18 May 2024


If you’ve had a glass of Chateau Libertas, Nederburg, Lieberstein, Grünberger, Tassenberg, Graça or many other wines, you can raise a glass to Dr William Charles WINSHAW. Many of South Africa’s most popular wine brands belong to present-day producer-wholesaler Distell Group Limited, which links to Dr WINSHAW in the early 1900s.

Dr William Charles WINSHAW

Dr William Charles WINSHAW was born on 21 November 1871 in or near Somerset in Pulaski County, Kentucky, USA, the eldest son of a doctor, Dr Carl WINSHAW and his first wife. His mother died when he was five months old (circa April 1872). His father re-married and had a son, Otto WINSHAW, with his second wife. William Charles died in Stellenbosch, South Africa on 11 March 1968. 

According to an interview he gave in 1968, he ran away from home at the age 12 as he didn’t get on with his stepmother. His stepmother was German and it is claimed that she was one of the first female doctors in the USA. There was a snow storm the afternoon he left, with a pumpkin pie baked by the family's cook Dinah. She was a former slave and her son, Rastus, was the young William's friend. He recalled taking on any job he could get - cutting bacon for a grocer, working as a stoker on a train in Dixieland, unloading bananas in New Orleans, joining the Yukon gold rush in Canada and the Klondike gold rush in Alaska. At a St Louis racetrack, he offered to hold a horse named Mulligan. He asked the bookmaker what the odds were on that horse. He only had one dollar and the bookmaker said he'd give him 1,000 to one. The young William got his first lucky break - the horse won. He bought a good suit, a couple of guns and a ticket to Texas. It is claimed that he became a Texas Ranger in 1893, and fought on the Mexican border in the Yaqui War. Next he set off for New Orleans determined to study medicine at Tulane University and become a doctor like his father. To pay for medical school, he played faro at night. To date, I have not found the WINSHAW name among the university's medical graduates. An opportunity to study tropical diseases in Germany came up and he enrolled at Berlin University for a year. He returned to America where he practiced medicine for some time in New Mexico
In 1899 he met an Englishman, Lieutenant McGUINESS who was fighting in the Anglo-Boer War and was sent to the USA to buy horses and mules for the British Army. Great Britain had established a military base in New Orleans, Louisiana, for the shipment of horses and mules from the USA to South Africa. Some of the horses and mules came from Argentina via New Orleans. From October 1899 to June 1902, 109,878 horses and 81,524 mules were shipped from New Orleans in 65 different British steamships making 166 voyages.

The Lieutenant offered William a job overseeing the 2,080 mules from Argentina aboard the Manchester City from New Orleans to Cape Town. The ship departed New Orleans on 23 November 1899 and arrived in Cape Town on 26 December 1899. When the Manchester City arrived in Cape Town, 187 mules had died. I have found reference that the ship William sailed on was the Larinaga but I have found no such ship arriving in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War with mules and/or horses.

William intended to do a return trip, but he ended up remaining in South Africa. Once the mules were delivered, Dr WINSHAW is said to have joined the British military as a doctor (so far, I have not found records to prove this). In his 1968 interview, William said that he was appointed chief plague officer of the Cape, and later on also came down with bubonic plague. I did find that he was appointed as Head of Removal Staff in 1901-1902.

Bubonic plague came to South Africa in 1899-1900 through the port cities of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Durban. After the start of the Anglo-Boer War in October 1899 the amount of shipping to South African ports increased dramatically. With the first cases and ensuing panic, public health officials began quarantining people, killing rats, disinfecting and even burning whole neighbourhoods down. On 5 March 1900 the SS Kilburn arrived in Table Bay from South America carrying people with plague aboard, and was sent in quarantine to Saldanha Bay. The bacteriologist of the Cape Colonial Administration, Dr J. A. MITCHELL, recently arrived from Glasgow and Edinburgh, was put in charge. The five patients recovered, and the ship was disinfected. In October 1900, Dr MITCHELL had to deal with a limited outbreak in the King William's Town district. The first patient was a man who had recently returned from a British remount station. It was found that he had probably been infected via rats concealed in forage transported from Cape Town with horses imported from South America for the British cavalry.

