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Jean & William Grimmer


UPDATED: 30/04/2021

30 April 1900, The Mafeking relief column ready to depart from Dronfield farm.
30 April 1900, Dr William Grimmer, Kimberley pioneer, dies.
30 April 1902, Town Council implements speed limit at 6mph for cars.
30 April 1934, The Alexandersfontein Hotel closes down.
30 April 2020, National Lockdown continues, now on Level 4.

Pictured is Dr William Grimmer and his wife Jean (nee Patterson)

Kimberley’s District Surgeon dies of Typhus
The Grimmer family, today known only to those with an interest in Kimberley’s history, played a major role in the business, social and sporting scene of the city virtually from its birth until 1951.

Dr William Grimmer, the patriarch of the family, was the first District Surgeon of Griqualand West, his eldest son Irvine was a prominent sportsman and De Beers Consolidated Mines assistant general manager, and his fourth child, Jack (Johnnie), was the last personal secretary and close friend of Cecil Rhodes. His eldest daughter Ellen Rachel, was married to Judge Johannes Henricus Lange.

William Grimmer was born in Waterden, Norfolk, England, on 19 September 1834, fourth child of six from the union of John Robert Grimmer and Ellen Grimmer (nee Gibbon). All of their six children were born in England before the entire family emigrated to Colesberg in the Cape Colony where they purchased the farm “Holle River” – the large area to the east of the railway line in Colesberg. This was circa the middle 1840s. William’s eldest sister Anne married David Arnot in Colesberg in 1845, Arnot being well-known for his part in the Griqua nation’s claims to the area that included the diamond fields.

Not much is known about the early life of William excepting that he went to Scotland to study medicine at Edinburgh University, which is where he met his wife Jean (nee Patterson), Jean being born in Aberdeen, Scotland on 22 May 1839.

He was back in Colesberg by 1861, being employed as a medical inspector in 1862 before promotion to District Surgeon in 1863. Marriage to Jean was circa 1861, their first child Irvine Rowell Grimmer being born in Colesberg on 7 July 1862.

It was William that organised the first cricket match in Colesberg, this in November 1862, who together with others cleared an area south-west of the town for the field, prepared a dusty pitch, appointed umpires and erected awnings to shelter the ladies from the sun. The ladies duly appeared in “fashionable gowns”.

In January 1869, a massive storm hit the Colesberg region and the river that runs through the town flooded its banks and the nearby houses. The Grimmers resided in a cottage on the corner of the Market Square closest to the river and Jean was considered fortunate to escape with her (then) three children to higher ground.

South Africa (and Colesberg) was economically depressed at the time and the discovery of diamonds on the Orange River in late 1866, coupled to the later discovery of diamonds at the dry diggings of Dutoitspan and Bultfontein in November 1869, did much to alleviate the financial problems of the Cape Colony. It was also the death knell for Colesberg as most of the citizens, including well-known names such as Ortlepp, Rawstorne, Stafford Parker, Kisch, and Giddy, had left the town to seek their fortunes.

Dr Grimmer, quite safe with a steady salary, took a few more years before he too departed for Klipdrift (Barkly West) in April 1872, having accepted the position of District Surgeon for the Pniel District paying some £400 per annum.
It was in early 1875 he took up his appointment as Resident Surgeon of the Carnarvon Hospital at a salary of £300 per annum, and then became the District Surgeon at a higher salary.

He remained as District Surgeon until his retirement shortly before his death, the job entailing much work in connection with sudden death, and his name is mentioned in most of the murders in early Kimberley in connection with the autopsies.

Dr William Grimmer died in Kimberley on 30 April 1900, having survived the siege, from typhoid fever. This plague was decimating the British army at the time (from March to June 1900) and civilians were certainly not immune.

Aged 66 years, he was one of the first to be buried in the newly opened West End cemetery in Kimberley.

His wife Jean died on 31 July 1902 and is buried in the family plot in the same cemetery.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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