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UPDATED: 10/12/2021

10 DECEMBER 1880, James Carson murdered by a gang on Parsons Lane.
10 DECEMBER 1899,
Besieged Kimberley hears massive bombardment from direction of Magersfontein in afternoon.
Pictured is the 4.7in British Naval gun firing on Magersfontein Kop.

Another Kimberley murder most foul


4.7in British Naval gun firing on Magersfontein Kop.

What a to-do in Kimberley from December 1880 until February 1881. It involved as principals in an ongoing drama, two men, James Carson and Henry Perkins, and brought together in an improbable scenario; murder, an alleged affair, illegal diamond buying, an execution, robbery, and an unsolved murder, which was quite possibly revenge for the earlier murder.

It all began on the morning of Friday 10 December 1880 when the body of a white man, identified later in the day as James Carson, was discovered by Kimberley character Kidger Tucker on the Kimberley Mine debris heaps less than 100 yards from his residence in Parson’s Lane, West End. His servant had reported to him at 5am that a body of a white man was lying near Baring-Gould’s well near the house and Tucker had gone to investigate, finding Carson’s body. There had been no sign of a struggle Tucker said, although Carson’s head had been smashed in, rendering his features as unrecognisable. At least four or five large stones, all covered with blood and hair, lay close to the body of the murdered man. There had been footprints near the body, and Carson’s hat as well as a bottle of brandy was close by. Tucker had then reported the murder to Sergeant McCarthy at the West End Police Station, who found a watch, pencil case, handkerchief and tobacco in Carson’s pockets, one of which had been turned inside out.

The inquest later that day before Mr J.L. Truter, heard some startling revelations. James Carson, an engine fitter, had been recently discharged from the Cape Diamond Mining Company in the Kimberley Mine. His widow, mentioned throughout as Mrs Carson, told Mr Truter that he had promised to come and meet her on the Thursday afternoon but had not, and indeed did not return home that night. She had identified the body as that of her husband by his clothes and his hands. She mentioned that there had been some ill feeling between her husband and his immediate boss, Henry Perkins, at the mining company on Monday 6 December, five days prior to his death.

Mr Richardson, the publisher of the Diamond News, brought to the attention of the inquest that the deceased had come to his newspaper offices on Friday 3 December in order to place an advertisement. In the advertisement, which he did not publish, Carson wanted to state that he had caught his wife (Mrs Carson) kissing Henry Perkins and that he was going to sue Perkins for damages. According to Carson’s story, he had then hit Perkins, and the following morning had gone to complain about Perkins to Mr Grellert, the manager of the Cape Diamond Mining Company. He had refused to publish, said Richardson, because he needed to know more of the facts. Carson and Richardson had met again on Thursday 9 December evening between 6 and 7pm when Carson said that Mr Grellert had dismissed him from the Cape Diamond Mining Company. He told Richardson that he could not get any satisfaction from Grellert as Perkins was related to the manager, and that his wife had now left him and “gone away with Perkins”. At some stage after meeting with Mr Richardson of the Diamond News on the Thursday night, still between 6 and 7pm, Carson had stopped off at Girling’s canteen in the West End and purchased a bottle of Cango brandy from the barkeeper, Joseph William Needham.

Called before Mr Truter, John Murray, the Traffic Manager of the Rose-Innes (Diamond Mining) Company, added fuel to the fire by saying that Carson had told him that his wife was involved in “criminal misconduct” with Perkins, and that he was afraid of losing his job if he did something to Perkins. William McIntosh, Cape Diamond Mining Company Engineer, said that Carson had told him that Perkins had accused him (Carson) of buying diamonds from Africans. It had been Mrs Carson who had told Perkins the tale, McIntosh related, adding that Henry Perkins had later told him exactly the same story relating to the diamond buying and from whence it came. Mr Truter adjourned the inquest to the following day, a day that produced even more drama than the first.

