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George Labram

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 09 FEBRUARY

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UPDATE: 09/02/2018

9 February 1978, Robert Sobukwe admitted to Kimberley hospital with cancer.
9 February 1887, Goldfields company started by Cecil Rhodes and Charles Rudd.
9 February 1900, George Labram, designer of the Long Cecil gun, killed by a Long Tom shell hitting the Grand Hotel.
9 February 1996, Griqua cricket all-rounder Johan Johnson dies in car accident near Taung.

DID YOU KNOW

George Labram (pictured) was killed by in his room at the Grand Hotel by the last shell fired by the Boer Long Tom into Kimberley on the evening of 9 February 1900, a mere six days before the town was relieved. Mr Sadler, the manager of the hotel, commented that “…he was in the act of changing dress and had raised his arm to divest himself of his coat when the shell came, not through the window as reported, but through the roof at the back and struck the corner of an adjacent room with sufficient impact to explode the shell, which went through the double plate-glass mirror of a wardrobe without injuring the woodwork. Portion of the shell had taken a piece out of Mr Labram’s hat, which had been placed on the table. Mr Labram was buried beneath the debris.”

Sadler, being the manager, was the first person on the scene, and the only other persons who viewed the room other than the police, were: Mr H.A. Oliver, the Mayor; William Pickering, the secretary of De Beers; and Irvine Grimmer, then assistant secretary.

What did this genius do for Kimberley that he saved the town?

• Designed and built the Long Cecil gun (with the assistance of Goffe and the De Beers Workshops). This is considered to be one of the greatest feats in the history of besieged towns in the world;
• Designed and fitted out four armoured trains, two of which did sterling work during the siege of Kimberley;
• Converted the headgear of the De Beers Mine into a watch tower by building a protected platform upon the summit;
• Connected this watch tower (known as the Conning Tower, conning being short for Reconnaissance), by telephone to the various positions around the town’s defensive line. This included the artillery and ambulance HQ, the railway station, and the armoured trains. This proved most successful;
• Designed and erected the platforms for the massive De Beers searchlights;
• Designed and set up a new water supply system for Kimberley by pumping water from the Wesselton Mine and connecting it to the Kimberley system. This after the Boers had cut the water line from the Vaal river to Kimberley;
• Planned and erected a cold storage facility of 14 000 cubic ft with a plant to preserve carcasses of cattle and sheep while they were still fat. Although the building had been planned and built well before the war, the plant had not yet arrived and he made one), and;
• Manufactured shells and fuses for the Imperial forces besieged within Kimberley from middle November 1899, a good 6 weeks before designing Long Cecil.

It is, perhaps, his discovery and subsequent invention of the grease table in the diamond recovery system, that he is best remembered today. This system, patented by Labram and his co-discoverer, Fred Kirsten, was sold by Mrs Labram to De Beers after her husband’s death. (The discovery that diamonds would adhere to grease in the presence of water was made by Kirsten, and Labram designed the method of recovering diamonds from the concentrate applied practically in a shaking table covered by grease.)

Also pictured is the room at the Grand Hotel where George Labram was killed.

UPDATE: 09/02/2017

9 February 1887, Goldfields company started by Cecil Rhodes and Charles Rudd.
9 February 1900, George Labram, designer of the Long Cecil gun, killed by a Long Tom shell hitting the Grand Hotel.
9 February 1978, Robert Sobukwe admitted to Kimberley hospital with cancer.
9 February 1996, Griqua cricket all-rounder Johan Johnson dies in car accident near Taung.

Pictured is George Labram, his grave, the tablet on the Honoured Dead Memorial and the Grand Hotel room in which he was killed.

DID YOU KNOW

The name of George F Labram is little known in South Africa and in Kimberley. And in his own country, the mighty US of A, probably even less so. But he can quite rightly be hailed as the man who virtually single-handedly saved Kimberley from falling in to the hands of the Boers in the first few months of war in 1899.

PT-George_Labram_Grave-1900

George Labram’s Grave

Labram had resigned from his position as Chief Engineer (Mechanical and Electrical) of De Beers Consolidated Mines, his letter of resignation dated 23 September 1899 stating his last day of employment would be 31 December that year, thus giving three months notice to De Beers.

He had been working closely with local Lt-Colonel Henry Scott-Turner and the rest of the Staff Corps who had been in Kimberley since June that same year, and there is no doubt that the influence of Scott-Turner, whose company he enjoyed, ensured that he stayed in his position longer than he probably intended.

