‘Never Die’ got his name in 1920s from being regularly bitten by venomous creatures during displays in harbour
‘He was entirely immune against venom’
A STATUE of legendary East London snake charmer and conservationist “Never Die” has gone on sale on classifieds website Gumtree recently.
There is very little recorded information about the man only known as “Never Die”, but he was a familiar sight in the East London harbour during the 1920s. Sporting a tattered hat and long black coat, he would produce a MacIntosh toffee tin or large bottle from his bag – filled with unusual spiders, snakes, scorpions or bugs – and attempt to sell his specimens to passing sailors.
When he failed to obtain a buyer, he would deftly and casually demonstrate the proper treatment of a snakebite by pulling a venomous snake from his bag and permitting it to strike his arm.
Sometimes he would suck out the poison, sometimes he wouldn’t. He was, according to eyewitnesses (and Never Die himself) entirely immune to any form of venom, hence his name.
Never Die attributed his immunity to his father, who supposedly fed him the liquid taken from the gallbladders of snakes since he was a small boy, although he also regularly drank a tincture of N’Deda Mabela, the bark of a lemon tree, as an anti-venom.
During his preteens, Never Dies was a herder for his father’s cattle and it is believed that he spent most of his time in the veld, studying the snakes and spiders that made him famous. It is believed that he was born in Gonubie around 1846.
The East London Museum is adamant that, he did not only catch snakes and spiders to sell them, but he could also describe their habitat and behaviour.
East London Museum director Geraldine Morcom said the information that they have about Never Die is that obtained from a newspaper cutting they have of an article written by HH Driffield and published in our sister newspaper, Daily Dispatch on July 16 1964.
His tribal name is not known although he often spoke about the Great Famine, the result of the widespread destruction of cattle that all but annihilated the isiXhosa people in the Eastern Cape. After the loss of the cattle, the family moved to Humansdorp and then relocated to East London.
“This is much the same information in the newspaper cutting included with the image of the bust on Gumtree – possibly the same author?
“Regarding the bust in the East London Museum collection, it was indeed sculptured by Dorothy Randell, but in plaster of paris and not in bronze,” he said.
The statues had been made by Dorothy Randell, wife of famous Grahamstown advocate George Randell, before his death. The owner and seller Mandy Walker, says that she would love for the statue to “go to someone who will appreciate it” and that she has already received queries from prospective buyers.
According to an article written by sister newspaper daily Dispatch, Never Die’s body was found in the brush close to the Buffalo River bridge on 31 January 1931, roughly five weeks after his passing.
He died in nature and it seemed, as AC Hastings wrote in the Daily Dispatch, “Old Never-die… did not die, but slept”.
The statue is for sale for R27000 and its twin can be viewed on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons in the East London museum.