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UPDATED: 15/01/2021

15 January 1877, Murderer William Danster executed in Kimberley.
15 January 1897, Secretary of De Beers CM, William Henry Craven dies in the USA.
15 January 1901, Catholic Bishop Anthony Gaughren OMI dies.
15 January 1942, Springbok rugby player AFW Marsberg dies.
15 January 1989, Andy Moles scores 230* for GW against NT “B” in Pretoria.

Christian Vermaak, a black convict known as ‘Bismarck’, acted as executioner when Willem Danster was hanged on the scaffolds in the Kimberley gaol on Monday 15 January 1877.

Danster, a Griqua (also called a Koranna in some reports), had been sentenced to death at the previous criminal session held in Kimberley for the murder of a young Koranna boy, Hans Hoogstander, on 1 September 1876. The actual hanging was an absolute catastrophe, with Danster being strangled to death rather than by hanging. These grisly details will come a little later in the story, for first it must be realized that Danster is the criminal, the poor murdered boy the victim, and the executioner but an amateur forced into the position.

Young Hoogstander, in the employ of D.F. Stofberg, a farmer at Sanddrift near Barkly West was told on 31 August 1876 to go and look for some horses that had gone missing on the river frontage. Stofberg then left for Barkly West on business, returning late the following day only to find that Hans had not yet returned with the horses. This surprised the farmer immensely, as Hans was a conscientious worker who had never absented himself before. Stofberg was so concerned that the following morning he went to Hans’ father to see if he was not perhaps there. He was not, so Hoogstander senior, together with three or four friends, started to search for his son in the vicinity where Stofberg had said where Hans must search for the horses.

The tracks of the youngster were soon found and followed to a place some three kilometres from the farmhouse where the boy’s body was discovered concealed in a bush. A “riem” – a long piece of leather – had been tied around his neck and he had died from strangulation. There were signs of a struggle and a man’s spoor was followed to where it entered the Vaal river at Sanddrift. At the crossing were a seemingly innocent rag cloth and an empty bottle. Hans’ father crossed to advise the police as to what had happened, and queried at a nearby store if anyone had noticed anything untoward.

The owner of the store, a Mr Olivier, said that yes, the boy had been in his store and had bought a few shillings worth of brandy, no doubt to drink later that evening in the knowledge that Stofberg was away on business. A notorious character well known in the region, Willem Danster, had noticed the transaction and had been observed following the young Hoogstander. Police arrested Danster who admitted to the crime. He said that he had followed Hans across the river for the sole purpose of robbing him of the brandy, and had indeed killed the boy. The rag at the drift was his trouser belt and the bottle was that sold by Olivier at his shop to the youngster.

Evidence was conclusive and with no extenuating circumstances, His Honour the Recorder found Danster guilty of murder and sentenced to die on the gallows. The Judge went so far as to say there would be no reprieve considered and so it was.

Danster showed no remorse whatsoever, and certainly appeared quite callous about the crime he had committed. Certainly, the crime warranted the death sentence, but what happened on the day of reckoning for Danster is just as heartless. Danster had been visited often during his last few days on this earth by the Reverend Mr Laing for counselling, but still showed indifference to his and Hoogstander’s fate.

Danster awoke at sunrise in the cell for the condemned at the Transvaal Road police barracks gaol, and partook of a hearty breakfast, even asking for some brandy, which he was given. Reverend Laing then visited him, but to no avail as he refused to listen to the minister’s words, and a few minutes before eight o’clock with the sun already high in the Kimberley sky, Danster having being pinioned shortly before the melancholy procession started its march to the gallows.

Leading the procession was the executioner; a fellow convict nicknamed Bismarck, who would receive a reprieve and some payment for acting in the position. Behind him were the prisoner, the local Sheriff, Mr Maxwell, the Inspector of Prisons, Doctors Grimmer and Matthews, as well as Reverend Laing, a representative of the Daily Independent newspaper and various prison officials. A large crowd was already in their position on the debris heaps to the west of the gaol, and when the procession was spotted, they fell eerily quiet.

Danster was the first to ascend the scaffold, and took his place on the drop without displaying any fear. Perhaps he should have because the next few minutes were to become a nightmare for all who witnessed the hanging, and naturally, for Danster himself. The hangman, Christian Vermaak, pulled a white cloth over Danster’s head, adjusted the rope around the prisoner’s neck, and then pulled the bolt. The drop was some five foot, which, if the executioner had tied the rope properly, meant the prisoner would have his neck snapped almost instantaneously. In his haste, however, the hangman had rushed and bungled the job, not adjusting the rope correctly, and it took all of seven minutes for Danster to stop struggling, and “…the convulsive struggles of the wretched man were horrible to witness.”

