The Union was founded on 30 May 1883 at a meeting in the Masonic Hotel in Cape Town, scheduled for 10.30 a.m. The man responsible for calling the meeting was FJ Aicheson, the Hamilton’s Secretary. The club representatives who attended were:
Hamilton FC: WV Simkins, J Miller, FJ Aitcheson, HJ Budler
Villager FC: RW Shepstone Giddy, JB van Renen, V Sampson
Woodstock FC: CWP Douglas de Fenzi, J Robb
Rugby FC: JT Apsey, J Tennant
United Banks: JA Cooper, M Burdon
These were delegates at a time when club affiliation was vague. CWP Douglas de Fenzi, for example, was the captain of Hamilton’s that year. He, Budler and Simkins were in the Hamiltons team that won the Grand Challenge that year.
Despite the preponderance of Hamilton’s people at the meeting, they elected RW Shepstone Giddy as the first president of the WPRFU with another Villagers man, Joey Milton, as vice-president. The additional members were Simkins, Douglas de Fenzi, Sampson, HE Tindall of Stellenbosch (father of Jackie Tindall), and WH Ashley of the SA College (SACS), better known as an opening bowler. Douglas de Fenzi became the first secretary of the WPRFU.
Writing in the 1930s, CGS Nicholson, a well-known sports writer, speaks of the Big Five who had run Western Province rugby up till then – Billy Simkins, Jack Heyneman, Louis Smuts, Bill Schreiner and Jock Haswell. Simkins, Heyneman and Haswell were Hamiltons men; Smuts was a SACS man; and Schreiner was president of Gardens.
In 1887 the WPRFU started to look for headquarters. Playing on Green Point and Rondebosch Common was not satisfactory. Cricket had obtained a ground from the local breweries and rugby looked for a dedicated playing venue. The men behind the idea were both from Hamiltons – CWP Douglas de Fenzi, secretary to the WPRFU, and Billy Simkins. They asked cricket if they could share the ground, but were turned down and so rugby went in search of its own ground. Shepstone Giddy, Billy Simkins and F. Robb of the Woodstock Club identified a piece of ground opposite the cricket ground. It was then leased from the breweries for £50 for the first year and £100 for each subsequent year. Newlands was first used for rugby in 1890. The Union eventually bought it for £2 500 in 1894.
In all of this finance was a problem, and the man who saw to it was Billy Simkins of Hamilton’s, who had become president of the WPRFU in 1889. Newlands remains the only major rugby ground in South Africa wholly bought and owned by the Union. For much of its existence – in fact till the presidency of another Hamiltons man, Jan Pickard – it led a precarious existence financially. The clubs had to chip in regularly. For example, when in the 1920s new stands were built and the field was swung round to run north-south instead of east-west, the clubs held functions to raise money. The president of the WPRFU wrote to Hamilton’s in 1921 to ask for help in raising money for “rebuilding the centre portion of the stand at Newlands”. In the days when the ground still ran east-west, the main stand was where the Jan Pickard Stand is now and the old Members’ Pavilion was in the north-west corner.
Sporting bodies often co-operated in ventures such as building a stand. The Union wrote to Mr HJC Stephan to ask the Metropolitan Golf Club and also to the Green & Sea Point Bowling Club to become involved. Hamiltons organised a “Stand Ball” in the City Hall, for which ladies worked on a committee chaired by the Mayoress. The Club also organised bridge drives, which raised £15 5s 9d, and suggested a seven-a-side soccer tournament to be played with a soccer ball. The lub also organised its own ball – at 15/- (15 shillings) a double ticket, and 10/6 (10 shillings and sixpence) for a single. Mark’s Orchestra played for 13 guineas (13 pounds and 13 shillings).
The first fully representative Western Province team won the SARB’s first tournament, held in Kimberley 1889. Billy Simkins was the manager of the side which contained other members of Hamiltons – Ben Duff, John Versfeld, JC Berrangé, A Darter, CL van der Byl (who died in 1922), Charles Versfeld and Marthinus Versfeld (whose nickname was Oupa).
At this time, as was not surprising for the South Africa’s first club, Hamilton’s had much influence in running rugby and in team representation. Top men in forming the spirit of rugby administration in the Western Province in those early years were Billy Simkins, CWP Douglas de Fenzi, Jack Heyneman and Jock Haswell, and later those such as Piet Bayly and Jan Pickard. For many years outstanding players, both Springboks and Western Province, played for Hamilton’s.
Between 1891 and 1910 twelve Hamiltons players represented South Africa. They were BR Duff, M and C Versfeld, PA Scott, CB Brown, TEC Hobson, JW Anderson, A Reid, ARD Burmeister, C Hahn and RR Luyt. Between 1884 and 1910 Hamiltons players who played for Western Province were: CL Andersson, CWP Douglas de Fenzi, DS Pargiter, JR Wiley, AH McLeod, RLO Versfeld, J Berrangé, BR Duff, B Darter, C Versfeld, J Versfeld, M Versfeld, CL van der Byl, CJ Jones, CJ Thompson, HT Jones, P Myburgh, PA Scott, P Butler, HC Wood, C Duff, F Scholtz, E Allen, G Butler, A Brown, J Jeffares, PJ van Reenen, CB Brown, JC Faure, TEC Hobson, A Reid, ARD Burmeister, J Dobbs, H Flockhart, R Pritchard, JW Anderson, C Hahn, WJ Mills, WJ Sleigh, EH Shum, RR Solomon and C van Vuuren – 42 players in all, a remarkable number at a time when provincial matches did not occur every year.