On 6 February 1901 Dr MITCHELL was recalled to Cape Town. Dr A. J. GREGORY, Medical Officer of Health for the Cape Colony, informed him that rats were dying of plague in the Cape Town docks. That area of the docks had been in the hands of the military authorities since the start of the Anglo-Boer War. It housed stocks of grain and forage imported from South America. Before the year was out 766 cases of plague had been confirmed and 371 people had died.

On 12 April 1901, several bubonic plague-infected rat carcasses were discovered in Port Elizabeth, in the vicinity of a large stock of forage which had been shipped from Beunos Aires some months before. Four days later, a case of bubonic plague was discovered in a man that had worked on the stock. It was later confirmed that the infection had spread from the forage to the nearby military remount station in North End which had received forage from Buenos Aires.

According to his 1968 interview, William was not popular with the British junior officers at the time. When he heard that they complained about "this alien", he applied to become a British South African citizen. His application, dated January 1905 in Port Elizabeth, lists him as a government plague disinfecting officer. At the time, he was living in Port Elizabeth and had been in South Africa for five years. As William's first marriage was in Port Elizabeth in September 1902, it is clear that he first worked in Port Elizabeth. His first two daughters were born in Graaff-Reinet where he also worked as a doctor.

At about the same time as William applied for citizenship, his hopes of continuing to work as a doctor in South Africa were dashed. The British had used his medical expertise during the war, but afterwards refused to accept his American and German credentials unless he did a six month medical course at the University of Edinburgh. William refused. By 1905 he rented the farm Patrysvlei (Brown Hills) near Stellenbosch from a Cape Town dentist, Dr George NATHANIEL. This is where he started to experiment with making wine in his kitchen from mostly Hermitage and Pontac grapes. He took the product to Fred GREEN of the wine merchants EK Green & Co. The first order was for 500 hogshead at £10 per leaguer (a Dutch measure equal to 153 US gallons). He later imported Vitis Labrusca grapes (also known as fox grapes) from Concord, Massachusetts. He soon had regular customers, and started the Stellenbosch Grape Juice Works in 1909. 

By 1909, William was doing well and was a respected figure in the wine industry. An over-supply in a depressed market after World War I saw his business in financial trouble. In January 1921 a banruptcy order was filed, one of the biggest insolvencies in the country at the time. KWV bought William's stocks, cellar and equipment. He left for America in 1922 but returned to Stellenbosch in 1923 and worked as a consultant to wine farmers.

William's travels in the early 1920s included:

On 03 October 1921 he arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, from Hong Kong aboard the Empress of Asia. He was listed as a manufacturer and an Anglican by religion. He was en route to the USA and gave his destination as: P BARKLEY, Lincoln, Nebraska (a friend).

From Victoria, the ship stopped in Seattle on 04 October 1921. William was in transit and was going to spend two months in the USA. The shipped originally left from Yokohama, Japan on 24 September 1921. He further gave the following details:
Birth place: Somerset, USA.
He stated he was last in the USA from 1871 to 1895 in Texas (where was he from 1895 to the end of 23 November 1899 when he departed New Orleans?)
Complexion: Light
Eye Colour: Blue
Hair Colour: Gray
Height: 6 Feet
Address of relative or friend in South Africa: friend - C. MURPHY, Plein Street, Cape Town.
Wife: Ada, in Cape Town.
His intended departure from the USA was to be 19 November 1921 from New York, with Cape Town as his final destination.

