George Herbert Kingswell

Born, 20 July 1867, Kew, Invercargill, New Zealand.
Married to Winifred Maude Adams, South Africa
Died, 23 June 1931, Cape Town, South Africa

As yet I know little of Winifred Maude Kingswell (nee Adams) other than she was known as a talented sportswoman, especially in cricket, and that she died around 1938.

Children of George and Winifred:

  1. William Ernest “Billy” Kingswell. At some point a vineyard owner in the Costantia Valley of Capetown. Appears to have been the Commodore of the Royal Cape Yacht Club and was a Director of the South African Associated Newspapers Ltd. May have married Sarah Ann Collins – who died 1946. Did not have children.
  2. Maude Kingswell. Apparently, she married more than once but did not have children. One marriage was to Cecil A B Thurburn and subsequently to Adrianus Van Harmelen.
  3. Winifred “Winnie” Kingswell. She married Mr Radloff, a farmer near the boarder of Orange Free State Province of South Africa and Lestho. She was known as the pioneer of women’s cricket, and became the first president of the Peninsula Ladies Cricket Club that was formed in 1932. Since there was no national governing body in South Africa at that time, this club affiliated to the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA) in England. It was the only recognized body at the time. Women played regularly in the Western Province, and a provincial association was formed in 1934.
  4. Elma Kingswell. Twin sister of Eva. Author of Kingswell, War Correspondent the biography of George Herbert Kingswell. Captained the South African Women’s Hockey team and very involved in the Gardens Hockey Club in Capetown. Active in other sports; tennis, swimming, and cricket. Did not marry and died in the family home of ‘Montrose’ in Main Street, Newlands, Capetown on 15 June 1978.
  5. Eva Kingswell. Twin sister of Elma. Equally as active in sports has her twin. Also, did not marry and died, prior to 1978, in the family home of ‘Montrose’.

Above: Left to Right: George, Elma or Eva (twins), Winifred, Mrs Kingswell, Elma or Eva (twins), Maude, William.

The following biographical information is based on:

  • Kingswell, War Correspondent the biography of George Herbert Kingswell, written by his daughter Elma Kingswell. It would be fair to say that her book is both flattering and progressively less credible. All the pictures on this page are from this book.
  • The Dictionary of South African biography. His entry obtained information about George’s early life directly from Kingswell, War Correspondent but progressively from more reliable sources.
  • New Zealand and Australian newspaper articles, although coverage fades from around 1906 – by which time he is well established in South Africa.

Over six feet tall with a mighty stutter and matching temper

George Herbert Kingswell was born in 1867, the last of ten children, in Kew, Invercargill, New Zealand. Unlike some of his older siblings he would have enjoyed life in a very wealthy family environment where his father was both a very successful sheep farmer and equally successful business man with interests in fellomongery, local rail, and property development.

In the Dictionary of South African biography it is said that he attended school with Ernest Rutherford (physicist and Nobel prizewinner). While it is true that George’s older brother, William, was briefly at Nelson College this was some years before Ernest attended. There is no evidence that George attended Nelson Collage and he if he did spend time there the years of his education would not have overlapped with Ernest Rutherford. George appears in the list of old boys of Otago Boys High – which was much closer to his parents home and without (to date) any Nobel laureates.

In Kingswell, War Correspondent his late teens are described as being sent to Cheltenham College in England – in part as punishment for accidentally shooting his older brother Will in the leg while possum hunting. While no evidence for this shooting incident survives it does seem in character. He does not appear in the comprehensive listings of the “Cheltenham College Register, 1841-1889” nor are there any supporting shipping records of his (or other Kingswell’s) overseas travels around this time. After six months he was expelled for striking his house master who had teased him over stuttering. Again, no evidence for this exists but given he would later, as an adult, publicly punch Sir George Grey for the same offence this seems likely!

