A gap year

Towards the end of his prison term, Harry received a summons to appear in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court.  The wording was clear and concise: to show why his name should not be removed from the list of law agents allowed to practise in the Transvaal.  Explicit mention was made of the bribery conviction.

On 7 October 1904, having been appraised of the content of Rex versus Saltman and Schapiro, Henry Rose Innes – Pretoria’s Resident Magistrate – handed down his decision.

I was curious to see if this Rose Innes was connected to the judge, James, who had presided at Harry’s criminal trial.  The trail led me to the marriage of Henry to Mary Elizabeth Hazlehurst in July 1894; in December of the same year her sister, Emma Eliza Hazlehurst, married a James Rose Innes (not the judge, I’ve found).  The men were both attorneys and may have been brothers.  Just to round off this incidence of coincidence, both marriages took place in Barberton, a small town near the Swaziland border.   Illuminating as this digression was, I still don’t know if the judge who put my ancestor behind bars was related to the magistrate who would then strip him of his livelihood.

Henry Rose Innes extended Harry’s time in the wilderness by a year.  This was his second eighteen-month period of unemployment, but whereas the first had been thrust upon him by the Anglo-Boer War, he had only himself to blame for the next one. A third of it had passed in gaol; but what was he to do with another 12 months of forced inactivity?

To have more than one career is almost a given these days.  Even doctors, whose trajectories seem so assured, don’t always stick with the trade; thirty-five years after having completed his residency at Sydney’s St Vincent’s hospital, George Miller was holding the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for the movie Happy Feet.   Lawyers are famous for reinventing themselves; John Cleese, Gerard Butler and Andrea Bocelli are good examples in the entertainment world.  Within my own circle, I have known people to have swapped the law for non-profits, digital marketing or coffee shops; one of them now writes children’s books.

In early 1905, Harry pulled out a sheet of letterhead, crossed out the words ‘at law’ after ‘agent’ and wrote to the Colonial Secretary asking for application forms to register as a dental student.

The mere mention of the word, dentist, triggers childhood memories of fear and terror.  I grew up at a time when fluoride was unheard of and fillings were the bread and butter of South African practitioners.  Drills were Heath Robinson affairs and shots were given only if a tooth was to be pulled.  From the expression on his face, the cavities in my teeth were to the family dentist what the Big Hole is to Kimberley.  For two years I contrived to stay away, ‘forgetting’ to remind my mother that I was due for a check-up.  It took at least two sessions to deal with the fallout.

A reply was swift.  There were no forms to be completed, but everything one needed to know about becoming a dentist could be found at Section 27 of the Medical, Dental and Pharmacy Ordinance.  Harry either had second thoughts or – more likely – was prevailed upon by whomever was supporting him this time around, to wait out the 12-month suspension and do something productive with the time.  A part of me is sorry that he never became a dentist; I’m sure the collective family choppers would have been much better off if he had.

In November 1905 Harry was reinstated as a practising law agent in Pretoria.  Around that time, there was another development.  He’d met someone.  Her name was Rose.



Time out

At 6 a.m. the prisoners were allowed out into the yard, where they had the option of exercising throughout the day. The lavatories and bathing arrangements consisted of a tap in the yard and an open furrow through which the town water ran, the lower end of which was used as a wash-place by prisoners, white and black alike. Within a foot or two of the furrow where alone washing of the person or of clothing was allowed stood the gaol urinals. There was neither adequate provision in this department nor any attempt at proper supervision, the result being that…the ground on both sides of the water-furrow for six or eight yards was horribly stained and saturated by leakage…there were at that time over 250 prisoners, about 100 of whom were white. There were three closets and six buckets for the accommodation of all, and removals took place sometimes once a day, sometimes once in every four days. Nothing but the horror of such conditions, and the fact that they prevail still in Pretoria Gaol, and presumably in other gaols more removed from critical supervision, could warrant allusions to such a disgusting state of affairs. At 6.15 breakfast was served. A number of tin dishes, containing one pound of mealiemeal porridge (ground maize) each were placed in a row on the ground in the yard in the same manner as a dog’s food might be set out. A bucket nearby contained some coarse salt in the condition in which it was collected in the natural salt pans, the cubes varying from the size of peas to the size of acorns. No sugar, milk, tea, or coffee, was allowed. In order to utilize the salt the prisoners were obliged to crush it with rough stones on the cement steps…To those who had not tasted it before in the course of prospecting or up-country travelling where conditions are sometimes very hard, it was no more possible to swallow it than to eat sawdust.  Dinner was at twelve o’clock, and it consisted of coarse meat boiled to that degree which was calculated to qualify the water in which it was boiled to be called soup, without depriving the meat of all title to be considered a separate dish. With this meal was also served half a pound of bread. Supper, which was provided at five o’clock, was exactly the same as breakfast.[1]

