Africana Notes

Story of Barnato Park

The park laid out by Barney Barnato never became his home. Rather, the grounds and mansion were donated to be used as a school.




The gates to the Barnato Park mansion

The gates to the Barnato Park mansion

THE Johannesburg Historical Society was inaugurated in 1969 with an exhibition in the main hall of the Johannesburg Public Library that displayed many facets of early Johannesburg. To coincide with this exhibition, a number of the more photographically minded members of the executive committee produced a recorded slide programme entitled "Glimpses of Old Johannesburg". To get information and pictorial records of the first and early schools of our city, I undertook to research this aspect. This led me particularly to the early history of Fanny Buckland, and the development of Cleveland High School, which later became Barnato Park School for Girls, and finally, Johannesburg High School for Girls.


It is reported that Miss Buckland arrived in Johannesburg in 1887, a few months after it had celebrated its first birthday. She was advised to call on a Mrs AD Alexander with a view to making arrangements to teach her daughter, who later became Mrs Isobel Levy. Her second daughter, the now well-known Muriel Alexander, was far too young at the stage to attend school. Alexander generously offered Buckland one of her living rooms and also gave her permission to bring as many other pupils as she could collect to be taught with her daughter. To understand Alexander's generosity, one must realise that there were no houses worthy of the name at that time and the room given to Buckland was the chief one in a wattle and daub construction. The ceiling was of calico and flopped about in the wind. This was dining room, school room and music room all in one.


As families began to arrive and the numbers of children increased, Miss Buckland found it necessary to engage a bigger room, and as buildings were beginning to spring up, she was able to extend her activities firstly in a building believed to be in the vicinity of the present Attwell Gardens and later in a galvanised iron room in Kerk Street belonging to the Baptist Church. Teaching was carried on in this little church for several years until they were threatened with eviction as the owners required this building for their own use.


This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because at the time Buckland had a friend, Mrs Henry Cleveland Perkins, who had been interested in education in the United States and wished to do something for Johannesburg before she and her husband left the Rand. Three stands was bought for her in Leijds Street, the site of the present School of Domestic Science, and Frank Scott was appointed the architect to plan and build a two-storied building with a wing on either side of the main block. But due to various circumstances, this plan was not completed. However, a temporary galvanised iron classroom was set up on the grounds and an adjacent cottage was acquired to house the overflow. Buckland decided to name the school after Perkins' only son, Cleveland, and it bore this name of many years in grateful remembrance of the donor.


While perusing these old school records in the head mistress's office and school library, I was pleasantly surprised to see four large watercolours hanging in the corridor leading into the library itself. These works depicted a well-laid out, large ornamental garden, with small and fully grown trees and lawn. One painting, reproduced here, was of an entrance gate into the park, flanked by two magnificent white and red pillars. On the top of each was a large wrought iron light fitting. Another, also reproduced here, showed what appeared to be an artificially built lake surrounded by garden, trees, a bridge and a rowing boat moored at a small island in the centre. On each of these works was affixed at the bottom of an old wooden frame "Barnato Park CH Maltby 1897" (see illustrations). These paintings, I was informed by the headmistress, JK Glanfield, had been there as long as she and her predecessors could remember. This prompted me to search further, firstly into the origin of Barnato Park as depicted in these water colours before it became a seat of learning, and secondly, into the artist, Maltby.


Barnato Park is closely linked to the early history of Johannesburg, and particularly with that dynamic and colourful randlord, Barney Barnato. This fascinating personality was born Barnett Isaacs in the poor East End Jewish quarter of London. After reading and hearing about the Diamond Rush in Kimberley, he arrived in Cape Town to seek his fortune in South Africa, reputedly with £30 in his pocket and some 40 boxes of doubtful cigars to sell provided by his brother-in-law Joel in London (The Great Barnato, by S Jackson, 197 p20). In a comparatively short time he became famous in Kimberley not only as a diamond dealer but also as an actor and pugilist. He amassed quite a fortune in the diamond town, and soon became a senior director of the wealthy De Beer's Group. He was later appointed with Cecil Rhodes as a life governor. Following news of a Gold Rush on the Rand, he migrated to Johannesburg in 1888 and very soon became involved in many large mining, financial and property deals.


Barnato was one of the founders of JCI, Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company. In 1892, one of its subsidiaries, the Johannesburg Waterworks and Exploration Company, bought 117 morgen of the farm Doornfontein from Mr Bezuidenhout for £5 000. Johannesburg's first reservoir was built on a portion of this land in Harrow Road, where the suburbs of Berea and Yeoville were subsequently established.


Barnato, according to JCI's 1897 Report, lived in Norman House in 1897, a large house in End Street, which was famous for his business breakfasts. Later, it became the fashionable residence of the Dale Laces, and later still the well-known Norman Nursing home. But to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Johannesburg business centre, Barnato acquired 11 acres of what became Berea Avenue. Here he laid out a park; he also planned an £8 000 mansion modelled on a similar house in England, presumably as a country residence, but he never saw it finished – the year before it was completed Barnato died at sea under tragic circumstances.

