07 September 2013


Emperor Norton I
How many South African visitors to San Francisco know about that city's connection to South Africa? Very few! Norton the First was Emperor of the United States of America, from the day he proclaimed his ascension to the throne on 17 September 1859 to the day he collapsed and died on 08 January 1880.

Joshua Abraham NORTON in London, England circa 1818, son of John NORTON (a farmer) and Sarah NORDEN, a Jewish family. The family immigrated to South Africa as part of the 1820 British Settlers, sailing on the La Belle Alliance as members of Willson's Party. The party boarded La Belle Alliance at Deptford. After more than a month's delay due to the ice-bound Thames, the ship sailed from the Downs on 12 February 1820, arriving in Table Bay on 02 May 1820, and finally in Algoa Bay on 26 May 1820.

John NORTON born circa 1794 in Deptford, Kent, England.
Died 20 August 1848 in London, England.
Married in England in 1815 to Sarah NORDEN (born 1796 in East Smithfield, London, England; died 07 December 1846 in Grahamstown, Cape; daughter of Abraham NORDEN 1758–1840 and Abigail ADEL)
1. John Lewis or Louis born circa 1816 in Watford, Hertfordshire, England; died 08 May 1846 in Grahamstown, Cape. Married Kate WHITNALL. He was amongst the first students to attend the South African College (now the University of Cape Town) in 1829. He was killed in the 7th Frontier War (March 1846 – December 1847).
2. Joshua born circa 1818 in Deptford, Kent, England; died 1880 in San Francisco, California, United States of America
3. Philip born 28 March 1820 at sea; died 16 April 1847 at Kromme Park, Fort Beaufort, Cape. married Anne Mary OGILVIE circa 1839.
4. Esther born circa 1822
5. Benjamin John born circa 1823. Married MULLER.
6. Henry born circa 1825
7 Selina Jane born circa 1827. Married Donald Hume MACCLEOD.
8. Abraham born circa 1828 in Grahamstown, Cape; died 01 July 1835 in Grahamstown, Cape
9. Mary Ann born circa 1828. Married William KNIGHT.
10. John Louis born circa 1830 in Grahamstown, Cape; died 05 July 1906. Married Anna Margaret ERASMUS.
11. Louisa born circa 1833
12. Elizabeth born circa 1835

Joshua grew up in Port Elizabeth, then known as Algoa Bay. In 1825 he attended John HANCOCKS's school in Grahamstown. In 1844 he owned Gingerbread Hall near the Baakens River. He later left Port Elizabeth and joined his brothers John and Benjamin at their Cape Town business.

Joshua joined the gold rush in California, arriving in San Francisco in November 1849 aboard the steamer Hurlothrumbo. This voyage makes him the only person who was both an 1820 Settler and a San Francisco 49er. The gold-seekers were called "forty-niners" in reference to 1849. He was 30 years old and had a small fortune of $40 000 from his father's estate. He soon got involved with property and an import brokerage. Four years after arriving, he had $250 000 of capital built up. Sadly, he lost his fortune when he thought of another venture.

Emperor Norton I
China, facing a severe famine, placed a ban on the export of rice, causing the price of rice in San Francisco to increase. When Joshua heard that the Glyde, which was returning from Peru, was carrying 91 000 kg of rice, he bought the entire shipment for $25 000. Shortly after he signed the contract, several other shiploads of rice arrived from Peru, causing the price of rice to fall sharply. Joshua tried to void the contract, stating that the dealer had misled him as to the quality of the rice. From 1853 to 1857, they were involved in litigation. Although Joshua won in the lower courts, the case reached the Supreme Court of California, which ruled against him. The Lucas Turner and Company Bank foreclosed on his real estate holdings in North Beach to pay his debt. He declared bankruptcy in 1858. It is believed that the bankruptcy led to a mental disorder in Joshua. He left San Francisco, returning a few years later with his edict which he issued to the people of San Francisco:

"At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua NORTON, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of S. F., Cal., declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U. S.; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of Feb. next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity. — NORTON I, Emperor of the United States."

The editor of the San Francisco Bulletin published the edict and the people of San Francisco took their new Emperor to heart. Joshua later added "Protector of Mexico" to the title.

