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Today in Kimberley's History

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 29 APRIL

UPDATED: 29/04/2019

29 April 1884, The Miners strike in Kimberley ends in disaster with seven white miners shot dead by police and militia.
29 April 1901, 3rd Battalion Leinster Regiment arrive in Kimberley.
29 April 1927, KHS Old Boys Union founded.

Pictured is the headstone of Tripo Vucinovich, one of the striking miners killed in 1884

[Note: Grateful thanks to Lynn MacLeod and Rory P Reynolds for taking the time and effort to source four of the death certificates in 2018. While newspaper articles are indeed considered primary source material, death certificates do take preference in primary source pecking order. These four certificates ensured that the deceased received their correct names and age, and supplied much additional information that the newspaper did not report. Again, thanks to Lynn and Rory. Appreciated.]

DID YOU KNOW

The white miners at all four Kimberley mines went on strike in April 1884 because they objected most strenuously to being stripped and searched for diamonds each day they finished their shifts. The searching for diamonds, with little or no respect to the individual’s dignity, had been instituted on the black miners ever since diamonds had been discovered in Kimberley – but never on the whites. This strike, which started on 24 April 1884, spread to all the other mining companies operating in the four diamond mines – Kimberley, De Beers, Bultfontein and Dutoitspan – mainly because those who objected to being searched were instantly dismissed. At least 300 were either on strike, “locked out” or dismissed at the Kimberley Mine; 200-300 at De Beers; 300-400 at Dutoitspan Mine and 200 at Bultfontein Mine. What made matters infinitely worse was that all vacancies were filled immediately by the mining companies.

PT-Tripo_Vucinovich-Headstone-1884

Headstone of Tripo Vucinovich, one of the striking miners killed in 1884.

It was this leveling of the playing fields down to the black miners’ level that the white miners were objecting to – they would rather strike work than subject themselves to the insensitive and degrading searches that mine management had agreed upon.

It was on Tuesday 29 April 1884 that it all came to a head. There were different mining companies operating in each of the four open mines at that stage in Kimberley’s history, so the strikers – representing most of the mining companies, marched upon their fellow miners at the engine house of the Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company, and the adjacent French Company, in an attempt to persuade them to cease work. It was said that a manager had already been pulled off his horse and robbed of his revolver. Tensions were running high.

The group of striking miners gathered at the Halfway House Hotel on Dutoitspan Road, then moved off to the junction of Dutoitspan Road and Jones Street, and at 2.45pm marched on “the Kopje”, the Kimberley mine. Led by 31 year old Philip Henry Holmes, a overseer in the employ of Schwab’s Gully Diamond Mining Company at the De Beers mine, the march of some 200-350 unarmed white miners, together with at least 1000 blacks, moved off to the Central Diamond Mining Company and French Company works on the edge of the Kimberley Mine to stop the pumpmen from working, but as they got to the fence marking the property of the mining company, the French Company mine manager, Mr Wright, threatened to open fire if the marchers came any closer. With him was the Commissioner of Police, Ewan Christian, and under barricades placed by the company to protect their property, were special constables and at least six policemen.

Philip Holmes, after speaking to Wright for a few minutes, stepped a pace closer and queried the official: “You would not shoot an unarmed man, surely?” These were Holmes’ last words on this earth as an un-named mining official opened fire from less than a metre away, killing him stone dead with a bullet in the head. Immediately, about twenty mine officials, police, special constables and so-called “scabs” hiding behind overturned coco pans (mining trucks) in the barricade opened fire on the massed marchers, who then scattered in absolute chaos and confusion.

Four men; Holmes, 27 year old Londoner Frederick Porritt, Alexander Loschilanger, and Louis Peterson, were killed instantly, and 40 more were wounded. Three of the wounded, Joseph Sablich (an Austrian), Kettleson (a Norwegian), and 36 year old Tripo Vucinovich (another Austrian, shot by Wright), died later from their wounds.

South Africa’s first ever industrial strike had ended in bloodshed, but it would not be the last to end in such a manner. An inquest, and later a judicial inquiry, were held and both found that the killing of the seven unarmed miners (and the wounding of the other 40) “was amply justified”.

29 April 1884, The Miners strike in Kimberley ends in disaster with seven white miners shot dead by police and militia.
29 April 1901, 3rd Battalion Leinster Regiment arrive in Kimberley.
29 April 1927, KHS Old Boys Union founded.

