We used to borrow our parents cars on the without-permission system and drive around at night with the ultimate destination being the Royal Natal National Park Hotel down Oliviershoek Pass. That was a triumphant destination I only achieved once, other times we went to Little Switzerland, halfway down the pass. Or Kestell.
Once Steph de Witt decided to raise the bar and we headed off to Durban with the goal of putting our toes in the warm surf of the Indian Ocean and getting back to Harrismith before sunrise but we ‘changed our minds’ soon after Ladysmith and turned back.
I knew this habit could not be genetic as Mom would never have done such things, but recently I found out something which may throw new light on the possible causes of such fun behaviour.
Mom’s older sister Pat matriculated at Girls High in Pietermaritzburg while Mom matriculated at Harrismith se Hoer. I suddenly wondered why, so I asked.
Oh, she was getting into boys so Dad sent her off to boarding school, said Mom. She must have been in standard eight and about fifteen or sixteen years old.
Apparently some boys had borrowed a car from Kemp’s Garage in Warden Street and headed off to Royal Natal National Park Hotel back before it was Royal. It only became Royal after the Breetish Royal visit in 1947 and this must have been about 1941. Mom thinks Pat’s fellow felons may have included Michael Hastings and Donald Taylor. Pat, being the fun-loving person she always was, was right there! FOMO (fear of missing out) was a thing then too, even if it didn’t yet have an acronym! I know I had it big as a teenager.
The hotel looks like this now, but not because of us, swear!
Potted history of the Royal Natal National Park area:
In 1836, while exploring Basutoland, two French missionaries, Mons. Arbrousset and Daumas first discovered Mont-Aux-Sources, the source of three rivers. In 1908 the idea of establishing a National Park in this area was conceived, and the territory was explored by Senator Frank Churchill, General Wylie, Colonel Dick and Mr. W.O. Coventry. Recommendations were put forward, but it was not until 1916 that the Secretary of Lands authorised the reservation of five farms, and certain Crown Lands totalling approximately 8160 acres and entrusted it to the Executive Committee of the Natal Province.
On the 16 September 1916 the National Park came into being. An advisory committee was appointed to control the Park. Shortly afterwards the Natal Provincial Administration purchased the farm ‘Goodoo’, upon which a hostel for hikers had already been opened in 1913 by W.O.Coventry, and incorporated a small portion of the Upper Tugela Native Trust Land, thus swelling the National Park to its present 20 000 acres. The Advisory Committee was abolished in January 1942, and the Park was administered by the Provincial Council until the formation of the Natal Parks, Game and Fish Preservation Board on the 22 December 1947.
Mr. F. O. Williams held the first hostel lease rights on the farm Goodoo which he obtained from Mr. W.O. Coventry, the original owner. Mr. Coventry became Lessee of the whole park in 1919, and took over the post of Park Superintendent in August 1924 at the grand salary of five pounds per month. In 1926 he was succeeded by Otto and Walter Zunkel, who each added their share of buildings and improvements. Mr. Alan Short was the next Superintendent.
Short was in charge when the Royal Family visited the Park in May 1947. Prime Minister Jan Smuts wanted King George VI, the Queen and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to take a break from their two-month tour of southern Africa and see the splendour of the Drakensberg. It was Elizabeth’s first overseas trip and she celebrated her coming-of-age there, drafting her first important speech at the hotel.
95 Stuart Street was home from 1961 to 1973. To learn more about Stuart Street as a street, go to deoudehuizeyard! where Sandra has done a great job using old and new images of the long east-west street we grew up in.
Some stiff poses in the garden in 1970 with Jock the Staffie:
Inside, in the dining room and the lounge:
Twelve years at 95 Stuart Street. Funny how that felt like forever! Ah youth!
Married, we stayed in our first home for around fifteen years, 7 River Drive Westville. From early-1989 to Dec-2003. That time appeared to go much faster!
. . and have now been in our second home, 10 Elston Place Westville, the longest of all – since late 2005:
Sheila saw to it I had a party! As so often, Sheila saved the day. Back in 1976 before there were rules and the rinderpest was still contagious.
Des Glutz threw open his palatial bachelor home, Kenroy, on the banks of the mighty Vulgar River to an invasion of students from Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg. That’s because as a lonely horny bachelor Free State farmer he had his eye on some of those student teachers from Teachers Training College in PMB!
“Kindness of his heart” you thought? Ha! You know nothing about horny bachelor Free State farmers! Anyway, he owed me for managing his farm brilliantly when he went to Zimbabwe.
Sheila invited everybody – and everybody arrived!
Eskom had not yet bedeviled Kenroy so paraffin lamps, gaslamps and candles gave light. Music pomped out from car batteries. There was singing and much laughter. Except when Noreen, Jo and Ski danced their Broadway routine The Gaslamp Revue with Redge Jelliman holding the silver tray footlight staring in open-mouthed wonder at their skill. And of course, their legsnboobs – another lonely horny bachelor Free State farmer, y’know. Awe-struck silence reigned. For minutes.