But the questions that fascinated me were: who was Maltby and who commissioned him to paint these four delightful and historic watercolours of Barnato Park in 1897, or did he merely paint them for his own pleasure?



The trees in these paintings appear to be about six or seven years old. We know that Barnato came to Johannesburg in 1888, so that the park was planned and laid out in the early 1890s. This is substantiated by a note in the journal South Africa of 4 February in 1893; under the column "News from South Africa" we read that "Mr BI Barnato in South Africa has purchased 10 fine stands to the North of Joubert's Park and will build a house there which will probably be the finest on the Rand." References to Maltby were found in a thesis by EP Engel entitled "Die Ontwikkeling van die Skilderkuns in Johannesburg van die Begin tot 1920", an abbreviated translation of which into English was published in Africana Notes and News, volume 15, 1963, p267. In this thesis, reference is made to Maltby in the following sources: Diggers' News 26 November 1889; Standard and Diggers' News 19 September 1896; and Standard and Diggers' News 28 November 1891.


Barnato Park in 1896

Barnato Park in 1896

With the kind help of the Johannesburg Reference Library staff, I got two copies of an advertisement and a write-up of Matlby's studio. On 28 November 1891, The Standard and Diggers' News reported:


"Painting Lessons

"Mr CH Maltby begs to notify that he is prepared to give lessons in Oil and Water Colour Painting Architectural and Perspective Drawing.

"For terms apply MASONIC HOTEL or P.O. Box 2578"

"On 19 September 1896, the following article appears:


"It is a bit of a climb to Mr Maltby's studio in the stately Markham Tower in Pritchard Street, and once the ascent is made the visitor feels quite puffed out with pride at the feat he has accomplished and with pleasure at the glorious view before him.


"The beautiful country surrounding Johannesburg is seen from the lofty open windows in one great magnificent landscape. Mr Maltby and his brother-in-art, Mr Farquhar have the artist's favourite north light to work by, while the beauty of the view and the stimulus of the clear, pure atmosphere, are no doubt calculated to influence in no small degree the character, and the quality of the artist's productions. The decorations of the rooms are a reflection of the taste of the occupier. There are not many pictures on view, for Messrs Maltby and Farquhar's work is in too great a demand to leave them with any for exhibition, but the former has a beautiful water-colour sketch upon his easel, which gives prompt intimation of the skill and taste of the artist."


I contacted Engel, the head of the department of fine arts at the Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit – today the University of Johannesburg, to determine if he knew more about this artist and if he knew of any other works by him. He was unable to provide any additional information. I also placed a small article in our local press to enquire from readers if I could obtain any more details concerning his family, his descendants or any extant works by him, but again with no success.



It is interesting to note from the article describing his studio that Markham's Tower in Eloff Street is mentioned as an artist's studio. Cuthbert's Tower in the same street on the opposite corner was well known as a studio since the days of Amschewitz, Emily Fern and others. I decided to visit this tower and I made the ascent on a somewhat rickety wooden ladder. The tower still exists with its loft, the walls of which are wooden, and there is still evidence of some sketches and floral designs on these wooden walls by artists who worked there, according to the information given to me by the guide, an employee of the present clothing store. Perhaps readers of this article may provide additional information about Maltby or at least evidence of additional works by him.


After Barnato's death, his nephew, Solly Joel, inherited Barnato Park and the famous mansion erected on it come to be known as Joel House. In 1902, one of the first boys' schools opened in Kerk Street, Johannesburg, known as Johannesburg College. It grew large enough to be moved to larger premises and in 1904 it was transferred to Barnato Park, which Joel leased to the government. Here the boys' school grew even larger until it had to find new premises. It moved to its present site in Houghton, to become the well-known King Edward VII School for Boys, or KES.


From the early days in the daub and wattle one room school of Fanny Buckland in the Alexander residence to the Cleveland High School for Girls in Leijds Street, this girls' school also expanded rapidly and when Johannesburg College in Barnato Park moved out, Joel gave Barnato Park with its 11 acres to the government to commemorate the Union of South Africa in 1910. It was soon after this, in 1912, that Cleveland High School moved to Barnato Park. It was named Johannesburg High School for Girls at its official opening on 10 December 1913.



I wish to thank the following people and libraries for invaluable assistance in providing such important and relevant information, to enable me to record this fascinating story of Barnato Park. Firstly, Mrs JK Glanfield, the present headmistress of Johannesburg High School for Girls, who kindly allowed me full access to the school's old magazines and archives and who also granted me permission to have two of the Maltby watercolours reproduced.


The Strange Library of Africana and the Michaelis Art Library were most helpful in finding the reference that led me to identify CH Maltby in the old Standard and Diggers newspapers and my grateful thanks to the microfilm section of the Johannesburg Reference Library for locating the actual reference and making copies of them.


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