"FRIGHTFUL TRAGEDY AT THE CAPE"
About a year ago, I purchased a small leather bound frame containing 4 early portrait photographs on glass.
The first photograph is of a man in his twenties, seated, with a small boy. Opposite that is a photograph of a woman of a similar age. Labels to the bottom of the images tell us that this is Christiaan Bothma (sic.) and Susanna Bothma(sic.), husband and wife in all likelihood.
Turning the image over as the booklike frame requires reveals the second set of images,
the first being of a man in handcuffs and convict attire and the name label stating A. Batist.
The second image is of a man similarly attired, with the name of L. Cupidos.
Through style of dress and the method of photography used, I estimated that they were taken around the 1860's, making them very early examples of photography in South Africa. The previous owner informed me that there was an interesting, if somewhat morbid story behind this item.
Her late husband, Dominee Hopkins, who had written a number of books on mostly theological history in South Africa, had told her that the family in the first two images had been murdered by the two men in the second two images. She believed that the incident had happened in Tulbagh, and that her husband had written an article about the murder for Huisgenoot, whilst a student.
Unfortunately she could not find the article, nor remember when it had been written. But she was sure that she would have a copy somewhere.
As a dealer one has a passing relationship with one's stock. An item is bought in with the idea of selling it on, and if the dealer can add value to the item he is doing his job well. Whether it is restoring an old leather binding, finding a missing volume or plate or establishing the provenance of some rare ephemera. It is this "adding to value" that fascinates me about what I do. Naturally I was intrigued, and looked forward to reading Ds. Hopkins' article, and finding out more about this tragedy.
After a few months Mrs. Hopkins had not been able to locate the article. In the meantime I had done some research of my own. But had unfortunately come up with very little indeed.
A search in my genealogical reference books and on the internet for Christiaan Bothma, Susanna Bothma, A. Batist and L. Cupidos, yielded no results that related to my search.
Examining the photographs as historical items in their own right, I was able to establish the following: on the name labels of the two prisoners, is the name H. L. Keet. This I was able to ascertain was the photographer.
According to Secure The Shadow, by Majorie Bull and Joseph Denfield,
Keet was a photographer at Swellendam and Tulbagh in the 1860's. He was known to have produced portraits on glass and leather. These images, on glass, approx 7cm x 8.5cm, are known as ambrotypes, or collodion "glass positives".
So I was able deduce that these photographs were in all likelihood from the Tulbagh area and from the 1860’s.
Rare and early Cape images, but I could not put them up for sale without finding out more about the supposed murder. Being able to place the photographs as coming from Tulbagh, I contacted the experts on the area, Gwen and Gawie Fagan. Unfortunately they had no knowledge of a murder in Tulbagh at that time.
Next I went to the compact storage of the Stellenbosh University Library in order to try to track down the elusive Huisgenoot article. I was faced with a wall of bound copies of the magazine, from the 1930’s right up to the 1990’s. One volume a week! I was beginning to feel as though I was looking for the proverbial needle that may or may not be in the haystack.
Fortunately Mr. Niel Hendriks of the University Library was on hand to help me with an index of all the articles written for Huisgenoot. I felt as though we were getting close as together we scanned the names of authors, and then there it was. Hopkins, Tragedy in Tulbach. I located the article and began to read in earnest. I soon discovered a problem. This murder happened in 1821, photography had not been invented yet. This article was about an entirely differed story: a gruesome farm murder by two assailants, but only one victim.
I was beginning to feel as though I was never going to find this story, and had doubts about its truth. I had spoken to people at UCT History department and at the Stellenbosch University Law archives. All agreed that there should most certainly be a record of an incident like this, but no information was forthcoming.
Next I went to see Mr. Leon Endemann at GISA in Stellenbosch.
Mr. Endemann listened to my story and then started searching. After some time he found a death notice for Christian Jacobus Botma, in Tulbagh in about 1879. This was too late but it was possible that we were looking for one of his children. Records showed that he had three. None were called Christia(a)n.
But he had remarried; perhaps he had fathered a child with his second wife. Mr. Endemann suggested that we look up his death notice to see how many children he had.
Whilst searching an index of death notices, right next to the notice of 1879 that we were searching for was a notice for a Christia(a)n Bot(h)ma who died in 1861 and below that a Suzanna Botma who also died in 1861.
This must be it I thought. We wrote down the index numbers and went to retrieve the film that the registers are recorded on. As we got to the page number indicated by the index we discovered that there had been a cataloguing mistake and that this was a death notice for an entirely different person. However Mr. Endemann’s experience told him to look a few pages before and after this notice.
And finally there they were. Christian Jacobus Botma, died plaats de Kruysvaly (Tulbagh), 1 August 1861, age 25.
Susanna Louiza Petronella Botma (nee Du Toit), died plaats de Kruysvaly, 3 August 1861, age 24.
Survived by "1 jongetjie met naam van Christian Jacobus Botma", their son.
Finally these facts and in particular the fact that they died so close together made the story all the more plausible.
I now had a date and the correct spellings of the names. Armed with this I was able to locate a newspaper article written for the Cape Argus, August 8 1861. This article had been scanned and was online in the collection of the National Library of New Zealand of all places. This is a link to the article that describes the tragedy in all its gruesome detail.
The article names Adrien Patis as the murderer, no doubt a variation of the spelling on the label A. Batist and the description of Patis fits the image of him. Further research revealed that he confessed to the murders on 30th September 1861 at the Tulbagh Circuit Court and was sentenced to death.
At the same time, Lambert Cupido, a farmer in the Tulbagh area confessed to murdering his daughter and was also sentenced to death.
He is the fourth person.
The only mystery that remains is why someone would compile such a morbid collection of photographs. And the presence of the fourth photograph and its association with a seemingly unrelated crime is even more mysterious. One can only wonder about this and whether there is any connection between these crimes.