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22 DECEMBER 1885, Murderers Stemmer and Jan Barley executed for murder in Kimberley.
22 DECEMBER 1891, Rhodes falls from his horse and is hurt.
22 DECEMBER 1940, Springbok rugby player Michael J Bredenkamp dies.


At 8 o’clock on Tuesday morning, 22 December 1885, two condemned murderers convicted of killing Stephanus Johannes Opperman, January Barley and the single named Stemmer (also known as Stuurman) were executed within the precincts of the Kimberley Gaol on Transvaal Road (then known as Giddy Street).

As early as six o’clock the debris heaps outside the gaol yard were thronged with eager sightseers, anxious to catch a glimpse of the condemned in their last moments on this earth. The police repeatedly cleared the debris heaps, but no sooner had they cleared them than a new crowd (with some of the previous sightseers), put in an appearance. The houses and other buildings surrounding the gaol were brought into use as a vantage point to view the hanging, the roofs being crowded with spectators “who, regardless of the scorching sun, as it rose over their heads, sat spraddle legs on the already heated corrugated iron in anything but comfortable conditions…”

Stemmer and Barley had slept well through the night, and had awoken quite refreshed, and both ate a hearty breakfast with relish, their last meal. Reverend Carl Meyer as well as J. Arndt, gave spiritual comfort to the men before the gallows procession moved off at 7.30am. The Deputy Sheriff, Moses Cornwall, King, the executioner, Dr William Grimmer, and other officials proceeded with the Head Gaoler, George Healey, to the condemned men’s cell, where the Sheriff read to the prisoners the warrant for their hanging. Afterwards, they were handed over to the executioner who bound them securely. Both men assisted King in his preparations.

“The murderer Barley, observing the manner his companion was being prepared, proceeded to tuck up his sleeves to the elbow and remove the shirt collar from his neck.” The procession then moved off to the gallows, the gaol bell tolling slowly. Once the target had been reached Reverend Meyer said goodbye to them, shook their hands and moved off. The caps were drawn over their faces, the nooses fixed over their necks, and the penalty of the law proceeded with. The drop, 8 ft 3 inches for Stemmer, and 7 ft 10 inches for Barley, caused immediate death and the bodies were left to hang for 30 minutes.

They had both made a statement to Reverend Meyer before their death, where Barley stated that although he was guilty of the murder, he had not intended to kill the farmer Opperman. He had been holding Opperman when his son Christian, who had turned Queen’s evidence during the trial, killed him. Stemmer, on the other hand, said that he was guilty as charged despite the fact that he had not personally killed Opperman, he had stood by and allowed it to happen. Both said that they deserved the punishment because they deserved it and they would in the end be forgiven.

It was on 16 August 1885 that father and son January and Christian Barley, together with Stemmer, left their home at Slangfontein, a government farm in Spaling Location, Barkly West, to steal some sheep from a nearby farm. They stole some 17 sheep, and drove them back towards their own land. The farmer, a full bearded young, stout Boer aged 25, Stephanus Johannes Opperman, soon discovered that sheep were missing, and gave chase following the spoor. He caught the suspects with the sheep close to their home. All three of the rustlers ran and Opperman gave chase on a light coloured horse, capturing Christian (also known as Klangklap) at the Slangfontein stream. Stemmer’s children, playing at the stream, witnessed the capture, and ran to call their father, who returned with Jan Barley, (known as Henbrucken). Stemmer was armed with an assegai, and Barley with an axe and a knobkerrie when they met with Opperman and Barley junior, and said in the Setswana language that they were going to kill Opperman.

Opperman had his rifle pointing at the two all the while, and dismounted from his horse. The two newcomers, still speaking in Setswana, their home language, asked where the farmer was taking his prisoner, Opperman queried in “Dutch” as to what they were saying, which was then translated. Opperman replied that he was taking his sheep back to his farm and that he was taking the prisoner to the gaol in Barkly West. The farmer then slackened the cord tying Christian’s hands together and handed him his rifle to hold so that he could tighten the girth on his horse. It was a fatal and totally inexplicable move, as Opperman was immediately seized by Jan Barley. A struggle took place. The farmer broke loose and ran for his life, but did not get far on the stony ground before he was caught again. Jan had the farmer by the neck, and Stemmer stabbed him three times with the assegai. Opperman fell on the second stab to the chest. Stemmer then spoke with Barley and they told Christian to stab the farmer: “You will have to do it; it is the custom”, said Stemmer, and with little alternative, Christian did as he was told although he believed that the farmer was already dead.

