The Grand Old Man of Harrismith

  • Stewart Bain was born in Wick, Scotland on 9 September 1854;
  • He and his brother James came to South Africa in 1878, to Durban. Then they trekked on to the metropolis of Harrismith in the Orange River Colony, building bridges for the railway line extension from Ladysmith up the Drakensberg to Harrismith;
  • Stewart married Janet Burley, who predeceased him in 1924;
  • He became Mayor of the town and ‘reigned with the gold chain’ for years, becoming known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Harrismith’;
  • He pushed for the building of a very smart town hall. Some thought it was way too fancy – and too expensive – and called it ‘Bain’s Folly.’ Did Stewart have the tender? Was he an early tenderpreneur? Was it an inside job? *
– ta da! –

Here’s a lovely 3min slide show of the building of Bain’s Folly – completed in 1908; by Hennie & Sandra Cronje of deoudehuizeyard.com. Biebie de Vos is Harrismith’s archive and treasures man – thank goodness for all the stuff that Biebie ** has saved and rescued! WHAT an impressive building undertaking for a dorp on the vlaktes!

– soon after completion –

When the dust settled the townsfolk must have quite liked the result, as when Stewart Bain died in September 1939, the town pulled out all the stops for his funeral; The pictures were taken from the balcony of his Royal Hotel, with ‘his’ Town Hall visible in the background, and ‘his’ mountain behind that. All Harrismithers and Harrismithians regard Platberg as ‘theirs.’

Oupa's bible and Grandpa Bain's funeral
– Oupa Bain’s funeral procession – who paid?! –
Stewart Bain 1939.jpg

~~~oo0oo~~~

I thought I remembered that, despite every dorp in South Africa seeming to boast a ‘Royal Hotel’ – from whence ‘hier sirrie manne innie Royal Hotel’ – the Harrismith Royal Hotel was one of only two in South Africa that could officially call itself ‘Royal’. Sheila has hereby confirmed that I have a flawless memory. Well, something along those lines:

Royal Hotel article
– evidence – or “evidence” – of our close link to royalty –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Couldn’t resist this close-up so enthusiasts can read which cars were around in 1939:

1939 Sept. Funeral of Stewart Bain Harrismith

~~~oo0oo~~~

Postscript:

A young post office worker left his little 1935 Morris in that garage in the care of the owner Cathy Reynolds, while he went off to war, ca 1941; When he returned around 1946 it was waiting for him. He then met Mary, second daughter of Annie Bland, nee Annie Watson Bain, Stewart’s fifth child. Best and luckiest thing that ever happened to him. They got married in 1951. He was Pieter G Swanepoel, originally from Pietermaritzburg, and my Dad.

Details of the 2007 refurbishment of the Town Hall

~~~oo0oo~~~

* Shades of our Moses Mabida stadium in Durban for the 2010 soccer world cup – ‘Do we need such a big, fancy stadium!?’ I called it the Moses MaFIFA stadium. Americans call it a boondoggle.

** See where Biebie was born.

Published by bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

4 thoughts on “The Grand Old Man of Harrismith

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