors steam tram.
7 October 1901, Two miners die in a mud rush in the De Beers Mine.
7 October 1928, St Peters Mission opens in Greenpoint.

DID YOU KNOW

The gaols of yesteryear were not as comfortable as they are today. A certain newspaper correspondent, true to his profession of occasional overindulgence in spirituous liquid, spent several days in Kimberley’s Transvaal road “tronk”, compliments of Mr Shirley, the Acting Police Magistrate, for being “drunk and incapable in the public streets”. It is not the transgression of the reporter, known only as “By One who has Been There”, that is important in this story, but rather the characteristics and quality of life in the Kimberley gaol of 1886.

The Criminal Yard was a large, open space lined with high black and white walls, the ground covered in hardened cow dung, and the walls in a “paint” cover of black shale. The black and white prisoners were kept apart as much as possible by George Healey, “the Governor”, but a man convicted of a trivial offence would be with hardened criminals. Kimberley prisons were different to those in Natal and the rest of the Cape colony in that both black and white were divided, whereas elsewhere they were herded together irrespective of colour or creed.

The food was not bad at all, with the meat and bread being “quite wholesome”, the latter being just as good as bread bought from a bakery. Prisoners in for a longer period than three months received more rations than those in for a month or two, while women, children under the age of 18 and blacks received ¾ rations of the men. Normal rations for a man would be (per week), 20 ounces of meat, 16 ounces of bread, 8 ounces of meal and ½ ounce of salt; and daily, one ounce of rice and an ounce of beans and onions.

The gaol kitchen was in a “dark sort of outhouse” and had six large copper pots dividing the kitchen in two, devoted to soup, meat and mealie pap. The soup would be carried to the prisoners in galvanized buckets, while the meat, when cooked, was thrown into a large wooden tub to be cut up. The ration due was placed on a tin plate together with a piece of bread and a chunk of salt and then given to the prisoners.

The bakery was a “scrupulously clean place”, and the bread baked there was eaten by many of the top officials including the Resident Magistrate and the Civil Commissioner. Two prisoners worked all day bringing out the bread requirements. Washing facilities were rudimentary indeed, the “baths” being four square holes made of cement, with a shower head over each “which lets down a good volume of Vaal river when the tap is turned on”. Five or six prisoners were placed in each bath and cleaned en masse. An iron tank to the rear of the “baths” held 2000 gallons of water.

The laundry was a small miserable room, where all the washing and ironing was done. At least six female prisoners did the ironing, and the laundry yard always had washing hanging on the lines. Black and white women did exactly the same work, side by side in the sunshine at the washtubs.

The white women had only two beds in their prison ward, while on the opposite side of the female prison yard, the black women had a hut where they slept.

Debtors and “criminal libelists” were not kept with the other prisoners but had their own room in George Healey’s house. Considered a first class flat it had a decent bed with wooden floors, the only sign of prison being a barred window.

Prisoners condemned to death, generally speaking, are not contented, and the quarters allocated to these individuals were not very cheerful places. The doors were painted black and the cells were eight feet by six feet by nine feet in size. In the corner of each cell was an iron chain to which the prisoner would be fastened. The walls of the cell were made of mud, and anyone could cut his way through with a penknife or pick handle in a short time.

The black prison sick ward had the appearance of an old kraal hut. Where the mud walls join there were cracks that ranged from one inch to five inches. There were no beds, as some old sacks were deemed sufficient. The white prison hospital – not a ward – was in a rough dreary room some forty feet square. The doors were black, the predominant colour in the prison, the walls were cracked and the roof was bare corrugated iron with one sunlight, the only piece of glass in the entire building. The floor was made of mud, and the furniture consisted of a table with a blanket as the cloth and a small stove. Six beds were in the hospital, nearly always occupied, and were mere planks of board placed on trestles some nine inches from the ground. The walls were painted black from the ground upwards for four feet, and then whitewashed up to the roof – clean, cold and cheerless.

In those days, paupers and the mentally disturbed were looked after in the gaol, and in Kimberley gaol there were ten beds available for the streetwalkers, while for the “lunatics” there were two rooms. At the time of this report one of the rooms was occupied by an Irishman named Kinshela who was awaiting removal to Robben Island.

The “prisoner awaiting trial yard” was the worst part of the prison. They had the same food as the rest but the living quarters were the worst. Over the road from the gaol was the “industrial yard” where some prisoners would do carpenting and blacksmithing work, the Government making good use out of the department. Indeed, convicts did not only build the old Courthouse but also made the fittings and furniture within.

Guards had their own quarters in a small row of houses within the gaol precinct. Clergymen rarely visited.

In December of 1886 there were 773 prisoners all told, of which some 228 were at De Beers where they worked in and about the mine. Mr Healey, the supervisor, managed everything most admirably, but the entire gaol was rambling and badly arranged. Everything was primitive, rough and clumsy, and “ought to have been pulled down years ago”. It would last until the 1890s when the new gaol at the corner of Transvaal Road and Hull street was opened.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt

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