In February 1884 (George is then aged 17) he gives evidence in a civil case of Ferguson v. Kingswell, in the Residents Magistrate’s Court, in defense of his brother, Edwin Kingswell, who had ‘collected’ four extra head of cattle while driving his own herd down Myross Bush, in Southland. (source; Southland Times, 23 February 1884, page 2)

According to Kingswell, War Correspondent, and repeated in the The Dictionary of South African biography, when he returned to New Zealand he was sent to Lincoln Agricultural College but only managed a year. However, he doesn’t appear in the records of (as it is now known) Lincoln University.

Around the age of eighteen (about 1885) he took up an apprenticeship in the Works Department (presumably the printing section) of the Otago Witness newspaper. Quickly, he learnt that the editorial and news gathering side of the trade was of much greater interest to him. Three months later he had managed to become a junior reporter at the Otago Witness. This was also around the time his father gave each of his sons £5,000 and after six months as a reporter George decided to become a man of leisure. The two years that followed where of extravagance, the racecourse and unsuccessful stock speculation. Before he turned twenty-one years of age he was in debt.

The gift of £5,000 to each of his sons is supported by oral family history, the abundance of evidence that George’s father had amassed such a fortune, and the soon to be implemented estate duties on inheritances. George’s squandering of this gift was also matched by two of his other brothers.

Feeling guilty, or not brave enough to face his father, George radically changed his lifestyle. Towards the end of the 1880s New Zealand was in a deep recession and it can not have been easy for to make his own way. He returned to writing newspaper stories for the Otago Witness, and working as ticket collector and shop agent as well. According to Kingswell, War Correspondent, he somehow also managed to collect a Bachelor of Arts – however this is unlikely to be true as he does not appear as a student at any NZ University College nor in the nationally reported exam results or graduations.

In his twenty-first year (about 1888) he decides to leave New Zealand. While he probably meant to return he was not to do so. He tries his luck as a journalist in Sydney, Australia. He works as a reporter for the Sydney Bulletin (aprox. 1888-89) then Newcastle Herald (aprox. 1889-90). After writing a series of articles on Newcastle coal mines he wrote Coal Mines of Newcastle in 1890. It is not clear where or when he picked up is knowledge or interest in coal or mining in general but by age 23 he was a ‘published’ expert.

It is hard to determine which of the following events are true, what is clear is that in the decade leading up to 1900 George had a great adventure:

  • Moved to Hong Kong as a foreign news-writer for an english gazette (not yet identifed). It was here that he learnt that he had won the Tattersall Sweep on the Melbourne Cup (famous annual horse race). He reckoned that with this he had amassed a £100,000 fortune. I have my doubts here and wonder exactly how large his worth was and if in fact he had received a large inheritance from NZ when his father died in 1888 (who coincidentally died the same evening after attending the Melbourne Cup).
  • He claims he was a war correspondent for an unknown publication covering the Chilean Civil War (January – September 1891, the Valparaiso Rebellion). Little is known of this period other than he was apprently condemned to death for carrying arms as a war correspondent and for having taken part in the Rebellion under the camouflage of the Press. It appears that he had taken side with the rioters. He was imprisoned for some time and managed to escape helped by a bribe.
  • In Australia he works for a while as a journalist for the Melbourne Age. Soon afterwards employed as a leading reporter on the Sydney Daily Telegraph and as the Sydney correspondent for the Newcastle Herald.
  • He makes investments in Coal Companies and with some, in his daughters words, ‘colossal luck’ he had developed a small fortune. This could be true as his talent in producing an apprently credible book on coal suggests that he had at least some well placed sources of information on which to speculate.
  • In America as a news-writer for the San Francisco Call. Soon afterwards, employed by a syndicate of American newspapers, to cover a botanical expedition up the Amazon River. Then returning to the San Francisco Call.
  • While in the USA we worked with O. Henry (William Porter) – who was a famous short story writer at the time.
  • In August 1894. The outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war had him back in China and later on to Yokohama Japan as a war correspondent.
  • In December 1895 George returned to Australia and chose to chase the gold-rushes of Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie in Western Australia as editor of the Courier Press, Goldfields Chronicle and the Golden Age.
  • In 1896 he went into partnership to purchase the Coolgardie Miner. Followed soon afterwards by forming his own company to launch the Goldfields Morning Chronicle – from the offices of the Golden Age where he was still editor. These ventures where followed by his launch of the weekly Western Australian Goldfields Courier and a greater and controlling share of the Coolgardie Miner and Pioneer. In 1897 the gold rush was over and with no advertising revenues his newspapers where placed into bankruptcy. He had only just turned thirty and he had lost his second fortune!
  • On the collapse of Coolgardie George traveled to New York, America, to take up the position of news-writer on the New York Herald.
  • As a mining correspondent for the Australian Press (ie freelance) he went chasing the gold rush in Klondyke Alaska. Reaching Dyea Alaska in August 1897. To supporting himself as a journalist he took to trading fur coats. By mid-1898 he was back as editor of the Coolgardie Miner in Western Australia.
  • But, by late 1898 the Coolgardie Miner and George were bankrupt
  • He spent two years as a reporter at London’s Morning Post, and in this capacity covered the opening of the Paris Exhibition in France (which would places this between 1898 to 1900)
  • Or, maybe it was with the Daily Telegraph for the same period of time. As this newspaper posted him to South Africa to report on the Second Anglo-Boar War (1899-1902).

