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Today in Kimberley's History

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY – 3 NOVEMBER

3 NOVEMBER 1899, Kimberley Mine ceases work during the siege.
3 NOVEMBER 1904, Four Africans die in a mud rush in the Kimberley Mine.
3 NOVEMBER 1917, Cape Corps soldier Henry Hopsel fatally wounds a fellow drinker Jack Sebeela. Hopsel was later executed.

DID YOU KNOW

The Cape Corps is South Africa’s oldest Regiment based on the European tradition, having been originally formed as a unit of coloured soldiers in 1795 by the Dutch East India Company to fight against the British. They have a proud history and Kimberley has been their Training Headquarters in both World War I and World War II. The Cape Corps Memorial, a Turkish gun captured at the Battle of Squarehill Park on 19 September 1918 at Palestine, stands proudly flanking the Cenotaph on Dutoitspan Road. There were two Cape Corps Infantry battalions raised during World War I, as well as the Cape Corps Auxiliary Horse Transport, a unit 6214 strong formed specially to serve in France from 1916 onwards. This story concerns the latter unit, the Auxiliary Horse Transport, as their camp was based at Kenilworth Village, some four kilometres north from Kimberley’s city centre; and a man who signed up to fight Germans, and ultimately lost his life on the gallows without leaving the shores of Africa.

Henry Hopsel, aged 29 years, had attested into the Cape Corps on 13 August 1917, and been sent virtually immediately up the railway from Cape Town to the camp at Kimberley. Training was quite rigorous, and when soldiers work hard, they tend to play hard, and Saturday 3 November that same year of 1917 was no different as the off duty soldiers, armed with their official “pass out” giving them freedom until 8pm that night, streamed out of the camp gates at 2.30 pm in their khaki uniforms and “Tin Hats”, heading for the bright lights of town. Those who were lucky enough to catch the tram into town, went in comparative comfort past the Kenilworth dam, and then down Warren Street with the De Beers Mine on their left, and got into town with its attractive shops and stores early. Those who missed the tram would just have to walk or run into town, and then do the same on the way back. Punishment if you were AWOL (Absent without Leave) normally resulted in punishment ranging from a few hours CB (Confined to Barracks), or DB (Detention Barracks). Kitchen fatigues or gardening duties normally accompanied both types of punishments.

All the soldiers going into town were interested in two things – women, and wine, and not necessarily in that order. A fit man, after being deprived of alcohol, would not need too many glasses of alcohol before feeling the effects. Hopsel had, in his mind, a great afternoon and evening drinking and making merry, and just after 8pm – when he should already have been back at camp – Corporal John Busack arrested him at Victoria Crescent for being AWOL. He was not the only military law breaker that night, and some minutes later, when Corporal Busack was attempting to arrest several other soldiers who were also AWOL, Hopsel made good his escape. It was not a very wise move, but alcohol does tend to make inebriates do unusual things. For Hopsel, his escape from custody would end fatally for both him and another newcomer to Kimberley, one Jack Sebeela.

Sebeela, a stoutly built African aged about 37 years, had come from his home in Thaba ‘Nchu in the eastern Free State to find employment in Kimberley, arriving with his friend, Solaad Segoba, on 8 October 1917. Sebeela was not your usual dark skinned African, his pigmentation being imbalanced resulting in a white skin, and earning him the title of an “albino”. The two men both found employment with the railways, and even stayed together in the same room in the un-named black township in Kimberley. Segoba last saw his friend Sebeela at about the same time Hopsel was making his escape from the long arm of the military police. The next time he saw him would be in the mortuary when he identified the body.

Sebeela and Hopsel met at some time between 8.20pm and 9 pm that cold July night, as Susan Solomon, a young female acquaintance of Sebeela had seen them standing together at Henwood’s corner (Market Square and Old Main Road). It was before 9pm, Susan remembered, as the shops closed in the evenings at 9 pm and they were all still open. After standing and talking for Hopsel and Sebeela for a while, the three of them walked arm in arm in the direction of the Kimberley Mine, but stopped briefly outside the Standard Bank and a bottle of sherry was produced. All three of them drank from the bottle before they continued their walk down Old Main Road. Their next stop was at the Royal Bar, still on Old Main Road, where they met up with an old man named Thomas. Thomas produced another bottle of sherry that he had just purchased from Nathan Goldstein at the Royal Bar, and all four drank straight from the bottle. Susan then went off with Hopsel, leaving Sebeela sitting on the pavement in front of the Royal bar. Susan did not remain with Hopsel very long, as he “made eyes at her”, and she ran away from him before he could continue his seducement. When questioned later the next day, she remembered that both Hopsel and Sebeela, although having been drinking, were not drunk.