Mrs Carson was the first on the stand, and said, quite incredulously considering the comments of the day before, that she knew no one who had any personal ill feeling against her husband. She added that he was a person who enjoyed his liquor but was not often “the worse for it”.

Dr Dyer, the District Medical Officer who examined the body, said that a post mortem had not been necessary as it was clear how Carson had met his death. “I could push my finger into the brain in any direction.” He had examined the body at about 11.30am that Friday, and said that death had occurred at least some eight to nine hours earlier that day in his opinion.

Mr A Grellert, Cape Diamond Mining Company Manager, was next on the witness stand: “James Carson was in my employ as an engine fitter. Henry Marriott Perkins was the manager on the washing floor. Carson was under Perkins’ immediate control, more especially so as I was absent at the time from Kimberley for a few days. Carson reported to me on my return on the 3rd instant, that he had been dismissed. I had not time to talk with him, but told him to speak to me again next day. I spoke to Perkins before I spoke to Carson again. Perkins told me that he had called at the house Carson lived in and that there had been a row chiefly about a carpenter who was lying there sick and to whose presence Carson objected. Perkins had threatened to discharge deceased, deceased had dared him to, and he had therefore dismissed him. I was not satisfied with this reason for Carson’s discharge, but Perkins then told me that Carson had been buying diamonds illicitly. I then ratified his dismissal.”

The story became more interesting after another question from Mr Truter, Grellert replying that Perkins lived in the “floors” region, about three-quarters of a mile from Carson’s house. Perkins had been ill for some time and had spent some days in the country, returning on Wednesday 8 December, a day and some before Carson had been killed.

“Perkins was not at work on Thursday morning, I took his place. He was sick. He gave some orders in the stables on Friday but did no other work. He was walking about with his arm in a sling. He said he had a swelling under it. He rode into town on Friday about this very case.”

It all looked cut and dried. Suspicion had automatically fallen on Henry Perkins, as it appeared from the evidence laid out before the court that he may well have been having an affair with Mrs Carson, and indeed, had been off work for some time. Suddenly, or so it appeared to readers of the various Kimberley daily newspapers, an arrest of an African in connection with the murder of James Carson, put paid to the rumours doing the rounds.

Four Black men; Mahash, Jonas, Scotchman and Basket, all stayed at the same house, and one night, Thursday 9 December, shortly before sundown, Scotchman went out for brandy, followed some time later by Mahash and Jonas.

Upon their return, Mahash came in and told Basket, who had stayed behind and was the Crown witness, that “we have murdered a white man”. Basket had replied that he would suffer for it. Mahash had said that the three of them – they had met up with Scotchman – had met the white man on the road who had asked them where they were going and whether they had any diamonds to sell. Mahash had told the white man that he would take him to a place where the diamonds were hidden, and when they reached the spot, Mahash had killed the white man with some large stones.

Scotchan and Jonas had been some paces behind Mahash and they could not stop him from killing the white man. Jonas, who also worked for the Cape Diamond Mining Company, but did not know Carson as Carson worked on the floors and he on the mine, said that the white man and Mashash had turned off the tramway and made their way to the “heaps” some 40 yards away. When they reached the heaps Mahash “threw the white man with a stone. It hit him about the face. He fell on his back. Mahash continued to throw him with stones. They hit him on the head. We were some way off, about 15 yards. Mahash was still beating the white man’s head, while I was pulling the four shillings out of his trousers pocket. I then ran back to Scotchman.” The three of them, Mahash, Jonas and Scotchman then divided the four shillings between them.

This stunning evidence from out of the blue brought the inquest to a close, and Mahash was arraigned on a charge of wilful murder, and remanded until the court case began in February 1881. But all the jigsaw pieces had not yet been fitted into place, and a few more shocks lay in store for the public of Kimberley.