William visited Lincoln, Nebraska for one day in late October 1921, according to a report in The Lincoln State Journal of 02 November 1921.  The report stated that he became friends with the "late James BARKLEY" in Cape Town. On this visit, he visited Mrs BARKLEY and her daughters whom he knew as children in Cape Town. He also attended a lunch arranged by W.B. BARKLEY at the Chamber of Commerce. The report described him as having "the appearance of an out of doors American. He is almost shy in his bearing, with a quaint style which is made doubly fascinating by his speech, made up of the cultivate English accent superimposed upon his soft Kentucky drawl." He had left South Africa in June and travelled via India, China and Japan.

James was James Allen BARKLEY born 04 December 1870 in Newport, Indiana, son of William Elliott BARKLEY and Nancy Ellen. He died in 1918 in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was an electrical engineer. He married Phoebe GERRARD in Columbus, Nebraska. In 1916 they lived at Northam, Sea Point, Cape Town. James left the USA in 1900 and settled in Cape Town in May 1902 where he was in business. Phoebe was born in Columbus, Nebraska. They had three daughters: Dorothy Elizabeth born 1901 in Honolulu, Phoebe Hope born 1904 in Cape Town, and Olivia Grace born 1909 in Port Elizabeth. His relative in the USA in 1916 was listed as Mr E. BARKLEY, 126 North 11th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska.

On 04 May 1922, William arrived in New York aboard the Homeric from Southampton, England. He intended to visit New York for three months, visiting the Foreign Traders Co., 154 National Street, New York.  He gave his occupation as grape juice manufacturer.

On 21 October 1922, William arrived in Southampton, South Africa, aboard the Olympic from New York. He gave his occupation as farmer, and the address in the UK as 61 St John Hill, Clapham, London.

On 28 October 1922, William departed Southampton, England, aboard the Briton for Cape Town. He gave his occupation as farmer, and the last address in the UK as 89 York Road, London.

On 02 May 1923, William arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, aboard the Eastern Crown from Durban, South Africa. The ship left Durban on 24 March 1923. He gave his final destination as New York City, and the addres as: friend J.A. HIRSCH, 105 Hudson Street, New York. He intended to visit for two months. In his physical description it was noted that he had a glass left eye (he was known as Eagle Eye). He gave his occupation as farmer.

On 21 December 1923, William arrived in Southampton, England, aboard the Majestic from New York.
Dr Charles William Henry KOHLER, a dentist, was trying to set up a wine co-operative to help the struggling wine farmers. All the wine farmers were to sign a draft constitution. One farmer, VAN DER MERWE of the farm Merwida near Rawsonville, refused to sign. Charles approached William to see if he could convince VAN DER MERWE to sign. William left early one morning and arrived at VAN DER MERWE's farm while he was still eating breakfast. After breakfast, William offered up one of the four bottles of brandy that he had brought with him. The two sat and drank. By the time the last bottle was opened during supper, VAN DER MERWE said "You bleddie Yankee Doodle! Give me the papers to sign!" On 08 January 1918,  the Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika was founded with Charles as chairman. It became KWV, still in existence today. Under Charles' leadership KWV saved the wine industry from certain ruin. He guided KWV as chairman of the board until his death in 1952.

In March 1924, William was formally rehabilitated from his insolvency. In 1925, at the age of 53, William joined Gideon Johannes KRIGE and his wife Susanna Elizabeth RABIE, in a distillery venture in Stellenbosch. GJ Krige en Zoon (GJ Krige and Son) of the farm Oude Libertas had been in business since 1918 at least. Gideon's father had purchased the farm in 1867. The partnership was called The Stellenbosch Farmer's Winery, Wine and Spirit Merchants, Producers and Wine Growers. It was situated at Oude Libertas and was founded on 01 April 1925 as a ten-year partnership with William and Susanna as the two partners. William served as its first chairman and managing director.

In the 1929 Cape Town telephone directory, William is listed at Lower Dorp Street in Stellenbosch and his phone number was 145. His son, William Joachim (Bill), is listed at Virgin Way, Dorp Street, Stellenbosch with 258 as his phone number. The WINSHAW family lived in a red brick house in Bosman's Crossing, near the Oude Molen estate, until William bought La Gratitude in Dorp Street in 1932. It was built between 1795 and 1798 by the Rev. Meent BORCHERDS, minister of the Dutch Reformed of Stellenbosch from 1786-1830. William had extensions done circa 1935.

