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Pictured is the Kimberley City Hall in September 1899. In the distance on the right extreme is the Post Office building. The corrugated iron building to the left of the Post Office is the Schmidt and Company building destroyed in the fire of May 1900.


UPDATED: 17/05/2022

17 May 1900, The great Market Square fire.
17 May 1900, Mafeking relieved by a column that included the Kimberley Mounted Corps.
17 May 1906, Foundation stone of Belgravia School laid by Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson.
17 May 1938, Duggan-Cronin Gallery opened by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer.

17 May 1972, Sonny Leon resigns from the Kimberley City Council.

(Pictured is the Kimberley City Hall in September 1899. In the distance on the right extreme is the Post Office building. The corrugated iron building to the left of the Post Office is the Schmidt and Company building destroyed in the fire of May 1900.)


It was shortly before 12h00 on Thursday 17 May 1900 when Frank Wightman noticed a fire had started in a building adjacent to the Post Office on Market Square, the building being used by Schmidt and Company as a store room for animal fodder. Wightman immediately gave the alarm and the market bell was rung furiously.

About five minutes after the alarm had been given, the “manual” – a hand pulled large water container with fire hose – arrived. Superintendent Pope of the Fire Brigade had received the alarm at 12h03 and headed straight to the fire. Upon arrival he connected the hosepipe to the fire hydrant at the Post office corner but soon found out that the water had been disconnected by the Water Company. He then rushed with the hosepipe to Ruffel’s chemist shop where it was connected to the hydrant, which fortunately was working, but some time had already elapsed.

A few minutes thereafter the fire engine arrived, but by this time the building was aflame, smoke pouring out and over the Post Office.

It took another ten minutes before hoses connected to six hydrants were brought to bear on what was now a mass of flames, and even worse, the fire had spread to the building next door to Schmidt’s – another corrugated iron structure occupied by Mr Chisholm, a produce dealer.

The firemen, noting that the two buildings were doomed, concentrated on preventing the fire from spreading to the Post Office on the right and to a brick and iron structure on the left of the conflagration. For a time it looked like the Fire Brigade’s efforts were not succeeding but the wind that had sprung up changed direction and the water played on the two buildings contained the flames.

The multi-coloured flames were high, and the heat intense, and for some time it was thought that the many telegraph wires would snap and perhaps injure the onlookers, but Police Commissioner Robinson and his men kept the hundreds of curious spectators well away from this danger.

At 12h30 Chisholm’s brick and iron building on the left corner caught alight and the Brigade tackled this with great vigour, eventually getting the fire under control, but not before considerable damage had been done to the stock within.

Despite the flames (and heat) a number of soldiers from the Royal Munster Fusiliers based in Kimberley – it was during the Anglo-Boer war – bravely assisted in rescuing some stock from Chisholm’s store. Kimberley’s Mayor, HA Oliver, had also arrived on the scene to lend invaluable aid.

The Fire Brigade remained at the scene all afternoon ensuring the fire did not spread, but the two buildings of Schmidt and Chisholm were totally destroyed.

It was believed that the fire had been started by someone discarding a burning cigarette inside the building, this being denied by Schmidt’s workers, who suggested the fire had begun from behind the store where Post Office staff regularly burnt old papers. The cause of the fire was never discovered.

One of the Royal Munster Fusilier soldiers who had volunteered to help in extinguishing the fire, lodged a complaint that his tunic jacket had been stolen. He had taken the jacket off, with 34 shillings in cash and other assorted articles, and placed it on a case outside. When he returned to fetch it, the jacket had been “annexed”. The soldier, unknown but with his regimental number being 2485, commented to the Diamond Fields Advertiser that it was “…a poor reward for his services.”

Note: The fire engine used at this fire was the “Merryweather” now on display at the Kimberley Mine Museum. The engine had been purchased by the municipality at the 1892 Exhibition held in Kimberley. A “manual” is also on display at the museum.

UPDATED: 17/05/2017

17 May 1900, The great Market Square fire.
17 May 1900, Mafeking relieved by a column that included the Kimberley Mounted Corps.
17 May 1972, Sonny Leon (pictured) resigns from the Kimberley City Council.


Lionel Samuel (Sonny) Leon (29 November 1911- 31 July 1990) was born in Johannesburg and worked in a furniture factory up until World War II when he signed up to fight, enlisting in South Africa’s oldest regiment, the Cape Corps. He saw active service with the Cape Corps and the 6th Armoured Division in East Africa, North Africa and Italy and was frequently mentioned in dispatches, reaching the rank of Regimental Sergeant-Major, at the time the highest rank a soldier “of colour” could attain.

While he was a Private in the Army Educational Services he applied to follow a NCO course at the Khartoum Military College but was turned down because only whites could attend the college. He was transferred to Kimberley as RSM at the Corps Training Depot and was there when the war ended, specializing in artillery and the training thereof. He was then seconded to the Demobilisation Corps.

The attitude of the white soldiers made him bitter because he felt it was his duty not to allow any system (like the Nazi system) to come near his country South Africa. Thus, after the war, he promised to himself, he would enter politics in order to fight injustices.

In 1945 he married Helene – the union producing seven children -and settled in Kimberley where he was to take an active part in politics, and in particular, fighting to better the life of the so-called coloured people in the town. In 1948 he became an organizer for the United Party in the election won by the Nationalists.

