Johan Colenbrander

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(b. Pinetown, 01/11/1857 – d. Henley-on-Klip, 10/02/1918). Entrepreneur, soldier. Born of Dutch parents, Johannes Wilhelm (Johan William) Colenbrander grew up in Natal and was fluent in Zulu, which stood him in good stead in his subsequent career as trader, soldier and frequent interpreter between various white administrations and black leaders like Chief Zibhebhu in Zululand and King Lobengula of Matabeleland. From Lobengula he received a number of trading concessions, but when the Ndebele Rebellion broke out in 1896, Colenbrander took part in the defence of Bulawayo and, a few years later, commanded Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts during the South African War. After the war he was involved in numerous business ventures, first in Southern Africa, but also in the United States and Mexico. Always a restless and sometimes reckless spirit, he eventually returned home and in 1917 he was offered the role of Lord Chelmsford in the film The Symbol of Sacrifice, directed by Dick Cruikshanks. Having taken part in the Anglo-Zulu War himself, he accepted and showed a great interest in the production. One of the final scenes involved the crossing of a river, shot at Henley-on-Klip, with Chelmsford as commander of the British forces in the 1879 battle of Ulundi leading his troops on horseback. Though the river was flowing strongly and the producers tried to persuade Colenbrander to abandon the attempt, he insisted. When some of the horses panicked in midstream, Colenbrander and two of his companions were swept from their horses and drowned. The accident received much publicity and during the inquest the relevant section of the footage shot at the time was screened, after which the producers were cleared from any accusation of negligence. (Colenbrander was a character in the 1996 television series Rhodes, in which he was played by Ian Roberts.) (FO)


Stage & Cinema, 16 February 1918

Dictionary of South African biography

Gutsche, Thelma - The history and social significance of motion pictures in South Africa 1895-1940

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