La Gratitude today
William's friend, Mark MARKOTTER, was a lawyer and a director at the Stellenbosch District Bank. When the ten-year partnership with KRIGE expired, William asked for his help to get a bank loan of £6 000 to buy out Susanna's share. A new company, The Stellenbosch Farmer's Winery (Pty) Limited, was registered on 18 March 1935, and William was joined by his two sons, Bill and Jack. In 1935 The Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW) Limited was registered as a public company.

Zonnebloem was one of his main customers. William was so impressed with Zonnebloem's 1945 Cabernet that he described it as "a great red wine ever to be produced in South Africa". In the late 1950s he re-labelled 120 bottles as W.C. Winshaw Private Cellar 1945 and with his family crest in honour of his 78th birthday. These bottles were only opened at special family ocassions.

William's business was doing well with products such as Mellow Wood brandy (made by Gideon J KRIGE, launched in 1915), La Gratitude dry white wine, and the red blend Chateau Libertas. He had a flair for marketing, which made him a leader in wine marketing during the post-war years, capturing about 70% of the market for SBW.  In 1956 Stellenbosch Farmers Winery Ltd. was listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. In 1959, SFW introduced Lieberstein, a semi-sweet table wine which sold 46,000 bottles that year. In 1964, Lieberstein broke sales records by shipping 31 million liters, making it the world’s largest selling bottled wine at the time.

In 1960, the family sold a controlling share to South African Breweries and Bill stayed on as managing director. William remained as MD of SFW until 1962 when he retired at the age of 92. A painting of William hangs in Distell’s Adam Tas Building. Prior to his retirement, the South African government increased the tax on fortified wines and lowered tax on natural wines, much to William's delight as he had campaigned for this. SFW merged with Distillers Corporation on 4 December 2000 to form Distell Group Limited and listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange as Distell with assets of R3.8 billion. Distillers Corporation was founded in 1945 by Dr Anton RUPERT of the Rembrandt empire.

William's wife Ada became ill prior to his retirement. A home care nurse, Susan Valerie BUTLER, was employed to care for her. Susan had been the matron at the Allied Forces hospital in Cairo during World War II. She became William's second wife after Ada'a death. William later suffered a stroke and spent most of his day in a wheelchair. It was at this time that the late Peter VELDSMAN became a friend of William and Susan. He helped Susan with her social events, and it was William who suggested he make a career in the food and wine industry. Peter learnt cooking skills from Rosy, the WINSHAW's cook. He went on to cook for their guests such as Commodore Norman BARNES of the Royal Navy and Lady Vere de Vere. One day, William sent his driver, Apollus, to SFW to collect a package. When he returned, it was with 12 bottles of wine, of which six were W.C. Winshaw Private Cellar 1945 from Zonnebloem Estate and these were given to Peter. Years later, Peter donated the last bottle to SFW as a museum piece. When William died, Peter accompanied the family to St Mary's Anglican Church for the funeral service.

Despite his wealth, William remained a charming and down-to-earth idealist. He was fondly known as the Oubaas.  The family motto was "Ne cede malis" (yield not to misfortunes). The family crest, awarded by the Royal College of Heralds, was a vine wreath and white grapes surrounding a galleon in full sail. The galleon was used on various SFW brands. He was a regular bridge player. William disliked petty-minded authority and cheap sherries, doctored wine, and witblits which he referred to as belly wash. He often served home-made Kentucky pumpkin pies. He travelled throughout South Africa, camping in open spaces, and argued with rigid prohibitionists and hotel keepers that served sub-standard food. According to the 1968 interview, the family once stayed at a hotel in Estcourt, a town known for its quality bacon. At breakfast, William was not impressed by the bacon on offer. He left and bought a good piece of bacon from a local butcher, and cooked it in the hotel's front garden. All the hotel guests were invited to taste what good bacon tasted like.

