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Saturday, January 6, 2018 - 14:10

An interesting collection of Johannesburg, Transvaal and South African printed photographic albums has recently come to light*. Kathy Munro was lucky enough to be able to photograph over four hundred images from the various albums including some from an 1892 volume on Johannesburg produced by the Davies Brothers. A few of these early images along with notes from Munro have been reproduced in the article below. 

Johannesburg was a photogenic place and its birth and growth coincided with the coming of age of the camera and the photograph. It did not take long for professional photographers to take up residence and show off the new town in its modern splendour as roads and buildings crept over the veld and koppies. Black and white photographs were the primary métier but sometimes a photo could be hand coloured. Souvenir albums of variable sizes and types were speedily produced in book form, usually with handsome covers to be carried home by ambitious gold seekers, intrepid travellers and adventurous hunters. Home could be another part of South Africa, somewhere in Europe or America or right here at the mining camp.

Photographs of Johannesburg are important documentary evidence of change and together with early diaries and letters give a first hand insight into the layout of the streets and the rapid move from temporary single story structures to permanent prosperous business buildings, commercial enterprises, shops, banks and mansions. There is an immediacy in the photograph in giving us a record of Johannesburg "then".  

By the late 19th century there were hundreds of photographers active in South Africa (click here for a list). On this list the name Davies appears as Davies Bros. P.O. Box 89, Pritchard Street, Johannesburg 1892-97, but recorded as "moved to 61 Pritchard Street, Johannesburg 1897-99." There was also a photographer with the name Davies, Davis H. 568 Pritchard Street, Johannesburg 1888-91. Although there is no indication as to possible links, it is possible that Davis H Davies was one of the Davies Brothers.


Album Cover


As one can see from the title of the album, the identity of the town was defined by the emerging gold mines. In nine photographs it presents the latest and best of Johannesburg of the early 1890s.


'Morning Market Johannesburg'  


Market Square lay at the hub of the central district of Johannesburg. It was the heart of the new town. By 1892 Johannesburg provided a flourishing market for local farms and a variety of provisions were brought into town on ox wagons, donkey carts and horse drawn cabs. Access via wagon and cart from every compass point was essential. The most desirable business stands were those surrounding the square. Market Square was a vast expanse of open land bounded by Market Street to the south, President Street to the north, Rissik Street to the east and Sauer Street to the west. 


'Public Buildings'


The photograph above is labelled Public Buildings and usefully the original owner of the album has penned numbers and names to buildings. These are buildings that surrounded Market Square. 

  1. Post office on Rissik Street. This is the post office that preceded the Sytze Wierda Rissik Street Post Office we know today. Picton Seymour describes it as "an official building of early Republican classicism"
  2. Landrost Court 
  3. Mining Commissioner's Office 
  4. Grand National Hotel 
  5. Arcade Buildings


'Commissioner Street'


In this photograph Commissioner Street has been labelled with:

  1. Ecksteins Corner (see below) 
  2. Commercial Buildings (also see below) 
  3. Rand Club - The Second Rand Club was situated at 96-98 Commissioner Street. The architects were A H Reid and McCowat and it opened on 1 Feb 1890. It was on the same site as the First Rand Club. It was the most important club of its era and it was here that the Uitlander Reform Committee plotted the overthrow of the Kruger government that led to the disaster of the Jameson Raid. See Gerhard-Mark van der Waal's From Mining Camp to Metropolis (p 31) for discussion of the structure. Its distinctive features were the verandahs, central turret above the entrance, cast iron roof railings and pinnacles. 
  4. J Kincaid Auctioneers.   


'Palace Buildings'


Palace Building was constructed in 1889 on the corner of Pritchard and Rissik Streets. The architects were S Donaldson and H Lindhorst. In Johannesburg Style Chipkin describes the building as a three storey building, with a corner spire reaching the grand height of 93 feet. It is ornate and elaborate with its gable dormers. Chipkin calls this a secular confectionary turret. In From Mining Camp to Metropolis, van der Waal quotes The Star from 1890 where some visitors to Johannesburg described the town as "a curious town in which the stores have spires but the churches none." 


