his first book since the acclaimed "The Golden Oriole",
Raleigh Trevelyan tells the story of one of the world's most
fascinating families, the Wernhers of Luton Hoo.
fortune was made by Sir Julius Wernher, the financier and
mining magnate who was one of the creators of modern South
Africa. Self-effacing and cautious, he was the perfect partner
for the brilliant Alfred Beit, and together they made a vast
fortune. Both were generous philanthropists; Wernher was also
a collector and he acquired Luton Hoo, a country house in
Bedfordshire, to house his magnificent collection.
Hoo was eventually inherited by Sir Harold Wernher and his
wife Lady Zia. Their marriage in 1917 had been a sensation:
she was the daughter of Grand Duke Michael of Russia and a
direct descendant of Push kin; he was probably the wealthiest
bachelor in England. At Luton Hoo they displayed her priceless
collection of Fabergé, and together they ran a racing
stud at Newmarket. Three of their racehorses, Brown Jack,
Meld and Charlottown, became legends in their time. Sir Harold
Wernher played a crucial role during the Second World War
as Co-ordinator of the Mulberry Harbours at D-Day. Lady Zia
was related to virtually every royal family in Europe, and
the Wernhers were particularly close to the Mountbattens and
to Prince Philip, who was -and is- a frequent guest at Luton
on unrestricted access to the Wernher papers, Grand Dukes
and Diamonds charts the history of one of the most influential
and extraordinary families of our time.
connection with my Julius Wernher researches I [Raleigh Trevelyan]
must thank :
Comtesse Vital de Gontaut-Biron (granddaughter of Jules Porgès),
Mr and Mrs Martin Green (Porgès relatives)
The book contains many references
to Jules Porgès and his family.
The relevant chapters are listed below and fully available on a
For your comfort, it is suggested that you print each chapter for
in 1869, he [Julius Wernher]insisted on going to Paris
to perfect his French, in spite of his mother's fears
that his tendency to overwork would harm his eyes. He
did work very hard, again in a bank, Ephrussi Porgès,
and preferred studying at night to those "notorious"
temptations of Paris in which some of his German friends
indulged. He greatly impressed his employer Théodore
Porgès, and this was later to stand him in
very good stead, in an unexpected way. Porgès
was Jewish, supposedly of Portuguese Sephardic descent,
and had emigrated from Bohemia to Vienna and then to Paris.
in the Diamond Fields
... Julius had had another warm letter from Porgès,
making it clear that he would be in charge when Mège
left in 1873 and that he would be permitted to purchase
further groups of claims. Porgès, Julius
told his father, had "earned terrifically" and
might even consider retiring in a few years' time.
of the Tide
In 1875 Porgès was the largest importer
of Cape diamonds in London and had £30,000 invested
in the business. Sir Charles Warren, who had travelled
out on the same ship as Porgès, the SS
Danube, was to write of the "magnificent Porgès
who knows the value of money though he has plenty of
it". And photographs of Porgès do
show an amiable face, with a big moustache and hair
parted down the middle.
of Important Interests"
plans for return had to be postponed because of dramatic
new developments, namely Porgès's imminent
formation in Paris of the Compagnie Française des
Mines de Diamants du Cap de Bonne Espérance, with
a capital of £560,000. It took place in 1880 and was the
first Kimberley-based joint-stock company to be floated
and Cares of the Sterner Sex"
Jules Porgès's sister-in-law, Mathilde, the
wife of Julius Wernher's first employer, Théodore
Porgès, had been born a Weisweiller, related
to the wife of Baron Henri de Rothschild, and she in
turn was "Natty" (Lord) Rothschild's niece by marriage.
Madame Théodore Porgès's father,
Baron de Weisweiller, represented Rothschilds in Madrid.
In the great Jewish cousinhood there were other connections
through the Ephrussis, the Cohens and the Helberts.
The Weisweillers had originally put up money for Théodore
Porgès's firm, and perhaps Jules Porgès's
diamond business. Mathilde married Théodore in
1876 and died in the famous Bazaar de la Charité
fire in Paris. Théodore died, aged sixty-five,
Politics of Gold
collapse and panic were to follow later in the year. This
may have been anticipated by Porgès, who
had by then already made the sensational decision to retire
from the firm. Perhaps he felt that the empire was becoming
altogether too complex and unwieldy. Perhaps, as seems
possible, he was worried about his health. Or perhaps,
as one would almost prefer to think, he simply decided
that he had made enough money and wanted to enjoy it and
invest some of it in works of art. Madame Porgès
certainly wanted him to build a palace that could compete
with the chateaux of the French aristocracy. After all
he was still only fifty-one. As it happened, he was to
live on well into his eighties, which was much more than
could be said of most of his colleagues. He has been
regarded as one of the most significant figures in the
early development of South Africa's wealth, but even now
is thought of as "shadowy". Yet it is not quite true
that he "simply disappeared into private life". He kept
up several interests in Africa, and was partner in syndicates
with Kann and Michel Ephrussi which co-operated with the
Corner House. Meanwhile the firm of Jules Porgès
and Company was reconstituted on 1 January 1890 under
the name of Wernher Beit, the partners being Julius Wernher,
Alfred Beit, Max Michaelis and Charles Rube.
