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Leopold Complin Wilkes

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 16 MAY

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16 May 1899, Headmaster of Kimberley Boy’s High School, LC Wilkes, dies of typhus.

DID YOU KNOW

Leopold Complin Wilkes (pictured) was the second Headmaster of Kimberley Boy’s High School, serving in that capacity from 1893 until his untimely death in May 1899 from Typhoid Fever.

Wilkes was born at St Mary, Nottingham, England on 9 April 1862, the son of John and Elizabeth Wilkes, and educated at Nottingham High School. He obtained his BA degree in 1884 and after teaching at Batley Grammar School Yorkshire and Kent College Canterbury, returned to his own school at Nottingham. A versatile teacher, he taught French, German, Latin, Greek and Mathematics.

Wilkes was appointed Headmaster of Kimberley HS and sailed from England to South Africa on 18 September 1893, his appointment beginning on 1 October the same year at a salary of £400 per annum, plus a house.

An active sportsman, he had played soccer for Notts County over several seasons. He was certainly intellectually alive and introduced new ideas while at the same time questioning old usages. It was Wilkes that introduced dual desks into the classrooms, discarding the long desks that seated eight pupils. Various Scholarships were brought in during his tenure at KHS, including the Barnato Scholarships, as well as improving upon the Town Council medallist system.

At the 1897 South African Teachers’ Association conference Wilkes was elected the President for 1897-98, the first of ten Presidents who were members of the KHS staff.

Sport was important to Wilkes and in 1896 KHS played in the Kimberley cricket league for the first time, Wilkes himself playing for the team known simply as “Schools”. The first athletics meeting was also held in 1896.

He married twice. Firstly Rachel (nee Macintosh) on 12 September 1893, who came out with him to Kimberley and who sadly died in England on 3 December 1897 after being ill for some time; He and Rachel had one child, a daughter, Dorothy Rachel, born in Kimberley on 5 May 1895. Rachel had been born in Cambridge England on 27 January 1864 and was 33 years and 10 months old when she died.

His second wife was Mary Eleanor Frances Cornwall, who survived him. Mary was the daughter of Moses Cornwall, several times Mayor of Kimberley, and they were married at St Cyprian’s Church on 5 April 1899. The Reverend WA Holbech was the minister. Mary had been a school teacher for 12 years, and they had been married for only six weeks when he died after contracting typhoid fever. He is buried in the Gladstone cemetery, Kimberley.

After the untimely death of both parents, Dorothy Rachel Wilkes was returned to England to live with relatives, and was ultimately adopted by her mother’s sister Beatrice Wade and her husband William Mercer Wade. Dorothy Rachel Wilkes married a William Adamson and moved to Canada, dying there in 1983.

Judge William Hopley, the Chairman of the School Board, wrote:

“The death of Wilkes in the prime of life and in full course of a career of the highest utility…much of the progress and prosperity was due to his individuality, ability, zeal, and loyalty.”

LC Wilkes, in his short tenure as Headmaster of KHS, had built the school into one of the top in the Cape Colony.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

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