These were the conditions that greeted four Uitlander reformers in the wake of the failed 1896 Jameson raid, as reported by James Percy Fitzpatrick.  Better known as the author of Jock of the Bushveld, Fitzpatrick was a South African politician, mining financier and farmer, as well as an advocate for English-speaking Uitlanders in the ZAR. He reserved his harshest criticism for the judge who had initially sentenced the four, one of whom was Colonel Frank Rhodes – brother of Cecil – to death.  In describing Reinhold Gregorowski, Fitzpatrick referred to  ‘…the peculiar severity of his sentences on all except Boers.  He had moreover expressed openly in Bloemfontein his wish that he might have the trying of “those reformers; he would give them what for.”’[2]  The Uitlanders‘ sentences were subsequently commuted to 15 years in prison, but they were released within a few months on payment of a fine.

Constructed in 1873, Pretoria’s second gaol accommodated prisoners of all races.  It had a yard and wardens’ accommodation on site, and a gallows in the garden where public executions were carried out on Saturdays.  A couple of photos survive (Source: http://www.dcs.gov.za/AboutUs/Museum.aspx).






Walking past the gaol one Saturday in 1896, Jan de Veer made the following observations:

‘Around the old jail a thick stone wall had been built and on top of this was a lot of broken glass to prevent the convicts from escaping. One morning, when we went to the station at quarter to six, the whole area was surrounded by armed police on horseback. We enquired what was going on and were given the answer that six murderers were to be hung and if we went to the other side of the street and stood on the big rock we would be able to see them being hung. From there we could see the gallows, the murderers coming with a bag over their head. The noose was placed around the neck and suddenly they fell down and we saw nothing more than a moving rope.’[3]

The gaol continued to host prisoners during the Anglo-Boer War.  After being taken there on 21 February 1902, Lieutenant George Witton had this to say about it.

‘…This was the first time I had ever been inside a civil prison. My first impressions were anything but encouraging; the warders appeared most uncivil. The first one we met told us in a domineering manner to “face the wall,” then commenced to order us about. On being taken to the reception room, we were stripped and our clothing carefully searched; we were then examined, and a complete description for identification purposes taken. Our own clothes were returned to us, and we were then taken to separate cells and locked up–in the quarters where Dr. Jameson and his followers had been confined after his disastrous and abortive raid on the Boer Republic a few years previous.’[4]

The British Army had charged Witton, together with Lieutenants Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant and Peter Handcock[5], with the shooting of eight Boer prisoners in a vengeance killing in the Northern Transvaal in 1901.  Morant and Handcock were also charged with the separate murder of three Boers, and Handcock with the murder of a German missionary and one of his own troopers.  Witton petitioned Kitchener, and his sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison, of which he served two, most of it in England.  Morant and Handcock – whose story is immortalised in Peter Weir’s film, Breaker Morant – weren’t as fortunate.  They were executed on 27 February 1902, less than a week after having set foot inside Pretoria Gaol.  It was a Thursday.

The prison was not well fortified and several escapes occurred during its lifetime.  In August 1903, 500 black convicts tried to break out.  One of the prisoners dashed his plate of porridge into the face of a warder, a signal for the others to follow suit.  In the confusion that followed they tried to rush the gates, but were pushed back by the warders ‘after a fierce and exciting struggle.’[6]   Also around this time, six black prisoners escaped by ‘cutting their way out of the gaol with a tin opener.’[7]

By May 1904, Pretoria Gaol had become home to Harry and an accomplice, Simon Schapiro.  Their six-month sentences provided plenty of opportunity to reflect on the events that had put them in there.