The hand-over was no gift though. Porgès took
with him £750,000 in cash and £1 million in shares. A
further £500,000 was deposited with Wernher, Beit, to
be paid over the next two years. Wernher, Beit was
left with £1 million in cash, diamonds and non-speculative
investments, and around £2 million in shares and interests
of a non-speculative nature.
Porgès also had a fine collection, chiefly
of Dutch and eighteenth-century paintings, at his sumptuous
mansion in Paris, 18 Avenue Montaigne.
to La Belle Epoque
Grand Dukes, Marcel Proust and exotic figures such as
Calouste Gulbenkian had been at the Paris opening [of
the Ritz in Paris] , and so had Jules Porgès,
who with Wernher, Beit had been part of the syndicate
that had put up the money for César Ritz to launch
his international chain of hotels. Very likely the Wernhers
had also been present.
doubt it was the socially ambitious Madame Porgès
who had had the idea of employing Mewès to build
a gigantic Château at Rochefort-en-Yvelines outside
For the Porgèses were moving into the
aristocracy, their only daughter and child having married
the Marquis de la Ferté-Meun ; a niece married
a Prince Borghese of Rome, and other nieces a French
Count and a Belgian Viscount respectively. This extraordinary
building was inspired by the Palais de la Légion
d'Honneur, with a peristyle and a cupola, and was perched
above a waterfall that tumbled through a terraced garden.
It is now a golf club.
Jules Porgès lost some of his fortune
as a result of the First World War, having deposited
it in Viennese banks. This meant selling the Château
and objets d'art. He died in 1921, aged eighty-three.
Africa Again : Metamorphosis at Luton Hoo
magnate. Born in Prague, settled in Paris in the 1860s
and became a leading diamond merchant.
Both Alfred Beit and Sir Julius Wernher worked for him
and were sent by him to Kimberley.
He himself arrived there in 1875 and became a successful
operator in shares, claims and stones, later extending
operations (establishing the firm of H. Eckstein) to
the Witwatersrand in 1887.
In 1880 he returned to Europe. He retired from business
in 1889, but long outlived both Beit and Wernher.
Julius Charles WERNHER (1850-1912)
Born in Darmstadt, Germany, where his father was attached
to the Grand-Ducal court, he entered a London bank as
a learner, served in the Prussian cavalry in the Franco-German
War of 1870-1871, and, like Alfred Beit, took a post
in Paris with Jules Porges. Porges sent
him to Kimberley, where he was elected to the Mining
Board and soon gained wealth and prominence. After the
discovery of the Rand he extended his operations to
the Transvaal. In 1888 he became one of the four original
'Life Governers' of De Beers Consolidated Mines. He
settled in London as Porges' partner and, when
the latter retired in 1889, continued operations under
the name of Wernher, Beit andCo., the largest mining
house in South Africa, if not in the world, controlling
the Rand Mines group and other huge interests. Apart
from occasional visits to South Africa, he spent the
rest of his life in England. A noted art collector,
he died, leaving the largest South African fortune on
record - over £11 000 000.
and co-founder with Cecil Rhodes of Southern Rhodesia.
Born in Hamburg in the same year as Rhodes, of an old
Jewish family. He learnt the diamond trade under Jules
Porges in Amsterdam and elsewhere. In 1875 he went
to Port Elizabeth on behalf of his cousins, the Lipperts,
who sent him to Kimberley as their representative. There
he came into touch with Julius Wernher and with Cecil
Rhodes. Attaining considerable prosperity as a diamond
merchant, he became a member of the firm of Jules
Porges and Co., and on the retirement of Porges,
he and Wernher converted this firm in 1884 to Wernher,
Beit and Co. Returning to England he joined forces with
Rhodes in his efforts to amalgamate the diamond mines,
which resulted in the foundation of De Beers. A Life
Governor of De Beers, he was one of the principal figures
in the foundation of the Chartered Company and in the
first efforts to open up Rhodesia. Wernher, Beit and
Co. presently became leaders in Barberton and then in
the Witwatersrand gold industry. Beit visited Rhodesia
in the very early days, but kept his headquarters in
London. Unlike Rhodes, he did his utmost to keep out
of politics, though his friendship with him remained
undiminished, and he was one of the main trustees and
heirs under his will. Upon Alfred Beit's death the Beit
Trust came into existence. He also bequeathed enormous
sums for university education and research inSouth Africa,
Rhodesia, Britain and Germany.