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Thomas Gilbee Tyson


19 November 1871, Fr Hidien, Catholic priest who began the first two hospitals in Kimberley, dies.
19 November 1886, Michael King kills the one-armed Charles Murray in Dutoitspan village.
19 November 1892, Kimberley Town Bowling Club opens, the 2nd in SA.
19 November 1912, Captain Tim Tyson, former Kimberley Club secretary, dies.
19 November 1960, The new Kimberley Golf Club opened by Harry Oppenheimer.

The legendary Captain Tim Tyson

When Thomas Gilbee Tyson (pictured) died from the effects of sugar diabetes at 01h45 on Tuesday 19 November 1912 Kimberley lost one of her better known and popular citizens. Officially the cause of demise was pneumonia following a bout of influenza. The Diamond Fields Advertiser aptly wrote: “To know him was to admire him.”


Thomas Gilbee Tyson

As a sign of respect normally given to Royalty and to people in prominent positions the De Beers mines, works and offices were closed for the day, as were many businesses as well as the public schools. Flags were at half-mast and a deep gloom had settled over the town.

Born to William Taylor Tyson and Margaret Tyson in East Anglia, England, in 1849, Tim, as he was better known, was a close friend, drinking partner, and confidante of all the well-known Kimberley personalities during the 1880s and up until his death, including Cecil Rhodes, Dr Jameson, Charles Rudd, Robert Dundas Graham, “Bubbles” Lange amongst many. Rhodes was a particularly close friend and it was Tyson who invariably rode with Rhodes on his early morning horse rides around Kimberley and area.

This close friendship with so many leading characters was due in the main to two things – his own personality and the fact that he was the Secretary of the Kimberley Club for so many years.

Tim had arrived on the Diamond Fields in the early 1870s and after an unsuccessful career as a digger had become a buyer and seller of diamonds. He had also joined the Dutoitspan Hussars in 1876 and marched with the Diamond Fields Horse in the Gaika-Gcelaka campaign of 1878 as well as in the Langeberge in 1878 and with the Bechuanaland Field Force under Charles Warren in 1884, finishing his military career as a Captain. He had been presented at Court to Queen Victoria by Warren in 1883.

Indeed, it was he during his tenure as secretary of the Club that put the famous institution into the forefront of such Gentleman Clubs world-wide, a position it has retained to this very day.

Tim was the secretary of the Club from 1884 until 1902. Shortly after Cecil Rhodes death on 26 March 1902 he was appointed to the Board of Directors of De Beers Consolidated Mines, a position he held until his death ten years later. He was appointed a Director because Rhodes, on numerous occasions, had intimated that it was his wish that Tyson become a director. It was done, and this ensured that he had a decent income in his declining years.

His knowledge of the Kimberley Club and its running thereof saw him elected Chairman of the Club in 1907, and again from 1909 to 1912.

He was a hard-working hail-fellow-well-met personality with a fantastic sense of humour and everyone was his friend – he could party all night should he wish to, and he did wish so on numerous occasions, playing cards and billiards with his large circle of friends virtually every night. That he lived in his “Workman’s Cottage” on Currey Street virtually opposite the Club back entrance helped tremendously. It would, of course, also be detrimental to his long term health issues.

A tireless worker it was his love of food that saw the Club present a menu of outstanding quality and it was his hands-on approach that made members and their guests eat far too much. It is said that many members had died prematurely due to their exuberant intake of too much good food at the Club. The Club also did the catering for all the important balls and banquets for Kimberley, whether it was at the Club, the Town Hall or for any other institution. That the menu was outstanding was a given.

Tim Tyson, however, is remembered more from the part he played during the Siege of Kimberley 1899 -1900.

He served with the Kimberley Town Guard during the 124 day siege in the “Buffs”, a company made up entirely of Kimberley Club members and therefore used mostly on redoubt duties. It was the part he played in providing the ingredients for the soup kitchen and the cooking of such that he is remembered by the folk of Kimberley.

It was JW McBeath, a chemist on Stockdale Street, who had the idea of a soup kitchen in order to assist those suffering from lack of sustenance during the siege, although it was Rhodes who implemented the idea, with Tim Tyson doing the actual planning and work involved. Assisting Tyson were Dr Thomas Smartt and Julia Rochefort Maguire, The Times of London correspondent during the siege, and it was she who had the dubious honour of sampling the first pint issued. On the first day, 8 January, over 3000 pints were issued, with an average of 2500 pints a day from then onwards, the cost being 3d a pint. Vegetables from Kenilworth went into the mix, as did at least 600 horses notwithstanding official denial.

The Kimberley Club ran at a massive profit during the Anglo-Boer War because the locally based British and Imperial Army officers treated it as a home-from-home and emptied the renowned wine cellar. It was difficult even for members to get a table for evening meals.

Personalities such as Lord Roberts VC, Lord Kitchener, and even Princes of the Realm were all guests at the Club, and they had the money to spend.

It was not just for the Club that he worked so tirelessly, he also played an important role in the development of Kimberley town, being on virtually every committee that was formed for whatever reason. He was a Director of the Diamond Fields Advertiser and three other companies, the Chairman of the Theatre Royal (Kimberley Theatre Company), and was an enthusiastic member of committees for the Public Library, the Public Gardens, Pirates Club, the Kimberley Hospital, the Griqualand West Cricket Union, the Kennel Club, and many more. It was he who gained the ground for Pirates Club that is now the cricket pavilion and field of the Kimberley Boys High School.

Other than the Kimberley Club, he was also a member of the Rand Club and the Radnor (Folkestone) Club.

The impressive funeral cortege consisted of over 120 carriages and was nearly a kilometre in length, stopping for the funeral service at St Cyprian’s and then to the West End cemetery where he was buried.

It is to these unsung “workers” that we today owe so much for what we still have heritage-wise in Kimberley today.

They should be better remembered. May Tim RIP.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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