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UPDATED: 16/03/2023

16 March 1972, JB Robinson (pictured) opens his Diamond Merchant’s office on Main Street, New Rush.
16 March 1899, Seventh Session of the Cape Colony Mayoral Conference begins in Kimberley.


JB Robinson’s Diamond Merchant Office

JB Robinson, diamond and gold mining magnate

Sir Joseph Benjamin Robinson, 1st Baronet (Cradock 3 August 1840 – Wynberg 30 October 1929) was a South African mining magnate and Randlord.

The son of an 1820 settler, he fought on the side of the Orange Free State in the Basuto War, and later became a general trader, wool-buyer and stock-breeder at Dordrecht.

On the discovery of diamonds in South Africa he hastened to the Vaal River district, where, by purchasing the stones from the local inhabitants and afterwards by buying diamond-bearing land, notably at Kimberley, he soon acquired a considerable fortune. His rather forceful business tactics came in for a lot of criticism, earning him the title of “Old Buccaneer”, but even so he became a member of the Mining Board and later chairman. He raised and commanded the Kimberley Light Horse. He was Mayor of Kimberley in 1880, and for four years was a representative of Griqualand West in the Cape parliament.


Joseph Benjamin Robinson

On the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand district in 1886, Alfred Beit financed a partnership with ₤25 000. Robinson purchased the Langlaagte and Randfontein estates, but Beit soon dissolved the partnership because of Robinson’s temper and business methods. Robinson chose to keep the western portion of their former joint assets, while Beit took the eastern section. His views as to the westerly trend of the main gold-bearing reef were entirely contrary to the bulk of South African opinion at the time, but events proved him to be correct, and the enormous appreciation in value of his various properties made him one of the richest men in South Africa. He founded the Randfontein Estates Gold Mining Company in 1890, which was the largest individual undertaking on the Reef and one of the largest in the world. As a Rand capitalist he stood aloof from combinations with other gold-mining interests, and took no part in the Johannesburg reform movement, maintaining friendly relations with President Kruger. He claimed that it was as the result of his representations after the Jameson Raid that Kruger appointed the Industrial Commission of 1897, whose recommendations had they been carried out would have remedied some of the Uitlander grievances. On 27 July 1908 he was created a baronet of Hawthornden and Dudley House.

In June 1922 he was nominated for a UK peerage but declined the honour. The nomination, by UK coalition Prime Minister David Lloyd George was subject to much debate in parliament as Robinson was considered unsuitable for such an honour, only rewarded because of his donation (£30,000, worth over £1m in 2011) to party funds. The air of scandal surrounding the issue tarnished the Coalition government’s image, and was somewhat responsible for the Conservatives detachment of Lloyd George’s Liberals from the party, later in 1922. The general scandal of sale of peerages led to the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925.

Joseph Benjamin Robinson was the son of Robert John Robinson (1792-1886) and Martha Rozina Strutt. He had five brothers and nine sisters.

He married Elizabeth Rebecca Ferguson (daughter of James Ferguson) on 3rd October 1877 in Kimberley, South Africa. She was born 4th November 1859 in Victoria West, and died 30 March 1930 in Muizenburg, South Africa. They had 11 children including Ida, who married the Italian Ambassador to South Africa, Prince Natale Teodato Labia.

UPDATED: 16/03/2021

16 March 1871, JB Robinson opens his Diamond Merchant’s office on Main Street, New Rush.
16 March 1899, Seventh Session of the Cape Colony Mayoral Conference begins in Kimberley.

Cecil Rhodes and his thoughts on death
Cecil Rhodes’ health had been getting worse since the advent of the Anglo-Boer war, a fact that made him most worried. In June 1901, while in London, he visited a specialist who advised him to give up all work. “Lack of sleep caused him to become irritable over small things,” said Sir James McDonald at the time, “and his impatience became more and more marked, save to Alfred Beit, to whom his kindly ways never varied.” Most of his time during his stay in London was in attending to De Beers and BSA (The Chartered) Company business, but he still managed to go horse riding every morning in Hyde Park.


Cecil John Rhodes

During the course of an informal conversation on diseases with Dr Jameson, Rhodes casually said to his friend “At any rate, Jameson, death from the heart is clean and quick; there is nothing repulsive or lingering about it; it is a clean death isn’t it?” The query at the end saw Jameson give a non-committal answer, but all in the company knew that Rhodes was asking about his own pending death.

Rhodes (pictured) had bought a motorcar in 1901 to use between Cape Town and Muizenburg, but still preferred to ride in the Cape cart. George Goldie, a British administrator from Nigeria, wrote that “…he and I were flying in his motor-car round the roads of the Wynberg district – he, outspoken as usual, full of his plans for the future, passing judgments on men and things with his customary frankness.”

Shortly afterwards, Rhodes visited Europe, and then Egypt to see the northern end of his planned Cape to Cairo railway line, but the heat got to him, and his deteriorating health forced him to return to London and thence to his house at Dalham. In January 1902 he left England for the last time and headed for Cape Town.

Rhodes was struggling immensely with his breathing in the heady atmosphere of Groote Schuur, and on Dr Jameson’s instructions they moved him to around the mountain to his cottage at Muizenburg, even breaking a hole in the one wall to allow whatever breeze there was to pass through. On the one night in Rhodes’ last few weeks he wanted Johnny Grimmer to sleep in the same bedroom as him and in Grimmer’s presence instructed Tony de la Cruz to make up a bed. Accordingly, Tony brought in a stretcher and mattress and then brought some sheets. “What have you there?” asked Rhodes of Tony. “Sheets, Sir, for Mr Grimmer’s bed,” Tony replied. “Sheets! Sheets! Why, the boy does not know what sheets are!” exclaimed Rhodes, “He has been accustomed to sleep under a ‘wacht-een-beetje’ (wait-a-bit) bush all his life.”