All historical books dealing with Labram and the making of Long Cecil always mention that he was killed in his room at the Grand Hotel, but never question as to WHY he was staying at an hotel if he was an employee of De Beers. By June 1899 he had already been negotiating with his employer-to-be, and in his position would have had a company house. Certainly in 1896 he was living in Belgravia, but the actual physical address cannot be established despite some intensive research.

Mr Sadler, at the time of Labram’s death, was the manager of the Grand Hotel. He wrote that the room occupied by Labram at the hotel was known as the De Beers room, “…for many men in turn occupied the position of chief engineer lived at the ‘Grand’ and had that room.”

PT-George_Labrams_Room-1900

George Labram’s room showing the shell damage.

His decision to remain would cost him his life, but it definitely saved the town from surrendering to the Boers.

His wife Flora, writing to Cecil Rhodes in April 1900, was naturally very bitter about her husband remaining in Kimberley while she waited in Cape Town for him to join her.

“We, who are left, feel his life has been sacrificed for the De Beers Company, English nation, and others. Had he returned at the outbreak of the war as he should have done, he might have been with us now, but he did not and stayed to do a grand and noble work, only to be taken at the last. How cruel [that] poor Fred and I must be the sufferers.”

Flora had asked George to leave Kimberley and return to America and his new job before the war began, but he refused. “No, Flora dear,” he said to her, “I am not a coward and if I were to come away it would look as though I was. I know I could do more than any one man in Kimberley to help protect De Beers properties and help the town of Kimberley…but, don’t worry my dear, nothing will happen to me.”

Tempting fate it may have been, but George Labram was killed by in his room at the Grand Hotel by the last shell fired by the Boer Long Tom into Kimberley on the evening of 9 February 1900, a mere six days before the town was relieved. Mr Sadler commented that “…he was in the act of changing dress and had raised his arm to divest himself of his coat when the shell came, not through the window as reported, but through the roof at the back and struck the corner of an adjacent room with sufficient impact to explode the shell, which went through the double plate-glass mirror of a wardrobe without injuring the woodwork. The native Andries was at the other end of the room…Portion of the shell had taken a piece out of Mr Labram’s hat, which had been placed on the table. Mr Labram was buried beneath the debris.”

PT-Honoured_Dead_Memorial_Tablet-1900

Honoured Dead Memorial Tablet

Sadler, being the manager, was the first person on the scene, and the only other persons who viewed the room other than the police, were: Mr H.A. Oliver, the Mayor; William Pickering, the secretary of De Beers; and Irvine Grimmer, then assistant secretary.

What did this genius do for Kimberley that he saved the town?

• Designed and built the Long Cecil gun (with the assistance of Goffe and the De Beers Workshops). This was considered to be one of the greatest feats in the history of besieged towns in the world;
• Designed and fitted out four armoured trains, two of which did sterling work during the siege of Kimberley;
• Converted the headgear of the De Beers Mine into a watch tower by building a protected platform upon the summit;
• Connected this watch tower (known as the Conning Tower, conning being short for Reconnaissance), by telephone to the various positions around the town’s defensive line. This included the artillery and ambulance HQ, the railway station, and the armoured trains. This proved most successful;
• Designed and erected the platforms for the massive De Beers searchlights;
• Designed and set up a new water supply sytem for Kimberley by pumping water from the Wesselton Mine and connecting it to the Kimberley system. This after the Boers had cut the water line form the Vaal river to Kimberley;
• Planned and erected a cold storage facility of 14 000 cubic ft with a plant to preserve carcasses of cattle and sheep while they were still fat. Although the building had been planned and built well before the war, the plant had not yet arrived and he made one), and;
• Manufactured shells and fuses for the Imperial forces besieged within Kimberley from middle November 1899, a good 6 weeks before designing Long Cecil.

What more could one man have done – he had saved Kimberley.

It is, perhaps, his discovery and subsequent invention of the grease table in the diamond recovery system, that he is best remembered today. This system, patented by Labram and his co-discoverer, Fred Kirsten, was sold by Mrs Labram to De Beers after her husband’s death. (The discovery that diamonds would adhere to grease in the presence of water was made by Kirsten, and Labram designed the method of recovering diamonds from the concentrate applied practically in a shaking table covered by grease.)