George arrives in Durban, South Africa 6 March 1900. He accompanies Sir Redvers Buller’s forces in Natal and into the Orange Free State, reaching Pretoria on 5 May 1900 with Lord Robert’s army. His articles criticising Buller had been suppressed and rejected and George makes his own way to Cape Town. In Cape Town he settles briefly, he contributes to the local newspapers and then buys a weekly, The Owl. This newspaper thrives with circulation increasing from 1,000 to 15,000.

On the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 George accepts a post as war correspondent for the Daily Mail (London). He travels with A. G. Hales but finds the Japanese refuse to allow them near the front. Before long George is locked up by the Japanese – the result of attempting to take pictures of the Japanese navel fleet in harbour. It is reported that he manages to escape custody and makes his way to China. It seems more probable that he is effectively deported there by the Japanese (Japan and Engand are allies at this time).

In China he chooses to prospect for coal! Presumably this is unsuccessful. For reasons not identified – but likely to be because the Japanase have identified him has pro-Russian in outlook and suspious in news grathering activities – he embarks on an epic journey across the Gobi Desert, then across Lake Baikal, through Siberia to Russia. From Moscow to Danzig and to London. George took his camera and the photograph above right survives from this journey.

The Adventures of Mr. Hales.
The Advertiser, Adelaide, Australia, 6 September 1904

If adventures are to be found our old friend “Smiler” Hales may be safely backed to find them – and make excellent “copy” out of them as well. Whilst most of the war correspondents in the Far East have been cooling their heels and heating their tempers waiting, for permission to go to “the front” Mr. Hales has been enjoying life immensely on an adventurous journey homewards, in company with Mr. Kingswell, another correspondent who found it was not worth his while to stay in the Far East on the off chance of being permitted to see a little of the fighting. Mr. Hales was refused permission to accompany the Japanese troops to the front, but he surreptitiously visited Korea, subsequently making his way to Tien-Tsin. There he and Mr. Kingswell received permission from General Kuropatkin to travel where they pleased in Manchuria, Mongolia, Siberia, and Russia, and they decided to cross the Gobi Desert by way of Kalgan, Udi, and Kiath-Ta to Verchni-Udinsk. The Gobi route was chosen because they had heard from an Australian, and also from Chinese sources, that a movement was on foot in Mongolia to raise an army to help the Thibetans against the British.

