Steve on Sunday

28 February 2021

Greetings my fellow happy taxpayers,

Today, and the previous two days in South African history are quite some days. On 27 February 1881 the Boer forces defeated the British at the battle of Majuba, and on the same day in 1900, Boer General Piet Cronje surrendered his army to Lord Roberts VC at Paardeberg. PAC leader Robert Sobukwe died from cancer in Kimberley on 27 February 1978. Also on the 27th the person who laid claim to inventing the “dummy pass” in rugby, one Daniel Smith, a diamond evaluator for De Beers, died in 1926.

Today, the 28th February, besieged Ladysmith was relieved by General Redvers Buller VC’s army.

All most important happenings, and please note dear golfers, that I have excluded Tony Jacklin’s record score of 65 set at the Kimberley golf course way back in 1966 on 27 February.

The story and legend of HMS Birkenhead is well-known and I am not going to regurgitate the entire story – that you can google or read about in any South African history book. The HMS Birkenhead was wrecked near Gansbaai on 26 February 1852.

This particular story is about a survivor of that famous shipwreck, one William Henry McCluskey, who gets murdered in Kimberley on 5 October 1903, some 51 years later.

The cold-blooded murder of the 73 year old war veteran, William Henry McCluskey, on the Bultfontein Floors on Monday 5 October 1903 sent shock waves through Kimberley and was reported upon by newspapers around the world. It was not the murder that made it the headline story, although that was enough, but the fact that McCluskey was one of the last survivors who had made it ashore after the sinking of the HMS Birkenhead in 1852.

Born in Armagh, Ireland in circa 1830 McCluskey’s fame was that he was one of 193 survivors when the HMS Birkenhead was wrecked at Danger Point near Gansbaai, there having been approximately 643 souls on board.

The disaster that befell the ship made famous the soldiers standing firm as the ship sank, the unofficial protocol of “Women and Children first” being used for the first time, known today as the “Birkenhead Drill”.

Rudyard Kipling’s 1893 poem “Soldier an’ Sailor Too” ensured that those who died and lived that day on 26 February 1852 would forever be remembered.

“To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,

Is nothing so bad when you’ve cover to ‘and, an’ leave an’ likin’ to shout;

But to stand an’ be still to the Birken’ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,

An’ they done it, the Jollies — ‘Er Majesty’s Jollies — soldier an’ sailor too!

Their work was done when it ‘adn’t begun; they was younger nor me an’ you;

Their choice it was plain between drownin’ in ‘eaps an’ bein’ mopped by the screw,

So they stood an’ was still to the Birken’ead drill, soldier an’ sailor too.”

Arriving with his parents in Cape Town in 1843, he served with the Cape Mounted Rifles from 1848 to 1873, fighting in the various frontier wars during that period, including a stint under overall command of Sir Harry Smith in the early 1850s.

McCluskey, after his 25 year service, moved to the Dutoitspan and Bultfontein villages (later named Beaconsfield) and was in the Diamond Fields Horse under Sir Charles Warren in 1877-78. In 1887 he again was with the Diamond Fields Horse as a Sergeant in C Troop, while during the siege of Kimberley 1899-1900 served with the Beaconsfield Town Guard.

During the early 1880s he was a gaoler at Dutoitspan, becoming later the sanitary constable to the Mining Board. Up until six months prior to his untimely death he was a searching officer for the same Mining Board under Major Maxwell, and then became a guard for De Beers Consolidated Mines.

On that fateful Monday – a Bank Holiday – McCluskey, who lived at the time on the old Cape Town road in Beaconsfield, began his shift guarding the blue ground on the Bultfontein floors at 06h00, his position being the closest point on the Floors to the Greenpoint location.

A short while after starting his shift, a resident of Greenpoint, one John Malake, saw a black man later identified as Michael Mongale, “chopping something on the floor” near the security guard’s hut.  Another witness, Hans Dreyer, employed as a shepherd by Mr Cogle, stated that at about 07h00 while herding sheep close to the Bultfontein floors, he had seen Mongale swearing at McCluskey, throw him on the ground and then proceed to hit him with a shovel.

Malake approached the scene and found McCluskey lying on the ground with a large tin covering his head. Mongale was in the guard’s hut at the time and when Malake asked him what was wrong with the man on the ground, he replied: “I’ve killed him”.

