One day he would steal a man’s horse, on another he would give money to a hard-pressed widow – or join in a posse in search of himself. That was Scotty Smith, a Kalahari crook with a great sense of humour and a love for the high road.

Did you know?

Scotty Smith once earned a decent living as a prize-fighter in New York City.

England has Robin Hood, Australia has Ned Kelly, the USA has Jesse James – and South Africa has Scotty Smith.

Outlaws all, these hoodlums with hearts of gold have captured the imagination of their countries with their exploits, adventures and occasionally outrageous criminal acts.

Scotty Smith’s real name was the rather laborious George St Leger Gordon Lennox. However, in the taverns and gambling dens of the Kalahari, that was just too much of a mouthful – it was all compressed to Scotty Smith.

This Victorian-era crook was a man of many talents. Trained as a veterinarian in Scotland, he shipped out to western Australia to be a gold miner on the goldfield of Kalgoorlie. Then he joined the British Army briefly and was discharged not long after, following a court martial.

Undaunted, Smith came out to South Africa and became a frontier policeman in the Eastern Cape. Pretty soon, however, he crossed the legal line again and turned to gun-running and elephant hunting in the old Bechuanaland – now Botswana.

But it was his incredible love for good horseflesh that made Smith infamous as a rustler. It is said that he even made off with the favourite mount of Lord Kitchener, chief of the British Army, during the South African (Anglo-Boer) War.

Roaming the Northern Cape around Kimberley, Smith also had an eye for a good diamond, and was often involved in dodgy deals at the diggings. Once, when a search party was formed to look for the vagabond, he came up and quietly joined it. Another time, he overpowered a detective who had arrested him and, by virtue of a silver tongue, had the hapless cop thrown into a Kimberley jail.

The legend goes that one night the police raided his campsite, and Smith calmly dropped his stolen diamonds into the kettle that was heating up on his fire. When the water boiled, he went ahead and made coffee for the policemen and himself, with no-one but he being any the wiser.

But his good deeds are also noted. He once paid a poor farmer’s wife the enormous sum of 200 pounds for one night’s accommodation. He stole horses and cash from the rich and occasionally shared some of his booty with the poor.

Smith was finally captured and sentenced to 25 lashes and four years in prison for armed robbery. Somehow, the lashes were never administered and, by all accounts, his time in a Bloemfontein jail was more like a hotel holiday than incarceration.

Scotty Smith ended his days as a respectable old raconteur in Upington, farming vegetables on the banks of the Orange River. His grave is prominently marked in the Upington cemetery and his legend is that of a true brigand: hero to some, villain to others...

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