One Crisis After Another (or is it just history repeating itself?)

With the Wanderers Club having to close from 24 March 2020 due to the Covid-19 lockdown, it is inevitable that some members would become very distraught and wonder if things will actually ever go back to the way they were.

As the Wanderers Club Chairman, Colin Warner, mentioned in a recent letter to members, the Club has faced many disasters in the past including floods, wild storms, fires, the Boer War plus two World Wars and even a plague of locusts. Therefore, it is no stranger to overcoming any calamity that it may be forced to confront, and the Covid-19 Pandemic is no exception.

The Club’s history as related in the Old Gold gives details of many incidents which stopped the Club in its tracks, albeit for a brief period of time.  Those members reading the edited excerpts of the history of the Club might find it encouraging to learn that their Club has weathered and survived some horrific situations in the past and it will continue to do so as long as there are members who are willing to steer the Club in the right direction.

We will start relating the history from the early days of the Club and add to it regularly until we reach current events.

  1. The Jameson Raid 1895

On the night of 30 December 1895, the Reform Committee (many of whom were Wanderers members) took over the administration of the Johannesburg town which was already in complete upheaval as many of the mines had been closed.  Johannesburg at the time was so volatile that the Transvaal Government withdrew any sign of authority that it had.

After the Transvaal Government’s withdrawal, the Reform Committee became solely responsible for law and order and the control of thousands of unemployed citizens who had fled into town from remote areas.

At this time the Wanderers buildings and grounds situated near the railway station in the middle of town were commissioned for the assembly and drilling of soldiers and also to shelter refugees who slept on the floors of the Wanderers Hall, Gymnasium and Skating Rink. The Reform Committee worked tirelessly to maintain some form of law and order following Jameson’s unprovoked raid.

The Jameson forces were on their way, but the Burgher forces closed in on them and forced them to surrender.  The Burgher forces took advantage of the Wanderers grounds and brought the Club to an inevitable standstill.  Not even the Wanderers band would be heard for months to come.

While Jameson and his men were in prison the Reform Committee remained in charge of the town.  Wanderers committee members tried to treat this entire episode as a foolish incident and all effort was made to go ahead with the traditional New Year’s Sports meeting as they felt this would take people’s minds off recent events. While the English cricket team were on their way to South Africa, the Transvaal Government arrested certain members of the Reform Committee which included not only the President of the Wanderers Club but also its Chairman and many past and present committee members.   Charlie Pietersen, the original sponsor and secretary of the Wanderers Club, treated those arrested with great courtesy and allowed them all the creature comforts they desired – he even drove them to the Doornfontein jail in his own personal transport!

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Arrest of Jameson after the raid

A lot of businesses were affected by the arrests of these men but soon the town returned to normal, with shops reopening and the ladies of the town driving around in their carriages and going about their business as usual.

Once the Wanderers grounds were vacated of refugees, the Club started preparing for the cricket match against the English cricket team but because of the previous disturbances, nobody seemed to want to come to Johannesburg, so a team of scratch players made up the Transvaal XV.

No General Meeting could be held that year as the Chairman and some committee members were still in jail and February passed without any report to the members.

The Jameson Raiders were eventually sent to England for trial. The pressure was also put on the Transvaal Government to release the Reform Committee members on bail as their absence was crippling life on the Rand.

Eventually, all but four of the Jameson Raid prisoners were released on bail and those Wanderers men among them immediately set about trying to set the affairs of the Club in order.  Finally, on 20 March 1896, the 6th Annual General Meeting was held.  The Club and its members were now very much aware that the Club was no longer a social and recreational centre but had become a public institution responsible for all aspects of the welfare of the population whenever it was required to be so.

 

  1. 1896 Blast at Braamfontein railway station

On 19 February 1896, a railway engine at Braamfontein station rammed into a line of trucks loaded with sub-standard dynamite which had been standing in the blazing sun for three days.  There was an almighty explosion which, it was said, could be heard as far away as Bloemfontein.  The carnage was enormous as Braamfontein at the time was a densely populated housing area for impoverished people. With only the tiny General Hospital close by, it was days before the hundreds of mutilated casualties could be counted, some of whom were never identified.

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Casualties who could be moved were taken to the Wanderers Hall, Gymnasium, and other Club premises which were turned into a makeshift hospital, while the Skating Rink served as a morgue.  Even the President came from Pretoria to view the accident site and he openly wept at the sight of the corpses laid out in the Skating Rink.  Within two days the government had raised over 100 000 Pounds for a relief fund.

Wanderers men and women worked in the makeshift hospital which their Club had become and the effect on them was lasting and sobering.

Johannesburg remained in a disturbed and unstable state for many months and Wanderers never really regained the composure of the “good old days” when people visited for fun, games, and relaxation.   Various sports failed, with only cycling managing to survive. This had serious consequences for the Club’s finances and at the end of 1896 the Chairman at the time, Julius Jeppe, reported that although the Club was working satisfactorily, the financial results were not as successful as he would have liked, mainly due to the events of the past year.

The recent events had projected Johannesburg onto the world stage and all manner of people came flocking to it ranging from entertainers to professional practitioners. With this increase in population, the daily atmosphere became more strained and hectic, and recreation lost its appeal.

All forms of sport suffered during these depressed times. However, the Wanderers combated this state of affairs with the forming of the Orchestra, Military Band and the Choral Society.

The deteriorating political situation and instability which had afflicted Johannesburg after the Jameson Raid increased and Wanderers was very fortunate at that time to have Julius Jeppe as its Chairman.   Jeppe restated the three aims of the Club: to foster and encourage all sport, to make the grounds as attractive as possible for members and the public, and to generate sufficient funds to ensure the Club’s continuation and sustainability.

To be continued….