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Barney Barnato

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 21 FEBRUARY

UPDATED: 21/02/2022

21 February 1851, Barney Barnato (pictured) born in London.
21 February 1885, Foundation stone of the Newton NGK Church laid.
21 February 1894, 25 miners killed in a De Beers mine mudrush.
21 February 1899, England defeat GW XV by an Innings and 25 runs. WA Shalders scores 76 runs for the Kimberley side.
21 February 1917, At least seven Kimberley men drown when the SS Mendi sinks off the Isle of Wight.

BARNETT ISAACS (BARNEY BARNATO)
born London 21 February 1851, Died 14 June 1897

Barney’s father, Isaac Isaacs, was a small general dealer with a prosperous business. Both Barnett and his elder and only brother, Henry (known as Harry), were educated at the Jews’ Free School, Spitalfields, the head master of which was Moses Angel.

In 1871 Harry went to try his fortune at the Kimberley diamond-fields and, his means being at first slender, he endeavored to raise money by appearing as a conjurer and entertainer under the professional name of “H. I. Barnato.” A little later he became a diamond-dealer (kopje walloper), and wrote home advising his brother Barney to join him. Barnett sailed for Cape Town in 1873 and reached Kimberley with about £50. Finding his brother to be generally known as “Harry Barnato,” he decided to adopt the same surname.

Thenceforward he signed himself “B. I. Barnato,” and was popularly referred to as “Barney Barnato.” Initially, Barney joined in his brothers’ ventures on stage and added to that his boxing skills in training those who wished to become pugilists.

In 1874 Barney and his brother commenced business as diamond-dealers under the firm-name of “Barnato Brothers”; and in 1876 Barney, who was then worth about $15,000, purchased four claims in the Kimberley mine, which soon brought in an income of $9,000 a week. In 1880 he visited London and established the firm of “Barnato Brothers,” financiers and diamond-dealers. On his return to Kimberley he floated his first company, “The Barnato Diamond Mining Company,” for $575,000, which paid a dividend of 36 per cent per annum. The same year Cecil John Rhodes floated the De Beers Diamond Mining Company; he and Barnato continued as rivals until the amalgamation of that company with the Kimberley Central Company. Barnato next turned promoter. In the Rand he organized the Glencairn, New Crœsus, Primrose, and Roodepoort companies, invested in the Johannesburg Water Company, and became a member of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and other concerns. At the height of his financial career he enjoyed the confidence of the public to such an extent that in a single day $5,500,000 was subscribed for shares in one of his enterprises.

Barnato was returned for the Legislative Assembly of Cape Colony as member for Kimberley, after a fierce contest, in 1888/9, and was re-elected in 1894, although he had been burned in effigy a short time before – as had Rhodes. He became an original Life Governor in De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited in 1888. This entry into politics was not a first for Barney as he had sat on the Kimberley municipal council from 1878 until at least 1880.

Barnato’s success as a speculator caused him to revisit London, where he became known as a daring operator; and for a short time his companies received some public support. In July 1895, he attained the height of his popularity in England and was lionized; but his career was meteor-like. His experience in the London stock market, with which he was unfamiliar, was disastrous. He formed a trust company which he named “The Barnato Building Company”; and the demand for participation in this enterprise was so great that the £1 shares rose to £4 at the opening of the subscription lists, though they fell below par soon afterward, owing largely to the fact that the securities held by the company were of uncertain value. In November, 1895, the lord mayor of London gave a banquet in honour of Barnato, who, wishing to be under no obligation, handed a check for $50,000 to him as a donation to the fund for the benefit of the poor in Spitalfields, in whose welfare the lord mayor was then actively interested.

Events resulting from the abortive Jameson raid into the Transvaal, which jeopardized Barnato’s interests, compelled him to return to South Africa, where he remained to adjust his affairs; but the strain was more than he could stand.

Hoping to benefit his health by a sea voyage, he sailed for England in the care of his wife and two nurses; but he grew no better. While in a “state of frenzy” about the steamship “Scot”, he succeeded in eluding his attendants, and, jumping overboard, was drowned. His body was recovered, and now lies in Willesden cemetery, near London. Although Barnato was at one time reputed to be worth $85,000,000, it is doubtful if he ever had more than $35,000,000. At the time of his death his estate was valued at $3,000,000. As an amateur actor, Barnato was a never-failing attraction, especially as Matthias in “The Bells”—a part he often played in the early Kimberley days.

He met his wife Fanny Bees in the mid-1870s in Kimberley when she was a barmaid and a small time actress in productions at the Theatre Royal. She was one of eight children of John Bees, a tailor who lived in a tent at Bultfontein village, and started working only to help the family finances. She was taller than Barney and considered quite a beauty. They only married in London in a registry office on 19 November1892, and despite being together for some 16 years, their first child, Leah Primrose, was born in March 1893. The other two children of the union were Isaac Henry (Jack), born in 1894 and Woolf Joel (Babe), born in September 1895.

21 February 1851, Barney Barnato born in London.
21 February 1885, Foundation stone of the Newton NGK Church laid.
21 February 1894, 25 miners killed in a De Beers mine mudrush.
21 February 1899, England defeat GW XV by an Innings and 25 runs. WA Shalders scores 76 runs for the Kimberley side.
21 February 1917, At least seven Kimberley men drown when the SS Mendi (pictured) sinks off the Isle of Wight.

SS MENDI ACCIDENTALLY RAMMED AND SUNK
It is 103 years ago this very day, on 21 February 1917, that the merchant ship SS Mendi carrying troops was accidentally rammed and sunk by the steam ship SS Darro in the English Channel resulting in the deaths of at least 616 South African soldiers. (Reliable sources do vary). Of these at least 15 were from the Northern Cape and seven were from Kimberley. It is South Africa’s worst ever maritime disaster and ranks alongside the battle of Delville Wood as the two South African tragedies of World War I. 33 men of the 89-strong ship crew also perished.

