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RMS Lusitania Ocean Liner


UPDATED: 13/05/2022

13 May 1888, Telegraphist Alfred Cogill dies.
13 May 1908, Dedication of new St Cyprian’s Church.
13 May 1915, Anti-German riots after sinking of SS Lusitania.
13 May 1980, The Kimberley Drive-In theatre opens to all races.

Mob runs riot in Kimberley, looting and burning

The Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania was sunk by German U-boat U20 on Friday 7 May 1915 having first been identified and then torpedoed by Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger.

Great Britain had implemented a naval blockade of Germany and in retaliation Germany had begun submarine warfare. Captained by William Turner, the liner was carrying some 1959 passengers and crew when the torpedo struck at 14h10 that day, some 18 kilometres off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland.

It sank in 18 minutes, 1198 people drowning with 761 survivors including Captain Turner.

The sinking of the Lusitania with the death of so many civilians is arguably one of the turning points of World War I as it turned many countries against Germany. The loss of 128 Americans also contributed to the USA entering the war two years later, and Great Britain used the tragedy in their recruiting campaign.

Anti-German sentiment gave vent to rioting and looting throughout the British Empire and anyone who had a surname that sounded German became a target for retribution. South Africa and Kimberley were not immune.

Johannesburg and Durban had erupted in rioting by Tuesday 11 May and Kimberley followed suit on Thursday 13 May 1915.

By 21h00 on the evening of 13 May a group of Kimberley residents had gathered at the corner of Market Square and Dunell Street, their aim to destroy the hairdressing shop of Mr Pfeffer on Dunell Street. The presence of police prevented them from carrying out their intention and the group moved to Jones Street where they waited until the Vaudette Theatre emptied at 22h30. A soldier in uniform harangued the group by the Central Hotel, the group singing patriotic songs such as “Rule Britannia”.

Many of the Vaudette patrons joined the group as they moved back to Mr Pfeffer’s shop on Dunell Street where they destroyed the windows. With “increasing eagerness for mischief” the group moved on to the African Lion Bar where the windows were also smashed, as was the nearby street light. The doors to the bar were then broken and the mob rushed in and destroyed most of the interior including the fittings.

On Market Square the “Day and Night” Stall of a Mr F Wagner was totally destroyed despite the Union Jack flag flying. On Transvaal Road another barber’s shop was attacked and all the windows shattered.

It was at this stage the police arrived in force, but despite batons being drawn, were helpless to stop the rioters.

Leinberger and Company, a wine and spirit merchant on Stockdale Street suffered severe damage, with all windows on both storeys being destroyed, and once the doors had been forced, looting and destruction commenced. Several of the group were seen to loot liquor, while others set fire to the building and to shop fittings outside the firm. Liquor running down the street from broken bottles also caught alight.

The fire brigade arrived, as did mounted police, and the fire was extinguished but the building had suffered major damage.

In Dutoitspan Road the windows of the tobacconist O. Vihrog were broken and over the road, the American Stores was targeted but saved from destruction by the mounted police taking up positions in front of the shop.

The mob them moved on past the Presbyterian Church to visit Bigalke’s bakery, but beyond a few kicks to the door, could do nothing more due to the presence of the police. On the way to the Diamond Market more windows were broken and at least six stones were thrown through the windows of Ernest Oppenheimer’s office.

Rolfes Nebel and Company were then targeted and after looting, a fire was started but soon brought under control by the fire brigade.

The mob seemed intent on visiting Beaconsfield but after much discussion decided to call it off, finally dispersing at 01h00 on the morning of Friday 14 May.

The majority of the rioters were young, and there were several wearing the Union Defence Force uniform.

The Diamond Fields Advertiser reported that “Large crowds filled the streets and curiously watched a scene of violence and wreckage such as has no parallel in the past records of Kimberley.”

The next evening, Friday 14 May, saw large crowds gather in Beaconsfield and in Kimberley in order to recommence the orgy of destruction, but the police together with the army, were well prepared to counter any moves made by the mob.

In their various movements around Beaconsfield and Kimberley the windows of the following stores were broken: Mr Trechardt the hairdresser, the Humber Cycle Company, B Klenerman, the American Stores, and Mr Bigalke’s Bakery. Bigalke’s Bakery was broken into and a fire started, which was soon extinguished by the fire brigade.

City Councillor Henry Schmidt’s premises were attacked, while the Grand Hotel on Market Square, although targeted, was not attacked due to police presence.

The active presence of the police (and army) had saved Kimberley from a second night of destruction, and they were complimented on their exemplary performance and behaviour.

The sinking of the Lusitania also saw the South African government issue a proclamation that all German subjects report to the Magistrate for immediate internment. In Kimberley between 40 and 50 reported.

(The only internment camp for Germans in South Africa during the war was at Fort Napier in the Pietermaritzburg region.)

13 May 1888, Telegraphist Alfred Cogill dies.
13 May 1915, Anti-German riots after sinking of RMS Lusitania.
13 May 1980, The Kimberley Drive-In theatre opens to all races.


The first electricity based public telegraph system in South Africa was introduced in April 1860 between Simonstown and Cape Town. The year before, in 1859, a private line had operated within the Cape Town precincts.

These private telegraph lines, plus the lines to the Eastern Cape, were taken over by the Cape Colonial government in 1873, the same year the rapidly growing diamond town was named Kimberley.

On 12 February 1876 Kimberley was finally connected to the Cape by telegraph. Up until that date all transactions were sent by mail and passenger coaches, a trip that took between 6 and 8 days.


Kimberley City Hall, Post & Telegraph Offices

The first telegraph was sent by RWH Giddy, the Civil Commissioner in Kimberley, but only as far as Fauresmith as the line had broken just beyond that village. The line was repaired in due course.

This first telegraph office was opened next to the Magistrate’s Court but was soon re-established adjacent to the Post Office, all buildings being on the Market Square.


Kimberley Post & Telegraph Office

It cost a pretty penny to send a telegraph from Kimberley. To send 20 words to Cape Town cost 15 shillings, to Port Elizabeth 10 shillings, and to Colesberg five shillings.

The first extension north of Kimberley was in 1884-85 when Charles Warren’s expedition went to Mahikeng (Mafeking) and Bechuanaland. This line, some 225 miles long (362 kms), was laid in 37 days by a mounted troop of Royal Engineers. They used wooden poles acquired as they travelled, the line being laid from Barkly West to Vryburg and then on to Mahikeng.

Pictured in both postcards are the Post Office on Market Square, with the double storeyed telegraph building adjacent. One of the postcards is dated as 1906.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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