musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Braamfontein Cemetery

Beautiful Braamfontein

Somebody once asked “which cemetery do you consider to be “home”?” I didn’t really have to think about it because Braamfontein Cemetery in Johannesburg is probably my “home”.   It was the second cemetery where I went to photograph war graves, and I keep on coming back to it. 

It was not the the first cemetery established in the fledgling city of Johannesburg, that honour goes to a short lived cemetery that was bounded by Bree, Diagonal and Harrison Streets. The “inhabitants” were relocated to Braamfontein Cemetery in 1897, although the grand dame of Johannesburg was established in 1888. 

I suspect that when it originally opened it must have been a dry dusty place, trees were sparse in the early Johannesburg, so these would have been planted much later, leaving the legacy of green that we have today. The cemetery is laid out along a single road that heads west towards the railway lines that ran from Braamfontein yards through to Sturrock Park.
Cemetery Plan (JHB City Parks)

Cemetery Plan (JHB City Parks)

On either side of this road the various sections are laid out. Turning right at the Dynamite Memorial,  the cemetery extends Northwards before petering out at the fence at Enoch Sontonga Ave. On either side of this short road is the  African and other “non white” sections. An extensive Anglo Boer War Plot is also found along this road.
At some point in our history the African section was ploughed under and all that remains now is the Enoch Sontonga Memorial and a green field.
The grave site of Enoch Sontonga

The grave site of Enoch Sontonga

The cemetery filled up very rapidly, and by 1910 the “New Cemetery” was opened, and burials in Braamfontein were scaled down. However, this the place where the founders of Johannesburg have come to rest. Within it’s walls are soldiers from the ABW, Rand Revolt, 1907 strike, WW1, WW2 and the Border War. There is a VC holder, the Foster Gang, a Titanic victim is mentioned in it, there are at least 4 baronets, a cartoonist, Edgar Wallace’s daughter, 6 unknown Indian soldiers, the writer of our national anthem, a famous artist and her family, the 1896 dynamite explosion memorial, 3 conscientious objectors, a Muslim cemetery next to a Jewish cemetery, a famous poet, a family of stone masons who made many of the monuments in it, the founder of a pasta company, and a burgher from the Boer War. And those are just the things I can think about off the top of my head. 
Braamfontein from the air

Braamfontein from the air

It has some magnificent artwork in it, and a collection of headstones that are still legible 100 years after they were erected. In some areas the trees have grown into each other and make some areas dark and dingy. During a storm it can be a fearsome place,  yet it can have moods that make you gasp in amazement. 
I have seen the early registers, and from what I can see the first person officially buried there was a little boy called John, who was buried 9 April 1888, in grave number 1. He was only 1 year, 11 months and 10 days old. The grave is close to the office, in the area set aside for “Pioneers graves”.
The Coffin Rest

The Coffin Rest

The cemetery has seen a lot of strife too and contains 77 Commonwealth burials from the Second World War and 11 from the First World War, with roughly 400 Boer War graves within its walls.  There is also a large Police plot where many of the casualties from the 1922 Rand Revolt are buried. And, I believe many of the miners that died in the revolt are also buried in unmarked graves along the fence. 
The Police Plot

The Police Plot

There is also an extensive Jewish area in the cemetery, which was always maintained in an immaculate condition up till recently. And in my recent explorations I have been able to see so many of the graves of the early Jewish community from Johannesburg.  
The Jewish Cemetery

The Jewish Cemetery

It is very difficult to show the cemetery in all its glory. Cemeteries are the type of places that you only visit on rare occasions, and only those who explore them can really appreciate the history and beauty inside of them. Taphophiles generally understand the nature of places like this, and Braamfontein is a very popular destination for day tours. As morbid as it sounds, there is no other place where you can experience your own mortality when in the midst of so much death.  
 Random Images
DRW © 2012-2018. Images recreated 25/03/2016, new images added 22/01/2017, added link 04/03/2018
Updated: 05/03/2018 — 07:25

Finding Julius Jeppe. 06-11-2011

While reading a book of old postcards about Johannesburg I was surprised to find them mention a memorial at Jeppestown Oval. Naturally my first instinct was “War Memorial?”, my second was “When?” That area isn’t on my usual gravehunting route, in fact there is very little in the way of exciting memorials out between Johannesburg and Eastgate, and those that there are I have already visited. The major memorials are: The Bezuidenhout Valley War Memorial, the Scottish Horse Memorial on Caledonia Hill, and The Indian Army Memorial on Observatory Ridge.  However, some research indicated that this was not a war memorial, but rather a memorial to Julius Jeppe. Rand pioneer and manager of Jeppe’s Township.
Seeing as I had a lunch date for the 6th of November I set up my untrustworthy GPS and made a detour. I usually drop off the highway at End Street and head East along Commissioner Street on the rare occasions when I head out this way. I usually keep my camera handy too because there are some real oldies in this area just crying out to be preserved, if not in real life, but as a jpg. The area I was after is called “Jeppestown Oval” which is a park, and probably was a popular recreational area in the very early days of Johannesburg. Today it looks like two basketball courts and a recreation centre.      