Joseph Albert Bodley, the “son” of the funeral undertakers firm R. Bodley and Son, saw two men and a woman at Dudley Terrace opposite his business premises on New Main Road that evening. The one man and the woman of the threesome went off, leaving the one man behind. “This man was in such a drunken state that as soon as he would rise to his feet he would plunge forward. At length he fell on a stone – a stone which was placed on the corner to protect a wall against carts – and crawled onto land nearby.” Mrs S.S. Tarr, who with her husband James Munroe Tarr lived in a house on the corner of Barry Street and Dudley Terrace, heard a commotion after 10pm that night and looked out onto Barry Sreet (which was the section of Bultfontein/Pniel Roads between Old Main Road and New Main Road). She saw a coloured soldier, identified later as Hopsel, beating and kicking Sebeela. Her husband, James, heard a dull thud at 10.40pm, and went outside on to the street. A prison warder with the De Beers Convict Station, James Tarr saw Hopsel kicking Sebeela and shouted at him to “Stand where you are!” Naturally, Hopsel did not, and he ran off into the darkness. Bodley also saw Hopsel run away.

The Tarrs called an ambulance to help Sebeela, who lay on the pavement unconscious and seriously injured. The ambulance duly arrived at 11pm and removed him to the Kimberley Hospital where he died at 2.30pm on the afternoon of the following day, Sunday 4 November.

In the meantime, Hopsel had again been apprehended by the military police who were marching him back along the tram line towards Kenilworth. It was after midnight when they crossed the De Beers’ railway bridge and Hopsel made another attempt for his freedom, but having consumed more alcohol at some stage between 11pm and midnight, it was not difficult for him to be caught by the military police. The soon-to-be murderer made it back into camp after 1am that Sunday morning.

The assault and subsequent death of Jack Sebeela saw the police become intimately involved, and as the incident fell under the jurisdiction of the civilian rather than military, military law became secondary to the law of the land. At the time Solaad Segoba was identifying his friend’s body in the mortuary, so the police, under Head Constable Harris, had traced Susan Solomon and she was attempting to identify Hopsel at the Kenilworth camp. It was not easy to find the guilty culprit as the Cape Corps had called all their men out on parade, all 465 of them, and at least 426 were wearing helmets. The reason for this was that Hopsel had been wearing a helmet, as had the majority of the soldiers on pass the previous evening. A second Identification parade was held for all the witnesses, and this time there were only two-dozen soldiers on parade, including Hopsel. All the witnesses identified Hopsel – it appeared to be an easy task as he wore his helmet at an angle, had the longest moustache of anyone on parade, and had the unusual habit of keeping his right eye closed when he looked at people. Detective Harris had found two wallets (purses) in the possession of Hopsel including one that belonged to Sebeela, while the suspect had been found to have bloodstains on his helmet, coat and trousers. Hopsel said that he had cut his finger, and that the wound had bled quite freely. However, the scar on the finger may have been weeks old according to Harris. Hopsel was taken into custody.

The trial of Henry Hopsel for the murder of Jack Sebeela began on Friday 15 February 1918 before His Lordship, Judge Sir John Lange, and a jury. Advocate Lansdown appeared for the Crown as prosecutor and Advocate Rainsford for the defence.

A fellow driver in the Cape Corps – not named in the reports – who shared the same room as the accused, was one of the many witnesses in the box that first day. He said that on the morning following the “pass out”, the accused had bloodstains on the front and the back of his trouser legs. Before the early morning rollcall, Hopsel had tried to wash the bloodstains off the trousers with a wet handkerchief, but not succeeded, and before a second rollcall his roommate asked him what the blood was from. Hopsel had replied that he had sent a man for a bottle of wine, and he had not returned. He had then searched for the man, and having found him half drunk, had “fixed up the man”, but did not know whether he was dead or alive.