Norton the First was a stocky, bearded figure and dressed as royally as he could. His uniform included a blue Army coat with gold epaulettes and brass buttons; a beaver hat with a peacock feather; a cane and a sword. The uniform was given to him by officers of the United States Army post at the Presidio of San Francisco. When his uniform became tatty, the City Council voted for a special fund to buy a new uniform. He was called on to inspect military cadets at the University of California, marched at the head of the annual Police parade, and he had special seats at concerts and plays. He dined for free in San Francisco's best restaurants. He was allowed free public transport. He would spend time inspecting the condition of the city's sidewalks and cable cars. The City Council allowed him to issue and sell bonds to his subjects for 50c to $10. The bonds were printed for free by the City Council. The city's banks and businesses honoured these bonds and they happily paid the 25c taxes that Joshua levied from time to time. Crowned heads of state around the world received telegrams from him, and many replied.

The Emperor's $10 note
During the 1860s and 1870s, there were occasional anti-Chinese demonstrations in the poorer districts of San Francisco. Riots took place. During one incident, Joshua allegedly positioned himself between the rioters and their Chinese targets. With a bowed head, he started reciting the Lord's Prayer repeatedly until the rioters dispersed without incident.

On 21 January 1867, Officer Armand BARBIER arrested Joshua for involuntary treatment of a mental disorder, which led to a major public uproar. Police Chief Patrick CROWLEY apologised to Joshua and ordered him released. Several newspaper editorials followed the arrest. After this, police officers began to salute Joshua when he passed them on the street.

The Emperor lived in a boarding-house on Commercial Street. He appears in the city's census of August 1870, listed as having the occupation of "emperor" and living at 624 Commercial St. He had two dogs, Lazarus and Bummer. They were with him constantly, even in church on Sundays. Lazarus died in October 1863, and Bummer died in November 1865. Mark TWAIN worked next door to Joshua's boarding house and saw the man most days, and wrote an epitaph for Bummer.

Bridge plaque
In 1872 Joshua issued an Imperial Proclamation ordering the construction of a suspension bridge between San Francisco and Oakland, and a tunnel under the Bay. When the bridge was built in the 1930s, a plaque was attached that read: "Pause, traveler, and be grateful to Norton I, whose prophetic wisdom conceived and decreed the bridging of San Francisco Bay". In 2004, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors endorsed naming the bridge's eastern span after Joshua, but the Oakland City Council refused. Today a resolution to name the span after former San Francisco Mayor Willie BROWN is making its way through the State Legislature.

On the evening of 08 January 1880, Joshua dropped dead on the corner of California Street and Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue) in front of Old St. Mary's Church, while on his way to a lecture at the Academy of Natural Sciences. The following day the San Francisco Chronicle published his obituary on its front page under the headline "Le Roi est Mort" (The King is Dead).

Members of the Pacific Club, a San Francisco businessman's association, started a funeral fund which paid for a silver and rosewood coffin and a dignified farewell. Joshua lay in state in a black robe, starched shirt and black bow tie. There were thousands at his funeral procession to Masonic Cemetery on Sunday, 10 January. The original tombstone was a simple cross with the name Joshua NORTON and his dates. On 30 June 1934, he was reburied at Woodlawn Cemetery in Colma. This gravestone reads: "Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. Joshua A. Norton 1819-1880". Adjacent to his plot is one marked "Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, José I, The Widow Norton" - another mystery?

Joshua died in poverty. A few dollars in small change were found on him when he died. At his boarding house room on Commercial Street, the following items were found: one gold sovereign; his collection of walking sticks; a saber; hats (including a stovepipe, a derby, a red-laced Army cap, and a band-master's cap); an 1828 French franc; and a few Imperial bonds he sold to tourists. His letters to Queen Victoria were also found, along with 98 stock shares in a defunct gold mine.

Many of the decrees attributed to him were written in jest by newspaper editors or for political purposes. Amongst those believed to be genuine include the following:

17 September 1859 – he declared himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico

02 December 1859 – he dismissed Gov. Wise of Virginia for hanging John BROWN, and appointed John C. BRECKENRIDGE of Kentucky to replace him

01 February 1860 – he ordered representatives of the different states to assemble at Platt’s Music Hall to change laws to do away with the evils under which the country was labouring

16 July 1860 – he dissolved the United States of America

01 October 1860 – he barred Congress from meeting in Washington, D.C.

25 July 1869 – he ordered San Franciscans to advance money to Frederick MARRIOTT for his airship experiments

12 August 1869 – he dissolved and abolished the Democratic and Republican parties because of party strife

16 December 1869 – he demanded that Sacramento clean its muddy streets and place gaslights on streets leading to the capitol

21 September 1870 – he decreed that the Grand Hotel furnish him rooms under penalty of being banished.

23 March 1872 – he decreed that a suspension bridge be built between Oakland Point and Goat Island, and on to San Francisco

21 September 1872 – he ordered a survey to determine if a bridge or tunnel would be the best possible means to connect Oakland and San Francisco. He also ordered the arrest of the Board of Supervisors for ignoring his decrees.

