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Joburg's firsts Print E-mail
08 December 2003


Postal services

Services like the delivery of letters took a little longer to get off the ground. Ten years after it was established, in 2 November 1896, 20 postmen were employed to deliver 3 000 letters. But it didn't last. Three months later, in February 1897, the budget for £3 000 wasn't approved, and the service was discontinued.

The first telegram to be sent happened on 27 April 1887, sent by JE Symons the telegraphist. To get around the issue of who was going to have the honour of sending the first telegram, Symons sent the first one himself.

A city designed for men

Johannesburg in those early days was largely populated by men, and of course, they needed to have haircuts. George Meredith saw the gap - he opened the town's first barber shop in Ferreira's Camp.

And to cater for those men's needs the town had a large number of pubs and brothels. The town's first barmaid was Amanda Aquenza, employed by Mr Chas Brown in a bar in Ferreira's Camp, the first saloon owner in the town. Here is an account of her eagerly-awaited arrival in the town, by EC Trelawney Ansell in I followed gold:

"I do not think that I shall ever forget the arrival of the first barmaid in Jo'burg. Word of her coming had got ahead of her. Tales were being spread of her wonderful beauty, the glorious clothes she wore, the very low cut of her bodices, etc. Special emphasis was also laid on how easily she bestowed her nightly favours - at a price.

"The day came when the coach was to arrive with this beauty of the bar. Crowds of the Jo'burg "boys" were there to meet her. The coach arrived with the beauty seated inside. Cheer after cheer went up as she was carried shoulder high from the coach to the billiard room of the Central Hotel, there to be regaled with iced champagne.

"Then she was forced to stand on the billiard table - in clothing that today would be thought much over-dressed, but was then thought supremely naughty - in corsets and voluminous drawers edged with plenty of lace - and was sold to the highest bidder for the sum of £150, champagne flowing like water meanwhile and all laughing and enjoying the fun."

It didn't take long for the first brewery to be established: in 1887 the Wiltshire Brewery was set up at Ophirton, just north of Booysens.

And talking men and pubs and the inevitable brawls, the first jail was in Commissioner Street, opened in the same month as the town was established, built of brick with thatched roof. A later jail was built on the site of the present Drill Hall, on the corner of Twist and Plein Streets. The first jailer was Mr C Brahn.

The first company of the Zuid Afrikaanse Republieke Polisie was composed of 16 men, formed on 12 November 1886, in the precinct stretching from Boksburg to Krugersdorp.



Sport and culture

Those early diggers were keen on sport: the first baseball match was played on Sunday, 10 February 1895, between Simmer and Primrose and City and Robinson. The first bicycle track race took place on 26 October 1889. The first cricket club was formed in November 1886, just two months after the town was established. The first match was won in a test against Britain, in 1906.

The first Association Football Club was the Alpha, formed in 1887. The golfers didn't take long to get it together: on 4 November 1890 the first golf club was formed. Women got their act together with hockey, establishing the first hockey club for women in 1903/4, and the first hockey test was played in 1925, against England.

Ice-skaters were on the ice in 1910, when the first ice-skating rink, called Niagara, was opened near Park Station. The first roller skating rink was opened in February 1891 in Kerk Street.

Cultural activities were not forgotten: the first chess club was set up in 1891, with Lord Randolph Churchill the first president of the Johannesburg Chess Club. The town's first concert was held on 21 June 1887, put on by the International Order of Good Templars, to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It took place in Thompson's Store in President Street, where The Star is today.

On 13 October 1891, Sir Dan Godfrey was the first conductor in the country to use a baton only to conduct an orchestra, instead of playing the piano with one hand and conducting with the other. This wonder happened at the Standard Theatre.

If circuses can be called culture, the first circus to hit town was Fillis's Circus, set up in Ferreira's Camp in September 1886, barely weeks after the town came into being.

Do flower shows fall under culture? Well, if they do, the first flower show was held in the Wesleyan Church in February 1893.



First buildings

It is believed that the first tent went up on 9 July 1886, two months before the gold diggings were declared. It belonged to J Paxton De Roi.

The first building of any consequence was the Central Hotel, in Ferreira's Camp, made of wood. Later, when Randjeslaagte (a triangle of left-over farm land) was proclaimed as the new town, FH Bussey, the owner of Central Hotel, built a new hotel on the corner of Commissioner and Sauer streets, of stone quarried from Doornfontein.

Shops sprung up quite quickly: in 1886 the first chemist was opened in Commissioner Street by a Mr Heymann, called the Golden Mortar Dispensary. The first café, the Café Francais, was in Ferreira's Camp, on the corner of Market and Joubert streets.

Perhaps Café Francais sold some of the first chewing gum in the town - in 1895 Beeman's Pepsin Chewing Gum was sold, introduced by AA Officer. The first school was opened in Ferreira's camp in November 1886, just two months after the town was started. There were 14 pupils, and H Duff was the teacher. He managed to build a schoolhouse, which, he says, "though unpretentious, yet sufficient for the purpose, at least until some more definiteness be attained in the population and that fixity which will encourage the people to provide a permanent place for the instruction of youth". He goes on to say that the cost of the building was £7.10 plus £14 for furnishings, an amount he thought was "perhaps not without reason that this was a public matter I have started a subscription to defray the deficit".

The first church building to go up was the Methodist Church in 1887, on the site of the present-day His Majesty's Theatre, in Commissioner Street. The first hospital was located on the corner of Simmonds and Main streets. It's not known when it was built.

The first female office worker was Miss Letty Impey (later Mrs Tandy), who, in around 1894 worked for the solicitor Henry Lindsay. She knew shorthand and sat is Lindsay's office boy's office with a screen around her for privacy as it was not "quite proper" to be seen. Smith says that "every man in Johannesburg came and looked behind the screen".

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Last Updated on 10 January 2013