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Jo'Burg Days: Fair Stood The Wind – Part 12

...He was a great bully and ruled his subordinates – at least those that feared him, with an iron hand. He was his own great magistrate and judge, and I was going to say executioner, for I have known him to flog a driver for repeated drunkenness with his own hands, and being a big burly Yorkshireman who turned the scales, I should think at about 220 pounds, he used the cat o’ nine tails with considerable force...

Barbara Durlacher, aided by diaries and written records, continues her vivid account of early settlement in South Africa.

RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM JAMES SYMONS
OF LIFE IN KINGWILLIAMSTOWN, BRITISH KAFFRARIA,
EASTERN CAPE PROVINCE 1860-70

In the days to which these rambling recollections refer we had no manufacturers of any kind in King. All our business and cash accrued from the military with the exception of the retail trade with the then raw Kaffir; in fact, the town was then an enlarged Kaffir trading station as we now see them in the Transkei. The principal source of unemployment was the Mule Train establishment. The Army Service Corps as it is now was then unknown; all the military supplies were arranged by the Commissariat Department, the transport part of which was responsible for the removal of all troops and stores to the various stations and outposts of the troops. The establishment consisted of tradesmen, such as wagon makers, saddlers, smiths, coach trimmers, painters, carpenters, masons, and a large number of Hottentot and half-caste mule drivers and leaders. If at any time there was a heavy call for transport, the head of the department rode into the market place, or through the town and any ox-wagon he saw, he chalked a mark on it which impressed that wagon into the Government service for the time being. If my memory serves me still, the owner of the wagon received £1 per day for the service, but if he attempted to shirk the duty, there was trouble.

The head of the Department, Mr James Hall, or Barney Hall as he was generally called, had done good service in the Crimea in the Transport Department, and had been promoted from an inferior position to the responsibilities of the position he then held. He was a man who took a great interest in the Town and was the cause of the expenditure of a large amount of money. I don’t know whose it was – in breeding horses for export to India, in fact, several cargoes were sent there. He was the originator of the stud farm at the Grand Stand and race course on the Fort Murray road. He was a great bully and ruled his subordinates – at least those that feared him, with an iron hand. He was his own great magistrate and judge, and I was going to say executioner, for I have known him to flog a driver for repeated drunkenness with his own hands, and being a big burly Yorkshireman who turned the scales, I should think at about 220 pounds, he used the cat o’ nine tails with considerable force. He had dark cells built in the yard, and stocks, which he had improved on, erected. His improvement was that instead of putting the plank flat for the culprit to sit on, he had it put on edge for the unfortunate wretches not to sit but to writhe upon.

One day a poor Kaffir woman who had come to visit one of her friends employed as a servant by one of the European subordinates, was accused of stealing some meat from the kitchen. She was arrested and without trial placed in the stocks I have mentioned before noon; and the brutal Hottentots, only too ready to follow the example set by their superiors, stripped the poor creature to the waist, covered one half of her body with tar and the other with whitewash, threw cold water over her – it was the middle of winter – and left the poor soul in that state until darkness set in. My blood simply boiled with indignation at such abominable cruelty, and as soon as it was dark I took a hammer and an article of clothing, went to the stocks, broke the lock, and giving the poor thing a loaf of bread saw her out of the yard.

There was a terrible uproar next morning. Barney Hall set at defiance! What next? Five pounds reward was offered for such information as might lead to the discovery of who had damaged Government property and released the prisoner. Whoever they suspected they did not find out the delinquent. If they had, I expect hanging would have been too good for him. But I was quite prepared if it had so happened to have awakened the authorities to the state of things existing.

With all his faults, a better member of the community in most ways would be hard to find than James Hall. He was always to the fore in the matter for social benefit or amusement, bazaars, agricultural shows, races, balls, etc. At all these he was invaluable, and he it was who caused the road to East London on the East Bank to be opened up as the German Legion had been stationed at Berlin, Panmure, etc. Ah well, in thinking of him and what he did for this part, I can only say in the words of Shakespeare when lamenting Sir John Falstaff:

‘We could have better spared a better man.’

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