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UPDATED: 16/08/2023

16 August 1883, The mining camps of Dutoitspan and Bultfontein named Beaconsfield.
16 August 1885, Stephanus Opperman killed by Jan Barley and Stemmer near Barkly West.

Mining camps change name to Beaconsfield

In the early 1880s, and as the Dutoitspan and Bultfontein mining camps began to take on a more permanent look, the inhabitants sent a petition to the Governor of the Cape Colony to change their status to that of a municipality.

The petition was granted and on 16 August 1883 the mining camps officially became known as Beaconsfield, named after Lord Beaconsfield (Benjamin Disraeli), who had died in 1881. Even the coat-of-arms and motto of Lord Beaconsfield was adopted, the motto being ‘Nothing is difficult to the Brave’.


Diamond Fields General Plan

In October 1883 the Village Management Board was replaced by the Municipal Council, and on 31 October in the Good Templars Hall, Mr Samuel Charles Austen was elected Mayor with Mr C.K. O’Molony as the Town Clerk. Plans were immediately put into action for the laying out of streets, for bringing in water, and for installing a more efficient sanitary system. So lively were the early meetings of the Beaconsfield Council that a policeman was stationed in the council chambers to eject unruly members.

By 1886 the neatly planned township as it is today was in existence while the small villages of Dutoitspan and Bultfontein would be left to die a natural death. Certain of the buildings were in existence between 1883 and 1886 including the Magistrate’s Court (1884), the Phoenix (1885), and St Augustine’s Catholic Church (1883). It does appear from primary sources that the planned township was in existence by 1883, but the buildings were erected over the next few years.

The well-known journalist and writer, Vere Stent, wrote that in 1898 there were 3396 whites, 6650 blacks, and Indians and coloureds totalled 1532, a sum of 10 478 inhabitants. He stated that there were the usual number of tradesmen and civil servants, but that the majority of inhabitants worked as debris workers or on the mines.

“The Beaconsfield Club”, he wrote, “is an institution with a history, and has been transplanted bodily from Dutoitspan village to the main road of this town.” Besides the Club, there were social, dramatic and literary societies. There were not many public amenities, the Public Library being an exception, subscribers paying £1 per annum to be a member. The parish Church of All Saints, wrote Stent, “…is now almost too large for the town, but it is an ornament to the Market Square of which it may be proud.”

The truly magnificent Beaconsfield Town Hall, demolished in 1968, was opened on 11 June 1888 as a memorial to the volunteer military forces of the Diamond Fields who died in the 1878-1879 colonial uprisings. In 1897 a Jubilee wing was added to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee while in 1902 a clock tower was added to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII.


Area of Beaconsfield

That same year – 1888 – saw Barney Barnato being elected in November to the Cape Legislative Assembly as the parliamentarian representing Beaconsfield, a post that would become the long time parliament seat of his cousin many years later – Sir David Harris. The amalgamation of the mines in 1888-1889 saw both Dutoitspan and Bultfontein mines cease production in order to reduce output and the town suffered as a result of massive unemployment. By 1891 the population of Kimberley had halved and in Beaconsfield it had been trimmed by a third. Many miners had gone north to the gold fields.

The last Mayor of Beaconsfield was Thomas Pratley who was in the chair from 1904 until formal amalgamation with Kimberley on 2 December 1912 when Ernest Oppenheimer became the first Mayor of a combined city. The first combined council meeting was on 4 December 1912.

Beaconsfield, often called the Cinderella suburb of Kimberley, is actually the elder sister and should be respected as such.

Historically, apart from the diamond discovery, Rhodes’ Cape to Cairo railroad passed through Beaconsfield before reaching Kimberley in 1885; it was through Beaconsfield that General French rode after relieving the besieged town on 15 February 1900; and it was at the Beaconsfield station that the British soldiers arrived en masse after the relief of Kimberley. Beaconsfield was the rail junction to Bloemfontein once the line had opened in 1908, and it was here that a large marshalling yard was established.

16 August 1883, The mining camps of Dutoitspan and Bultfontein named Beaconsfield.
16 August 1885, Stephanus Opperman killed by Jan Barley and Stemmer near Barkly West.
16 August 1925, Kimberley architect DW Greatbatch dies in England.


At 8 o’clock on Tuesday morning, 22 December 1885, two condemned murderers convicted of killing Stephanus Johannes Opperman, January Barley and the single named Stemmer (also known as Stuurman) were executed within the precincts of the Kimberley Gaol on Transvaal Road (then Giddy Street).

