22 October 1870, Stafford Parker’s Music Hall opens on the banks of the Vaal River.
President Stafford Parker of the Diamond Diggers Republic
Stafford Parker (pictured) was born in Maldon, Essex, England on 30 March 1833, the son of Stafford and Maria Parker.
Before his move to South Africa, Parker appeared to have had an interesting life, being a sailor in both the British Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy before becoming a painter. It is not known when he arrived in South Africa (at this stage) but it does appear he was in Colesberg as a policeman before his move to Klipdrift (Barkly West) in 1869. Other sources state that he was a member of the Cape Mounted Rifles.
In Klipdrift he owned a general dealer store as well as a tented music hall cum saloon.
He first became known in South African history when he was elected, on 30 July 1870, as the President of the Diamond Diggers Republic, at the alluvial diggings of Klipdrift (now Barkly West), which was very short lived. Parker resigned his office in February 1871. Initially, this had been termed as a Mutual Protection Association. For a time Klipdrift was re-named Parkerton. The motto of the Association (Republic) was “Unity is Strength”, which subsequently became the motto on the coat of arms of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
Parker was widely known for his distinctive and memorable appearance, dressing extremely elaborately in a presidential manner. His signature item of clothing was the large white top-hats that he always wore that made him immediately recognisable. The journalist RW Murray described him as a “swagger citizen”, and a master story-teller. He held court settling involved squabbles about water rights, claim jumping and theft and administered rough justice by having troublesome characters run out of town, pegged out in the sun or dragged across the river on a rope.
In forming the Digger’s Republic, Stafford Parker had summoned all the diggers who, preceded by a band consisting of a fiddle, concertina and a cracked drum, advanced in columns of three and four to the meeting place and roundly repudiated the Transvaal claim to the diamond fields.
President Marthinus Wessels Pretorius came down from the Transvaal to join President Johannes Henricus Brand of the Free State in settling with Arnot, Waterboer and his councillors the ownership of land now seething with hundreds of Colonial and other subjects of the British Crown.
They met at Nooitgedacht, six miles north of Klipdrift on 18 August 1870 but came to no conclusion.
Jerome L Babe wrote: “The miners made arrangements for a subscription ball in honour of President Pretorius. It was successfully arranged and was held in President Parker’s tent.
There were about 150 gentlemen in all conceivable costumes from the swallow-tail to the clean mining suit. Sixteen ladies graced the ball with their presence. There was no roof to the tent. The floor was washed gravel from the mines. A few tallow candles dimly illuminated this gay and festive scene and the moon had to do the balance. At one end of the table was set with bottles of James Hennessy, wine and soda water, which were kept constantly in motion. The reserve stock of liquors and a lot of pies and cakes were lying near the side of the tent behind the bar and a number of individuals reached under and cribbed a quantity, passing them around among the outsiders. The music consisted of an accordion, fiddle, flute and bass drum. Although we did not have all we could wish for, our ball passed off pleasantly. We meandered to work at daylight”.
A British magistrate was eventually appointed to Klipdrift and a disastrous flood in December 1870 saw many diggers move to more promising “dry diggings” at Du Toit’s Pan. Parker was one who left Klipdrift and had moved to Dutoitspan village by March 1871 where he opened another general dealer store and music hall, but in 1873 had opened the Australian Arms near the Kimberley Mine (Big Hole). He sold the “Arms” in November that same year and moved to Lydenburg where he opened the Masonic Hotel.
He was elected to the Transvaal Republic Volksraad as the representative for Lydenburg. Parker then moved to Kaapsehoop where he established himself as an auctioneer and a claim agent.
His appearance was always dignified and well-dressed recognizable by his white top hat and in keeping with the image of a former president. When the Barrett brothers, Benjamin and Charles bought the farm Berlyn and exercised their concession rights, Parker along with most of the other diggers and storekeepers at Kaapsehoop left for Barberton.
It was in Barberton that he met the famous “Cockney Liz” – Elizabeth Jane Webster. Stafford Parker, with whom she had traveled down to Barberton on the mail coach, introduced Liz to Mrs. Emily Fernandes, owner of “The Red Light Canteen” where she started working as a barmaid.
At the time he was the Market Master for Barberton as well as the local auctioneer.
He married Mary Ann (nee Sloane), the union producing ten children. He never allowed people to forget he had once been a President and was known as the “ex-President” for the rest of his life.
Stafford Parker died in Johannesburg on 16 March 1915.