Mrs Susan Winshaw and Natalie circa 1968
William's first marriage was to an English nurse, Ada Charlotte DAY (1874 England-1959 Stellenbosch) on 01 September 1902 at St Mary's Collegiate Church in Port Elizabeth. In England, the Hampshire Post & Southsea Observer newspaper dated 03 October 1902 published a marriage announcement. Ada was the daughter of William DAY of Fareham, Hampshire, and had come to South Africa to nurse in the Anglo-Boer War. They had four children:

1) Virginia WINSHAW born 13 July 1903 in Graaff-Reinet.
She was baptised on 25 August 1903 at St James' Anglican Church in Graaff-Reinet. At the time, her father was working as a doctor in Graaff-Reinet.
She died on 21 January 1999 in Stellenbosch.
She married Ockert Almero OOSTHUIZEN on 08 March 1930. They divorced in 1946.
a) Mary-Anne OOSTHUIZEN (1930–1967). She married Alfred Walter CROMPTON.
b) Virginia OOSTHUIZEN (1933–). She married Oystein LILTVED (opera singer) in 1959.

2) Natalie WINSHAW born 31 December 1904 in Graaff-Reinet.
She died on 27 July 1994 in Stellenbosch.
She married Cecil Alfred NUTTLEY on 04 October 1939. They divorced in 1950.

3) Nancy Ada WINSHAW born 30 October 1906 in Stellenbosch.
She died on 09 February 1994 in Stellenbosch.
She married Albert Waldemar (Wally) MITCHELL (1911-2001) on 14 January 1939. They divorced in 1969.
a) William Jack Campbell MITCHELL born 11 June 1946. He died on 13 May 2019. He was a racehorse owner.

4) William (Bill) Joachim WINSHAW born 19 March 1908 in Stellenbosch.
He died on 31 July 1997 in Stellenbosch.
He married Dorothy Jean BOSMAN (1912-2004) on 24 June 1939.
a) Jill Clare WINSHAW (1941-). In November 1967, she spent American Thanksgiving with the family of William TEMPLER in Waco, Texas. She was visiting the USA with a school friend, after attending school in England. According to the local newspaper, Jill's family had moved to South Africa "100 years ago from England". Jill was a school teacher.
b) John William WINSHAW (1942-2019). He married Jeanette JOUBERT in 1980. Children: Pierre William WINSHAW (1981-), John Philip (JP) WINSHAW (1983-), Sue-Marié WINSHAW (1986-), Lorraine WINSHAW, Jean WINSHAW. Owned Klein Welmoed.
c) Valerie Jean WINSHAW (1944-2010). She married Michael de Villiers HELLAWELL (1939-1997).
d) Gail Adrienne WINSHAW (1947–2016)
e) William Brian WINSHAW (1951-). He married Naudéne BARNARD (daughter of Dr Marius BARNARD and Inez NAUDE). Children: Charles WINSHAW.

5) Jack WINSHAW born 11 March 1910.
He died on 18 August 1997 in Robertson.
His first marriage was to Hazel KOTZE (1913–2002) on 16 January 1937 in Durban. They divorced in 1946.
His second marriage was to Dawn Averil BAXTER (1930–2016) on 27 November 1948 in Heidelberg, Transvaal. They divorced in 1965. HOOPER
His third marriage was to Brenda SCAIFE (1929–1997) ENGELS
a) Charles WINSHAW (1939-1973)
b) William Brian WINSHAW (1951-)
c) Averil Anne WINSHAW. She married Kevin H DALY in Paddington, London in 1976.
d) Geoffrey Harold WINSHAW (1958-), adopted son. In looking for a Kentucky, USA, connection, I found that the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper of August 1990 had a listing under Marriage Licences, Woodford County for Katherine Mary GORTON (1960-) and Geoffrey Harold WINSHAW (1958-). They were married in July 1990. Geoffrey was in businesses with Jack WINSHAW and William Brian WINSHAW.