02 January 1873 – he decreed that a worldwide Bible Convention be held in San Francisco on this day

Mark TWAIN modelled the character of the King in "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" on Joshua. Robert Louis STEVENSON made him a character in his 1892 novel "The Wrecker". Stevenson's stepdaughter, Isobel OSBOURNE, mentioned Joshua in her autobiography "This Life I've Loved". She wrote that he "was a gentle and kindly man, and fortunately found himself in the friendliest and most sentimental city in the world, the idea being 'let him be emperor if he wants to.' San Francisco played the game with him."

Joshua is considered a patron saint in the religion of Discordianism.

The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper used to run "Emperor Norton Treasure Hunt" competitions in the 1950-60s. It was run in the Spring and included a proclaimation that Emperor Norton had buried a treasure somewhere in San Francisco. Clues would appear in verse, becoming more cryptic over the weeks. The prize was $1000. After the closing date, the paper would reprint all the clues and what they meant.

On 07 January 1980, the city marked the 100th anniversary of the death of its monarch with lunch-hour ceremonies. Every January, Clampus Vitus (an organisation of history buffs) holds a parade from Joshua's grave to Malloy's Tavern. Today, there's a petition to name the bridge "The Emperor Norton Bay Bridge."

20 October 2012


An elderly South African professor, Cyril Karabus of Claremont, Cape Town, was arrested on August 18 at the Abu Dhabi International Airport while in transit to South Africa. He was detained and faces charges of manslaughter. Emeritus Associate Professor Karabus (77) was returning home after attending his son’s wedding in Canada. He specialises in paediatrics and medical oncology, and is a former Professor of paediatrics at UCT and head of the oncology and haematology unit at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

Twelve years ago he worked as a locum at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi and operated on a seven-year-old cancer patient who later died of leukaemia. He returned to South Africa two weeks after her death, at the end of his locum. In his absence he was tried and found guilty of manslaughter, even though no attempt was made to contact him and he was never given an opportunity to defend himself in court. He was sentenced to three years and six months in jail and required to pay blood money to the patient's family. The initial conviction was successfully overturned, but on October 3 a new trial for the same charges took place but the hearing was adjourned because the prosecutor could not find a crucial docket. Bail was denied. It is believed that the girl’s father laid charges out of anger. Professor Karabus did everything possible to save the child's life. He was being held in the hospital wing of the Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi because he had a pacemaker and needed medical attention. Bail was denied for a fourth time, and he was shackled at his last court appearance. Bail was finally granted at the fifth application. He had to surrender his passport, which was confiscated when he was originally arrested, and pay R240 000 to the court, which will be held as bond. His family have arranged accommodation for him in the UAE. The court also stated that the hospital had to give the Professor's lawyers access to the patient’s file, and ordered that an independent medical tribunal be established to review the file. The next court appearance is set for November 20. There is a petition on Avaaz and a Facebook page in support.

His son, Michael, lives in Toronto, and a daughter, Judith, lives in London. Professor Karabus has lived in the same house for 40 years. Numerous doctors have written letters to the UAE court testifying to the Professor's expertise and integrity. During his term as head of oncology at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital the mortality rate of children with leukaemia was reduced from 80 to 20 percent.


A 40-year-old South African bodyguard is supermodel Heidi Klum's love interest, after her seven-year marriage to Seal broke up earlier this year. Martin Kirsten is into fitness and used to train at a gym in Bryanston, Johannesburg. He has worked for the 39 year-old model and her estranged husband as a personal bodyguard for the last four years.


Warren Buffett, the world's most successful investor, has made his first investment in South Africa. The Richline Group, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, has bought the assets of South African Manufacturing Jewellers, which is in a business rescue programme. The company also trades as Alan Mair Manufacturing Jewellers. Richline specialises in precious metals, gemstones and design. It plans to revitalise the company and use it as a platform to export into Africa, Australia and the UK. Richline was forced to find its own electricity supply by buying a new substation and a bulk metering unit when Eskom refused to provide it with electricity. The local company employs 90 people and is said to be the biggest local jewellery manufacturer. It manufactures gold and silver jewellery, as well as bonded gold.