At Urga, which, is the second stronghold of Buddhism in the world and the seat of “the living Buddha,” a great meeting was being prepared for August 2, and tens of thousands of lamas and disciples were already arriving. Almost every third man in that country is a lama. Priests and apostles were being sent to India and China, and even to Japan, to preach a holy war against Great Britain. The lamas, who are nominally vowed to celibacy, are magnificent men physically, and wear gorgeous dresses. Mr. Hales and his companion took camels to Kalgan; racers, which easily did fifty miles a day. The 750 miles from Kalgan to Urga occupied 16 days. The heat was stifling; there was no rain, and the winds, which blew hard, were burning hot. The camels often lay down, refusing to face the dust and sand storms. Mr. Hales and his “chum” had sufficient courage to call on “the living Buddha,” who is a young man of 30, and ranks second only to the Grand Lama at Lhassa. He sent a reply to the effect that he refused to see any Englishman, and declaring that the British had no right in his dominions. They sent him presents, but his servitors threw them over the wall and let loose against them all the dogs of the place, including a wolfhound, which they were afterwards told was a present from the Emperor of Russia.

It is some two hundred and twenty miles from Urga to Kiakha, and on their way thither they passed thousands of lamas and pilgrims going to Urga, many of whom prostrated themselves at every second step. Their, foreheads were covered with sores. They met almost innumerable caravans, some consisting of as many as 8,000 camels or 1,500 bullock waggons with provisions, destined for the Russian troops. After passing the Great Wall Mr. Hales and his friend were offered an escort of soldiers by the tao-tai of an armed town. This they refused, for Mr. Kingswell had frequently travelled in China, and didn’t see the necessity for an escort. But they wished later they had accepted the tao-tai’s kindly offer, for one fine day a mob of suspicious looking characters began to gather round their midday camp. Let Mr. Kingswell tell the sequel: – “Both Mr. Hales and I grew anxious. Our only weapons were Mr. Hales’ Winchester repeater and his Colt revolver and my Mauser pistol. We retired to a mud-walled compound, where we were soon attacked. We held off the brigands for some time, shooting several. We had already sent to the tao-tai for help, and his troops arrived in the nick of time. They made eight prisoners, who were beheaded, and the heads given to the dogs.”

From Kiakha the compinions travelled five days in a canoe on the River Selinga to a steamer station, and at Yerchni Udinsk, thev reached the Trans-Siberian railway, which, in due course, enabled them to make St. Petersburg without further, adventure of an unpleasant character.

The Gobi Desert is the fourth largest in the world and has the greatest temperate extremes (-30°c in Winter and up to 50°c in Summer) and huge changes in daily temperate +/-30°c in a 24 hour period. While I’m sure he followed the established Silk route this would not, none the less, have been a simple trip as Mr Hales account shows.

The newspaper item to the right, was almost certainly written by George. It was also before he had returned to South Africa, as The Owl had declined badly and shortly after his arrival George sold it for £150. Traveling on same the boat from England to South Africa was Sir Abe Bailey who offered George the editorship of the Rand Daily Mail. George formed a partnership with A. V. Lindbergh & R. Ward Jackson – the South African Mail Syndicate – who then held the lease of the paper.

Otago Witness 5 October 1904

(From our own correspondent) LONDON, August 27.

MR G. H. Kingswell. who has been acting, as war correspondent for the Daily Express, has recently returned to London from the Far East. In company with Mr A. G. Hales, of the Daily News – he crossed Mongolia, and then went on by Lake Baikal through Siberia to St. Petersburg, and recently came on to London. Mr Kingswell, who comes from Invercargill, New Zealand, has come back strongly impressed with, the enormous resources of Russia, and with a firm belief in the ultimate defeat of Japan. Mr Kingswell and Mr Hales had a most adventurous trip through Mongolia, visiting the capital city of Urga, and seeing the living Buddha, as well as other wonderful things. Mr Kingswell owns the Capetown Owl, a flourishing weekly publication somewhat on the lines of the Sydney Bulletin, and he seems to have made up his mind to settle down in South Africa.

