1st Baronet KCMG (6 November 1864 – 10 August 1940)
Sir Abraham “Abe” Bailey was born in Cradock, in the Cape Colony, in 1864. His father, a wagon maker and wool merchant, later moved his family to Queenstown.
At 7 years old, his mother passed away, and since he had a difficult relationship with his father, Bailey spent most of his time with Dutch friends who lived nearby. His father sent him to attend school in Yorkshire, England. After leaving school at the age of 15, Bailey worked in London for a cotton and wool trading firm before returning to South Africa 2 years later.
In South Africa, he settled in Barberton and worked as a stockbroker and financial agent. By 1894, he had become the head of what was called the Bailey Group of gold mines and had begun to establish himself as one of the chief mining magnates of the Witwatersrand.
Through his association with Cecil John Rhodes, he was able to acquire substantial property in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Rhodes’ influence on Bailey led to his involvement in the Jameson Raid. He was initially sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to 15 years imprisonment, and later reduced to 1 year imprisonment. Bailey was released and heavily fined. He went on to pursue an active political life in government.
On Rhodes’ death in 1902, Bailey became Member of Parliament for his friend’s former seat of Barkly West, and then in 1908, represented Krugersdorp in the first elections of the Transvaal Parliament.
Bailey was also active in British politics and was awarded with an order of honour for services rendered during World War One. He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in 1911, and in 1919 he was created baronet. He was a famed negotiator, particularly in negotiations between opposing political parties.
After the death of his first wife Caroline Mary Paddon in 1902, Bailey married Mary Westenra in 1911. He had 7 children, 2 from his first marriage.
A keen cricketer, Bailey played 3 first class matches for Transvaal. As a bowler he averaged 18.27, taking 11 wickets, but failed to make an impact with the bat, scoring only 16 runs at an average of 3.2. He was a great supporter of South African cricket, and funded much of its development during the early 1900s.
Bailey would often travel to England where he would participate in fox hunting, and had a particular liking for pheasant. He had an interest in horse racing, and became one of the most prolific racing horse breeders in the country. He owned several farms, including a massive estate of 40 farms stretching over 300 square miles in the Hantam region (Colesberg) where he kept sheep and horses.
By the 1930s, Abe Bailey would become one of the world’s wealthiest men, owning several properties and businesses, and also held shares in various mines in both the South African Republic and Rhodesia.
In 1929, Bailey was diagnosed with thrombosis, and both his legs were amputated by 1938. On 10 August 1940, he died and was buried in the hills of Muizenberg.
Sir Abe Bailey’s South African legacy is demonstrated through the Abe Bailey Trust, which was created in accordance with his last will and testament. It also serves to award a travel bursary to individuals with exceptional leadership qualities, and numerous South Africans continue to benefit from this award.