He was a founder member of the Labour Party in 1965 and served as national leader from 1971 to 1979 when the Coloured Representative Council was disbanded. Leon served as a member of the President’s Council between 1981 and 1984 and during the entire period of apartheid was an outspoken critic of the government.

Was the local Chairman and National Vice President of the SA Coloured Ex-Servicemen’s Legion of the British Empire Service Legion (BESL), now the SA Legion.

Leon had joined De Beers as a brush hand in 1952 and progressed to being a painter in the Engineering Department by 1967.

17 May 1900, The great Market Square fire.
17 May 1900, Mafeking relieved by a column that included the Kimberley Mounted Corps.
17 May 1972, Sonny Leon resigns from the Kimberley City Council.


March past of the Relieving Force


Lord Roberts VC of Kandahar sent Major Baden Baden-Powell, a younger brother of Robert, to Kimberley to investigate the possibility of a flying column to relieve Mafeking. He found that a column could be raised locally from existing units. Lieutenant-General Archibald Hunter, the local commander, fresh from the defence of Ladysmith, was instructed by Roberts to raise the column, which would be commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Bryan Mahon DSO, 8th Hussars, an officer of proven proficiency who had been sent to Kimberley to command Lord Methuen’s mounted troops. A true cavalry officer, Mahon put the well-being of the horses first and of his men second and was ideal for the job at hand, as healthy horses would be vital. Hand-picked by Hunter for the task of leading the southern relief column, it is likely that Lord Kitchener, under whom Mahon had served with distinction in the Sudan, had recommended him.

The term ‘flying column’ suggests a dramatic rescue operation and, indeed, that is exactly what was intended. The column, instead of using regiments or brigades immediately available, would be a deliberately chosen body of men from all over the Empire, so that all could say: ‘We relieved Mafeking’. The men would travel light and both they and the horses would have just enough food to get by. The daily ration per man with the flying column would be: three-quarter pound biscuit, half-pound meat, one-third ounce coffee, one-sixth ounce tea, two ounces sugar, plus a tot of rum or lime juice. The horses would be permitted seven and a half pounds of grain and the mules four pounds daily.


Relief of Mafeking

These rations were roughly half the amount normally allotted to the British soldier and did not include any luxuries. Mahon’s flying column from the south was not therefore expected to bring much in the way of provisions for Mafeking.

Heading this relief column was the Imperial Light Horse (ILH), battle weary but famous from the defence and relief of Ladysmith; it also included several men who had been among Jameson’s raiders. From the siege of Kimberley came the Kimberley Mounted Corps, consisting of veterans from the Diamond Fields Horse, Cape Police and Kimberley Light Horse; four 12-pounder guns of M Battery, Royal Horse Artillery; two pom-poms (Maxim-Nordenfeldt quick-firing one-pounder machine-guns); and one hundred infantry from General Geoffrey Barton’s Sixth Fusilier Brigade, comprising twenty-five men each from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Carrington’s Rhodesian Field Force was taking longer than expected to mobilize, so Roberts planned that Australian and Canadian troops with Carrington would join Plumer, while soldiers from the other colonies – Rhodesia, the Cape Colony and Natal – were already serving in both columns. Plumer in the north would meet and join Mahon’s column from the south, and they would then relieve Mafeking together.

The southern column included many personalities such as Colonel Alfred Edwards of the ILH; Major Walter Karri-Davies, also of the ILH, who, as a member of the Reform Committee, had refused to pay his fine after the Jameson Raid in 1896 and spent a year in the Pretoria prison; Sam Weil, the brother of Benjamin; Prince Alexander of Teck, the brother of the future Queen Mary and a relief of Kimberley hero; Frank Rhodes DSO, brother of Cecil and like Karri-Davies, a Reform Committee member; and Sir John Willoughby, another raider.

Mahon’s southern relief column was thus something of a reunion of Jameson’s men. Since the raiders had left from Pitsane near Mafeking on their ill-fated expedition, their inclusion in the relief of Mafeking would rub salt in Boer wounds. Charles Hands, accomplished correspondent of the Daily Mail travelling with Mahon’s relief column, described the chosen few:

“Every man is an athlete in the pink of condition, every horse, wagon and mule is specially selected. This compact, mobile, hardy, and perfectly equipped column is as complete and perfect a force as any general might wish to lead . . . Both Regiments, one should observe, are colonials, men accustomed to the life on the veldt, good horsemen and shots, resolute, fearless, and able to endure . . . The picked body of infantry from the Fusilier Brigade is composed of Natal veterans who have had the experience of relieving a beleaguered town, and there seems to be no limit to their marching power.”

The column would total 1 149 officers and men, with 1 208 horses, and in addition would have fifty-two mule wagons with supplies, including medical supplies for the Mafeking garrison. Rations for sixteen days and forage for twelve days would be taken. Although at least a hundred blacks were employed by the column as drivers, scouts and despatch riders, they were not included in the official report.

After several notable actions the relief column arrived at the defensive outposts of Mafeking at 3h30 on 17 May 1900. The combined relief column was led by Thomas Peakman of the Kimberley force, met by Colonel Robert Baden-Powell, and guided to the Market Square where they rested.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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