On 12 August 1912, William and Ada arrived in Plymouth, England, aboard the Ballarat from Cape Town.

William's second marriage was to Susan Valerie SANSUM (1902 Wales-02 June 1978 Stellenbosch) on 29 February 1960 at St Mary's Anglican Church in Stellenbosch.
He was 88 years old and she was 57 years old.
Her first marriage was to BUTLER.

A booklet of 62 pages was written by the South African author, Eric Rosenthal, called Gold dust and grapes: W.C. Winshaw and his story. Eric passed away in 1983, and this booklet was only published in 1998 in Cape Town. It was a small print run as there are only two copies in South Africa's National Library in Cape Town. If anyone has a copy they would like to sell, I would be interested.
William's great-grandsons, Pierre and John Philip (JP) WINSHAW, are following in their great-grandfather's footsteps on the Klein Welmoed farm on Baden Powell Drive near Stellenbosch. They've been making wine under the Usana label since 2010 and launched the Winshaw range in 2017. The farm was bought by their father, John, in the 1970s. John originally bought the farm to grow grapes and sell to the SFW.  The Usana brand sells meat, eggs, and wines. Ten persent of their grapes are used in their own winemaking, the rest is sold to other winemakers.

There are no confirmed records for the WINSHAW family in Pulaski County, Kentucky, that I have found. In the US Census of 01 June 1900, there is a Jenni A. WIMSHAW at House 508, Chattanooga, Hamilton County, Tennessee. She was born in July 1861 in Germany and was a widow at the time of the census. Jenni had immigrated to the USA in 1874. She had three children. Listed with her are two boarders: Otto B WIMSHAW (born October 1876 in Missouri, parents born in Germany) and Jenni WIMSHAW (born February 1882 in Missouri, parents born in Germany). Otto and Jenni were both single at the time of the census, All three WIMSHAWs are boarders at the home of Electar SPEERS, a widow. Electar was 75 years old (born in December 1825 in New York), a widow and mother of three children (one child was deceased by June 1900). Could these WIMSHAWs be William Charles WINSHAW's relatives? If anyone has information that can confirm the US relatives, please let me know.

Believed to be South Africa’s oldest red blend, Chateau Libertas was launched by William in 1932. It has been produced every year since - through wars, droughts and pandemics. William wanted a wine to enjoy with food. It was considered good for the digestion and part of a healthy lifestyle. The problem was there wasn’t much choice on the local market in the years between the two World Wars and most of what was available was sweet and fortified. That prompted him to create a dry red blend. It was originally conceived as a Cabernet Sauvignon-based, wood-matured blend. Cinsaut was a component of the blend until the turn of the century. The current blend still features Cabernet Sauvignon but also Shiraz, Merlot, Ruby Cabernet and Petit Verdot.

An advertisement in The Wine Book of South Africa 1936, urged readers “When travelling by rail or motor insist on being served” his special blend with their meals. He advised them to “please complain to the Management” if it wasn’t available and assured them that this was a wine “not to intoxicate but give just the right stimulation to the digestion needed by travellers”. Chateau Libertas was so popular that when the British Royal Family visited South Africa in 1947 it was served at the official state banquet. It was also served to Viscount MONTGOMERY of Alamein when he visited the country in 1954 and again, in 1960, to honour British Prime Minister Harold MacMILLAN. In 1985, a bottle of 1940 vintage was sold for R20 000 at a charity auction.  In 2011, 3 bottles from 1961 sold for R20 000 at the Nederburg Auction, while a six-bottle case of the 1965 sold for R14 000 and a six-bottle case of the 1967, for R8 800.

I started this research with only William's name, and from there it was a fascinating journey of discovery. If you'd like me to research your family history, email me and let's discover what your story is.