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UPDATED: 17/06/2020

17 June 1871, Carl Lotz discovers a 93 carat diamond at Bultfontein mine.

Kimberley citizens die on the SS Drummond Castle

On the night of Tuesday 16 June 1896 the SS Drummond Castle – one of Sir Donald Currie’s Castle line – hit rocks near the Ile D’Ouessant (Ushant), but closer to the Ile Moléne (Molene) off the coast of France, and sank within four minutes.

The liner had left Cape Town bound for London on Thursday 28 May 1896 and were one day away from docking when the disaster occurred shortly before 23h00 that night. The sea was calm, but visibility poor and the strong currents in the region had dragged the Drummond Castle way off course without the danger being realized. Rocks at the Pierres Vertes were struck by the ship, but in the brief time before sinking, there was no time for the lifeboats to be lowered.


SS Drummond Castle

243 passengers and crew drowned with only three survivors – two crewmen and one passenger. The majority of the dead were in bed at the time and bodies washed up on various coastlines over the next few days were in their pyjamas.

Kimberley, and most of the larger cities and towns in the Cape Colony, Natal Colony and the Boer Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, had citizens on board, and none survived. Flags throughout South Africa were flown at half mast.

Kimberley lost at least fourteen residents or former residents, and until the detailed list of passengers was released, rumours spread like wild fire. It was believed that both Frank Mandy, well-known former Papal Guardsman, and JT “Chubb” Vigne, the auctioneer and South African rugby international, had been aboard the ship. They had not, Mandy being confused with his cousin, and Vigne had left by another liner, the “Goth”. Other names were mentioned but all were safe.

Mrs Ruby Harris, sister of Sidney Mendelssohn, daughter of the Reverend Mendelssohn, had only been married to Saul Harris, for twelve months when she drowned. Her husband was the Kimberley partner of Mendelssohn and Company.

Beaconsfield Town Councillor William Reed, his wife, and daughter, also died. An Australian by birth and education, he had been in the Colony since 1881 and Kimberley from 1882 having large mining claims in the Koffiefontein and Bultfontein mines. He was the Managing Director of the New Bultfontein Mining Company. Mrs Reed was a sister of Mrs Jackson Knight of Beaconsfield. Their two nieces, Geraldine and Beatrice Olive, 15 and 13 years old respectively and travelling with them to school in England, also drowned.

Mrs Aspinall was a good friend of the Reeds and was returning to her home in England after holidaying in Kimberley for some time. She had also visited her two sons working in Cape Town.

Bryan Thomas Knights and Harold Stephens of the legal firm Knights and Stephens, attorneys of Johannesburg, were among the drowned. They had both been in Kimberley from the early days and had relocated to Johannesburg in 1892. In Kimberley, Bryan Knights had originally been managing clerk to the solicitor Selby Coryndon, while Stephens had been a clerk to Knights before becoming a partner. Knights had also played an active part in the affairs of St Cyprian’s, being a church warden, and for some time had been a member of the Kimberley Divisional Council. Stephens was the son of the owner of Stephens’ Ink, Henry Stephens.

Anne Sophia Stephens (nee Skophammer), wife of Harold, and their two year-old daughter Anne, also drowned.

George Almond was a telegraphist for seven years in the Kimberley Telegraph Department, and was on six months leave. Endeared to all by his kindly and unassuming manners, he was a hard-working member of the Kimberley Athletic Club.

Two fellow telegraphists, James Dalziel and J Richardson, who both worked for several years in Kimberley before transfer, had joined Almond for an extended holiday in Britain.

All three drowned.

Another two ill-fated passengers were a Mr Norris and Mr Graham of the firm Pain and Company of London. They had been in charge of the pyrotechnic displays during the 1892 Kimberley Exhibition.

Matty Brookstein, formerly an employee of De Beers Consolidated Mines for many years, and his wife Emily (nee Matthews), both became casualties. They had moved to Johannesburg a few years prior and opened a boarding house.

A particularly tragic story is that of a Mr. Teelfsen and Mr. Ugland, two passengers going home to Norway. They had already survived being wrecked on a Norwegian ship, and reached Delagoa Bay in a destitute condition. Afterwards they embarked on the Drummond Castle, and were, therefore, in two wrecks within a few weeks.

The Mayor of Kimberley opened a Relief Fund for the relatives of the deceased, as did all major centres throughout South Africa.

17 June 1871, Carl Lotz discovers a 93 carat diamond at Bultfontein mine.


James Alexander Jones Smith was born in Stornoway, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland in 1853. He trained in Medicine at Edinburgh University and qualified with an LRCP (Edinburgh) in 1877 and subsequent FRCS (Edinburgh) in 1881. He was licensed to practice in the Cape of Good Hope in 1878 and Kimberley in 1901.

He joined the Cape Mounted Rifles and was awarded the Cape of Good Hope General Service Medal (1880–1897) bar: Basutoland, presumably for activities relating to the Basutoland Gun War (1880-1881). On the roll, he is listed as a Surgeon Major, one of two in the regiment.

He served in the Anglo-Boer War as Surgeon Major (attached to the Kimberley Regiment) and for his services was Mentioned in Depatches by Lt- Colonel Robert Kekewich. He was awarded the DSO and later the QSA bar: Defence of Kimberley. He also served as Captain Quartermaster in the Kimberley Light Horse (KLH). He did not live to receive these, dying of pneumonia aged 48 years at Du Toit’s Pan Road, Kimberley on 2 August 1901. His death notice lists him as a doctor with the Kimberley Regiment.

He was a personal friend of Cecil John Rhodes, the son-in-law of Gardner Fuller Williams and brother-in-law of Alpheus Fuller Williams, individually the first and second General Managers of De Beers Consolidated Mines.

His daughter was Constance who married Alpheus Williams, the well-known Constance Hall being named after her.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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