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  Solomon Barnato Joel (1865–1931), by Bassano, 1914 Solomon Barnato Joel (1865–1931), by Bassano, 1914
Joel, Solomon Barnato (1865–1931), financier, was born on 21 December 1865, at 8 Sandys Row, Spitalfields, in the East End of London, the youngest of three sons of Joel Joel (d. 1893), cigar manufacturer and publican, and his wife, Catherine, daughter of Isaac Isaacs. Her brother Barnett Isaacs, known as Barney Barnato [see ], played a major role in his nephews' lives and Solly (as Solomon was familiarly known) was his favourite. His formal education was limited to a brief spell at the Jews' Free School in Spitalfields, to which he and his brother Jack [see below] later donated a new wing.

Joel went to Kimberley in the 1880s, a penniless young man, to join his uncle Barney and his brother Woolf Joel in the diamond business of Barnato Brothers: ‘His [Solly's] stepping-stone to fortune was the diamond. Diamonds made him … one of the richest men in the world … a towering figure in finance, sport and society’ (Joel, 9–10). Throughout his long career Joel retained his fascination with diamonds. When the pessimists predicted that the diamond had had its day, he observed astutely that ‘Women are born every minute—as long as women are born, diamonds will be worn’ (Joel, 68). In 1917, when the diamond trade was seriously threatened by the communist government in Russia which was selling off, at a fraction of their value, huge quantities of stones looted from the aristocracy, he bought £390,000 worth of Russian jewels to support the market.

Joel was a director of Barnato Brothers as well as of De Beers Consolidated Diamond Mines from 1901 until his death in 1931. As the largest individual shareholder in De Beers, New Jagersfontein Mining Company, and Premier Diamond Mining Company, his personal support gave Ernest Oppenheimer the balance of power in 1928 when he was making a play for the chairmanship of De Beers. In 1930 they formed the Diamond Corporation from the syndicate which Joel had established in 1894 to control the world's diamond output. Nevertheless, he was arrested as a member of the Reform Committee (the members of which were deemed to be responsible for the Jameson raid) in January 1896, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment, commuted to a fine when Barney Barnato interceded with President Kruger.

The growing importance of the Witwatersrand goldfields prompted Barnato Brothers to form Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company Limited, known as Johnnies. After Barney Barnato's suicide at sea on 14 June 1897, witnessed by Solly, Woolf Joel became chairman of the board, residing in London while Solly remained in Johannesburg. However, on a visit to the Rand in 1898, Woolf was shot dead on 14 March by Ferdinand Karl Ludwig von Veltheim, who had been blackmailing Solly. At his trial for the murder von Veltheim alleged that he had entered into an agreement with Barney Barnato and the Joel brothers to kidnap President S. J. P. Kruger, but the Joels had backed out and that was his reason for demanding money from them. He was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence and deported, but in 1907 resumed his blackmailing. He was apprehended and sentenced in a sensational trial in London in 1908 to twenty years in prison.

The firm's interests were expanded and consolidated during Joel's chairmanship. His most important business coup was on the Far East Rand, where the system of government mining leases had been introduced. Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Corporation not only successfully tendered for the Government Gold Mining Areas (Modderfontein) Limited, which came into production in 1914, but subsequently also outmanoeuvred its rivals in bidding for other government leases. When cash for further exploration and development was running out, Joel personally invested £1 million, thus ensuring the future of the Far East Rand. Johnnies controlled the new state areas, Van Ryn Deep, and acquired the Randfontein Estates group from J. B. Robinson in 1916 [see ]. His many directorships and business interests included Horrockses and various London underground railway companies. He served as president of the Johannesburg stock exchange in 1896 and was a patron and member of the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society, the Rand Club, the Wanderers Club, and the Johannesburg Turf Club. He donated his uncle Barney's mansion at Barnato Park, Berea, to the Johannesburg Girls' High School, which used part of it as a boarding-school called Joel House.

