Philip Joseph “Hercules” Robinson (1878 – ????)

Philip was born in September 1878, the only son of Andrew and Sarah. His father, a milkman, died when he was about 5 years old, and his mother subsequently remarried when he was about eight. When he is 18 his mother is widowed again when his stepfather, Johan Georg Conradie, died. Philip trained to be a butcher but at 19 he joins the Netherlands-South African Railway Company as a fireman. This railway operated in the Transvaal from Pretoria to Delagoa Bay, in modern-day Mozambique – quite a way from Kimberley and we don’t yet know how he came to work there.

On the outbreak of the Anglo Boer war, he is forced to return to Kimberley where on 3 September 1900 he joined the Cape Police, a mounted military force, and also served in the Special Cape Police Contingent. There is a question mark over his time in the Cape Police as there is more than a suggestion that it was not long before he was discharged for misconduct. Whatever transpired there, on 9 May 1902 he joined the Kimberley Horse and his attestation papers describe him as six feet tall, weighing 169 pounds (12st 1lb or 76.7kg) with a 39 inch (99cm) chest. He had dark hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion. He gives 12 Lawson Street, Kimberley where his mother lives as his address after discharge. This paper also lists service in the Imperial Light Horse but no other evidence supports this at present. However, it would be convenient if proved true because the ILH was at Harrismith for a significant period from late 1901, during which time it has to be assumed he met his future bride; Louisa Johanna Anderson, born there in 1884.

Three weeks after joining the Kimberley Horse, on 31 May 1902, the war ended. Philip and Louisa were married within a year.

They were wed on 27 April 1903 in Harrismith. Curiously the marriage entry at the local Dutch Reformed Church not only gives the town as the residence for both Philip and Louisa, it adds the name Hercules to Philip Joseph. At no other time is he referred to as PJH Robinson, but his signature (apart from the extra “H”) does match that on both the Cape Police and Kimberley Horse attestation papers.

The couple had six children, at least the last two of which were born at Harrismith between about 1912 and 1915. We would naturally guess that the older four were also born there, but the recent discovery of his son Ralph’s marriage record giving his place of birth as East Africa and the De Beers archive also showing an 18 month period of employment for a Philip Joseph Robinson between 1905 and 1906 means we cannot be certain. On 13 March 1905 he is taken on as a guard at the Bultfontein Mine Compound. He is then transferred to De Beers Floors as an overseer on 26 June 1905 and was discharged on 22 August 1906. He rejoins the railways at some point though, which after Union in 1910 had become South African Railways. He was still with the SAR when Louisa died on 19 October 1920 at 44 Lawson Street, Kimberley, aged just 36. A note on her estate file, handwritten by Philip, states that although a Licensed Stand at 112 Bultfontein Road is listed as an asset, it was sold prior to her death to meet medical expenses during her long illness. Again, with South African death notices not showing a cause of death, we can only speculate as to what this long illness was.

The marriage of his youngest son, Philip Benjamin Robinson, in 1935 appears to have been the spark for the major rift that split the family. He did not approve of his son’s choice of bride (her family weren’t overly enthusiastic either) and although they stayed in the family home (still 44 Lawson Street) for a while, even after the birth of their son (my father) in October 1936, things came to a head and Philip Benjamin moved his wife and child out, eventually getting a transfer to Port Elizabeth. It is believed they never spoke again.

What happens to Philip Joseph after this remains something of a mystery, although a Philip Joseph Robinson is cited as the surviving spouse in the death notice of Jacoba Maria Botha née van den Heever who died 26 April 1945 from whom he was divorced. They had no children (it was her second marriage too, her first husband had died in 1928). Philip would have been about 66 at the time of her death.

No death record for Philip has yet been found but he is said to have been living in Pretoria at an old age.

(last updated 30 March 2015)

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