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UPDATED: 13/12/2021

13 December 1937, High ranking Freemason and accountant Arthur Abrams dies at his home, 4 Belgrave Road.
13 December 2012, Elsie McDonald, great SA bowler, dies.

One of Kimberley’s greatest lawn bowlers

The death at Belgrave Lodge on Thursday 13 December 2012 of one of Kimberley‘s sporting heroes, Elsie McDonald, took from the bowling greens of South Africa a true great of the game.


Elsie McDonald

Aged 92 years and 10 months when she died, Elsie Adelaide Cawood was born in Kimberley on 12 February 1920 and matriculated at Kimberley Girls’ High School. She married Leslie McDonald, an auctioneer and estate agent, on 10 January 1942, the union producing a son, Guy. Her father, Ralph Cawood, was a South African Springbok shottist, while her husband Les played provincial rugby and water polo.

Her first sporting love was hockey, and after schooling she represented Griqualand West hockey every year from 1938 until 1948. She started playing bowls in 1958 at Kimberley Engineering Works Bowling Club, and was a loyal member and later an Honorary Life Member of that same club until her death.

In 1965 the KEW Women’s Fours were runners-up in the SA Championships played at Durban, the four being Elsie, Marie Cheney, Velma Sullivan and Lou Norton. The same four would be SA Champions in East London in 1967, beating the team from Kimberley Mine in the final. Eleven years later in Durban in 1978, the KEW side would once again be SA Fours Champions – the team being Elsie, Velma Sullivan, Ellen Nuttley and Elsie Fourie.

In 1966 the KEW Fours won for Griqualand West the SA District Trophy, repeating their victory in Pretoria 1973 – Elsie representing the side on both occasions.

She was an extremely talented bowler, and it takes an exceptional player to compete successfully in both individual and team events. As an individual Elsie was the South African Singles Champion in Cape Town in 1969, beating Nancy Pritchard 21-2 in the final, the game being over by the 12th end. Co-incidentally the trophy won by the Champion is the RH Henderson Trophy, Henderson being the Mayor of Kimberley in 1899 and again in 1903.

She competed in the prestigious invitation-only SA Masters in 1971 and 1972, and in 1971 won the Kimberley Centenary Bowls tournament, her prize being a magnificent diamond.

Elsie was awarded her Springbok colours in 1967, one of a group of women who for the first time in South African history donned the famous green and gold blazer, South Africa competing against Australia in three tests at Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.

She was again selected for the Springbok team that played in Australia in 1969, and after playing Australia in three tests, competed in the inaugural World Bowls Championships for women. The World Championships would be remarkable for Elsie. Apart from being a member of the South African team that won the overall World Championships, as an individual bowler she was runner-up in the World Championship Singles to Gladys Doyle of Papua New Guinea, and won the World Championship Pairs with May Cridlan. Despite having beaten Doyle 21-11 and having the same amount of games won, McDonald lost the World title on points differential.

Honouring her magnificent bowls record Elsie was inaugurated in the SA Sporting Hall of Fame for her achievements on 13 February 1981. It was the second time she had been honoured as such, as she, together with the entire Springbok Women’s team from 1969, had already been considered worthy for the Hall of Fame in 1971.

Kimberley Engineering Works’ Bowls club in June 2008 renamed the club’s function hall as the Elsie McDonald Hall in honour of its Honorary Life Member and former Springbok.

A true professional on and off the bowling green, she was always immaculate in both dress and etiquette. Petite, she was a loving person with a great smile, always positively encouraging her team and opponents equally. A good loser, she was a truly humble victor – Kimberley and Griqualand West Bowls did indeed lose their Queen of the Green.

Her record will be hard to match, let alone surpass.

She left her son Guy and two grandsons Vaughan and Russell to mourn her passing.

13 December 1937, High ranking Freemason and accountant Arthur Abrams dies at his home, 4 Belgrave Road.
13 December 2012, Elsie McDonald, great SA bowler, dies.


The first bridge to ford the Vaal River was at Barkly West and opened to traffic in 1885 with those using it forced to pay a toll. The tollhouse still exists on the north bank of the river and is today a museum concentrating on geology, archaeology and local history. The museum was officially opened in September 2000.

St Mary’s Anglican Church was built in 1871, the first solid church building on the diamond fields, the font being donated by the Thompson family. The famous writer Sarah Gertrude Millin grew up in the region – her father owned a shop in Barkly West.

The Vaal river still has many attractive sites stretching downstream to Delportshoop, with signs of breakwaters still visible, and small villages with romantic names such as Gong Gong, Beaumont’s Folly, and Bosman’s Fortune. Delportshoop was known as Delport’s Hope and was originally called “Thomas Hope”, but the name was changed after P.J. Marais of Langberg farm objected. Marais had been the first prospector there after having been told of a diamond find, the tale coming from a young man with the name Delport. The diggers then re-named it Delport’s Hope. Gong-Gong too has its origins in the name the local San called the region, and Gong-Gong is how the San sound was interpreted by the white diggers.

Although there are still alluvial diamond diggers operating in the region, the Barkly West economy is driven by stock and irrigation farming ahead of mining.

There are two major sites of San rock art in the Barly region – at Nooitgedacht and Wildebeestkuil. The latter boasts a modern museum and trail along the more fabulous petroglyphs.

On the political front, Cecil Rhodes represented Barkly West in the Cape Colonial Legislature from 1880 to 1902, including his tenure as Premier of the Cape 1890-1896. An earlier representative, from 1873 to 1878, was Francis Thompson, the father of ‘Matabele’ Thompson, who was killed in the popular uprising of 1878. In more recent years President Thabo Mbeki was granted the Freedom of Barkly West in 1998.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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