On 3 December 1903, Harry met with Daniel Donavan, a liquor traffic inspector.  A client, Herman Hamburg, had applied for a liquor licence to the Liquor Licensing Court and Harry made Donavan aware that if he would guarantee safe passage of the application through the Court, then Hamburg would give the inspector £500.  The day before the Court was due to decide the matter, the offer was repeated to Donavan, this time by Schapiro.

Both Harry and Schapiro were indicted at the Pretoria Criminal Sessions on charges of bribery and being guilty of knowingly committing a crime on behalf of another person.  Arguments on question of law raised the matter for consideration before the Transvaal Supreme Court.  It was heard on 23 April, the day after Harry turned 28.

On opposite sides of the bench were counsel for the accused, Reinhold Gregorowski – who after the War had resumed practice at the bar – and his successor as Chief Justice of the Transvaal Court, James Rose Innes.  The latter, whose resumé included a parliamentary career in the Cape Colony and leadership of the Cape bar, had been critical of Kruger’s Uitlander policy in the lead up to the War.  In 1896, the British government decided to send him to observe – on behalf of British, American and Belgian subjects – the trial of Uitlander reformers associated with the Jameson Raid.  The then ZAR government objected to Fitzpatrick’s involvement in the trial, and his participation was limited to sitting at the counsels’ table and consulting and advising with the Pretoria barristers employed to defend the prisoners.[8]  At that time, Gregorowski was a judge of the ZAR High Court.

It would be impossible to intuit whether old antipathies had any bearing on the outcome of Harry’s and Schapiro’s trial.  From available accounts Innes was a skilled lawyer and an honourable man who earned respect across the different language groups and races; he would go on to become Chief Justice of a united South Africa. In delivering judgment, he found the accused guilty of

‘…wrongfully and unlawfully promis(ing) to the said Daniel Donavan, being…in the service of the colony of the Transvaal, that if he…would in conflict with his duty…recommend the granting by the Liquor Licensing Court…of a liquor licence to Herman Hamburg,…, he,…Daniel Donavan, would receive the sum of five hundred pounds sterling.’[9]

and sentenced the two men to six months prison without hard labour, ordering them to pay a fine of £400 pounds each.  The fine was set aside after Harry and Schapiro declared that they had no funds, and no goods could be found to an equal value.

By early October, Harry was due for release from Pretoria Gaol.  But the courts weren’t finished with him yet.

[1]              Fitzpatrick, J.P. The Transvaal from within: a private record of public affairs 1899 pp204-5

[2]              Ibid page 245.

[3]              De Veer, Jan Memoirs Historical papers, Wits University A.D. van Doornum, 2013.  Page 24.

[4]              Witton, G. Scapegoats of the Empire: the true story of Breaker Morant’s Bushveldt Carbineers 1907, page 68.

[5]              At the time the three were serving with the Bushveldt Carbineers, an irregular unit based in the northern Transvaal during the Anglo-Boer War.

[6]              Report syndicated to various overseas press e.g. The Ballarat Star 1 September 1903.

[7]              Reported in The Johannesburg Star, syndicated to various overseas press e.g. The Lithgow Mercury, 4 September 1903.

[8]              Fitzpatrick, op.cit. pages181-2.

[9]              Rex v Saltman & Schapiro, 355, Transvaal Supreme Court May 2,3 1904.  Innes, C.J., and Solomon and Curlewis, J.J.


A little over four years ago I mentioned to a few people, including family, that I was about to start a blog that documented the life of my paternal grandfather.  My sister-in-law, to whom an interest in ancestry has come more recently, observed in her characteristically direct way that no-one would want to read about a dead relative.  After I’d got over the hurt, I thought about what she’d said.  It’s true that there are thousands of people writing about ancestors unknown to anyone other than their descendants.  I follow a few such blogs and the ones I find most interesting are those that infuse some of the writer’s personality into the mix.  I also love blogs that are rich in photographs.  I expect that’s because I have so few images of my ancestor and revel in those of others.  But it’s also for the fact that one can interpret so much about a person and the times in which they lived from a photo.

The trajectory of my blog has meandered through the vague to the specific to the off-topic and finally to its true mission: to tell a story about two people who never met each other.  If the writing has matured over the period, I can thank the two-and-a-half years of study towards a Master of Arts in Non-fiction Writing, which I completed at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in June 2016.