Not only did Danster’s sufferings then end, but so too must have the witnesses’ sufferings. If there had been any hanging that should have brought a speedy conclusion to capital punishment, it was Danster’s. But it was a century too soon, and convicted murderers would continue to suffer many more executions.

UPDATED: 15/01/2018

15 January 1877, Murderer William Danster executed in Kimberley.
15 January 1897, Secretary of De Beers CM, William Henry Craven dies in the USA.
15 January 1901, Catholic Bishop Anthony Gaughren OMI dies.
15 January 1942, Springbok rugby player AFW Marsberg dies.
15 January 1989, Andy Moles scores 230* for GW against NT “B” in Pretoria.

Pictured are three scenes of the New Rush (Big Hole/Kimberley Mine), the two depicting the camps being in 1871 and the diggings photograph from 1872.


Shortly after arriving at the diamond diggings in October 1871, Cecil Rhodes described the Dutoitspan settlement in a letter to his mother: “Fancy an immense plain with right in its centre a great mass of white tents and iron stores, and on one side of it, all mixed up with the camp, mounds of lime like ant-hills; the country round is all flat with just thorn trees here and there; and you have some idea of Dutoitspan, the first spot where dry diggings for diamonds was begun.”


New Rush Big Hole Camp 1871

In the same letter, he described New Rush (also known as Colesberg Kopje):

“Imagine a small round hill at its very highest part only 30 foot above the level of the surrounding country, about 180 yards broad and 220 long; all round it a mass of white tents, and then beyond them a flat level country for miles and miles, with here and there a gentle rise…I should like you to have a peep from my tent door at the present moment. It is like an immense number of ant heaps covered with black ants, as thick as can be, the latter being represented by human beings; when you understand there about 600 claims on the kopje and each claim is generally split into 4; and on each bit there are about 6 blacks and whites working, it gives a total of about ten thousand working every day on a piece of ground 180 yards by 220.” Continuing his description, Cecil wrote, “Take your garden, for instance, and peg the whole off into squares or claims 31 ft by 31 ft, and then the question is how to take all the earth out and sort it and sieve it. All through the kopje roads have been left to carry the stuff off in carts …that is of every claim of 31 ft, 7 ft 6 inches are not allowed to be worked, but is left for a road…The carting on the kopje is done chiefly by, mules, as they are so very hardy, and have so few diseases. There are constantly mule carts and all are going head over heels into the mines below as there are no rails or anything on either side of the roads, nothing but one great broad chasm below. Here and there where roads have fallen in, bridges have been put, and they are now the safest part of the kopje…There are reefs all round these diamond mines, inside which the diamonds are found. The reef is the usual sort of country round, red sand just at the top and then a black and white stony shale below. Inside the reef is the diamondiferous soil. It works like Stilton cheese, and is as like the composition of Stilton cheese as anything I can compare it to…They have been able to find no bottom yet, and keep on finding at 70 ft. You will understand how enormously rich it is, when I say that a good claim would certainly average a diamond to every load of stuff that was sorted – a load being about 50 buckets…Some day I expect to see the kopje one big basin where once there was a large hill.”


New Rush Big Hole Camp 1871

The businessman in Cecil takes over, as he describes his prospects to his mother: “Well! On this kopje I should think nearly every day they find a diamond over 50 carats. The only misfortune is, that they almost all have a slightly yellow tinge, and are getting quite unsaleable…I found a 17⅝ carat on Saturday, it was very slightly off and I hope to get £100 for it; does it not seem an absurd price? Yesterday I found a 3½ perfect stone, but glassy, which I sold for £30 as they are rather dangerous stones to keep, having a nasty habit of suddenly splitting all over…I find on an average 30 carats a week and am working one of the few whole claims in the kopje; a claim in fact that will take me 4 years to work out at the present rate. Diamonds have only to continue a fair price and I think Herbert’s fortune is made. When I tell you at the present moment he owns in all 3 claims on this kopje: the one I am working, 1 whole claim, Beecher’s 1 quarter, Chadwick a half, another whole claim at the top of the kopje and another ¼ I bought. Mine and Beecher’s however yield far the most. I average about £100 per week.”


New Rush Big Hole Diggings 1872

(From the publication ‘The King of Diamonds’ by Steve Lunderstedt)



From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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