Memorial to Julius Jeppe at the Jeppestown Oval

The memorial itself is in a reasonably good condition, considering it supposedly was erected in 1892. Somehow though that date doesn’t quite fit, but until I know otherwise I will assume that my source is correct. The inscription is difficult to read, especially the date on it which could read 1893 or 1895. Luckily somebody else has transcribed it before, but in short it reads…. 


In Memory Of
Julius GEC Jeppe
The founder of Jeppestown

Lives of all good men remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time.

Footprints that perhaps another
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main;
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Mark one more notch on the belt as they say, yet another memorial has been documented. While I was in that area I decided more pics were in order. There are a large amount of churches around here too, and some are really old and are no longer used by the denomination that they were originally built for. My personal favourite is on the corner of Mordaunt and Commissioner and the street front is only a small portion of this stunning oldie. This building was the former St Andrews Presbyterian Church, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1903. Interestingly enough this is the church that the Transvaal Scottish used for their annual service from 1950 until 1990 when the congregation amalgamated and the church was sold. 
Just around the corner in “Op De Bergen” and Corrie Streets is the stunning old Dutch Reformed Church dating from 1906. 
Former Dutch Reformed Church in Fairview

Former Dutch Reformed Church in Fairview

And, within site of the Jeppestown Oval is the Assembly of God Portuguese Community Church, another pretty old building that is still in use. I believe it was originally a synagogue.

Assembly of God Portuguese Community Church

To crown off my trip I grabbed a few pics in and around the area. Nothing like I could have, because the whole area is in dire need of research. Maybe one day in December when things are nice and quiet I will grab my camera and map book and go hunt down more oldies. I know that they are there.

Commissioner Street looking West from Fairview

Looking towards Yeoville from Troyeville

Looking up towards Observatory Ridge

Jacarandas in Kensington

That concluded my trip to find Julius Jeppe. Naturally its always interesting to put something tangible like this to a name. That whole area still carries his name in many ways. Jeppe High School, Jeppe Station, Jeppe Street, Jeppestown etc. I seem to think he is buried in Braamfontein Cemetery, so next time I am in that area I will go have a look. You never know, this page may still have an addendum.

I was correct, Julius Jeppe is buried in Braamfontein Cemetery, and the date that I am questioning is probably 1893, as the date on his grave is 16 June 1893.

 DRW © 2011-2019. Images recreated 19/03/2016  
Updated: 08/04/2019 — 19:15

The Braamfontein Dynamite Explosion

One of the many events that occurred in the fledgling city of Johannesburg was the Dynamite Explosion that occurred on 19 February 1896 at Braamfontein Station. A memorial was erected in Braamfontein Cemetery to commemorate the event, and the over 70 people that lost their lives in it. An explosives train, carrying dynamite, had been left standing for 3 days in searing heat in what was then Braamfontein goods yard; the massive explosion occurred when this train was struck by another that was shunting. It left a crater over 60 m long and 8 m deep and was heard 200 km away. The exact number of casualties was never ascertained, and over 200 people were seriously injured. Some 3 000 people lost their homes and almost every window in the town was shattered. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact site where the explosion occurred but a period map puts it on the bend where Braamfontein Vapour Depot now stands.

I have spotted at least 5 physical graves in Braamfontein cemetery that have explosion related inscriptions on them, and it is probable that most of the casualties are buried in this cemetery, the majority of the funerals being held on the 20th and 21st of February. I can physically identify 46 names in the registers as being marked as “dynamite explosion”, and all are buried in the DR section. There is also supposedly a mass grave in this plot where unidentified severed limbs are buried.


Apart from the devastation that the explosion created, it would have also tested the fledgling cities ability to manage a disaster of this magnitude. Braamfontein Cemetery was relatively new when this happened and it would be here that the victims wee buried. It is certain that there were African victims too, and they are also probably buried here in an area that has been ploughed under. I was not able to check against the register because I did not find a register for that area. There may also be victims buried in the Jewish section of the cemetery, but the register for that was not available at the time.  It is an interesting piece of history though, albeit one that has been almost forgotten.

© DR Walker  2011-2018. Recreated and expanded 23/05/2016. 

Updated: 24/12/2017 — 10:32
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