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Sir Ernest Oppenheimer


UPDATED: 15/05/2023

15 May 1915, Ernest Oppenheimer rescued from a mob.

Ernest Oppenheimer forced to leave Kimberley
The resignation of Ernest Oppenheimer as Mayor of Kimberley and as a Town Councillor on 12 May 1915 as a result of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania and subsequent anti-German riots set in motion a few days of fear and turmoil for his family and himself.

He had no option but to resign his position and seat on the council, especially after being verbally abused by fellow Councillor Fred Hicks in the council chambers. It was Hicks that pushed for his resignation and it was Hicks who was the only Councillor to vote against him remaining as Mayor.

On the night of 13 May when the anti-German mob ran riot in Kimberley, looting and burning buildings and their contents, Ernest Oppenheimer and his young family (wife May and sons Harry and Frank) were moved from their residence at 7 Lodge Road in Belgravia for safety considerations. There were several well-known people residing in the area who were of German descent and upbringing, of whom Oppenheimer was the most prominent. (Fritz Hirschorn, residing at No 13 Lodge Road, also moved for safety’s sake.)

They were taken to 11 Lodge Road, two houses further up the road from the Oppenheimer family, to the home of Irvine Grimmer, assistant general manager of the De Beers Company. Grimmer was a person whom the Kimberley public respected and admired for his sporting prowess, his role in the siege of Kimberley, his position in De Beers, and for his outgoing vibrant personality. He would be able to handle any mob should they appear.

Having spent the night in sleepless but relative security while the mob rioted, the next day (14 May), Ernest sent his family by train to Cape Town, the first step on the path to England. He would remain in Kimberley to sort out a few personal and business details.

This sojourn in Kimberley did not last long.

On 15 May Ernest was travelling by car from his offices near De Beers Head Office on Stockdale Street, when he was physically accosted by a mob on Currey Street. It is possible that he had been at the Kimberley Club because it does appear the rioters were waiting for him. Smashing the car windows with Ernest inside the vehicle, he managed to escape, blood flowing from head wounds caused by shattered glass, and ran into the nearby Catholic Convent on Currey Street. (Adjacent to the Cathedral and opened in June 1882).

The nuns of the Holy Family gave him immediate sanctuary which was respected by the mob baying outside. His wounds and shock were treated by the nuns and when it was safe, they escorted him back to his home on Lodge Road. It was a matter of hours before he too was on the train to Cape Town to join his family en route to England.

There are still today many rumours about Ernest Oppenheimer’s thoughts on Kimberley and its future. They may be true but cannot be authenticated. He most certainly would have brooded over his treatment by a minority of Kimberley’s citizens.

What is true, and quite amazing really, is that it took only 14 years from those terrible and frightening days in 1915, for Ernest Oppenheimer to launch the Anglo-American gold mining giant and to become the majority shareholder in De Beers Consolidated Mines.

A comeback second to none in Kimberley’s history.

Sir Ernest was knighted in 1921 for his contribution to Great Britain’s war efforts during the Great War of 1914 to 1918.

These efforts by Sir Ernest included:
The Mayor’s War Relief Fund (the mines had all closed)
Personally raising the 2nd Battalion Kimberley Regiment
Parcels sent to Kimberley men on active service,
and, canvassed funds for the Red Cross.
He had done more, much more, than any other Kimberley citizen.

A footnote:
Sir Ernest never forgot the nuns of the Holy Family. An annual contribution to their finances has been continued by his descendants. Of more interest to residents of Kimberley today was his allowing the nuns to utilise the Hotel Belgrave as their Convent when the hotel shut down.

Further Note: Some sources state he left Kimberley on 14 May 1915.

UPDATED: 15/05/2017

15 May 1878, Griquatown besieged by the Griqua people.


The Griqua Uprising of May 1878 (coinciding with the Gaika-Gcaleka (Xhosa) revolt in the Eastern Cape) was mainly caused by the loss of Griqua land through the Stockenstroom report and Griqua dissatisfaction with the Colonial Government, coupled to a perceived lack of military manpower in Kimberley.

Reverend A.J. Wookey of Kuruman, visiting Griquatown at the time of the siege, recalled that he heard from the Griqua that “the uneasiness of the people, was the unfair way in which their lands and property were got out of them for drink, etc, by the traders and others residing in and near Griqua Town. And also at the Magistrate’s office there was very little chance of their obtaining justice or redress.”

The Xhosa uprising in the Eastern Cape had just been brought to a close, and the Diamond Fields Horse, all colonial volunteers under Charles Warren, were preparing to return home from the Eastern Cape , while in Kimberley town there were few armed men as at least 450 men were with Warren.