Those In Peril Wilbur Smith
UK-based Reelart Media has bought the film rights to Wilbur Smith's latest novel, Those in Peril. The release is scheduled for 2014, the 50th anniversary of the author's career. The novel is his 33rd, and has sold more than half a million copies since it was published by Pan Macmillan in 2011. It's the story of ex-SAS Hector Cross' struggle to rescue his employer’s daughter, who has been kidnapped by Somali pirates while on her yacht in the Indian Ocean. Hazel Bannock is the heiress to the Bannock Oil Corp, a major oil producer. While cruising in the Indian Ocean, her private yacht is hijacked by Somali pirates. Hazel is not on board, but her 19 year old daughter, Cayla, is kidnapped and held to ransom. Political and diplomatic issues make it difficult for major powers to intervene. Hazel calls in Hector Cross to rescue her daughter. He is the owner of Cross Bow Security, the company which provides Bannock Oil with security. He is a formidable fighting man. Between them Hazel and Hector are determined to take the law into their own hands.

The publisher has produced a games app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, available free from the Apple iTunes App Store. The game is an action-packed adventure where gamers take on the role of an elite intelligence agent. The app also connects to the author via his website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. A sequel novel, Vicious Circle, is planned for publication in early 2013.


South African Captain Nicholas (Nick) Sloane is in charge of the Costa Concordia wreck salvage near Giglio Porto. It is one of the biggest salvage operations. The luxury liner capsized on Giglio Island in January. The 4200 passengers and crew had to scramble for safety in the darkness. Thirty-two people lost their lives. Nick is the senior salvage master for US company Titan, which won a joint bid for the project with Italian offshore rig company Micoperi. The plan is to float the ship, without it slipping when righted and plunging into the depths. Twenty-six 26 pillars are being driven into the seabed to support underwater platforms for the ship to rest on. Large metal tanks, filled with water, will then be welded onto the sides of the ship to balance it while it is dragged into an upright position using two cranes and cables. The largest of the tanks are as high as an 11-storey building and weigh 500-plus tons. Sixty-six divers are tasked with putting 17 500 tons of cement bags in a 50m gap between the ship and the seabed. The project will cost at least €400m.


Nico Johan Lambrechts (46) committed suicide in London, England, by jumping off the top of the the Coq d'Argent restaurant. He walked to the restaurant at lunchtime, and fell through the atrium. Medics were unable to save him. He was pronounced dead by a doctor at the scene minutes later.The wealthy South African-born investment analyst is survived by his wife, Adele, and three children. The family had recently been on a tropical holiday. It is not known why he took this decision. The former Paul Roos Gymnasium matriculant and Stellenbosch University chemical engineering graduate worked at Investec Asset Management, and lived in a £2m six-bedroom gated home in the upmarket town of Cobham, Surrey. The family had been living in England for seven years, having left South Africa about 19 years ago. Nico first worked for Merrill Lynch before joining Investec. His death is the fourth to have occurred at the restaurant. An inquest into his death was opened.

Coq d’Argent is built on the site of an ancient burial ground where wealthy Londoners were buried. In the 11th Century it was the Church of St Benet Sherehog attended by wealthy wool merchants. The church was so small that there was no room for a burial yard, so parishioners were laid to rest beneath the floor. Getting a patch of earth nearest the altar was a sign of prestige. The church was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666 and the site was still used as a burial ground after that until it was closed in 1853. A recent dig unearthed 274 human remains. The restaurant appeared in the James Bond-themed film sequence for the Olympics opening ceremony that featured the Queen.


Finding Jack by Gareth Crocker
This beautiful story, based on fact, is written by South African author Gareth Crocker. After losing his wife and daughter in a plane crash, a deeply depressed American journalist, Fletcher Carson joins the US Army and goes to war-torn Vietnam. While on a mission, he rescues an injured Labrador that he names Jack. The dog wins the hearts of all the soldiers. After being nursed back to health, Jack becomes a working dog in the war zone. When the order to pull out of Vietnam is issued, Jack is not included in the airlift. Fletcher risks his life, and a court martial, as the soldier and his dog walk through enemy territory to a neighbouring country. The book is intended as a tribute to war dogs - about 4000 dogs did service in Vietnam, but less than 200 made it to the USA. This is a story of the relationship between a man and his dog, as well as a story of surviving life and carrying on. You will cry.

Gareth was born in Johannesburg. A former journalist, he lives in Johannesburg with his wife, two children, and three dogs. He has a degree in English, Psychology and Communications. This is his debut novel, and is the second novel by a South African author to appear in a US volume of Reader’s Digest. The first South African author was Alan Paton, for Cry, the Beloved Country in 1950.

Non-fiction books that record these faithful canine soldiers'  contributions, include Always Faithful: A Memoir of the Marine Dogs of WWII by William W. Putney, and The Dogs of War: The Courage, Love, and Loyalty of Military Working Dogs by Lisa Rogak.