Lt William Ingles Brown, attached to the Cape Corps as a Quartermaster, said that there was much fighting in military units, and many soldiers in the Corps used the cutthroat razors as weapons. It was possible, he told Advocate Rainsford, that Hopsel might indeed have had his clothes bloodied as a result of these fights. This was considered by the prosecution to be most unlikely and irrelevant to the case, and the argument about razors led to some strong words between the opposing counsel. This in turn led to the Judge mentioning under his breath (and which was heard by the media) that a member of the Bar should behave with decorum. Called a “breeze” by the legal fraternity, this tangent away from the murder made the case all that more interesting and exciting for those in the courtroom and for the representatives of the press.

Henry Hopsel’s own story of the night when Sebeela was fatally assaulted was very different to that given by the state witnesses. He denied having been with Sebeela, and he did not know Susan Solomon. He had escaped from the picket at Victoria Crescent, he said, but afterwards had been in Market Square until he returned to camp. He had not fought anyone at all that night, but he had seen a fight at Henwood’s Corner on the Square between two coloureds. Both purses were his; the one he used for money and the other for buttons, needles and thread. Indeed, it had been when he was repairing some button holes that he had cut himself, causing the blood stains, and not form a razor fight.

Sergeant-Major Adendorff of the Cape Corps Auxiliary Horse Transport, concluding the case for the defence, said that Hopsel’s record in the Corps was completely clean until he had been arrested for the murder.

The entire third day of the case was monopolised by counsel’s speeches and the calling of some additional evidence for the defence. In his two hour long summing up for the jury, the Crown prosecutor dealt with the distinction between murder and homicide at some length, and although it was not incumbent upon him to supply a motive for the crime, he thought that of robbery was the least remote. There had been intent as had been seen by all through the severity of the injuries suffered by the deceased, and the resultant death of Sebeela was that it had to be a murder rather than culpable homicide. Being under the influence of alcohol did not mean that the accused had an excuse and did not know what he was doing.

Advocate Rainsford, for the defence, advised the jury that they must only go on what evidence they had been shown, and exclude any circumstantial evidence. The jury must also ignore what had happened over Christmas and New Year 1917 when some members had given the Corps a bad name by fighting in the streets with Kimberley’s civilians. This had nothing to do with that and Hopsel had a good clean record of service. The fact that the witness John Thomas could not be found by the prosecution, said Advocate Rainsford, meant that it was possible that his evidence was faulty. The prosecution had depended on circumstantial evidence and not hard facts. You either believed Hopsel’s story about the blood, which was possible, he argued. Indeed, what if the blood had come from some other fight he had been involved in? In most regiments, such fighting was not recorded. The summing up for the defence lasted some two hours, and due to the court being close to day end, Sir John Lange adjourned it until the following day.

The Judge entered upon a most lengthy and careful summing up of the case for the benefit of the jury. He suggested that the jury should first be satisfied as to who was the man who killed Sebeela before they considered their verdict. If they had any doubt and were not fully satisfied, then it was their duty to acquit the prisoner. If, however, they found the prisoner guilty, then they could find him either guilty of murder or of culpable homicide.

The jury retired for just over an hour, and when they returned to Court, the foreman said that the jury had unanimously found the prisoner guilty of wilful murder. Upon being asked if he had anything to say before the Judge handed down his sentence, Henry Hopsel declined the opportunity. Sir John told Hopsel that everything that could have been done for him by his defence counsel, had been done. The jury, after long and hard deliberation, had decided that he was guilty of murdering the unfortunate Jack Sebeela by inflicting such horrendous injuries upon him that it was certain that he should die as a result. Under these circumstances, they had decided, it had been a case of murder. It had been a cowardly assault, Hopsel having used heavy military boots to kick the victim in the ribs, the body and the head.

Judge Lange then passed sentence of death in the usual solemn manner, and Hopsel was taken out the courtroom to the gaol cells in Transvaal Road to await his forthcoming appointment with the hangman.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt

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