The Siege of Kimberley
Did you know?
One of the last Kimberley victims of the siege was George Labram, the designer of the 'Long Cecil' gun, which was built to fire out of Kimberley in answer to the Boers' 'Long Tom'.
October 1899 saw South Africa in the throes of war between Boer and Briton.
One of the hotly contested assets of the country during the South African War (formerly known as the Anglo-Boer War) was diamond-rich Kimberley which, by now, had become a rather fancy place, with a new town hall, all sorts of nightly entertainment and a civilian ‘diamond aristocracy’.
This particular elite group got a case of the infamous ‘Kimberley jitters’ when word arrived of an impending Boer assault on the town. Lieutenant-Colonle Robert Kekewich was despatched from the Cape to organise Kimberley’s military defence.
But from the start, it was a battle on 2 fronts. Diamond mogul Cecil John Rhodes arrived in Kimberley to defend his fortune and the town with it. His ways and those of Kekewich were radically different, and it was clear the 2 men despised each other.
To supplement the weak artillery pieces of the garrison, Rhodes had ‘Long Cecil’ built by a De Beers team headed by the chief engineer, an American called George Labram. The 50-metre-high shaft head at De Beers Mine was used by Kekewich as a reconnaissance tower.
The 124-day siege that followed contains more than enough material for an epic historical novel. Rhodes lived in the plush Sanatorium Hotel (now the MacGregor Museum), but sallied forth every day to organise his soup kitchen, arrange for ammunition manufacture in his machine shops and generally keep as high a personal profile as possible.
Inevitably, food stocks began running low, as did morale. But life became really grim when the Boers brought Long Tom, their famous siege gun, into the action. Long Tom took many lives and devastated much of Kimberley in only 3 days.
The relieving force headed by Lord Methuen was defeated dramatically at nearby Magersfontein just before Christmas of 1899. The siege was only lifted in February 1900 when Lord Roberts and his forces finally entered Kimberley with a cavalry charge.
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