He (Rhodes) had commented about death while at the funeral of Sir Thomas Upington in September 1898: “There’s nothing in it! There’s nothing in it!” “Nothing in what?” was the reply from his puzzled neighbour. “Why, in this! Oh, Upington?” came the reply. “Yes! I’ve got to go through it, you’ve got to go through it, we’ve all got to go through it!” Several months before his death, he remarked on life itself, knowing that he had not long to live. “…the great fault of life is its shortness. Just as one is beginning to know the game, one has to stop.”

UPDATED: 16/03/2020

16 March 1871, JB Robinson  opens his Diamond Merchant’s office on Main Street, New Rush.
16 March 1899, Seventh Session of the Cape Colony Mayoral Conference begins in Kimberley.


In the Boshof military cemetery, a section that is rarely visited by any other than die hard Anglo-Boer War enthusiasts, lie several men who when alive were very well-known characters. The obvious one, the Comte de Villebois-Mareuil, has been re-interred at Magersfontein, but his Boer comrades remain in Boshof. The Comte’s original headstone, one of two paid for by Lord Methuen during the war, however, is in its original spot, and in close proximity lie a mass grave of Boers, plus Sergeant Patrick Campbell, Lt William Croker, Captain Cecil Boyle, and Lt Williams.


The Boshof cemetery, workers tending to the grave of Ewan Christian.

A little further away is an interesting headstone that relates that Ewan Christian of the Rimington’s Guides, was killed on 28 February 1900, and that “he died to save a comrade.” How he came to be buried in Boshof when he was killed at Makouw’s Drift in the Paardeberg battle region is a mystery which hopefully someone will solve. Also on the headstone are the words Floreat Etona that suggest that he was educated at the famous Eton College in England. The Cape Times of 7 March 1900 states in a communiqué from Osfontein, Lord Roberts’ HQ at the time, that Trooper E Christian was “dangerously wounded, since dead.” Captain L March Phillips of the Rimington’s Guides, (the Guides were acting as advance scouting guides for Roberts march on Bloemfontein), writes in his memoirs that between 27 February and 5 March the Guides had skirmishes with the Boers daily. “We lost poor Christian yesterday in one of these little encounters. He was mortally wounded in stopping at short range to pick up a friend whose horse had been shot.”

Ewan Christian and his un-named scouting partner, were indeed close to Makouw’s Drift when they were fired on by Boers from close range as they passed a small kopje. Christian’s comrade had his horse killed and Ewan rode back to bring him away from the killing ground. As he bent over to help his friend on to his own horse he was fatally wounded, the bullet passing through his back and out of his chest. He rolled off the horse and told his comrade to make good his escape, which he then did.

Continued Phillips: “There was no-one in the Corps more popular. ‘Tell the old dad I died game’ was what he said when the Major, coming up with supports, knelt down to speak to him.” The Major was the commanding officer, Major F.M. Rimington. While retiring with the mortally wounded Christian the party was ambushed and several more horses, including that of Rimington, were killed. Yet another source states that Christian was buried with full military honours, but that was not in Boshof, but rather close to Makouw’s Drift proper as Boshof at that stage was under the control of the Boers. It is likely that Trooper Ewan Christian was re-interred in Boshof at a later date, perhaps even in the 1960s.

The only other fact known about Christian is that he was the son of H.B. Christian of Port Elizabeth in the then Cape Colony.

Lord Roberts obviously thought that Christian did die a hero’s death in that he was mentioned in his despatches of 31 March 1900.

2nd Lt William Croker of C Company 1st Btn Royal Munster Fusiliers was killed in a skirmish with the Boers near Boshof on 23 February 1902 together with Lance Corporal J. Cahill (No 4441) of the same regiment. They had been on convoy duty and the group of sixteen, under command of Croker, had separated from the main body when they came across a large body of Boers. Upon being called upon to surrender Croker refused, whereupon the Boers opened fire and he was killed. Corporal Cahill, who took over command, also refused to give up, and like his officer before him, was also killed. Five Privates were killed in the same action making a total of some 7 dead, quite horrendous figures for the time in the Kimberley region.

Croker was the only son of Major W Croker of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was born at Trough Castle, Limerick, Ireland in June 1882. He was commissioned into the Royal Munster Fusiliers in May 1900 after graduating from the Royal Military Academy (Sandhurst).

Cecil Boyle of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry cavalry was killed in the action 10 kilometres from Boshof on 5 April 1900, the same battle where the French Colonel Comte de Villebois-Mareuil was killed. He was the first officer of the Imperial Yeomanry to be killed in the war. He had gone to South Africa in December 1899 taking some 30 horses with him. A keen sportsman, he was well known in hunting circles.

2nd Lt Arthur Cole Williams of the Nottinghamshire (Sherwood Foresters) Yeomanry Cavalry was a victim of the white flag abuse by the Boers when he was killed at the “Battle of Boshof” on 5 April 1900. Educated at Wellington from 1887 to 1891, he was for a time in the Surrey Militia before becoming a brewer. He joined the Yeomanry in February 1900 and proceeded immediately to South Africa.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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