17 September 2012


Sixto Diaz Rodriguez’s debut album, Cold Fact, was released in the USA in March 1970, with the powerful Sugar Man as the first track. The album had poor sales in the US, but had high sales in South Africa and Australia. The album was released in 1971 in South Africa by A&M Records. In 1998 Cold Fact was awarded a platinum disc in South Africa. The follow-up album in November 1971, Coming From Reality, also had poor sales, and in 1974 the singer disappeared from the music scene. Unbeknown to him, he was already a superstar in South Africa. In 1991, Cold Fact and Coming From Reality were re-released in South Africa on compact disc. Cold Fact sold more than 500 000 copies. Rodriguez never saw a cent in royalties, and was living as a manual labourer in Detroit. In 1997, two South African fans, Stephen Segerman, a music shop owner, and journalist Craig Bartholomew Strydom, convinced him to tour South Africa in 1998. He played six concerts. A documentary about the tour, Dead Men Don't Tour: Rodriguez in South Africa 1998, was screened on SABC TV in 2001. He toured South Africa again in 2001 and 2005. In 1998, his signature song, Sugar Man, was covered by the South African rock band Just Jinjer.

Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul filmed a documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, which was recently released in South Africa. It has been a hit at international film festivals, premiering at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It tells the story of the two South African fans looking for him.

Rodriguez is the son of Mexican immigrants who left Mexico in the 1920s. He was born in Detroit, the sixth child in the family. He married Rayma, who is part Cherokee. They were high school sweethearts, who both dropped out of school when Rayma fell pregnant. They had two daughters, Eva and Sandra. He worked at various jobs - in a steel factory and a linen factory, bricklayer and trench digger. Later on he was able to complete a philosophy degree at Wayne State University. He ran for city councillor seven times. His second wife is Konny, mother of his daughter Regan.

Eva (photo credit: George Herald)
His first-born daughter, Eva Alice Rodriguez Koller (49), lives in Wilderness Heights, on South Africa's Garden Route. After high school, Eva joined the US Army. As a child she had accompanied her parents to anti-war protests. Her father was so unhappy with her joining up, that it was her mother who had to sign her consent forms. Eva served in the Medical Corps and was trained as a combat medic. Her exposure to helicopters led to an interest in flying, and she was selected for flight training in 1987. She flew a variety of helicopters, including Hueys and Black Hawks. She served in the USA, Korea, Puerto Rico, Columbia, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Eva served in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Gulf War. She got involved in arranging her father's concerts in South Africa, and accompanied him to Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. After her son Ethan was born, she continued with her military career for a while, before resigning three weeks after the World Trade Centre tragedy as a Chief Warrant Officer III and moving to Wilderness Heights where she home-schools her son. She has become a traditional healer, and was one of the first white women to undergo a sangoma ritual at Mdantsane, near East London. She is writing a book, tracing her military career, as well as a book about her father's life.

Her first book, The Circle of Love, encourages children to enjoy a spiritual awareness of nature. It was adapted an arts intervention project for children at the Good Hope Seminary Junior School in Cape Town. The children participated in drama, drumming, singing, puppetry, poetry, dance, wardrobe, design and art. In May 2009 it was performed at the George Society of the Arts Theatre during the Amateur Arts Festival, and Eva received a nomination for Best Performance, and Certificates of Merit for Best Novice Director and Most Original Script.

16 September 2012


South African-born Australian singer-actor Dean Stanley Geyer has an acting role in the USA television show Glee. He appears in Season 4 of the series, as Brody Weston. Season 4 started on US TV last week. Dean (26) was born on 20 March 1986 in Johannesburg as the oldest of three children to parents Debbie and Keith. He has two younger sisters, Jessica and Tatum. He spent one year at King Edward VII School in Johannesburg before the family moved to Australia in 2001 where he completed his high school studies at Melbourne High School, where he continued to play rugby. He started a band, Third Edge, in his final year of high school, and in 2006 he came third in Australian Idol, He released his first album, Rush, in 2007. From 2008-2009, he acted as Ty Harper in the long-running Australian soapie Neighbours. Recently, he was in the role of Mark Reynolds in the Steven Spielberg-produced TV series Terra Nova. Also known for his fine abs, the drum-playing Dean has a black belt in karate, and acted in the 2011 martial arts film Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown. He comes from a sporty family - his uncles are personal trainers and his aunts are aerobics instructors. His sister, father and grandfather all have black belts in karate. Dean also loves rugby, fishing, snowboarding and skiing. He is dating Jillian Murphy (28), his co-star in Never Back Down 2.