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UPDATED: 21/01/2022

21 January 1872, Church school opens its doors in Dutoitspan.
21 January 1900, Long Cecil fires its first shell in anger at the Boers.
21 January 1931, Sydney de Melker, a Kimberley Springbok rugby player, marries the notorious Daisy Hancorn-Smith.

It was on Sunday 21 January 1872 that a church school started in the village of Dutoitspan. The village had become established in the area between the two open pits of Dutoitspan and Bultfontein mines and by 1884 was quite a substantial town with a main street, a market square, glass fronted shops and houses with trellises and verandahs and boasted numerous hotels, canteens and churches.


Dutoitspan Laerskool

Families had settled in all the mining camps by December 1871 and with education high on the list of most parents, both church and private schools abounded. Indeed, by 1877 there were 32 church and private schools operating in Dutoitspan village, Bultfontein village, and in the two mining camps of both the De Beers mine and the Colesberg Kopje mine that had been named Kimberley in 1873.

These church schools had been run by the Anglican, Catholic, Wesleyan and Dutch Reformed churches since 1870 in firstly Dutoitspan and Bultfontein villages, and then in Kimberley from middle 1871.

Government subsidies were given to 12 church schools by 1878, this halting by 1881. The organising Inspector of Schools in the Cape colony, one John Samuel, reported that most pupils could hardly read, write, or do arithmetic. He also noted that both the church and private schools were on small sites and that the buildings were constructed of corrugated iron.

Public schools controlled by Government were imminent.


Dutoitspan Laerskool

Ignoring the various schools in Kimberley that had started by September 1883, the first government school in the newly planned town of Beaconsfield – founded in 1884 and comprising the former mining camps of Dutoitspan and Bultfontein – was the second-class Public Undenominational School. This school was established on 17 July 1885 and took over from the church school that had been started in 1872.

It would later become known as the Beaconsfield Public school and even later as the Laerskool Dutoitspan.

A second class school was basically a primary school, while a first class school was a secondary school.

It is hoped that more details will come to light regarding what is today Kimberley’s oldest surviving school.

Nevertheless, a Happy 150th Birthday today Laerskool Dutoitspan! I hope you are all getting some cake!!

UPDATED: 21/01/2021

21 January 1872, Church school opens its doors in Dutoitspan.
21 January 1900, Long Cecil gun fires its first shell in anger at the Boers.
21 January 1931, Sydney de Melker, a Kimberley Springbok rugby player, marries the notorious Daisy.

Daisy and her links with Kimberley


Daisy de Melker

What is not generally known is that Daisy de Melker was married to Sydney de Melker, a Kimberley born and educated plumber who played rugby for South Africa. Sydney, a plumber by trade, was a Springbok from 1903-1907. South Africa’s most notorious poisoner was born Daisy Louisa Hancorn-Smith on 1 June 1886 at Seven Fountains near Grahamstown. In the early 1870s her family was living at De Beers “New Rush”, her grandmother Mary Hancorn Smith dying in 16 November 1871 and her uncle John Hancorn Smith, on 7 April 1872. Both are buried in the Dutoitspan cemetery.


Sydney de Melker’s Headstone

At some stage the family moved to Rhodesia (another uncle died on the Zambezi river in 1888) and by 1896 she was living with her family in Bulawayo (then Rhodesia) and came to South Africa in 1900. In that four-year period she trained as a nurse and was also engaged to a ‘Native Commissioner’, one Bert Fuller. (That means she was aged between ten and fourteen years old!). Fuller died of Blackwater Fever, so the inquest was told, and Daisy inherited a sum of money, her first such windfall connected with death. She married William Cowle in 1909, whom she murdered with arsenic in 1923, then married Robert Sproat in 1926, who died of poisoning in 1927, and then married Sydney Clarence de Melker on 21 January 1931, who, fortunately for him, survived the marriage. Daisy inherited large sums of money from both deceased husbands.


Daisy de Melker on her wedding day.

The crime, for which Daisy was hung, was for the murder of her son Rhodes Cecil Cowle (named after Cecil Rhodes). In February of 1932 Daisy bought arsenic and slipped some into her son’s coffee the next month. Rhodes died a day after drinking the coffee. Her trial began on 17 October 1932, and lasted 39 days; she was found guilty and was executed on 30 December that same year. What is not generally known is that Daisy had FIVE children, all of whom died. There were twin boys, who died shortly after childbirth, two other boys who died before they could turn five years old, and of course, Rhodes, who lived until Daisy decided he shouldn’t. It is a known fact that Daisy killed her two husbands and one son. It is not beyond the capabilities of Daisy for us to believe that she may well have had a say in the death of not only her other four children, but also in the death of Bert Fuller in Bulawayo. Sydney de Melker can consider himself fortunate that he did not join his predecessors, but can also consider himself unfortunate that it is his surname that is remembered as an embodiment of evil in the history of South Africa.

Back to the Kimberley links with Daisy. Apart from Sydney de Melker, Daisy’s sister lived in Kimberley for many years, and indeed, was living in Kimberley when Robert Sproat was murdered by Daisy in 1923. Fannie (Fanny) Hancorn-Smith had married a sergeant in the South African police, one W.M. MacLachlan, and they lived for many years at 22 Tapscott Street in Kimberley. Fannie’s son, known as “Ginger”, was mentioned during Daisy’s trial, while Fannie herself was a witness. Daisy visited this house on numerous occasions. Sydney’s daughter Eileen, born and educated in Kimberley, was also a state witness during the trial – she lived with her stepmother and father during the period that Rhodes Cowle had been poisoned. So, Kimberley’s links with one of South Africa’s most infamous murderers are close indeed, much closer than anyone would ever believe.


Sydney de Melker

Pictured is Daisy in 1909 at her first wedding, Daisy at her trial in 1932, Sydney de Melker and Sydney’s headstone in Kimberley’s West End cemetery.

21 January 1900, Long Cecil gun (pictured) fires its first shell in anger at the Boers.
21 January 1931, Sydney de Melker, a Kimberley Springbok rugby player, marries the notorious Daisy.

The first shot from the 28.1 pounder Long Cecil was fired by Ethel Annie Pickering, the wife of the De Beers Company secretary William, and it landed in the centre of the Boer laager at the Intermediate Pump Station (now Roodepan), some 7200 metres distant. A further 15 shells were fired that first day, eight of them by Cecil Rhodes himself. 255 shells in total were fired, the majority at five kilometres, before the gun retired from active duty. After the siege, the gun was displayed at a special exhibition in Cape Town for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. It was then used in March 1902 at the funeral procession for Cecil Rhodes in Cape Town, and then returned to Kimberley.PT-Today_In_Kimberleys_History-0121-Header

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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