William Charles Scully

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William Charles Scully

Birthdate: (87)
Birthplace: Dublin, Dublin City, Dublin, Ireland
Death: August 25, 1943 (87)
Amanzimtoti, Durban Metro, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Immediate Family:

Son of John Joseph Scully and Elizabeth Mary Scully
Husband of Nelia Scully and Honoria Emily Scully
Father of Elaine Nelia Theodora Scully; Gerald Creagh Scully; Earnest Richard Scully; Miriam Power Scully; Thomas Creagh Scully and 1 other
Brother of Elizabeth Scully; Mary Scully and Thomas Charles Scully

Occupation: Magistrate, Author
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About William Charles Scully

William Charles Scully (29 October 1855 – 25 August 1943) is one of South Africa's best-known authors, although little known outside South Africa.


In addition to his work as an author, his paid work was principally as a magistrate in Springfontein, South Africa, as well as in Namaqualand and the Transkei. His last position before retirement was as Chief Magistrate of Port Elizabeth, one of South Africa's larger cities. He organised the building of "New Brighton", a township for aboriginal African people in Port Elizabeth. At the time it was regarded as very progressive—a pleasant place to live. Scully was born in Dublin, Ireland, raised in Cashel, County Tipperary, and then emigrated to southern Africa with his parents in 1867. During 1871 he prospected for diamonds with Cecil Rhodes in Africa. His daughter, Miriam Power (b.1893), married Dr John A.Ryle; their children included Sir Martin Ryle, Nobel laureate and Astronomer Royal from 1972 to 1982. W.C.Scully died in Umbogintwini on Natal's coast in 1943, the same year as his wife Nora died. His novel Daniel Vananda describes the violence engendered by the ethnic legislation of the time. Similarly, Kafir Stories contains stories that are generally sympathetic with the aboriginal African peoples of South Africa. After the Boer War, Scully was appointed Chair of a commission to investigate war crimes by the British forces in the Cape Province. (The main war crimes were, of course, committed in the Transvaal and the Free State.) After this he wrote The Harrow, fictional but based on cases the commission had investigated. He supplied the publishers with a key to every incident in the book—but with the proviso that this should never be published. Years later he regretted writing the book.


William Charles Scully, born in Dublin, October 29,1855 was raised in Cashel, in County Tipperary

Of all the "Pilgrims" to grace the gold rush fields, I find Scully to be the most articulate and also sadly the most tragic, as far as reward for effort is concerned.

This delightful character appears as an idealistic romantic young man who despite everything, sensed the excitement, glamour and fun of those historic days. Scully walked to the Pilgrims Gold Fields with three companions, from the diamond fields of Kimberley.. The first of his companions was apparently an old booze-soak tramp, name unknown. The second companion was reputed to be a grown up street urchin from Melbourne, who hied under the name of "Artful Joe".

His third companion was an elderly Jew named Levy. Levy it was said, had a pair of enormous boots, that provided great fun to his companions because they delighted in hiding them from him every night. This foursome must have walked and slept in the bush along the trail, like every other hopeful "Pilgrim", until Scully with seven shillings in his pocket and his companions, looked down on the Pilgrims Creek Gold Rush from the heights above.

Imagine the four looking down at this nondescript little stream with very sparse brush and scrub surrounding it and tents spread out all along the banks. Although they were some of the first, there were already over 250 diggers there, all busy with digging and washing and working their claims.

As they walked into the camp area the jibes and remarks that were normally made to all new comers, must have rung about their ears. Comments like "Town made legs in country-made trousers" and various others must have alluded to their footsore weary state. The hospitable Diggers I am sure, must have offered them food and advice, because on the whole these Diggers were a happy crowd.

Scully seems to have left his companions with whom he arrived and started working for a group of Australians. This was pick and shovel work, at the standard wage of an ounce of gold per week. Working for others gave any newcomer the experience of how to pan and dig for gold.

This was a hard but a healthy way of living, in a healthy climate. In order for him to go it alone he needed to have a certain amount of cash to help him through, until such time as he was able to find payable gold. According to the Rev. Gerald Herring his board and lodging cost him two shillings per day.

The German government had donated war materials left over from the Franco-Prussian war to the Transvaal Republic to aid the Republic in it's wars against Sekhukhune the chief of the Pedi tribe, who had embarked on hostilities against the White Settlers in this region. Major MacDonald was tasked with organising a party to go to Delagoa Bay and bring the materials back to Pilgrims Rest. The expedition consisted of 26 men and sixteen spans of oxen and in early July of 1874, set off for Delagoa Bay.

Eight spans of oxen were left at Pretorius Kop which was out of the Tsetse belt. The reasoning was that the incubation period for "Nagana" or Trypanosomiasis which was the disease that was carried by the Tsetse Fly, "The Fly" and transmitted to cattle was six weeks. They calculated that the odds were in their favour to get to the coast load up and be back at Pretorius Kop before the oxen started dying. They could then utilise the eight spans that would have been fresh and rested in order to get back. On the way they came across a bushveld tragedy of which this was one of many.

In the bush they came across a deserted wagon. There were carcases of oxen rotting in the veld, some having been eaten by hyenas and lions. There were also three mounds which were graves of soil simply heaped over the bodies. Under the wagon lay four white men raving and delirious with malaria fever.