Mr Justice Buchanan presided over the case when it opened, with Advocate Brown appearing for Mahash, and Advocate Lange for the Crown. The case lasted a whole day, with not much going on except the examining and cross-examining of the witnesses to the murder. Mahash accused the others of the murder; but they all disagreed claiming that it was Mahash who had committed the murder. Basket, one of the key witnesses, contradicted himself on occasion, and even the counsel for defence remarked that the evidence incidentally adduced against Basket was graver than that against the prisoner Mahash. The judge summed up the case for the jury, who retired for their deliberation at 5.30 pm, returning a mere ten minutes later with their verdict that Mahash was guilty of wilful murder. However, it was the opinion of the jury that Mahash was “not the sole perpetrator of the crime”, and took the opportunity of calling attention to the alarming “increase of insecurity to life and property in the three camps” which they attributed to the lack of police supervision.

After a few words to the guilty party, Mahash, Mr Justice Buchanan passed sentence of death upon him in the usual solemn manner and the prisoner was escorted to the gaol on Transvaal Road to await the executioner. But all was not over, not by a long chalk. Six days after Mahash had been led away there was an attack on Henry Perkins that was so severe that he died from his injuries.

At about 7 am on the morning of 13 February 1881, David Andrews, the African groom of the Cape Diamond Mining Company, had arrived at Perkins’ house situated at the Mining Company’s “compound” on their floors in the West End of Kimberley. Perkins had been brutally attacked while lying in his bed, and he lay there, half in and half out his bed, still breathing but in a pool of blood. Next to the bed was a blood stained piece of tramway rail-line and a crowbar. The small safe in the house had been opened with the crowbar and was empty, while the assailant had left his cap and belt on the floor. Perkins’ arm was outstretched towards a loaded shotgun that was close to hand. Andrews immediately called Mr Grellert who rushed to the scene, and upon seeing the unconscious Perkins, called in Doctor Leander Starr Jameson and Dr Heuter. The two doctors removed the badly injured man to the Carnarvon Hospital, but it was to no avail as Perkins died without regaining consciousness at 1am on 14 February. He was 28 years and three days old when he died.

The police had taken a suspect into custody – one Franz Williams. He was the cart driver who had driven Perkins to Barkly West for an evening out, and then back to Kimberley the same night Perkins had been attacked. Williams was soon released as he had another story to tell. While on the way to visit Jane Mauby at Barkly West, the cart had been forced to stop near the “German Flag” canteen because an African man was blocking the road. After being whipped by Perkins, he still refused to move, so Perkins got off and beat him with his fists. Despite this beating the man still chased after the cart throwing stones. Perkins and Williams stayed at the women’s house for a while, and then returned to Kimberley, but did not see the African again. Jane Mauby had another story. Perkins had pointed out to her a white man, Patrick O’Donnell, as a man who had tackled him quite recently under a bridge near his home. She had seen O’Donnell after that incident, and he had worn a hat similar to the one found at the scene of the murder. Possibly it had been he who had killed Perkins, she claimed.

The Daily Independent, however, chose to disbelieve the robbery theory, and linked Perkins’ death with Carson’s in December: “Carson’s murder, although one man has been condemned to death for participation in the crime, remains a mystery. The murder of poor Perkins may possibly serve as a means of elucidating the first crime more thoroughly; that is, provided the perpetrators of the second crime are brought to light. There can be little doubt that the second crime is the outcome of the first. Or, rather, to use plainer language, that the murder of Henry Perkins has been the consequence of the miscarriage of justice in the case of the murder of Carson. It is no use mincing matters now. Henry Perkins has gone, poor fellow, to his last account, and it can serve him nothing to gloss over or hide the circumstances which, most people think, led to his shocking death. We shall not refer to these matters here, because it is the province of the law to unearth and sift such things before the journalist has the right to comment upon them. We do not, for one moment, believe that the murder which was committed on Saturday night was a crime, the object of which was robbery. Everything points unmistakably to revenge as the motive of the crime. And here is the only redeeming feature of the case, if we may be allowed to call it.”