Malake then took Mongale to Greenpoint where he handed him over to James Motyoda, a “headman” and special constable in the location, who then marched Mongale off to the gaol in Beaconsfield under guard of some six men.

At this time no-one actually knew that McCluskey was dead but his body was soon discovered by fellow worker Thomas May, an oilman employed by De Beers. Dr William Stoney, the District Surgeon, and the police were soon on the scene, and a charge of murder soon lodged against Mongale. McCluskey’s head had been virtually flattened, the ‘weapons’ used being a shovel and a piece of steel shafting weighing some 40 kilograms. It was believed that Mongale had first struck McCluskey insensible with the shovel, dropped the heavy piece of shafting on his head, and then continued hacking away with the shovel.

Mongale, approximately 35 years of age and born in Bloemfontein, had lived in the Beaconsfield district for some years, and had been employed on occasion by De Beers Consolidated Mines, but was currently unemployed. He appeared before the Acting Additional Resident Magistrate Mr E.L. Harries on the morning of 7 October, the case being remanded.

The funeral of McCluskey took place that afternoon at the Dutoitspan cemetery, his widow and three step-children being the chief mourners. Notable Kimberley personalities among the large crowd in attendance were Colonel Sir David Harris CMG, Captain Sam Salaman of the Kimberley Regiment, and Mr W Austin Knight, the Bultfontein Floors manager.

On Friday 9 October at a crowded Beaconsfield Magistrate’s Court Mongale was brought up on remand charged with William McCluskey’s murder, and it was soon apparent that there was great doubt as to Mongale’s sanity, Magistrate Harries stating that the Court would first try the issue on whether the prisoner was sane or not.

John Molatle, the uncle of Mongale, said that the accused had been living with him for about 12 months, and that in the weeks preceding the murder, had started to sing and shout loudly in the middle of the night, these actions continuing on and off during daylight hours too. He mentioned too, that Mongale had at least on one occasion been a resident in a Cape Town asylum.

On Saturday 3 October, the Reverend Josiah Philip, a Presbyterian minister residing and in Greenpoint, had reported to the police in Beaconsfield that “Mongale got worse, and was violent about six o’clock that morning…was looking wild, and singing, shouting and dancing.”  The police advised the minister to bring Mongale to the station on the Monday.

Unfortunately, by the time Mongale was brought to the police station on that Monday morning he had already killed McCluskey. Escorted by six black men to the station, Mongale had kicked at tins littering the pathway and had been abusive to several Indian traders on the route. During the day, reported the gaol guard William Robert Spratt, he had placed Mongale in the padded cell because of his behaviour – the singing and the shouting. Mongale had ripped up the pads, saying that he “…had dreamt he had to feed the horses, and took the straw out.”

Mongale had also said that he had killed McCluskey because he “spoiled the earth”.

Mongale appeared before Judge William Hopley on 11 November 1903, where further evidence was led, including as to whether the prisoner in the dock was insane. Two medical practitioners, Dr William Stoney (the District Surgeon), and Dr Spencer Wicks, stated that after several days observation, they considered Mongale to be of sound mind. However, under cross examination, Dr Stoney said that he had received three differing statements from the accused, and that he could well have been “suffering from temporary insanity at the time he committed the act.”

The accused though, said: “I am guilty; I did not know what I was doing; my head was not right.”

His Lordship, Judge Hopley, in addressing the jury, explained that “murder must have the intention to kill with malice prepense, and the jury would have to consider whether the prisoner had that intention, and whether he knew what he was doing at the time. The very manner of the killing of the deceased was hardly that of a sane man, for he did not leave McCluskey to die after giving him a blow or two blows, but he went on chopping and chopping until there was no skull left. The evidence of his relatives also tended to show that he had lost his mental balance on previous occasions.”

The jury deliberated at length before returning a verdict that Mongale had killed McCluskey while suffering from temporary insanity, but added a rider that a man such as Mongale should not be permitted to be a danger to public safety.

The Judge, in accepting the jury’s decision, said that had Mongale been sane, the chances were good that he would have been hanged. He did agree with the jury’s rider, and Mongale was placed into an asylum for the insane for the duration of his life on this earth.

I do think that some of our leaders should also be incarcerated, but that story is for another day.

I thank you.


By Managing Editor

Highly respected, Writer, Blogger, Wildlife Conservationist, Hunter and Father.......