Lord De Villiers and the Cape Town Abattoir


The meat industry in Cape Town has been a prominent feature of my work for many years. KC The King’s Counsel August 202 Magazine featured an article I did on Lord de Villiers and the Cape Town Abattoir a few years ago.

From KC Magazine 2 August 2022

We hiked across the De Villiers Reservoir on Table Mountain last Saturday and I was intrigued. I suspected he was chief justice and confirmed this when I got home. He was part of shaping the fabric of the modern Cape. Sir John Henry de Villiers, known as Hendrik (15 June 1842 – 2 September 1914) was a Cape lawyer and judge. He was Attorney-General in the Molteno Government, Chief Justice for the Cape Colony, and later the first Chief Justice for the Union of South Africa.

There is an interesting story about him and the South African meat industry in one of the cases he presided over. This one relates to the closing of the old Cape Town abattoir.

The city abattoir was located at the bottom of Adderly street where the railway station now stands. In 1883 a lawsuit was brought against the city on the basis that the Shambles, as it was called, was a public disturbance and had to be removed. Sir Henry de Villiers, as chief justice, led a full bench of the supreme court to hear the case. An in-person inspection was carried out one morning after the slaughter of animals. The judges and lawyers walked the beach; sewerage was flowing into the sea; the stench was unbearable. In those days slaughtering houses were often constructed on beaches or next to rivers that the blood would run into the water or disappear under the sand and offal would be removed by the incoming tide.

Late in 1883 Justice de Villiers delivered judgement and said that the least the city could do was to slaughter the animals elsewhere. This sealed the fate of the Shambles and it was moved.

Instrumental in the campaign to have the city cleaned up was the 22-year-old David de Villiers Graaff, the father of the South African meat industry who at this point was running Combrinck & Co which later became The Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company and later re-branded the name to ICS. Roy Oliver who is a technical mastermind in the meat industry and a colleague at Woodys Consumer Brands worked for an ICS subsidiary for many years in Namibia. It was this event of closing the Shambles, that prompted Combrinck & Co. to install their own slaughtering line.

When Jacobus Combrinck, owner of Combrinck & Co. and who brought the young David to Cape Town, passed away on 8 August 1891, the funeral service was conducted in the Groote Kerk. From there the procession moved to the Maitland Cemetery where the pole bearers were Cecil John Rhodes, J. W. Sauer, Onze Jan Hofmeyer, Sir Gordon Sprigg, Colonel F. Schermbrucker, M. L. Neetling, D. C. de Waal and Sir John Henry de Villiers. An interesting mix of people as many of them shaped the landscape of modern Cape Town. Throw into the mix that David de Villiers Graaff and his brothers were key features at the funeral since they, together with one sister, lived with Jacobus Combrink in his Woodstock mansion and also erected the headstone that is over the grave of Jacobus. Sir David de Villiers Graaff and Lord/ Sir John Henry were close family.

An interesting story of a giant man and a fascinating industry.

Copy of KC The King’s Counsel August 202 Magazine


Domisse, E.. 2011. Sir David Pieter de Villiers Graaff, First baronet of De Grendel. Tafelberg.

Simons, A. B.. 2000. Ice Cold in Africa. Fernwood Press.

Walker, E. A.. 1925. Lord de Villiers and His Time. Constable & Co.