Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Real-life Crime and Betrayal in 20th Century Johannesburg: Showdown at the Red Lion by Charles van Onselen

Showdown at the Red LionNew from Jonathan Ball, Showdown at the Red Lion: The Life and Times of Jack McLoughlin, 1859–1910 by Charles van Onselen:

Johannesburg was – and is – the Frontier of Money. Within months of its founding, the mining camp was host to organised crime: the African “Regiment of the Hills” and “Irish Brigade” bandits. Bars, brothels, boarding houses and hotels oozed testosterone and violence, and the use of fists and guns was commonplace. Beyond the chaos were clear signs of another struggle, one to maintain control, honour and order within the emerging male and mining dominated culture. In the underworld, the dictum of “honour among thieves”, as well as a hatred of informers, testified to attempts at self-regulation. A “real man” did not take advantage of an opponent by employing underhand tactics. It had to be a “fair fight’ if a man was to be respected.

This was the world that “One-armed Jack” McLoughlin – brigand, soldier, sailor, mercenary, burglar, highwayman and safe-cracker – entered in the early 1890s to become Johannesburg’s most infamous “Irish” anti-hero and social bandit. McLoughlin’s infatuation with George Stevenson prompted him to recruit the young Englishman into his gang of safe-crackers but “Stevo” was a man with a past and primed for personal and professional betrayal. It was a deadly mixture. Honour could only be retrieved through a Showdown at the Red Lion.

This enthralling saga of crime, passion, and betrayal, is a compelling portrait of one of empire’s great, unsung anti-heroes. The book is a scintillating achievement.”

- Jean Comaroff, Harvard University

About the author

Charles van Onselen was educated at the Universities of Rhodes and Oxford. He has written extensively on 19th and 20th century South Africa. In 1983, his work on the social and economic history of the Witwatersrand won the Trevor Reese Memorial Prize for outstanding achievement in Commonwealth and Imperial history.

He is a well-known critic of Afrikaner nationalism whose earlier works include Chibaro: African Mine Labour in Southern Rhodesia, 1890-1914 and The Small Matter of a Horse: the Life of Nongoloza Mathebula, 1869-1948 and New Babylon, New Nineveh. In 1995, his biography of the life and times of Kas Maine, a black sharecropper, The Seed is Mine, won the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. He is currently research professor in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria.

Book details


Please register or log in to comment