'Stock Exchange Corner'


  1. Ecksteins (between the chains ): "between the chains" referred to the famous closed off section of Simmonds Street designated for open air share trading.
  2. Commercial Buildings, located at 84 Commissioner Street, dates from 1890. The building was designed by Canning and Goad. Van der Waal quotes The Star for 1890 which described the building as follows: "It is designed in a style which may be described as Free Classic Architecture, a style which may be adapted for a building on a small stand in which multimedia in parvo (small but comprehensive ) is to be obtained and where no broad monumental treatment of the facades is possible)."  
  3. Bettelheims Building, seen in the distance, was located on the corner of Commissioner and Fox Streets. It was designed by Canning and Goad in 1889. The facade of the building was placed almost entirely over the pavement, giving an almost Parisian ambience and reminiscent of the Rue de Rivoli. Van der Waal makes the point that the arches at street level were too overpowering. Bettelheim's own home was located in Doornfontein with its distinctive Ottoman style as he was the Honorary Ottoman consul and early  Johannesburg  pioneer of note (click here for details).



'The  Globe Theatre' 


The Globe Theatre was built in 1889 and was located at 47-49 Fox Street. A classical style building, the scarcity of building materials did not prevent the construction of an imposing frontage with impressive effects archived in brick and plaster. The Globe was perhaps the most impressive, important and best documented of the three theaters  of Johannesburg of the 1890s. It caught fire soon after it opened in 1889 but had been rebuilt by 1892 (for more information see van der Waal p 61, 63).


'The New Stock Exchange'


This was Johannesburg's second Stock Exchange located at 69-75 Commissioner Street (corner Simmonds Street). It was built in 1889/1890 and designed by the architects Lennox, Canning and Goad. It replaced the First Stock Exchange Building which lasted a mere two years. The building has a two storey, highly ornate and ornamented facade with shops on the ground floor. One reached the three storey trading hall through the main entrance (for more information see van der Waal, p 32). 


'The Grand National Hotel'


The Grand National Hotel (circa 1888-1891) was located at 50-54 Rissik Street and designed by J S Donaldson. Van der Waal points out that the style of the hotel was picturesque and as much a shopping centre as a hotel with shops on the ground floor. In the 1930s the hotel was replaced by the Grand National Building designed by J C Cook and Cowen (also demolished). 


'Ecksteins Buildings'


This was the Second Corner House designed by W M Philip. The plan was dated April 1889 and the address was 77-79 Commissioner Street. The title Corner House was used for the preeminent and successful mining house, founded  by  Hermann Eckstein. This was one of Johannesburg's first three storey buildings with high varandahs without pillars on the ground floor. Within a decade it was replaced by the Third Corner House.

* These albums, a collection of about twenty books, will be sold on the Jelly Fish Tree online auction sale at the end of January 2018 (click here to view website). Each one will be sold separately and the market will determine who is the highest bidder and hence the happy new owner. I am sad that an impressive collection will be broken up and scattered. It would be brilliant if the collection went to a public institution, the Johannesburg Public Library or a University archive. I was privileged to be invited by James Findlay of Jelly Fish Tree auctions to inspect these volumes and decided to make a systematic record of these photographs, specifically of early Johannesburg. I have now taken about 400 photographs of these original photographs. The collection as a whole captures Johannesburg from approximately 1889 to circa 1910. There is one album from the mid 1930s, which shows a far more developed city of skyscrapers. Collectively the earlier volumes give an overview of Johannesburg in the first 25 years of its existence. All the familiar street names are there (Commissioner, Market, Pritchard, Eloff, Rissik, Main, Marshall etc.). The city shows a fascinating mix of residential buildings, early hotels, civil and government administrative buildings, commercial buildings, banks, emerging mining houses, theatres, shops and clubs. The working mines also feature. 

Kathy Munro is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. She enjoyed a long career as an academic and in management at Wits University. She trained as an economic historian. She is an enthusiastic book person and has built her own somewhat eclectic book collection over 40 years. Her interests cover Africana, Johannesburg history, history, art history, travel, business and banking histories.  She researches and writes on historical architecture and heritage matters. She is a member of the Board of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and is a docent at the Wits Arts Museum. She is currently working on a couple of projects on Johannesburg architects and is researching South African architects, war cemeteries and memorials. Kathy is a member of the online book community the Library thing and recommends this cataloging website and worldwide network as a book lover's haven.


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