Now based in Johannesburg and established as the Rand Daily Mail editor, George’s new venture was struggling against other papers. George saw an opportunity in this and he conceived the idea of a Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Times, and convinced Abe Bailey to allow the use of the Rand Daily Mail presses to print the new paper. As it turned out George borrowed more than just the presses…

A Century of Sundays


In 2006, the Sunday Times celebrates 100 years as South Africa’s most successful newspaper. This book is a collection of articles and photographs that have appeared in its pages over those hundred years, and follows the stunning success of four commemorative supplements published in the newspaper. It is a record of how the newspaper covered big events, and little ones, since its first edition on 4 February 1906. Looking at the past through the eyes of the newspaper, it is a chronicle of the attitudes and prejudices exactly as they appeared in the newspaper at the time. While it celebrates excellent journalism, it also reveals where the paper got things wrong, such as the editorial in 1948 which confidently predicted that DF Malan’s bizarre social experiment called apartheid would not last beyond that year.
The book does not only track political events, but also fashion, culture, entertainment, sport, technology and many other developments in South Africa and the world over the past century.
The book is beautifully designed and fully illustrated, drawing from a massive wealth of photographs and cartoons. It reproduces some of the actual pages that broke important news stories. This is a treasure trove of images and ideas from the past hundred years.

An extract from ‘A Century of Sundays’

The paper that bowed to no one – 1906 – 2006
In 1906, newspapers were not supposed to be bought or read on a Sabbath. On hearing that a Sunday newspaper was to be launched in the Transvaal, the clergy heaped blistering condemnation on this blasphemous newcomer, lashing it from the pulpits and damning it in notices nailed to church doors.
Well, you just can’t buy publicity like that. Congregants flocked to obey Oscar Wilde’s dictum that the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. The Sunday Times was a big hit from the moment the steam presses rolled off the first copies on February 4 1906. Within months, it boasted the largest circulation of any newspaper on the continent.
Screeds of grey type. No hard news. The odd illustration. The look of the early front page would do nothing for the modern reader. But its populist, critical voice hit an immediate chord with readers in the rough, diamond-hard heart of Johannesburg, where, a visiting journalist wrote, “the streets, like the mine-owners, are a law to themselves”.
The paper’s founder, George Kingswell, made it clear that the Sunday Times would be “tied to the heels of no political party”, that he regarded politicians as those reptiles that crawl out from under stones.
Extremely biting in criticisms of them and Randlords alike, Kingswell once advised his successor: “Dip your pen in gall.
“Don’t be afraid of libel. They threaten all kinds of things here, hoping to gag the press. But they cannot gag the Sunday Times.”
His successor, Lewis Rose Macleod, recalled later that the paper was “extraordinarily impertinent to all the high gods of that time”.
One of the paper’s first campaigns against fat cats was to publish the salary list of the Johannesburg town council in 1907, figures which “made the average man gape”. An editorial reported that “as he took his Sunday Times with his early coffee in bed (as every decent man should), the reader rubbed his eyes and became wide awake on the instant … the whole outfit is a robbery of the public”.
When Transvaal voters went to the polls in 1907, Kingswell raged about the quality of the candidates, calling them “freaks”, “puppets” and “crawlers”.
Forthright, pugnacious, often gloating with insolence, the Sunday Times loved a good scrap with the high and mighty. And the not-so high and mighty.
That first front page carried a poem about Chinese indentured labourers, whose presence on the mines ignited much bitterness among locals. It started: “Ten little Chinamen working on a mine, One tasted dynamite and then there were nine.”
Kingswell, a block of walking granite with keenly developed gambling instincts, was a New Zealander by birth, and a wanderer and adventurer by inclination.
He had been expelled from school after six months for punching a teacher who made fun of his stutter. This display of schoolboy temper boded well for a career in newspapers, belligerence being a useful quality in journalism.
The adult Kingswell didn’t believe in mucking about either. At the beginning of 1906 he was living in the Transvaal, running the Rand Daily Mail on a lease from its owner, Sir Abe Bailey. The Mail was being pummelled by the competition, and Kingswell calculated that a Sunday addition to the stable would help solve its financial woes.
So Kingswell, Bailey and two other investors each pledged £50 towards this new venture.
Within weeks, South Africa’s most successful newspaper was born. It had a permanent staff of two, total assets valued at £1, and the £200 to call on. The staff of the Rand Daily Mail were dragooned into working an extra day to put the new paper to bed, and Kingswell simply hijacked other resources, including office space and printing presses.”