No mincing about the bush with that editorial. In the same edition, it was reported that yet another murder had been committed in the West End, again the victim being an employee of the Cape Diamond Mining Company. The African, an “engine boy”, had been killed on 15 February, and the “probability is that the murderers of Henry M. Perkins feared he would come forward with evidence against them.”

The report continued, stating that no arrest had yet taken place, “and the police, as usual, seem to be utterly without clue.”

Does the story end there. Well, the murderer or murderers of Henry Perkins were never found. Was it a revenge killing for the death of Carson? Was Perkins involved in the murder of Carson in some way? Or was Perkins having an affair with Carson’s wife as Carson himself thought, and someone did not like the way Perkins had gotten rid of Carson? Perkins was dead, and he could not answer any of the questions. Nor could Carson, and Mrs Carson herself did not say a word. Of more than passing interest, Perkins’ grave has a headstone, but not Carson’s. Who was it that placed the headstone? Mrs Carson? We shall never know. However, it did appear that Mahash was not alone in killing Carson – he had claimed he was innocent, and that it was the others. So it is to Mahash we turn to end this tale of intrigue and murder.

It was on 25 April 1881 that Mahash was hanged in the yard of the Transvaal Road gaol, his spiritual attendants being Reverend Gwayi Tyamzashe and Mr Theo Schreiner, “but their earnest efforts had little effect on his sturdy heathenism”. A Shangaan (Tsonga), he sang a death march in his home language as the execution procession made its way to the gallows.

“Human beings are meant to die – especially males.

If I was in my own country, I should likely have died by the sword.

But now in the Diamond Fields I must die like a woman.

However, it is for the honour of the Shangaan nation that a man must bravely hear death,

And I am now going to do so.

They say there is a King who will receive me after death, and make me to rise again.

But, am I the first man who is going to rise from the dead because I am black?

Where are the others – the white men – who have already risen?

I have never seen them.

Let me alone; death is the last thing for me.

I am going to die and nothing more.

Oh, my brothers, why have you not come to bury me, and not leave me to be buried by convicts?

I am not of a mean breed.

I am of a good breed.

I have had wives and cattle, therefore let me be buried away properly.”

10 DECEMBER 1880, James Carson murdered by a gang on Parsons Lane.
10 DECEMBER 1899, 
British Artillery bombard Magersfontein Kop for nearly two hours.


On 9 December 1899 a few trial shells had been fired at the Magersfontein hills by the 4.7 naval gun from the ganger’s hut, two miles up the PT-Naval_Gun_Joe_Chamberlain-1899-2railway line from the Riet River bridge. But it was not till the following afternoon, Sunday 10 December, that the attack began in earnest. At 15h00 the Highland Brigade under General Andy Wauchope, to whom, as the freshest portion of his force, Lord Methuen had decided to entrust the night attack, moved up to the slight rise, afterwards known as Headquarter Hill, about four miles from the station. From there the Black Watch on the left and the cavalry on the right, the 9th Lancers in front, advanced in extended order along the whole eastern front from Magersfontein to the river as far as the first fold of ground without becoming seriously engaged, and fell back by order about 16h30 as the British guns opened fire. For the next hour and a half the whole of the artillery – the naval gun at 7000 yards on the left, the howitzers at 4000 yards west of Headquarter Hill, and the three field batteries drawn up in line on the right at 2700 yards – concentrated an intense fire on the slopes of Magersfontein Hill. The hail of shrapnel and the great volcano jets of red earth and ironstone boulders hurled fifty feet high by the bursting lyddite, seemed to convert the whole hillside into a perfect inferno of fire. Lord Methuen had no doubt but that he was inflicting heavy loss, and producing a profound demoralisation among the Boers which would materially help the night attack that was planned for later that night.

PT_Gun_Pit-1899Pictured is the British 4.7″ Naval gun “Joe Chamberlain” that fired at the Boers before, during and after the battle of Magersfontein. Also pictured in action during the battle and “at ease” in one of three gun pits used. This particular gun pit still exists.


Naval Gun “Joe Chamberlain”

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