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Lionel Phillips & Florence Ortlepp


22 August 1873, The first recorded Jewish birth in Kimberley, Victor Rosettenstein.
22 August 1885, Lionel Phillips marries Florrie Ortlepp at All Saints, Beaconsfield.
22 August 1922, The death of Gardner Williams, first GM of De Beers.

Florrie Ortlepp and Lionel Phillips (both pictured)

Sir Lionel Phillips, 1st Baronet (6 August 1855 – 2 July 1936) was a South African mining magnate and politician, who was born in London on 6 August 1855 to Phillip Phillips and his wife Jane Lazerus. He was one of three sons in a family of lower middle-class merchants, who formed part of a growing group of Jews set to play a major role in the commerce and politics of nineteenth-century Britain. His early formal education was limited, with a good grounding in French and chemistry. He started working for his father as a bookkeeper at the age of 14, but studied privately to become a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. He arrived at the Kimberley diamond fields in 1875, having walked most of the way there from Cape Town, and worked for Joseph Benjamin Robinson as a diamond sorter, fleetingly ran a newspaper, The Independent and later became a mine manager. He made and lost his first fortune in Kimberley with investments in the diamond industry.

Cecil John Rhodes and Alfred Beit befriended him, and in 1889 he became a mining consultant at the Corner House to Hermann Eckstein & Co., in which Beit was the majority shareholder. Phillips was described as “wiry” and having “immense energy and tenacity of purpose” – he had hoped once to be the manager of De Beers, but Beit offered £2,500 a year, expenses paid and 10 per cent of the profits from managing the firm’s interests in the Nellmapius Syndicate. Phillips arrived in Johannesburg at a chaotic time, with Porgès on the verge of retiring and the Johannesburg share market in turmoil after a potential disaster had been discovered in the mines.

Within a short while Phillips became a leading player in the mining industry as well as an active supporter of the Uitlander movement against the Transvaal Republic government.

In 1885 he married Florence Ortlepp in Kimberley, having met her on the diamond fields.

Dorothea Sarah Florence Alexandra Ortlepp was born on 14 June 1863 and died on 23 August 1940. Known by her middle name Florence, she was the only daughter of Albert Frederick Ortlepp, a Colesberg land surveyor and naturalist, and Sarah (nee Walker). She received her education at Rondebosch and later in Bloemfontein.

He succeeded Eckstein as chairman of the Chamber of Mines in 1892. The Phillips’ house, Hohenheim, was built where the Johannesburg General Hospital presently stands, after Florence had suggested the laying out of the suburb Parktown, to escape the dust problem created by the ever-growing mine dumps south of the city. Hohenheim was the first mansion built in Parktown, designed by Frank Emley in 1892, and later became the home of Sir Percy FitzPatrick, author and mining financier. In 1909 the family moved to Villa Arcadia.

Phillips made his political affiliations clear in a speech at the inauguration of the Chamber of Mines’ new offices in November 1895. After the abortive Jameson Raid, Phillips’ measure of involvement in the Reformers’ movement was revealed; the Reform Committee was a 56-member committee representing the grievances of Johannesburgers to the Paul Kruger government.

Phillips had awaited the outcome of the raid in Johannesburg, and was prepared to take part in the expected uprising. On receiving news of the raid’s failure, Phillips handed himself over to the authorities on 10 January 1896 and pleaded guilty. He and the other ringleaders, including Colonel Frank Rhodes (brother of Cecil) and John Hays Hammond, were initially sentenced to death, but after six months of imprisonment most were reprieved by President Kruger and each fined £25 000. Phillips was cautioned to refrain from dabbling in politics on pain of exile, a warning which he ignored by publishing an inflammatory article in the Nineteenth Century, resulting in his being banished from the Transvaal by State Attorney Jan Smuts – Jameson and his fellow raiders were sent to London by Kruger, there to be tried by a Crown court, much to the embarrassment of all involved, while Rhodes was forced to resign as chairman of the British South Africa Company and as Cape Prime Minister.

Phillips settled at and almost completely rebuilt Tylney Hall in Hampshire, England, importing a sixteenth-century ceiling from the Grimation Palace in Florence. He remained there until the end of the Anglo-Boer War, when he was persuaded by Alfred Beit and Julius Wernher to return to Johannesburg in the interests of the firm.

He was once again elected chairman of the Chamber of Mines and in 1910 was elected to the first Union House of Assembly as a member of the Unionist Party. He was regarded as the authority on South African gold mining, and the undisputed leader and spokesman for the mining industry.

In the 1912 New Year’s Honours list, Phillips was created a baronet. On 11 December 1913, he was on his way from Corner House to the Rand Club for lunch, when he was shot at five times by JL Misnun, a trade unionist and storekeeper who had targeted Phillips because of his repeated refusal to discuss a trading issue.

The reason: “The bastard refused to speak to me, therefore I shot him.” Despite two bullet wounds, Phillips survived the attack and Misnun was imprisoned for 15 years, committing suicide on his release. This was not the first lucky escape that Phillips had had. Years before during his Kimberley days, he had lost his footing and tumbled about 100 metres down the steep slopes of the diamond diggings – he survived the fall with a few scratches.

In 1914 he moved to London as managing director of the Central Mining Company and advised the British government on the metal industry during the First World War. He returned to South Africa in 1924 and settled on the farm Vergelegen near Somerset West. They had two sons and a daughter.

Lionel and Florence Phillips left South Africa a major legacy through their art collections. Florence campaigned for the founding of the Johannesburg Art Gallery and arranged its first collections, including her lace collection, while Lionel donated seven oils and a Rodin sculpture. Besides the gallery, their lasting contribution to Johannesburg was the Rand Regiments Memorial, at the Johannesburg Zoo. The Gallery and memorial were both designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Lionel served on the committee which planned it and paid for the “Angel of Peace” sculpture surmounting it. He revived the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society and served as its president from 1906 to 1924.

He died at Vergelegen, Somerset West on 2 July 1936.

Florence also died at Vergelegen on 23 August 1940.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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