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James Dallas

Prison Warder & Town Councillor

Keith Tankard
Updated: 24 October 2009
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It is with great sadness that we have to announce that the creator of The Labyrinth of East London Lore, Dr T., has passed away. Helping people through his website gave him no end of pleasure. If you had contact with him and would like to leave a message, please send us an e-mail here.

DEATH NOTICE: see Cape Archives, MOOC 6/9/1003, No 3771.
OBITUARY: see the Daily Dispatch, 11.10.1917.

James was the son of John Dallas. He was born in Kent in 1831 and came to the Cape Colony as a child when his soldier-father was posted there in 1841.

He was educated in Grahamstown and then Cape Town, after which he served an apprenticeship with Saul Solomon as a printer. He thereupon worked in that capacity in Grahamstown and Bloemfontein but entered the Convict Department in 1861. By 1871 he had become a Superintendent of Convicts and was posted to East London.

James was at East London during the distressful times of what was called the Great Depression. The downturn came about as a result of Germany's crushing defeat on France in the war of 1870, after which a humiliating peace treaty was imposed on that country, together with a massive war indemnity.

Such was France's determination to recover that she paid off the war debt in only three years. Germany, however, had come to depend on the unearned revenue and, as soon as the money ceased to flow into her coffers, she spiralled into a recession — dragging the whole world with her.

East London was severely hit. Initially the recession appeared to be passing unnoticed but, by the early 1880s, the investments from the Kimberley diamond fields were beginning to drag. The handing back of independence to the Transvaal in 1881 was the last straw. The country was plunged into a state of no-confidence which led to an immediate onset of the Great Depression.

This was exacerbated by a serious drought which severely hit the agriculturally based Cape Colony. As a result, all work on the massive harbour construction came to an abrupt halt, and East London became the centre of widespread unemployment.

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886, however, saw the economy begin to turn and, with it, East London launched into a decade of unprecedented prosperity. Indeed, the 1890s were a golden age for the port, with a deepening of the harbour because of the purchase of the dredger Lucy and a marked increase in trade. The town saw unparalleled street construction, as well as the introduction of electricity and a tramway system.

Once James Dallas had retired from the Convict Department in 1896, he followed in his father's footsteps by entering municipal politics, and so was part of the town's massive growth. He remained in the Council off and on till April 1903, just at the time when the economy began another downward spiral following the Anglo-Boer War. He also served awhile on the East London Divisional Council and as a Justice of the Peace at the port.

James Dallas died on 9 October 1917 at the age of 86, and was buried at East London.

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