There was also Liz and Mops and Jenny, Georgie, Mandy, Gill and Jill; Hell, we bachelors were in awe at almost being outnumbered – a rare event. We were so excited we got pissed and fell down. Timothy Paget Venning got so excited he walked all the way round the house smashing Des’ window panes to let in the night.
Poor ole Gilbert, Des’ personal butler, valet and chef – seen here in purple – and his men bore the brunt of the extra work!
He cooked and cooked, including a big leg of lamb which didn’t make the main table, getting scoffed on the quiet by ravenous would-be teachers under the kitchen table. Pity the poor kids who would have to grow up being taught all the wrong things by this lot in Natal in the eighties.
These would-be teachers and pillars of society were wild n topless:
Tabbo wore his tie so he could make a speech into his beer can microphone:
Funny how Glutz doesn’t feature in any pics! Where was he? We know he wasn’t in his bedroom cos the TC girls raided it and were in awe at the impressive collection of bedroom toys and exotic rubber and latex items in his bedside drawer. No stopping those TC girls!
Ah! Here’s Glutz – Sheila and Liz presenting Des a thank-you gift for hooligan-hosting:
The morning after dawned bright. Too bright for some . . .
A mudfight! said some bright spark – Sheila, no doubt – so Des arranged transport to the mighty Vulgar river.
After the weekend I roared back to Jo’burg in my brand-new 1965 two-shades-of-grey-and-grey Opel Rekord Concorde deluxe sedan, four-door, grey bench-seated, 1700cc straight-four, three-on-the column, chick-magnet automobile. My first car! Watch out Doornfontein!
Thanks Mom & Dad! And thanks for the party, Sheils and Des! Before we left, Mom tickled the ivories while the TC gang belted out some songs:
The old man organised the numberplate OHS 5678 for me. The man at the Harrismith licencing office said “Oom, are you sure you want an easy-to-remember number for your son? Don’t you want one that’s hard to remember?”
When we were young we heard that Jock Grant used to give Ian R10 to spend.
We were horrified.
The other day Tom asked for money. I offered him R10.
He was horrified.
Especially horrifying to note that when I was born there were coins in denominations of ¼, ½ and 1 penny, and 3 and 6 pence! Yes, there was a farthing, a ha’penny, a penny, a tickey and sixpence! Basically what Tom in his new South African English would term worth ‘fokol’!
Here’s a farthing (1/4 penny) from when I was cute:
Shit I’m old! I think you could buy a Wilsons toffee from Harrismith Mayor Nick Duursema’s VC Cafe for this coin.
There was also a one shilling coin, a 2 shilling coin (some called it a ‘florin’) and 2½ shillings (‘half a crown’, is that right?).
All the coins had the British monarch on the obverse (George VI until 1952 and later Queen Lizzie Two Second), with the titles in Latin, while the reverse had the denomination and “South Africa / Suid Afrika”. The other 11 languages? Forget it! Latin yes, isiZulu, hell no!
Recently Tom and I were looking at a collection of coins Aitch had collected and kept in a plastic screw-top jar from her Prof Chris Barnard days that originally held an artificial heart valve. I said, ‘Hey Tom, the 1931 tickey is worth a lot of money’. That piqued his interest and he had a good look, but no luck, the biggest value tickey we had was worth about R6.
Stewart Bain was born in Wick, Scotland on 9 September 1854. He and his brother James came to South Africa in 1878, to Durban. They soon trekked inland to the metropolis of Harrismith in the Oranje Vrijstaat, an independent sovereign state at the time. Britain had recognised the independence of the Orange River Sovereignty after losing at Majuba, and the Vrijstaat officially became independent on 23 February 1854, seven months before Stewart was born, with the signing of the Orange River Convention. This history is important in view of many of Harrismith’s inhabitants’ conduct in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899.
The brothers found work building bridges for the railway line extension from Ladysmith up the Drakensberg to Harrismith; We fondly imagine they built the beautiful sandstone bridge across the Wilge River at Swinburne.
Settling in Harrismith, Stewart bought the Railway Hotel and changed it to the Royal, while brother James built the Central hotel uptown, on the central market square.
Stewart married Janet Burley in Community of Property in Durban, I’m not sure whether that was before moving to Harrismith or after. She was born in Hanley, Staffordshire, England in 1859 of David Burley and Caroline Vaughan. They had __ children between 18 __ and 18__ . . . the fifth child being our grandma Annie. Funny, we would never have called her Ouma!
