William Layton Sammons

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William Layton Sammons (1801-1882) was an author, theatre reviewer and commentator, journalist, columnist and editor, and known as one of the founders of South African journalism.

He was best known in South Africa by his nom-de-plume of Sam Sly.


Born in Bedford, England, and having resided in the spa town of Bath for several years as a member of the minor gentry, Sammons counted amongst his friends the eminent caricaturist George Cruikshank, and made acquaintance with prominent figures such as Charles Dickens. Having contributed satire and commentary to the Bath press, including acting as a theatrical critic for Keenes's Bath Journal.

He came to Cape Town in 1842. He was a decided champion of the theatre against the strict Methodism of the times (while himself being a convinced Christian, who later opened a shop selling Christian literature), as well as one of the earliest regular theatre critics in South Africa. Here he regularly wrote articles for the more established newspapers, such as the Cape Town Mail, and in 1843 founded an influential weekly: Sam Sly's African Journal, making use of a printing press that had previously belonged to J. Suasso de Lima (a press he in turn offered to William Rabone, who founded the Graaf Reinet Herald in later years.)

After the closure of the journal in 1851, Sammons became a bookseller in Cape Town.

Sam Sly's African Journal

The aim of Sam Sly's African Journal (1843–1851) was to "register of facts, fiction, news, literature, commerce and amusement" and thus promote culture and entertainment in general in the Cape. According to C.A. Holdridge (2010: p.3), the African Journal was "a hybrid newspaper and literary and satirical periodical aimed at an Anglophone immigrant readership in the period between the abolition of slavery and the granting of representative government to the Cape Colony.". The first issue appeared in Cape Town on 1 June 1843, and appeared weekly thereafter, with brief intermissions, until 1851. It gave a humourous and lively picture of literature and public entertainment, particularly the sport, music and theatre of the time. Of particular note is the fact that he also covered Dutch culture and theatre of the time. It was often also polemical and took up specific issues, with and satire being a strong element in its approach. For example, in 1845 he took the lead in campaigning for a new theatre for Cape Town, which resulted in 1846 in the building of the Drury Lane Theatre.

[TH, JH]


Jill Fletcher, 1994

F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [1]: pp. 464-468;491

C.A. Holdridge, 2010. Sam Sly's African Journal and the role of satire in colonial British identity at the Cape of Good Hope, c. 1840-1850. Unpublished Masters thesis in Historical Studies: University of Cape Town[2]

William Layton Sammons in ESAACH[3]

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