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Robert Murray

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 21 SEPTEMBER

21 September 1888, Detective Robert Murray (pictured) dies in a fire on Barkly Road.
21 September 1905, The first principal of Girls High School, Miss E.L. Redford, dies.

DID YOU KNOW

Robert Murray was born in Ireland, the eldest of 19 children, to veterinary surgeon Colonel Robert Murray, a Crimea veteran, in 1858. He married Edith (nee Beauchant) in 1879, the union producing three children – Robert, Gladys and Maud.

He died tragically in Kimberley, the circumstances of which are detailed below:

The Murray family arrived in Beaconsfield, then a borough but from 1913 a suburb of Kimberley, in 1887 in order that Robert could join the Detective Department. He had come straight to the Diamond Fields Detective Force from the Royal Scots (The 1st Regiment of Foot – Lothian) where he had attained the rank of Colour Sergeant. (Note: A soldier had to be in the service for at least ten to fifteen years to reach this rank, the equivalent in today’s British Army being Company Sergeant-Major. This suggests he joined the army immediately after eloping, which may mean he was enlisted from either 1872 [15 years-service] or from 1877 [10 years-service].)

The family lived in Dutoitspan Village at the time of his death, and it would have been a rented house as only the unmarried police were given quarters to reside within.

He had been called in to assist the Kimberley Police with guarding a notorious bank robber, Walter Eckford, extra guards being deemed necessary as he had already escaped once before from custody. Eckford and his partner Rutherford had robbed the Kimberley branch of the Natal Bank in May 1888 of a large sum of money.

The two were re-arrested in Delagoa Bay (later Lourenco Marques and now Maputo) Mozambique by Detective Izdebski and brought back to Kimberley on the day of 20 September 1888. Rutherford died at sea just off Durban so it was only Eckford to stand for trial, remanded on the 20th September 1888 until 27 September.

As Murray’s guard duty at the gaol on Transvaal Road, Kimberley, was only temporary he arranged accommodation in the house of Detective Human situated on Barkly Road, about a mile from the gaol. Another detective, one S. Brink, was a lodger in Detective Human’s humble home that was constructed of iron (corrugated) and canvas and consisted of four rooms.

On the night of the 20th, Detective Brink was on gaol duty but his brother Arend (later De Beers mining company’s world-renowned diamond evaluator) decided to stay overnight. Detective Human had already come off guard duty, as had Murray.

At 21h00, the two detectives (Human and Murray), were feeling tired and they decided to go to bed. Detectives Brink and Murray had their beds in the two front rooms on either side of the passage. Human’s room was at the back of Detective Brink’s room. Murray slept in Detective Brink’s room in the front of the house.

Between midnight and 01h00 on the morning of the 21st September Detective Human was awoken by terrific heat and opening his eyes saw the room was ‘… thick with smoke and flames.’ He immediately jumped out of bed and rushed out of the house in what he called a dazed, half-conscious state. Arend Brink was already outside. Human played the garden hosepipe upon the flames, and only then did they ask each other where Murray was as neither had seen him. By this time the fire had played itself out and had destroyed what could be burnt, mostly canvas and belongings.

The two rushed into the house and found Murray still in bed, ‘…no much burnt, but apparently suffering from suffocation by the smoke. He seemed to half realise the situation and mentioned his wife’s name.’ He was carried to Chief Detective Chadwick’s house close by where he lingered until dying at approximately 09h00 on the morning of the 21st.The house was virtually destroyed and as no one had witnessed the fire, the Brigade was not called out. On the canvas partition next to the bed in which Murray slept was a package of cartridges that was salvaged. By the morning of the 21st it had not been decided in which room the fire began.

Robert Murray was aged 30 years when he died so tragically, and had seen service with the Royal Scots on the West Coast of Africa, the West Indies, and the Cape Colony. He was described as ‘… a smart, soldierly man of good address, and very good-natured.’

He was buried at Dutoitspan Cemetery on the afternoon of 22 September 1888, Grave Number 2789, in the Catholic section. The funeral was attended by a number of friends and fellow detectives.

The same day, 22 September, the Church of England Bishop resident in Kimberley, Bishop W.T. Gaul, appealed in the local newspaper, the Diamond Fields Advertiser, for financial assistance in order to assist Murray’s widow, Edith. The ‘Appeal for Aid for the Widow and Three Children of Detective Murray’ was on page 3 where the Bishop begged ‘… to commend to the charitable citizens of Kimberley the above case. The widow and children, I am informed, are left quite unprovided for.’

That the Anglican Bishop appeals for help rather than the Catholic Bishop does suggest that Edith was an Anglican. What is puzzling is that neither the Anglican or Catholic Burial registers list Robert Murray as being buried from their parish.

The Diamond Fields Advertiser published Edith Murray’s thanks for donations received in the first week of October. Detective Murray’s immediate superior in the Detective Branch, W.M. Izdebski, wrote a covering letter requesting the newspaper to publish the list as well as Mrs Murray’s thanks.
Edith wrote that she ‘… begs to acknowledge the receipt of a cheque for the sum of £107 3s, being the amount of subscriptions collected in Beaconsfield on behalf of myself and three children, and I would take this opportunity of expressing my most sincere thanks to the generous donors for their great kindness to us in our sad bereavement.’

Foremost among the donors were Barney Barnato and J Mylchreest who both donated £10 each. Barnato had just been elected Member of Cape Parliament for Beaconsfield where the Murrays resided. Other donors of interest (and historical importance in Kimberley) were Bernard Klisser, (later Sir) David Harris, a cousin of Barnato; Fred Blacking, later Mayor of Beaconsfield, Diamond Detective E.H. Damant, who would commit suicide later after being caught stealing diamonds; William Jenkin, murdered some ten years on; C.A. Blackbeard, another Mayor of Beaconsfield; and Izdebski.

A further thanks you from Edith dated 10 October 1888 gratefully ‘… acknowledges the following donations collected in Kimberley, and to express my heartfelt thanks to the donors, and to all those who have interested themselves for me and my children in my time of trouble. I wish to especially thank the Venerable Archdeacon Gaul for his thoughtful appeal on my behalf.’ This appeal raised £47 1s. Donors in this list included Chief Detective Andrew Trimble, as well as diamond buyers H. Hirsche and L. Breitmeyer.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt

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