PT-Position_of_Colision-1917

Position of the Collision between the SS Darro & SS Mendi

The 616 South Africans comprised at least 607 black soldiers and non-commissioned officers and nine white officers and non-commissioned officers. They were all serving with the 5th Battalion South African Native Labour Corps, a unit comprising 805 black and 22 white soldiers. The SS Mendi crew totalled 89 men, and she was on her way to France.

Just south of the Isle of Wight, at approximately 05h00, the 4229 tonne SS Mendi was rammed and virtually cut in half by the 11484 tonne SS Darro. It was a very thick, foggy morning and the Mendi was going slow, sounding a whistle every minute to advise any nearby shipping. In contrast the Darro was travelling at high speed and was sounding no warning whistle nor horn. The SS Darro ordered her engines to stop at 04h55, the collision coming a few minutes afterward.

PT-SS_Mendi_Corner-Hollybrook_Memorial-1917

SS Mendi Corner – Hollybrook Memorial in South Hampton

For most of the men aboard the SS Mendi it was the first time they had ever seen the sea, and only a few could swim. There were not enough lifeboats, only seven that could hold 208 persons, and some could not be used because of the ship listing badly. There were 46 life-rafts and some 1300 life belts (jackets). It took only 20 minutes for the Mendi to sink beneath the waves.

Those not killed in the collision died from drowning and from exposure – the water temperature that morning was a mere 7 degrees celcius.

Inexplicably the SS Darro did not assist in the rescue of the men in the water (for various reasons put forward in the inquest), the rescue being done by the Mendi’s escort, the destroyer HMS Brisk.

In all disasters there is bravery.

Oral history records that an interpreter, the Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha said as the men were in a state of panic:

PT-Rev_Isaac_Wauchope_Dyobha-1917

Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha

“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen. What is happening now is what you came to do … you are going to die, but that is what you came to do … I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers … Swazis, Pondos, Basotho … so let us die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa …”

Another story emanating from the survivors is that several men did a barefoot “death dance” before the ship slipped beneath the icy waves.

A teacher who in civilian life was from the Pretoria area, Joseph Tshite, encouraged the men in the water with prayers and hymns while waiting for rescue. Sadly, he too succumbed to hypothermia. There are no doubt many untold stories of bravery in the water.

Some 207 South African survivors were picked up from the sea.

Most of those who died that morning have no grave, their bodies not recovered or still lying in the wreck on the sea board. Several bodies washed ashore in England and France, and did receive decent burial and memorials in the various towns.

There are several memorials to the SS Mendi. The Hollybrook Memorial in Southampton; thirteen men rest in cemeteries in England, one in France and five are commemorated by memorials in Holland. In South Africa there is the Mendi Memorial in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, and the Gamothaga Resort in Atteridgeville commemorates those who know no grave but the sea. Another memorial is in Cape Town on an embankment on the Mowbray campus of the University of Cape Town.

The Mendi is commemorated at the Delville Wood museum by fresco element with one panel bearing the names of the men lost. The bridge telegraph from the Mendi can be seen at the Maritime Museum on the Isle of Wight. The SS Mendi has also given its name to South Africa’s highest award for courage, the Order of the Mendi Decoration for Bravery.

PT-SS_Mendi-1917

SS Mendi

May all of those who died on the SS Mendi 103 years ago today, RIP.

The Northern Cape SS Mendi Roll of Honour, kindly supplied by the Commonwealth War Graves:

BASILIE, ISAAC Private, 9170. “B” Coy. 4th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Griquatown.
BAY, JAMES Private, 9294. “B” Coy. 4th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Prieska.
BOTHA, Colour Sergeant, C H, 191. “B” Coy. 4th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. 73, Merriman St., De Beers, Kimberley.
ELAND, PIET Private, 11138. Medical Section. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Hopetown.
GEINA, MANIE Private, 9689. “C” Coy. 5th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. De Aar.
HENDRICKS, WILLEM Private, 11132. Medical Section. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Hopetown.
PIETERS, ISAAC Private, 11162. Medical Section. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Britstown.
JACKSON, ABRAMS Private, 9803. “C” Coy. 5th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Kimberley.
KATAZA, JOHN Private, 9686. “C” Coy. 5th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Victoria West
KOOPMAN, JAN Lance Corporal, 9293. “B” Coy. 4th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Prieska.
LEKHOTO, JOHN Clerk (Interpreter), 1791. Medical Section. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Kimberley.
LOUW, PIET Private, 11137. Medical Section. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Hopetown.
LUCAS, Private, 9708. “C” Coy. 5th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Douglas.
MARCH, MARTHINUS Private, 11135. Medical Section. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Hopetown.
MIJANA, WILLIE Private, 9831. “C” Coy. 5th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Kimberley.
MOTOBI, PETER Private, 7210. “B” Coy. 4th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Kimberley.
OLIJNN, PIETER Private, 11131. Medical Section. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Hopetown.
PETRUS, PAUL Private, 9296. “B” Coy. 4th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Prieska.
PAULUS, DOLF Private, 11133. Medical Section. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Hopetown.
PERCY, Private, 9706. “C” Coy. 5th Bn. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Kimberley.
RATSHOGO, GILMORE Private, 10897. Medical Section. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Beaconsfield, Kimberley.
SWARTS, JAN Private, 11130. Medical Section. South African Native Labour Corps. 21st February 1917. Hopetown.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

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