They then buried the body, fully clothed, and went to their respective homes, leaving the sheep and horse close to the burial spot. About three weeks later, the Commissioner of Police at Boetsap, Captain Bellew, questioned Christian Barley about Opperman’s disappearance, and while with a Mr Warwick, the burial place was pointed out and the body of Opperman retrieved. Stemmer was not at all happy with Christian telling the police what had happened: “Do not be letting out like that, nobody saw us. Do you not know that if persons are not seen, nothing will come of it!”

The District Surgeon, William Rosser Harrhy, held a post mortem, where he discovered that Opperman had been stabbed at least five times by what appeared to be an assegai or similar weapon, and had died virtually immediately.

The court case lasted less than a day, the Judge being Sidney Twentyman Jones, the acting Crown prosecutor Advocate Hopley, and the counsel for defence Advocate Black. The jury found both prisoners guilty after hearing the evidence and the Judge addressed the two men briefly prior to sentencing them to death. There were no mitigating circumstances, but the trial is unusual in that a son’s evidence was used to convict the father of murder.


As Cecil Rhodes grew into a mature young man the only sport, or perhaps recreation, that he enjoyed, was horse riding. It has been said on more than one occasion that he did not like riding at all, but this is far from true. As a young boy, he and his lifelong friend, Robert Yerburgh, used to go riding horses together, and when he could in later life, which was more often than not, he used to go for an early morning ride at 6am every day. Certainly, his height – 6’ 1” – and his weight, some 96 kilograms in 1897, necessitated him using stones to mount and dismount from his horse, and because of this preferred his horse to not exceed 15 hands in height. One of these stones, outside the door to his room at the Sanatorium, still remains, while other stones which he used to mount his horse at the same place, have been removed to the Mine museum at the Big Hole.
When he first arrived at the diggings, he had a rusty-black pony named “Bandersnatch”, a pony that he used to go shooting game or for his early morning rides. Indeed, he loved horse riding and the outdoor life in Africa.
If the territory he was riding over was new, or if he had to inspect something on the farms or mines, he would often stay in the saddle for up to four hours. Horse riding remained his greatest exercise throughout his life, and he was happiest when in the saddle according to Charlie Rickson. He used to like riding alone, and when with friends or employees, they were not happy riding with him as he “used to hurry his horse along at a jog trot or triple, and people found it an uncomfortable pace.” Jourdan says that he “had a peculiar way of incessantly urging his mount to go forward by constantly, although gently, applying his switch to his flanks. The result was that his horse was always walking at top speed just above his ordinary and natural pace.”
Rhodes’ mind both before and after the siege of Kimberley was totally preoccupied with his stocks of cattle and horses both in South Africa and Rhodesia, endless letters, dictated to both William Pickering and Irvine Grimmer as well as his personal secretary, being sent to his farm managers. There is nothing mentioned regarding the pending conflict. Shortly after the siege was lifted, he wrote to Yerburgh, asking him to “…please purchase a riding horse for me for the park…I want a compact grey…” He was a good horseman, although he looked uncomfortable, and according to Yerburgh, had ‘a bad seat in the saddle.’ He fell from his horse on occasion, which happens to every rider from time to time, and on 22 December 1891 while out on his early morning ride fell rather heavily and was unconscious when reached by his companions that included J.X. Merriman. They feared the worst and it appeared his back was broken, but within a few minutes Rhodes was conscious and his back was fine, although he did suffer a broken collarbone and had a concussion.
Sketch of Rhodes on horseback by Robert Baden-Powell.

Sketch of Rhodes on horseback by Robert Baden-Powell.


Painting of Rhodes on horseback at Groote Schuur by Mortimer Menpes

Painting of Rhodes on horseback at Groote Schuur by Mortimer Menpes

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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