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UPDATED: 07/09/2023

7 September 1872, Governor Sir Henry Barkly arrives on the diamond fields for a visit.
7 September 1892, Miss Viola
goes up 3000 feet in a balloon, and parachutes down.

The other de Melker brother – John

John de Melker (pictured) is not as well-known as his brother, the Springbok rugby player Sidney, nor as infamous as his brother’s wife, Daisy. Nevertheless, he too had a life that was fulfilling and had it not been for an unfortunate accident, would have played for the 1891 South African rugby side. He was selected but withdrew.

John Robert Adolf de Melker was born in Cape Town on 10 February 1871 to Arie de Melker and Dorothea Jacoba Izabella de Melker (nee Zeeman), and Christened in the Dutch Reformed Church on 5 March that same year.

While still at a young age the family relocated to the lure of the diamond fields and, like his brother, was educated at the Kimberley High Schools. At the age of 14 years he captained the Kimberley Junior rugby team and some ten years later was undoubtedly the top all round athlete on the diamond fields.


John De Melker

A founder member of both the Kimberley Athletic Club and the Kimberley Rugby Football Club, he represented Griqualand West at rugby from 1891 to 1899, being the half-back partner to Jackie Powell, the famous Springbok rugby player. John was also one of the fortunate few to have won a Currie Cup, this when Griquas won in 1899.

He was a better than average cricket player and at athletics was outstanding, being a champion sprinter. It was a proud boast that he never left a sports meeting without a prize.

It is however, as an administrator of sport and coach of rugby that he should be remembered. For over 25 years he was an active coach with the Kimberley Rugby Football Club (and their Honorary Secretary) as well as at KHS and CBC.

For 20 years he was also the Secretary for the De Beers Athletic sports, and was also Honorary Secretary and the Groundsman for the Kimberley Athletic Club.

With his keen interest in schoolboy rugby, he used to repair the balls used in club and provincial matches and issue them to the schools the following season.

He died on 6 September 1937, and when buried in Kimberley’s West End cemetery, a rugby ball was attached to the coffin by silver fastenings.

7 September 1872, Governor Sir Henry Barkly arrives on the diamond fields for a visit.
7 September 1892, Miss Viola goes up 3000 feet in a balloon, and parachutes down.

Miss Viola impresses the Kimberley crowd

Edith Maud Cook (1 September 1878 – 14 July 1910), also known as Viola Spencer-Kavanagh, Viola Spencer, Viola Kavanagh, and perhaps as Viola Fleet and Elsa Spencer, was an early British parachutist, balloonist, and aviator.

Cook was born on 1 September 1878, in Ipswich, Suffolk, the daughter of James Wells Cook, a confectioner, and Mary Ann Baker. In a later interview she claimed to have run away from home at age 14 to go on a balloon flight, the exact age when she performed in Kimberley.

Cook was variously known as Miss Spencer-Kavanagh, Viola Spencer-Kavanagh, Viola Spencer, and Viola Kavanagh. She is also reputed to have been known as Viola Fleet and Elsa Spencer. It would seem that she used the names Viola Spencer and Viola Kavanagh when undertaking parachuting engagements, and the name Spencer-Kavanagh as an aviator. She worked for the Spencer Brothers and Auguste Eugene Gaudron.

In August 1908, she had a narrow escape when trying to make a parachute jump at Ilkeston, Derbyshire. On attaining the desired altitude she found that she could not detach the parachute from the balloon. Clinging on she continued to gain height and drifted during the night before she finally came down some twenty-five miles from her starting point.

This event was widely reported in newspapers at the time.

She was reputed to have made over 300 parachute jumps in a career spanning over 10 years. She was reported in the newspapers to carry a small revolver with her as she could never be sure where she might land.

She died from injuries sustained following a jump from a balloon at Coventry in England on 9 July 1910. Her parachute collapsed after a gust of wind blew her on to a factory roof. It was reported that another gust of wind caught the parachute and she fell from the factory roof sustaining serious injuries. She died on the 14th.

(From Wikipedia).

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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