DID YOU KNOW

The white miners at all four Kimberley mines went on strike in April 1884 because they objected most strenuously to being stripped and searched for diamonds each day they finished their shifts. The searching for diamonds, with little or no respect to the individual’s dignity, had been instituted on the black miners ever since diamonds had been discovered in Kimberley – but never on the whites. This strike, which started on 24 April 1884, spread to all the other mining companies operating in the four diamond mines – Kimberley, De Beers, Bultfontein and Dutoitspan – mainly because those who objected to being searched were instantly dismissed. At least 300 were either on strike, “locked out” or dismissed at the Kimberley Mine; 200-300 at De Beers; 300-400 at Dutoitspan Mine and 200 at Bultfontein Mine. What made matters infinitely worse was that all vacancies were filled immediately by the mining companies.

It was this leveling of the playing fields down to the black miners’ level that the white miners were objecting to – they would rather strike work than subject themselves to the insensitive and degrading searches that mine management had agreed upon.

It was on Tuesday 29 April 1884 that it all came to a head. There were different mining companies operating in each of the four open mines at that stage in Kimberley’s history, so the strikers – representing most of the mining companies, marched upon their fellow miners at the engine house of the Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company, and the adjacent French Company, in an attempt to persuade them to cease work. It was said that a manager had already been pulled off his horse and robbed of his revolver. Tensions were running high.

The group of striking miners gathered at the Halfway House Hotel on Dutoitspan Road, then moved off to the junction of Dutoitspan Road and Jones Street, and at 2.45pm marched on “the Kopje”, the Kimberley mine. Led by 31 year old Philip Henry Holmes, a overseer in the employ of Schwab’s Gully Diamond Mining Company at the De Beers mine, the march of some 200-350 unarmed white miners, together with at least 1000 blacks, moved off to the Central Diamond Mining Company and French Company works on the edge of the Kimberley Mine to stop the pumpmen from working, but as they got to the fence marking the property of the mining company, the French Company mine manager, Mr Wright, threatened to open fire if the marchers came any closer. With him was the Commissioner of Police, Ewan Christian, and under barricades placed by the company to protect their property, were special constables and at least six policemen.

Philip Holmes, after speaking to Wright for a few minutes, stepped a pace closer and queried the official: “You would not shoot an unarmed man, surely?” These were Holmes’ last words on this earth as an un-named mining official opened fire from less than a metre away, killing him stone dead with a bullet in the head. Immediately, about twenty mine officials, police, special constables and so-called “scabs” hiding behind overturned coco pans (mining trucks) in the barricade opened fire on the massed marchers, who then scattered in absolute chaos and confusion.

Four men; Holmes, 27 year old Londoner Frederick Porritt, Alexander Loschilanger, and Louis Peterson, were killed instantly, and 40 more were wounded. Three of the wounded, Joseph Sablich (an Austrian), Kettleson (a Norwegian), and 36 year old Tripo Vucinovich (another Austrian, shot by Wright), died later from their wounds.

South Africa’s first ever industrial strike had ended in bloodshed, but it would not be the last to end in such a manner. An inquest, and later a judicial inquiry, were held and both found that the killing of the seven unarmed miners (and the wounding of the other 40) “was amply justified”.

The inquest stated: “The deceased met their deaths by gunshot wounds received by them whilst unlawfully and riotously attempting, in the face of legally armed constables and police, to forcibly stop the working of the Central Company’s water pumping gear at or near the French Company’s shaft at the Kimberley Mine, and after being warned by the Commissioner of Police that on passing a certain point they would be fired upon, and at which point they did eventually pass.” Commissioner Christian disagreed with mine officials on who had actually started the affray, categorically stating that stoning of mining officials only began after the shooting had started and not the other way around.

Workers started trickling back to work on 5 May and five days later all companies were at full production in the mines. None of the dependants of those killed were ever compensated, and not one of those who fired upon the strikers was ever prosecuted, despite many of the striking workers demanding that murder charges be laid against certain individuals. All the evidence, despite the judicial inquiry, and its result, points to wilful murder having been committed. In this case it certainly appears that the rich and powerful mining companies ran roughshod over law and order.

A definite case of injustice on the diamond fields, but it crushed any thought of labour getting the upper hand, and strikes by white miners in Kimberley were not seen again until 1905.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt

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