As early as six o’clock the debris heaps outside the gaol yard were thronged with eager sightseers, anxious to catch a glimpse of the condemned in their last moments on this earth. The police repeatedly cleared the debris heaps, but no sooner had they cleared them than a new crowd (with some of the previous sightseers), put in an appearance. The houses and other buildings surrounding the gaol were brought into use as a vantage point to view the hanging, the roofs being crowded with spectators “who, regardless of the scorching sun, as it rose over their heads, sat spraddle legs on the already heated corrugated iron in anything but comfortable conditions…”

Stemmer and Barley had slept well through the night, and had awoken quite refreshed, and both ate a hearty breakfast with relish, their last meal. Reverend Carl Meyer as well as J. Arndt, gave spiritual comfort to the men before the gallows procession moved off at 7.30am. The Deputy Sheriff, Moses Cornwall, King, the executioner, Dr William Grimmer, and other officials proceeded with the Head Gaoler, George Healey, to the condemned men’s cell, where the Sheriff read to the prisoners the warrant for their hanging. Afterwards, they were handed over to the executioner who bound them securely. Both men assisted King in his preparations.

“The murderer Barley, observing the manner his companion was being prepared, proceeded to tuck up his sleeves to the elbow and remove the shirt collar from his neck.” The procession then moved off to the gallows, the gaol bell tolling slowly. Once the target had been reached Reverend Meyer said goodbye to them, shook their hands and moved off. The caps were drawn over their faces, the nooses fixed over their necks, and the penalty of the law proceeded with. The drop, 8 ft 3 inches for Stemmer, and 7 ft 10 inches for Barley, caused immediate death and the bodies were left to hang for 30 minutes.

They had both made a statement to Reverend Meyer before their death, where Barley stated that although he was guilty of the murder, he had not intended to kill the farmer Opperman. He had been holding Opperman when his son Christian, who had turned Queen’s evidence during the trial, killed him. Stemmer, on the other hand, said that he was guilty as charged despite the fact that he had not personally killed Opperman, he had stood by and allowed it to happen. Both said that they deserved the punishment because they deserved it and they would in the end be forgiven.

It was on 16 August 1885 that father and son January and Christian Barley, together with Stemmer, left their home at Slangfontein, a government farm in Spaling Location, Barkly West, to steal some sheep from a nearby farm. They stole some 17 sheep, and drove them back towards their own land. The farmer, a full bearded young, stout Boer aged 25, Stephanus Johannes Opperman, soon discovered that sheep were missing, and gave chase following the spoor. He caught the suspects with the sheep close to their home. All three of the rustlers ran and Opperman gave chase on a light coloured horse, capturing Christian (also known as Klangklap) at the Slangfontein stream. Stemmer’s children, playing at the stream, witnessed the capture, and ran to call their father, who returned with Jan Barley, (known as Henbrucken). Stemmer was armed with an assegai, and Barley with an axe and a knobkerrie when they met with Opperman and Barley junior, and said in the Setswana language that they were going to kill Opperman.

Opperman had his rifle pointing at the two all the while, and dismounted from his horse. The two newcomers, still speaking in Setswana, their home language, asked where the farmer was taking his prisoner, Opperman queried in “Dutch” as to what they were saying, which was then translated. Opperman replied that he was taking his sheep back to his farm and that he was taking the prisoner to the gaol in Barkly West. The farmer then slackened the cord tying Christian’s hands together and handed him his rifle to hold so that he could tighten the girth on his horse. It was a fatal and totally inexplicable move, as Opperman was immediately seized by Jan Barley. A struggle took place. The farmer broke loose and ran for his life, but did not get far on the stony ground before he was caught again. Jan had the farmer by the neck, and Stemmer stabbed him three times with the assegai. Opperman fell on the second stab to the chest. Stemmer then spoke with Barley and they told Christian to stab the farmer: “You will have to do it; it is the custom”, said Stemmer, and with little alternative, Christian did as he was told although he believed that the farmer was already dead.

They then buried the body, fully clothed, and went to their respective homes, leaving the sheep and horse close to the burial spot. About three weeks later, the Commissioner of Police at Boetsap, Captain Bellew, questioned Christian Barley about Opperman’s disappearance, and while with a Mr Warwick, the burial place was pointed out and the body of Opperman retrieved. Stemmer was not at all happy with Christian telling the police what had happened: “Do not be letting out like that, nobody saw us. Do you not know that if persons are not seen, nothing will come of it!”

The District Surgeon, William Rosser Harrhy, held a post mortem, where he discovered that Opperman had been stabbed at least five times by what appeared to be an assegai or similar weapon, and had died virtually immediately.

The court case lasted less than a day, the Judge being Sidney Twentyman Jones, the acting Crown prosecutor Advocate Hopley, and the counsel for defence Advocate Black. The jury found both prisoners guilty after hearing the evidence and the Judge addressed the two men briefly prior to sentencing them to death. There were no mitigating circumstances, but the trial is unusual in that a son’s evidence was used to convict the father of murder.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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