They were French and raved at the party most pitifully. Water was given them and Scully describes the stench as too terrible. As they were occupied with caring for these poor souls, a giant of a man emerged from the bush carrying a small demijohn of water in each hand. Scully recognised him from the diamond fields as being Isidore Alexandre. Alexandre then explained that his party had originally been eight strong and had set out from Lydenburg six weeks prior to this. Their oxen died of Nagana sooner than they had anticipated and three of the party had died of fever.

Lions and hyenas came every night and tried to dig up the graves. Jackals and hyenas feasted on the animal carcasses but the lions were the most troublesome. They were approaching closer and closer every night. The nearest water was ten miles away and Alexandre walked there every day to fetch water for his companions. MacDonald's expedition loaded up the sick and leaving the wagon behind took them to Delagoa Bay.

In Delagoa Bay the normal practice of "Painting the town red" took place.The story is told that they obtained some Portuguese Firemen suits and caused havoc. Shops were closed, houses locked and bolted, even to the extent of the Portuguese garrison barricading itself in the fort with cannons trained on streets approaching the fort. The Portuguese were becoming accustomed to the rowdy, hooligan behaviour of the Diggers and shut down and waited them out.

When the party had sobered up they departed, leaving behind wrecked establishments, black eyes and bruises. On the way back Scully relates, in his own words, another strange episode of the mysterious bush, in an area uninhabited by humans. "One dark night we heard a far-off hallo. The source of the noise drew nearer and nearer, the hallo sounding at short intervals. It was unmistakably a human voice. We made a roaring blaze, shouted, waved firebrands and discharged guns. But the creature with the human voice passed, I should say about three hundred yards from us,uttering it's cry at intervals. Then the cry grew fainter and fainter in the distance. None of us slept a wink that night". In 1937 W C Scully reminisced about his journey in 1874 from Pilgrims Rest to Maputo in "The Star" newspaper dated 25 June 1937. Stephen Gray is credited for this reference " We had many interesting experiences, including the cutting of the trail through the mighty boulders of the Lebombo and the making of corduroy roads over the Matolo Marshes … It was the first breakthrough with wheeled vehicles in a country which was then practically a terra incognita. " After picking up their rested oxen at Pretorius Kop they eventually arrived back at Pilgrims Rest having lost 102 oxen to Nagana. Scully now had enough capital to embark on a venture that he had been considering for some time and that was to explore and fossick in the Olifants River valley. He teemed up with John Mulcahy, a big Irish American who had been involved with the Californian goldfields. Mulcahy was quite a character, with a tremendous appetite for adventure, food and liquor.

They set off, but after a day or two they got caught in a heavy rain storm that lasted a few days. They were drenched, starved and frozen, so they decided to go back to Pilgrims Rest to recover.

In the Lower Camp, as it was known, was a big marquee tent that was an eating house run by Jimmy Stopforth and his partner Bill Bowman. They claimed that their standard meal for two shillings was enough to satisfy anybody's appetite. Scully and Mulcahy arrived at this establishment in their ravenous condition.

Jimmy Stopforth gaped in amazement as helping after helping disappeared down Mulcahy's throat. Bill Bowman, who did the cooking in a tent next door, stopped working in order to see for himself who this person, with this huge appetite, was. After a while their hunger was assuaged and they left their two shillings on the table and departed to rest and dry out.

After they had rested and recovered they left early one morning to resume their Olifants River expedition. They stopped at the marquee again for a last good meal. Jimmy Stopforth was not too pleased to see them again and he called out to his partner, "Bill, breakfast for ten, the Son of a Bitch is back again".

They had no luck with the Olifants River sortie and so returned to Pilgrims Rest. It is told that Mulcahy hit "paydirt" and after collecting a handsome sum, left for Cape Town where he bought a tavern and proceeded to drink himself into insanity.

Scully worked long and hard and even ended up in Swaziland with a party of Australian diggers, but he had no luck. He found one good claim at the head of Pilgrims Creek but because of a drought, did not have enough water to work his claim, so he had to abandon it.

If a claim was left unattended for a continuous period of 7 to 10 days, it was considered "Jumpable". Someone at a later stage took over working that claim and made good finds. Scully then went down to "The Reef" on Jubilee Hill and formed a partnership with a Dane named Wolff and an Australian named McGrath. He tells of how McGrath was bitten on the instep by a black mamba.

This resulted in him becoming such a physical wreck that he had to open his eyes with his hands for many months. What the end result was we don't know. He is also reputed to have worked as a tent maker at one time to supplement his income, which practice seems to have been quite common amongst the Diggers.

They worked long and hard with no luck on Jubilee Hill and finally left the claim.

The hardest blow came after they had abandoned their claim. A New Zealander named Cunningham, pegged a claim over their site and recovered over 4000 pounds worth of gold in just a few short weeks.

Scully decided that his future did not lie at Pilgrims Rest so he packed up and left.

One wonders what his feelings were when with only one shilling and nine pence to his name, he must have turned back at the top of the hill and looked back on Pilgrims Rest for the last time. What a store of memories he must have built up.


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William Charles Scully's Timeline

October 29, 1855
Dublin, Dublin City, Dublin, Ireland
January 29, 1891
Age 35
Fort Beaufort, EC, South Africa
October 10, 1893
Age 37
January 8, 1894
Age 38
August 25, 1943
Age 87
Amanzimtoti, Durban Metro, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa