Fire destroys 20 years’ worth of Council records
Kimberley’s Town Hall on Old Main Street had burnt down on 29 March 1898, destroying twenty years’ worth of records (or so it was stated). What started the fire was never discovered, but the blaze was noticed at 01h00 that morning by a policeman on the beat and the fire brigade turned out.
Before the fire could be brought under control it had destroyed most of the offices, leaving only a few rooms belonging to the Town Clerk untouched. At the inquest held, it was believed that a burning cigarette had started the blaze as there had been a public concert in the Hall just prior to the fire. The fire had come not a moment too soon, it appeared, as the building badly needed some major repair work, and was too small.
It had been the Council’s third such offices, the first being a few ramshackle rooms, and the second the former Linton’s Stores. The council had moved into the Linton’s Stores building in March 1879 after a few alterations had been made but in 1882 they moved to a much better facility.
The Public Library and Institute Company had built a building to utilise as a library but they had gone into liquidation, and sold the building in 1882 to the Town Council for £6000. The council had moved into this new Hall once a few alterations had been made in order to make some offices. The “Diamond News” newspaper stated that this “new” Town Hall was an improvement on before, but must only be considered a temporary stay. The newspaper continued, stating that the Council needed a “…spacious, well-ventilated, and substantial Town Hall, looking out upon the Market Square, and constructed on good acoustic principles…[and] be of great general benefit as a hall for concerts, lectures and public addresses.”
After the fire of 1898, the Council moved temporarily into the old Stock Exchange building where at their meeting on 13 April 1898 they came to a decision to erect a building more worthy of Kimberley. Basically, to “…meet the growing requirements of the town, in a more suitable locality.”
This would fulfil the requirements of what the “Diamond News” had wished upon nearly 20 years earlier, an impressive building on the Market Square.
The foundation stone of the new Town Hall would be laid by Mayor Moses Cornwall on 16 November 1898 and would officially be opened on 20 September 1899 by Mayor RH Henderson.
Pictured is the old Town Hall destroyed by fire. The Presbyterian Church, still in existence, can be seen next door.
DID YOU KNOW
Kimberley was not specially provisioned against a long siege, such as it had between October 1899 and February 1900.
The Standard Bank Beaconsfield Branch was closed and its assets removed into Kimberley. Messages were received and transmitted from the beleaguered town to the outside world by heliograph and searchlight, and transfers of funds for large amounts were made through the Bank by these means.
Specie went largely out of circulation owing to hoarding.
For five days before relief came it was necessary to close all the Banks, as the Boer Creusot gun was firing 94 Ib. shells and no portion of the town was safe. The Standard Bank’s Manager, Mr. F. B. Shotter, spoke highly of the loyalty of the staff, who stuck to their posts throughout the bombardment until it became imperative to close down.
This was subsequently recognised by the award of substantial honoraria. Many of the Bank’s officers were upon active service with the Town Guard or Volunteer forces.
The Accountant of the Kimberley Branch, Mr. J. Johnston, was found, when the siege was raised, to have suffered so severely from the strain that he lost his memory. He was granted long leave, and sent under escort to his friends in Scotland. On his return he was stationed at Port Elizabeth, but never recovered his health, and died shortly afterwards in the Hospital there. (He died in 1901).
The Kimberley Manager, also, and his wife, as well as some other members of the staff, suffered more or less severely in health.