It does well to keep up to date with the latest versions of historical accounts of the area one lives in, especially when truth turns out to be stranger than fiction.
If one visits the cemetery in Pilgrims’ Rest one finds the Robber’s Grave which lies to the right of most of the other graves. It also lies North/South as opposed to all the others lying East/West.
The legend at large has always maintained that the Robber’s Grave was the grave of a thief amongst the diggers in the mining camp who was caught pilfering in another man’s tent. He was apparently lynched and then died.
Some time back Roger Webster gave a radio talk on Cockney Liz of Barberton. This is a tale with a remarkable twist, which shows that there is always more to a story – especially when it is about someone as celebrated as Cockney Liz, the famous barmaid of Barberton during the gold rush of the late 1800’s.
The story of Cockney Liz is a sad story, which becomes even sadder when one reads about decent people finding themselves in serious difficulties in a strange country. Happily however, it seems that Liz emerged on the right side of life.
One is inclined to lift one’s eyes at the statusquo prevailing in the mining camps of Pilgrim’s Rest and Barberton as regards extra favours to the miners besides serving drinks as barmaids. The barmaids in the mining camps were there to virtually cater for all the miners’ needs from drinks, to nursing during bouts of fever, hangovers after a serious binge, comfort to someone with a sore heart, to commiserating with miners feeling depressed about whatever their problems may have been, and to providing for the more intimate needs of the miners themselves. It was an accepted “given”.
These ladies were respected, accepted in the highest circles, and cherished by everyone except the wives and girl-friends of some of the men, who were most concerned about any potential competition they may have had to contend with.
Apparently one of the miners was heard boasting about the fact that Florrie, the Golden Dane, who was expert at arm wrestling the miners, and he were sweethearts and would shortly be entering into wedlock.
When Florrie heard this she accosted the miner in the pub and “sjambokked” him seriously into an apology and sudden withdrawal of the statement. She then added that she was everyones’ sweetheart but was not owned and never would be owned by anybody – ever.
The saga begins with Elizabeth Webster of Scarborough in England who fell in love with a Mr.Roy Spencer, son of a well to do English banker who had no time for his son, as he was thought to be a waster. However he and Elizabeth eventually became engaged.
Roy was determined to show the world that he could make his own way in life and provide adequately, thus proving that he was worth his salt. Having heard of the marvelous opportunities in the diamond and newly discovered goldfields he decided to make his way to South Africa where he was determined to generate a fortune.
On voyage to his “Eldorado” he met up with a Mr. Walter Scott who was impressed with Roy’s accounts of the fabulous fortunes to be made. They became close friends and decided to make their way forward together.
Elizabeth was of course left behind. When she stopped hearing from Roy for some months she started pining for her man to such an extent that she eventually decided to follow him.
Once she arrived in Kimberley she started making enquiries about her fiancé’s whereabouts, to be told that he and his friend had moved on to Barberton where they were going to try their hand at panning for gold.
In the company of Trixie, a friend she had made on her way, they embarked on the their stagecoach journey to Barberton together. En route they were held up by the notorious Irish Brigade who robbed them of all their valuables and money. They arrived in Barberton penniless.
Eventually a Mrs.Emily Fernandez and Dr. Somershields, a medical doctor and amateur geologist broke the sad news to Elizabeth that her fiancé was in fact dead.
The story was that Roy Spencer and Walter Scott had decided to visit Pilgrim’s Rest with Dr. Somershields from Barberton. They were at a party in the bar of the Royal Hotel in Pilgrims’ Rest where they both became rather drunk.
Walter was inclined to become belligerent when he was not sober, and on this occasion accused Roy of stealing his purse of gold. Roy denied having stolen the purse and when Walter pulled a gun on him he hastily made off in the direction of the Methodist Church in Pilgrim’s in an effort to get away from his friend. Walter pursued him and shot him to death in the bushes above the church in what is now the present cemetery.
Friends of the two and Walter colluded to avoid trouble and any unwanted awkward investigations in the mining camp. They hastily dug a grave next to where the body lay, and buried Roy without telling a soul.
Once Walter had sobered up he found his purse in his tent. He then realized what he had done and promptly committed suicide. The same friends also secretly buried him next to Roy in an unmarked grave.
The grave was dug North/South as opposed to the other graves all lying East/West. A simple wooden cross with “Robber’s Grave” was mounted, and the story was spread that a robber had been buried at that site. That story has prevailed until the present day.
Heartbroken, Elizabeth suddenly realised she was on her own and in fact destitute.
Trixie, who was a barmaid, knew the ways of men having had experience with returning or visiting sailors and soldiers at the quayside in England. She prevailed on Elizabeth to start working as a barmaid. Elizabeth was a beautiful girl and a born entertainer with a good voice.
She sang and entertained the diggers, eventually becoming the most popular and desired barmaid in Barberton.
She was courted by the wealthy and famous businessmen operating in Barberton at the time, and eventually allowed herself to be seduced. She started making money by auctioning herself off to the highest bidder amongst the diggers as a prize for the night, and became the popular Cockney Liz.
Accurate accounts claim that the celebrated financier Alfred Beit of Corner House fame was madly in love with her and begged her to marry him but she turned him down.
She opened the Royal Albert Hall after working in the Red Light Canteen where she made her fortune.
Eventually her old acquaintance Mr. Percy Scribbens proposed to her, and they were married in Johannesburg. She destroyed all evidence relating to herself, and left Barberton as suddenly as she had arrived. She apparently returned to England with her husband.
A legend has it that an old Barbertonian was on the platform of a train station somewhere in England. He noticed a beautiful woman sitting in a train compartment next to the window.
He recognized her as Cockney Liz of Barberton and rushed to greet her. She ignored him. He persisted in trying to draw her attention. Eventually as the train started moving out of the station, she sang one of the bar songs from the Royal Albert Hall.
Gleaned from a broadcast by Roger Webster and other sources. There do happen to be other versions of this legend.
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