Sir Joseph Robinson, 1st Baronet

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Sir Joseph Robinson, 1st Baronet
Sir Joseph Robinson, 1st Baronet

Sir Joseph Benjamin Robinson, 1st Baronet (3 August 1840 – 30 October 1929) was a South African mining magnate and Randlord. Born in Cradock, Eastern Cape, died Wynberg, Cape Town.

The son of an 1820 settler, he fought on the side of the Orange Free State in the Basuto War, and later became a general trader, wool-buyer and stock-breeder at Dordrecht. On the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1867 he hastened to the Vaal River district, where, by purchasing the stones from the natives and afterwards by buying diamond-bearing land, notably at Kimberley, he soon acquired a considerable fortune. His rather forceful business tactics came in for a lot of criticism, earning him the title of "Old Buccaneer", but even so he became a member of the Mining Board and later chairman. He raised and commanded the Kimberley Light Horse. He was Mayor of Kimberley in 1880, and for four years was a representative of Griqualand West in the Cape parliament. On the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand district in 1886, Alfred Beit financed a partnership with ₤25 000. Robinson purchased the Langlaagte and Randfontein estates, but Beit soon dissolved the partnership because of Robinson's temper and business methods. Robinson chose to keep the western portion of their former joint assets, while Beit took the eastern section. His views as to the westerly trend of the main gold-bearing reef were entirely contrary to the bulk of South African opinion at the time, but events proved him to be correct, and the enormous appreciation in value of his various properties made him one of the richest men in South Africa. He founded the Randfontein Estates Gold Mining Company in 1890, which was the largest individual undertaking on the Reef and one of the largest in the world. As a Rand capitalist he stood aloof from combinations with other gold-mining interests, and took no part in the Johannesburg reform movement, maintaining friendly relations with President Kruger. He claimed that it was as the result of his representations after the Jameson Raid that Kruger appointed the Industrial Commission of 1897, whose recommendations had they been carried out would have remedied some of the Uitlander grievances. On 27 July 1908 he was created a baronet of Hawthornden and Dudley House.

He was called "the Buccaneer" around Kimberly, South Africa.

In June 1922 he was nominated for a UK peerage but declined the honour. The nomination, by UK coalition Prime Minister David Lloyd George was subject to much debate in parliament as Robinson was considered unsuitable for such an honour, only rewarded because of his donation (£30,000, worth over £1m in 2011) to party funds. The air of scandal surrounding the issue tarnished the Coalition government's image, and was somewhat responsible for the Conservatives detachment of Lloyd George's Liberals from the party, later in 1922. The general scandal of sale of peerages led to the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925.

A street in Kensington, Johannesburg is named after him. Located on this street is a boarding house of Jeppe High School for Boys, namely Tsessebe.


Joseph Benjamin Robinson was the son of Robert John Robinson (1792-1886) and Martha Rozina Strutt. He had five brothers and nine sisters.

He married Elizabeth Rebecca Ferguson (daughter of James Furguson) on 3rd October 1877 in Kimberly, South Africa. She was born 4th November 1859 in Victoria West, and died 30 March 1930 in Muizenburg, South Africa. They had 11 children including Ida, who married the Italian Ambassador to South Africa, Prince Natale Teodato Labia the descendants of whom still reside at Robinson's Cape Town home Hawthorndon House.

Sir J.B. Robinson's death in 1929 caused a great scandal in South Africa and Britain upon discovery of his will. His personal fortune of £12 million was given to his heirs except one of his daughters, who was only given a mere £2 thousand. He gave nothing to charity. There was a scathing article in the Cape Times after his death.


  • Kidd, Charles, Williamson, David (editors). Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage (1990 edition). New York: St Martin's Press, 1990.
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
(new creation)
(of Hawthornden and Dudley House)
Succeeded by
Joseph Benjamin Robinson