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John Daniel Kestell


UPDATED: 10/07/2024

10 July 1871, John Daniel Kestell (pictured) arrives in Kimberley as a youth.
10 July 1902, Presentation to Colonel RG Kekewich at the Eclectic grounds. 

Vader’ Kestell digs for diamonds as a 17 year old

Dr John Daniel Kestell, better known to his flock as “Vader”, was a diamond digger in Kimberley before he became a minister.


Reverend J.D. Kestell

Kestell was born in Pietermaritzburg on 15 February 1854, son of Charles and Dorothea Kestell, and grandson of 1820 Settlers Charles and Grace Kestell from Devonshire England who had come to South Africa with the Morgan group. His father, a firm Christian, had settled in the Zuurveld in 1845 and joined the Dutch Reformed Church in Maritzburg where he became a deacon and later an elder. This would be the grounding for John Kestell’s later vocation as a minister and man of God.

Kestell’s parents Charles and Dorothea Louisa (nee Meyer) were married on 31 October 1831. Dorothea died in 1854 with Charles then marrying Johanna Susanna (nee van den Berg) in August 1859.

In 1871, when John Kestell was 17 years of age he travelled with his father to Kimberley where they searched for diamonds in the recently discovered mines, leaving the diamond fields in 1873 to study at the Stellenbosch Gymnasium and then the Theological Seminary. In 1880 he travelled to Utrecht in the Netherlands to further his theological studies, returning in 1881 where he was appointed the assistant minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Dutoitspan.

He married Anna Geertruida (nee Hofmeyr) on 28 February 1882.

It was in Kimberley where he established the first refuge for homeless children, this being the Newton Home in 1891.

His next station after Kimberley was in Harrismith as from January 1894.

His life from this time on is well documented, becoming one of the truly great sons of Afrikanerdom, being a Bible translator, writer, cultural leader of the Volk, serving with the Boer forces during the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902, and founding the chain of Kestell Children’s Home.

He died in Bloemfontein on 9 February 1941 and is buried at the Women’s Memorial.

UPDATED: 10/07/2017

10 July 1871, John Daniel Kestell arrives in Kimberley as a youth.
10 July 1902, Presentation to Colonel RG Kekewich at the Eclectic grounds. 



Trade, Stores and Sam Stocks

There is no difficulty in getting to Hebron from Pniel and Klip Drift. Twice a week passenger carts are on the road, both ways. Messrs. GILFILLAN and HARRIS are the whips, and SANGER’s Hotel is the Klip Drift place of starting. The distance is about twenty five miles, and the fare is ten shillings. There are two half-way houses on the road – mere tents, at which the traveller can certainly get beer if coffee is impossible. The last time I passed one of them, the proprietor was busy on his back watching the flies on his canvas ceiling. It was too early for beer, and I asked for coffee, to which the proprietor, still on his back, replied that “his coffee kettle had been jumped”. At the next half-way house I was fortunate enough to be in time for the last cup, consisting of the grounds of the first with a little luke-warm Vaal water, a compound which I cannot recommend, as it neither cheers nor inebriates. Upon the whole, business is not brisk upon the road to Hebron, and the half-way houses are more to be pitied than blamed. Nor does Hebron itself impress the visitor – I was never encamped there – with a sense of stir. The Station is one of three divisions, like a dragon fly. It has its upper, middle and lower camps just like a dragon fly with its head, thorax and body. Hebron straggles, and spreads itself out. Hence a want of apparent life, mining or commercial. When I last saw it, about a month ago, there were not more than a dozen stores there, and still business seemed rather dull and overdone than otherwise. Of the dozen the majority were kept by traders from Natal and the Transvaal. Hebron is generally the first camp the Natal parties visit; hence the presence there of so many Natal houses is to be accounted for. I cannot recollect the owners’ names very well. WEBSTER Brothers’ store I can call to mind, partly because WEBSTER is a Queenstown name, and the firm a Queenstown firm, and partly because I slept my last sleep at Hebron on the counter of the said store. FORSSMAN and ALLEN have a place of business at Hebron, I can remember that; but then ALLEN is a well-known and very well liked name at Port Elizabeth.

EBDEN of Pniel has, or had, a branch business at Hebron. I saw the name of STOCKDALE over one open door. Beyond this I can do no more commercial directory business for Hebron. Say! I dined off very good salt beef, bacon, mutton pie and cheese at The Albion kept by Mr. COE, and I very much admired the sign board of the Royal Oak, on which was painted a genuine old British tree of that name. Since I have left the Fields, Mr. James ATTWELL, I observe, has given Hebron an auctioneer.

Robinson is immediately opposite Hebron, the river rolling between with a wide and rapid sweep. A ferry connects the two, served by a few boats. When the water is low, there is a ford for wagons. Robinson is called Robinson after a very fortunate man who some time ago lived in Bethulie, where he was in business, but who last year or the year before, or the year before that, was wise or lucky enough to lease a farm on the Vaal, which farm is Robinson. An attempt has lately been made to call this place Diamondia, or Diamantin, or some other equally diabolical name. I cannot agree to this. Robinson is a fine old English name, and Robinson it shall be for me to the end of the chapter. Mr. ROBINSON, for some time after the discovery of diamonds on his farm, with a fine sense of the privileges of property and the advantages of monopoly, for which I admire him, did all the business of the camp himself. He bought diamonds and sold all sorts. The stories told of the bargains and the wealth of ROBINSON beat fable. I have heard it said that he had at one time, as a second collection, no less than two thousand diamonds. But I must say that I never saw them in his hand. He is said to have great interest with the Corannas. The last big diamond found – the one of 107½ carats – was it not bought by ROBINSON? It is generally understood that he has inherited the famous old lamp of Aladdin and does business by its light. At present Robinson is thrown open to the commerce of the world, and there are other stores than the old original, – not many.

The other great camp is Cawood’s Hope. This camp, like Robinson and Pniel, is on the south, or Free State side of the river. But the nearest way to it from the great central diggings of Pniel and Klip Drift is by cart from the latter camp. It is about nine miles from Klip Drift to Gong-Gong, and Gong-Gong is about seven minutes boating from Cawood’s. A cart runs to the Hope from Klip Drift every day. Mr. MALAM, the great whip, is the proprietor. When I left there was some talk of putting on another line of stage coaches. The fare is five shillings. There is but one half-way house. It is a tree. You may know it by the multitude of bottles and corks about it. The corks are drawn and the bottles are broken. It is the custom of all travellers on this road to stop for refreshment at the half-way house. But it is also their custom to refresh themselves at every mile-stone, without stopping. The mile stones occur at about every tenth revolution of the cart wheel. Consequently much business is transacted on the road to Cawood’s. It is customary for friends to chalk on the bottom of each passenger cart before it starts “Glass, with care – this side upwards”. There used to be much game on the road to the Hope – pouws, partridges, koran and ducks – but they have been frightened away by the noise of corks. At Gong-Gong there is one place of business. It is a place of refreshment. I can only recollect one place of business at Cawood’s. It was a place of refreshment. Wait a bit – there was another. That also was a place of refreshment. The first was BENNING’s. The second was Dixon YOUNG’s. I have a faint recollection of another place of business, in which I took some ginger-beer, qualified, so I suppose; that too was a place of refreshment. This was long ago. I am indulging in reminiscence. By this time Cawood’s has I doubt not a score of first class stores with regular stocks of dry as well as wet goods.

Many miles down the river from the Hope is a Camp rejoicing in the name of Sifonell, sometimes spelt Sevenell, and sometimes pronounced with emphasis in a Cockney style not to be described phonetically. I believe that neither orthography is correct. Indeed the English language has neither characters nor sounds for the word, which is the name of the tribal chief of the place. The name of the commercial chief is GLYNN; and the camp ought to have been called Glynville. Mr. GLYNN is a genius. He went to Sivenell when that Camp had but put down its first pegs. In his mouth – Mr. GLYNN is an Irishman of the usual eloquence – Sivenell was blarneyed into the seventh heaven of diamondiferous splendour. Letters inspired by his imagination and written in all the poetic fervour of a Crampton, made Sivenell the home of luck and the temple of fortune. For a while people crowded there. The chief – a good man – would not allow a store in the camp, all stores on the diggings being more or less – chiefly more – bottle stores. Mr. GLYNN, with a business eye of unsurpassed brightness and penetration, saw his advantage. He opened a store on the opposite side of the river, and established a ferry; put a boat upon it himself and charged a shilling fare. The result was that every customer who wanted a bit of baccy, a pound of flour, or a refresher, had to use the boat and pay a shilling in to the GLYNN treasury. This was a fine stroke of business. It is sometimes said by unthinking men that this colony is not ripe for responsible government, because it has not “fit” men. Who so fit for the Chancellorship of our Exchequer as Mr. GLYNN? No man has a sharper eye or a neater hand for a tax. I never heard of any other man of business at Sivonell, but Mr. GLYNN.

From the Grahamstown Journal – Monday 3 April 1871

10 July 1871, John Daniel Kestell arrives in Kimberley as a youth.
10 July 1902, Presentation to Colonel RG Kekewich at the Eclectic grounds. 


RG Kekewich


The use of aircraft in warfare came of age in the Great War 1914-1918, the intrepid flyers of both the Allies and the Germans becoming instant media and public heroes with many individuals receiving the highest gallantry decorations available.

When war in German SWA began, the Germans had three aircraft based in that country. Bruna Buchner’s Pfalz biplane had arrived in May 1914, while the other two used in German SWA were an Aviatik P-14 and a LFG-Roland, piloted by Lt Freiherr von Scheele and Lt R Fiedler respectively. It is believed that Lt Fiedler overflew South Africa on occasion, making his the first hostile aircraft in friendly airspace.

Despite aviation pioneer John Weston requesting from the South African government permission to start a military aviation school in Bloemfontein in 1913 to train pilots in aerial defence, when war began there was no aviation corps in South Africa. However, Weston was in the Royal Naval Air Services as a Lieutenant and was only appointed to the South African Aviation Corps on 6 February 1915 with the same rank.

The first pilots of the fledgling South African Aviation Corps were KR van der Spuy, GS Creed, BH Turner and GP Wallace, while the first six trained pilots to undertake training overseas as pilots in the SA Defence Force were van der Spuy (qualified 2 June 1914), EC Emmett (9 June 1914), with Creed, Turner and Wallace qualifying two weeks later. The sixth was MS Williams. All had been with the Compton Paterson flying school at Alexandersfontein, Kimberley in 1913. Many more South Africans would follow during the war, and indeed, become aces with the Royal Flying Corps and its successor the Royal Air Force.

Two of the better known aviators of World War I were Kimberley’s Andrew Cameron Kiddie DFC and the Beaconsfield born and educated Christopher Jospeh Quentin-Brand KBE DSO DFC MC. Yet another with Kimberley links – his mother was sister to Ellis Wynne Weatherby – was the all-time most highly decorated South African Andrew Weatherby Beauchamp-Proctor VC DSO MC and Bar DFC.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

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