Jan Willem Hurter Morkel was one of those South African rugby players who in one memorable season established a reputation at international level that has never faded. Born in Somerset West, a town situated 30 miles from Cape Town in the Western Cape, on 13 November 1890, he came from a family that played a significant role in the growth of South African rugby in the lead-up to the 1st World War.
Jackie Morkel was the youngest child of a large rugby-playing family. He played first-class rugby as a hard-running centre three-quarter for Somerset West before breaking into the Western Province side in 1911. He played for Western Province up until 1914 and was an important member of the Currie Cup side of 1911, when they were beaten 13 – 14 by Griqualand West, and the 1914 side when they extracted their revenge by defeating Griqualand West 16 – 0 in the final Currie Cup match before the war.
Along with his older brother, the great full back Gerhard (PG) Morkel, Jackie Morkel was selected as a centre for the 1912-13 Springbok tour to the UK and France. Described by the Springbok captain, Billy Millar as “our best centre”, he had a superb tour, playing in 18 of the 27 matches including the five test matches in which he scored a total of 4 tries and 2 conversions against Ireland, England and France.
When war intervened, Jackie Morkel joined the 1st South African Mounted Brigade, the van Deventer Scouts, and served in East Africa. After seeing action in the Kilimanjaro area, he fell ill and died of dysentery on 15 May 1916. This was just a month before his old rugby team-mate from Somerset West, Western Province and South Africa, Gerald “Tommy” Thompson died in an action in the same theatre of war. Jackie Morkel is buried in the War Cemetery in Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.
- The Rugby Morkels – Andre T Morkel (2007)
- S.W.R.F.C 1904-1954 (Somerset West Rugby Football Club Golden Jubilee 1954)
- Springbok Saga – Chris Greyvenstein (Don Nelson & Toyota South Africa 1977)
- History of South African Rugby Football 1875-1932 – Ivor D Difford (The Specialty Press of SA Ltd 1933)
- W.P. Rugby Centenary 1883-1983 – AC Parker (WPRFU, Cape Town)
- The Story of the Morkels – Weldon Broughton (Cape Argus October 1933)
About the Author – A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has had a life-long love of sport. He has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005.