Recorder Jacob Dirk Barry (later Judge President of the Cape Colony), was the Acting Administrator of Griqualand West in the absence of Colonel Lanyon, Lanyon having taken a small group of Frontier Armed Mounted Police to Koegas, 249 kilometres from Kimberley and 100 kilometres from Griquatown, to investigate rumours of a local uprising of the Batlaping under Botlasitse. In fact, Lanyon’s force had been attacked at Langeberg – a veritable natural fortress utilised by the locals in both 1878 and 1896 uprisings – on 5 May when Burgher Walton, the owner of the pont at Prieska, was killed and five other men were wounded. Ten ‘rebels’ were reportedly killed in the action. This military setback for the colonial forces saw a general Griqua uprising in the region and Griquatown went into siege on Tuesday 14 May with all the white settlers in the region coming into town in fear of their lives.

Reverend Wookey reported, “Everything was very unsettled. There was a rumour that Griqua Town was to be attacked…”

Nothing has yet been found for this date in Kimberley’s history. Assuredly something of importance did happen, so the research continues.


This particular Platberg is a dominant plateau-type kopje some 15 kilometres east of the town Warrenton, and is not to be confused with the so many other “Platbergs” throughout the country.

The missionaries Thomas Hodgson and James Archbell; plus the man in charge of the search for Jack the Ripper, the well-known soldier Charles Warren; as well as Chief Moroka, are four of the better known personalities whose lives were in some way affected by their connections to Platberg.

James Archbell came to South Africa with his bride Elizabeth Haigh in 1819 as missionaries for the Wesleyan Methodists, their first posting being the picturesque village of Leliefontein in Namaqualand where General Manie Maritz massacred the villagers in 1902 during the Anglo-Boer War. After Leliefontein the Archbells were sent to the mission station at Maquassi, north of present day Warrenton and Platberg, joining the missionary Samuel Broadbent. Broadbent had been at Maquassi since 1822 when Stephen Kay withdrew to the Cape, and his wife had given birth to the first known European child in the Transvaal. A mission station was established at Maquassi among the Seleka-Baralong in 1823, the first in the then Transvaal.

Through illness Broadbent was transferred and replaced as head of the Mission Station by the Reverend Thomas Laidman Hodgson.

Maquassi was attacked and burnt down during the Mantatee invasion of 1826.

On the 15 April 1826 Thomas Hodgson and James Archbell built a house on the north bank of the Vaal River in which to pass the winter months. This was close to where the town of Warrenton now stands. It was at this temporary site that the first book was printed on the hand press. “We printed our first school book,” wrote James Archbell, “and made what preparations we could for future objects…” This book was the first printed in the then Transvaal and the sixth such in the country. Towns or places in South Africa that had printed before Archbell were Cape Town (1784), Bethalsdorp (1805), Graaff Reinet (1817), Givali (1823), and Churney (1824). Lovedale also printed books in 1826.

On 22 July 1826, mid-winter, they moved to the new site at Platberg. The main reason for the mission station being established at Platberg was because of the availability of fresh water. The missionaries had given up on Sehunello (also known as Sibbonel, Siffonello) establishing a permanent settlement for his own people and they hoped that he would come to join them there. (The Taung people had by now occupied Maquassi (also known as Matlwase).

However, the actual journal of Hodgson states that on Sunday 7 August 1826 Sehunello “…sent his son and some of the people to show us a fountain where he recommended our residing, and as it was not far off, we accompanied him…” This was about half an hour horse ride from their house on the banks of the Vaal. The next day, 8 August 1826, Hodgson again visited the proposed settlement for Sehunello especially to see the fountain near which he wished to build. Sehunello gave “…us permission to occupy the whole valley, which embraces a sufficient extent of ground capable of being cultivated as cornland as well as gardens…we determined to commence building there…as the situation possesses the advantage of being near the people, as well as a fountain promising to furnish a sufficient supply of water. It is pleasing to reflect that its capabilities were discovered by the Betchs, digging wells from seeing us obtain water in that way.”

Some nine days later, on 31 July 1826, Sehunello and his people joined the missionaries at Platberg. Other groups, including Koranna (Kora) and Griqua, also came to Platberg to settle.

The settlement was named Plaat Berg by the missionaries due to the flat mountain, but the Motswana named it Mottana Pietse (Motlhane-wa-Pitse), loosely translated as “the jaw bone of a wild horse” which had been the first thing found by Sehunello when he inspected the area.

(Pictured is the frontispiece of the publication by Thomas Hodgson, from which some of the information in this brief piece was extracted.)

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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