I saw the UTS program as a perfect platform for ‘testing’ my writings about Harry and, in time, about myself.  From the first essay I developed for a Memory and Life Writing course – which provided material for the posts, 1963 and Renewal – to the last 7,500 words of my major project, I’ve consciously tried to ease myself away from over-embellishing to a place where the narrative ‘shows but doesn’t tell’.

There comes a time in a project of this magnitude where one asks what the point is to it all?  Is it leading to anything?  To a book maybe?  And if so, what form should that book take?  And how would it start?

Last year I began to contemplate the larger work that might flow from this blog, using the penultimate project of my program as a springboard.  In the way that many writers to, I agonised over a beginning.  I knew that my blog’s opening chapter – a jigsaw puzzle – would fall far short of the mark; rereading it now, I cringe to think that I may have captured a readership with such amateur guff.

The opening paragraphs of my university assignment were about a one-off offer extended to expatriate South Africans to vote in the first multiracial elections in 1994.  Despite that I’d lived abroad for 13 years and had since become an Australian citizen, I was able to exercise a vote for the central government and any provincial government in the country.  I tried to draw a parallel between the pull of country and bonds that can never be broken, for me and Harry, a Brit who never gave up his citizenship.  On reflection, I’m not sure that it worked; even if I still have feelings for the place, after 35 settled years in Australia, I can’t claim to own an expat angst about separation.  It’s also a theme that has been done to death.

One of my UTS tutors, the splendid Debra Adelaide, remarked that all beginnings are provisional.  She also warned against spending another 20 years researching my subject – yes, I have been on Harry’s case for roughly that length of time – and gave me a deadline of December 2016 to finish a first draft of my manuscript.  Without the emotional investment in this blog and a need to complete it, I may have achieved that target.  I’ve set a new one of April 2017.

Getting back to beginnings, of the books I’ve read in the last year or so, a few have impressed me with their openers.

‘I have known Paul Keating for 40 years.  I was first introduced to him in the non-members bar of the old Parliament House when he was a hungry young backbencher in the Whitlam Opposition in 1975, and I suppose I was a hungry young journalist working for an ABC program called This Day Tonight.  I met him again the day he became Gough Whitlam’s youngest and last ministerial appointment, three weeks before the Dismissal.  He already had the swagger and an eye for a good suit, and he had future leader written all over him.’[1]

Kerry O’Brien’s introduction to Paul Keating[2] has the immediate effect of the reader wanting more.

‘If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin.’[3]

In her memoir about coming to terms with her father’s wartime deeds and her own sense of self, Magda Szubanski drew me in with a single line.

‘I was four years old when my father came back to kidnap me.’[4]

Likewise Mark Matousek’s unsparing account of growing up in Los Angeles had the same effect.

As a literary device, dramatic revelations about family secrets are excellent at bringing the reader along for the ride.  John Lanchester’s memoir of growing up in post-colonial countries and England begins thus:

‘Julia Immaculata Gunnigan was born on 5 December 1920 at Lurgan, Killarney, in the county of Mayo in the West of Ireland.  That might sound like fairly straightforward information, but for reasons which will become clear it isn’t, at least not to me.  Julia’s true name and birthday were things I found out only after she died.  If there was a special typeface for things my mother didn’t tell me, the next hundred-odd pages of this book would be almost entirely in that face.’[5]

These authors have had the fortune of knowing their subjects and some, like O’Brien, conducted lengthy interviews with them.  I don’t have that luxury.  Harry’s other surviving grandchildren know as little about our grandfather as I do.  And even if those who knew him as a father were available to quiz now, at best their recall would be coloured by their child-minds’ reinterpretation.   For Harry’s story I’ve had to rely on a combination of oral history, Holmesian-style detective work, the odd photo and a dash of imagination.  And as my story assumes a greater proportion in the narrative, the need to rely solely on recreating his has become less pressing.

But I still need a beginning.  And what better way to start than with an act of recklessness.

[1]              Kerry O’Brien Keating Allen & Unwin Sydney 2015, pvii.

[2]              Treasurer in the Hawke government from 1983 – 1991, and Prime Minister of Australia from 1991 – 1996.

[3]              Magda Szubanski Reckoning Text Publishing Melbourne 2015 p1.

[4]              Mark Matousek The boy he left behind Piatkus London 2000 p1.

[5]              John Lanchester Family romance Faber and Faber London 2007 p25.