And how did Kimberley remember this man of America, her adopted son? Not very well, I am afraid. There is a small suburb named after him. And, there is a bronze tablet on the Honoured Dead memorial recording his work with the Long Cecil, the gun lying on the stylobate of the memorial.

De Beers did not forget. Apart from the purchase of the diamond recovery patent, they paid for the entire education of his son, Fred. It was the least they could do.

From DBCM Mrs Labram received $500 per year for the remainder of her life and their 13-year-old son $1000 per year until he came of age. Great Britain also granted Mrs. Labram a once-off sum of £1,000 for the services her husband had rendered during the siege.

George and Flora had married in Kane County, USA on 2 October 1886. Son Fred was 13 years of age when his father was killed.

Flora lived in Aurora, Illinois and died on 7 December 1916. She is buried in the Spring Lake cemetery, Aurora.

Their son Fred attended the University of Wisconsin and became an engineer. He died on 8 November 1934 in Illinois and like his mother, is buried in the Spring Lake cemetery, Aurora.

It is believed that at this stage Fred was married twice, with daughters born to each union. Research continues.

9 February 1887, Goldfields company started by Cecil Rhodes and Charles Rudd.
9 February 1900, George Labram, designer of the Long Cecil gun, killed by a Long Tom shell hitting the Grand Hotel.
9 February 1978, Robert Sobukwe admitted to Kimberley hospital with cancer.
9 February 1996, Griqua cricket all-rounder Johan Johnson dies in car accident near Taung.
(Pictured is the Grand Hotel, and George Labram’s room showing the shell damage).

PT-George_Labrams_Room-1900

George Labram’s room showing the shell damage.

DID YOU KNOW
Winifred Heberden’s Siege Diary – Feb 9th 1900.

Our good night’s rest was rudely broken by the big gun booming in our ears, and everyone hastily dressed – Reggie performing his ‘toilette’ in the Smoking Room!

The unfortunate people at the Meat Market fled back to their homes without waiting for their rations.

A Miss Mallett had a narrow escape. She was lying in her bed and a servant came to her door for orders, so she turned round and sat on the edge of her bed. Hardly had she done so when a large piece of one of the big shells fell through the end of her bed to the room below.

Our hotel, being in the line of fire from Kamfersdam to the Central and principal part of Kimberley, we hear the horrid sound of almost every shell whirring over our heads, and, instinctively, ‘duck’, not knowing whether it is to fall on us, or perhaps a mile away.

The gun is generally turned to a fresh target after five or six shells, so when our share has dropped round us we breathe again for a while.

This excitement continued with two silent periods of about 1.5 hours till 6 p.m.

When the very last shell fell it struck the roof of our hotel, passed at an angle through three walls, bursting right into Mr Labram’s room, where the poor fellow had only that moment entered to dress to dine with Mr Rhodes. A Coloured boy was in the room, having brought in fresh water. He says that Mr Labram came in and was taking off his coat as the shell struck him. The boy was thrown down uninjured! Nearly everybody else in the hotel was in the basement. The women and children in the Smoke Room, which is exactly two floors under Mr Labram’s room; so this occurred literally over our heads.

The crash was something awful. Mr Labram’s hat was blown out of the window, so Jack went straight up. He saw no sign of anyone, so came down again, much relieved, and said that Mr Labram was not there.

Presently a policeman, who was pushing out loose bricks, stepped on something and called out to say there was a man there. Jack, and one or two others, ran up again and found the poor body, partly dismembered, and quite unrecognisable, covered with bricks and mortar, and splinters of shell and wood. The wall of the room gaping with a hole 8 feet wide, the doors smashed, and windows blown outwards.

The terrible work of placing the remains in the ambulance was done as quickly as possible, whilst we remained in the Smoke Room with the blinds drawn down, and the children unconsciously playing round us.

The Boers seemed to know that they had taken the life of the one man who mattered so much to us, and who had helped us against them so splendidly with his hands and his brain for they ceased firing entirely. And the ambulance slowly went down to the Hospital Mortuary, and past the crowd of sorrowful people who had already heard the tragic news. And we are left with the sad reflection that had Mr Labram come to us for a chat and a cup of cocoa, as was his custom when returning from his office, instead of rushing up to his room to change for his dinner appointment with Mr Rhodes, his life might have been spared.

Everybody was too unnerved to sleep upstairs. So the women and children crowded into the lowest rooms and the men slept in the halls and passages or, rather, tried to sleep, for no one could feel relaxed after the last terrible shock.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

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