Although a devout Jew, Joel's first marriage (at some point in the 1880s), was to a gentile, Ellen Ridley (d. 1919), a Lancashire actress whom he had met in Kimberley. She converted to Judaism and they had three sons and two daughters; the couple separated about 1913. After Ellen's death on 14 August 1919 Joel married a former child actress, Mrs Phoebe Benjuta, née Carlow, on 25 November 1919. Joel's three passions were described as ‘the stage, horses and smart clothes’ (Gutsche, 27). He had a private box at each of the many London theatres in which he had a financial interest. He and his brother Jack shared a love of the theatre and racing and competed with each other. Between the two of them their horses won practically every classic event: the Oaks, the Two Thousand Guineas, the Derby, the St Leger, and the Ascot Gold Cup. The last named, won by Bachelor's Button in 1906, was Joel's first big success on the turf. By 1921 he headed the list of winning owners. His fine racing stables at Maiden Erlegh, near Reading, Moulton Paddocks, near Newmarket, and Sefton Lodge rivalled those of the Aga Khan, Lord Astor, and Lord Derby. Altogether his horses earned him more than £350,000 in stake money alone (Joel, 10).

A born gambler, Joel won enormous sums of money but hated to lose. He liked to sail in his yacht Eileen to the Riviera and do the annual circuit of the playgrounds of Europe—casinos, racecourses, winter sports, and watering places. His hospitality was legendary. The Joels entertained lavishly at their country estates and at their Great Stanhope Street mansion that housed famous works of art as well as the rarest collection of Chippendale furniture under one roof. His cellars were filled with vintage wines and his libraries with beautifully bound literary classics, which he never read. He was witty and gregarious, with catholic tastes and interests. He was a benefactor of the National Playing Fields Association and endowed the chair of physics at the Middlesex Hospital. Joel died at Moulton Paddocks, near Newmarket, on 22 May 1931, and was buried at Willesden cemetery, London, near his uncles Barney and Woolf.

Isaac Barnato [Jack] Joel (1862–1940), financier, second son of Joel Joel and his wife, Catherine Isaacs, was born on 29 September 1862, also at 8 Sandys Row, Spitalfields. His business career was very similar to that of the younger and more flamboyant Solly, but his sojourn in Kimberley was cut short after four years when he was arrested for illicit diamond buying, under the Diamond Trade Act of 1882. He jumped bail of £4000 and surreptitiously returned to England, where he joined his uncle Harry in the London business of Barnato Brothers. He became the head of Johnnies in London and chairman in 1931 after Solly's death. Jack's son Jim (Harry Joel Joel) succeeded him as chairman until his retirement which ended the family's direct involvement in the business. Years later the accusation of illicit diamond buying would come back to haunt Jack when Robert (Bob) Siever launched a scurrilous attack in his newspaper the Winning Post, referring to him as ‘Joel, the notorious dealer in illicit diamonds’ (Wheatcroft, 231–4). Jack had Siever arrested on a trumped-up charge of blackmail; Siever, triumphant, was acquitted and Joel humiliated.

In 1894 Jack married Fanny Edith, née Richards, with whom he had two daughters and a son, who survived him. Fanny died in 1901, and in 1904 he married Mrs Olive Coulson, née Sopwith (d. 1937). Like Solly, Jack loved horse-racing and built up his stud at Childwick Bury near St Albans, where he bred Humorist, who won the 1921 Derby. This was Jack's second Derby and his greatest triumph on the turf in over forty years. He headed the list of racehorse owners on many occasions. He died on 13 November 1940 at Childwick Bury and was buried in the Joel allotment at Willesden cemetery, London.

Maryna Fraser


S. Joel, Ace of diamonds: the story of Solomon Barnato Joel (1958) · E. Jessup, Ernest Oppenheimer: a study in power (1979) · DSAB · R. Lewinsohn, Barney Barnato: from Whitechapel clown to diamond king (1937) · P. H. Emden, Randlords (1935) · G. Wheatcroft, The Randlords (1985) · M. Fraser and A. Jeeves, All that glittered (1977) · D. Jacobsson, Fifty golden years of the Rand, 1886–1936 (1936) · M. Kaplan, Jewish roots in the South African economy (1986) · T. Gutsche, A very smart medal (1970) · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert. · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1931) · d. cert. [Isaac Barnato Joel] · DNB · private information (2013) [A. Summers]


Bassano, photograph, 1914, NPG [see illus.] · H. Amshewitz, oils, 1917, Museum Africa, Johannesburg · photograph, 1917–18, repro. in South African Who's Who (1917–18) · H. C. O., caricature, Hentschel-colourtype, NPG; repro. in VF (20 Jan 1910) · photograph (after unknown portrait), repro. in Joel, Ace of diamonds, frontispiece

Wealth at death  

£1,000,000: probate, 13 July 1931, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · £3,634,496—Isaac Barnato Joel