This how the early history of the Sunday Times is decribed by the Sunday Times Staff Policy Guide.

Ironically, the Sunday Times owes its early success to an old law which ensured that God-fearing South Africans did little else but attend their own segregated churches on Sunday. Since Sunday sport, entertainment and shopping were prohibited South Africans had little left to do except to curl up in bed with the Sunday Times.
The paper was launched by the Sunday Times Syndicate Ltd, which consisted of the paper’s editor, George Kingswell, AV Lindberg and Ralph Ward Jackson. The main reason for launching the paper was to rescue the Rand Daily Mail (RDM), a daily newspaper, which was locked in a circulation war with the now defunct Transvaal Leader. The idea was that the Sunday Times would use the spare capacity on the RDM’s press and pay for the privilege. In addition every reporter on the RDM was obliged to give one-sixth of their time to the Sunday Times. With a full-time staff of only two, the paper was launched on 4 February 1906.
Elsewhere in the world the first powered flight in Europe took place when Albertos Santos Dumont flew for 197 feet, at a height of 10 feet over the outskirts of Paris and San Francisco was hit by the most disastrous earthquake in America’s history which killed over 1,000 people and left 250,000 homeless. The print order for the first edition of the Sunday Times was just over 10,000 but by 10am on Sunday it had sold out, and 5,000 extra copies had to be printed.

George retired from active work on the Sunday Times in 1910, and settled for a while in England. He was holidaying in the USA when the First World War started (1914) and he quickly ordered newsprint for the paper.

George retired in 1918 (aged 51) and settled in Newlands, Cape town and later to High Constantia. By 1920 he had experienced some heart related issues but none the less embarked on a six month trip around Canada, England and Europe. He later suffered a series of strokes and succumbed in July 1931 – in his sixty fourth year.

Above: George Kingswell behind the wheel somewhere in South Africa – undated.

The final, summary, section of his entry in the The Dictionary of South African biography reads…

Kingswell stood six feet tall with a slight cast in one eye and a pronouced stutter. Often violent in behaviour and expression, impetuous, eccentric, and profane, Kingswell was nonetheless fair-minded and kind-hearted. Fundamentally a realist intolerant of chicanery and concerned with the welfare of humanity, he was always the practising journalist revered among his kind. His immense general knowlegde, gain from exceptional travels, together with his gift for rapport with readers, enabled him as a professional newspaperman both to introduce new forms of jounalism in South Africa (particulaly through the Sunday Times) and to provide opportunity for numerous writers, artists and journalists.

His obit, published on Wednesday 24 June 1931, in The Times (of London) reads:

Mr. George Kingswell
Our Capetown Correspondent telegraphed yesterday:-

The death is announced to-day of Mr. George Kingswell who was associated with Lord Northcliffe at the time of the foundation of the Daily Mail. He afterwards founded the successful newspaper the Sunday Times in Johannesburg, and was one of the chief influences in the Rand Daily Mail. An Australian by birth, he was with the Sydney Bulletin for some time and afterwards went to the United States, where he was a friend of O. Henry. He retired to live in Capetown 10 years ago and had long been an invalid.