Stewart became Mayor of the town and ‘reigned with the gold chain’ for years, becoming known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Harrismith.’ To their grandkids they were always ‘Oupa’ and ‘Ouma’ Bain;
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? *
Here’s a lovely 3min slide show of the building of Bain’s Folly – completed in 1908 – by Hennie & Sandra Cronje of deoudehuizeyard.com and thanks to Biebie de Vos, Harrismith’s archive and treasures man. Thank goodness for all the stuff that Biebie ** has saved and rescued!
Here’s that impressive building in a dorp on the vlaktes!
Opskops probably had to be arranged to justify the place, and at one event in this huge hall – an Al Debbo concert! – Stuart’s grand-daughter Mary met her future husband. Maybe that was the Mayor’s intention all along?
Janet died on 15 January 1924; Her daughters Jessie & Annie (who was then aged thirty) were with her when she collapsed. They summoned Dr Hoenigsburger, but Ouma died within minutes. The Harrismith Chronicle article reads in part: ‘Ex-Mayoress’s Death. Sudden demise of Mrs S Bain. The news which stunned the town on Tuesday morning of the painfully sudden death of Mrs Stewart Bain, evoked a feeling of deepest sympathy from all who knew the deceased lady, not only in Harrismith and the district but in places far remote.’
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; These 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.’
Found this pic of the town hall in Wick and wondered if Stewart got the idea of a bigger, better town hall for his new town?
Snippet: Old Mrs Batty was Stewart Bain’s housekeeper at the Royal Hotel. Mum’s cheeky cousin, Janet Bell – later enhanced to Hastings-Bell – asked Mrs Batty one day, “Why do you say ‘somethink and nothink?” Back came the reply, “Cos I aren’t eddacated.” Mrs Batty lived around the corner from the Royal, on the same block, in a little house right on the pavement.
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’. Sister Sheila, family Keeper-of-the-Archives, has hereby confirmed that I have a flawless memory. Well, something along those lines:
Couldn’t resist this close-up so enthusiasts can read which cars were around in 1939:
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. Their first date was in the Town Hall. 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.
Katrina (nee Miller) Duncan, from near Oban in Scotland, stumbled across my other blog here and made contact with us. She sounds delightful, but so she would – she’s family!
She has been researching the Bain family tree and she and my sister Sheila have worked out that we share a Great-Great-Great Grandfather, one Donald Bain, born in Wick on the 14th of April 1777. He married Katherine Bremner and they lived in Sarclet, just south of Wick way up in north-east Scotland. And then I spose they had children and then those had children, and – you know how it goes.
I reckon if you dipped your toe in that Wick water you’d know why some Bains moved to Africa! Also, they may have been dodging giving the castle a much-needed revamp . . .
Stewart Bain was born in 1819 in Caithness, to Donald (42) and Katherine (41). On the 7th of February 1845 Stewart married Christina Watson in his hometown. They had four children during their marriage.
In 1853 Donald’s sons George and Stewart were out fishing when their boat was swamped and Stewart drowned in the freezing winter sea. He died as a young father aged 34 on 19 February 1853, and was buried in Thrumster, Caithness.
Katrina found an 1853 newspaper article about the tragedy.
It seems Stewart’s father Donald also died that year. The next year, 1854, his brother George and wife Annie (nee Watson) had a son. They named him Stewart.
This Stewart is the Stewart Bain who came to Harrismith, Orange Free State – the sovereign country Oranje Vrijstaat – in South Africa with his brother James in 1878 and married Janet Burley. They had seven kids: The seven ‘Royal Bains’ of Harrismith, named after their hotel, The Royal Hotel in Station Road. This ‘title’ was to distinguish them from the ‘Central Bains’, not to claim royalty! My grandmother was the fifth of these seven ‘Royal Bains’ – Annie Watson Bain. She got her paternal grandmother’s surname as her second name.
Stewart and Janet raised their ‘Royal Bain’ brood in this cottage adjacent to their hotel in Station Road, down near the railway line:
James Bain, Stewart’s brother and owner of the Central Hotel, called his rather larger home ‘Caithness’. It was in Stuart Street near their hotel in the centre of town. There they raised their brood – eight ‘Central Bains.’ One of them was also named Annie Watson Bain. Her story ended tragically early, in World War 1 in France. Thanks to Katrina we know more about it.
On Katrina’s ancestry web page “Miller Family Tree” the names Annie, Jessie, Stewart, Katherine, Donald etc have been used for generations.
By the time we knew her she was Annie Bland. Never ‘granny’. Only Annie. She was our dear Mom’s dear Mom.
In fact ‘Annie Watson Bain’ to me was the lady who died in World War 1 and whose name was on one of the monuments outside the Town Hall. She was our Annie’s first cousin, their Dads, brothers Stewart and James Bain, had come out from Scotland together.
We never knew our Grandad, Annie’s husband JFA ‘Frank’ Bland. They’d already lost the farms and the racehorses, and they’d moved to town. He had died aged fifty and Annie now owned the ‘Caltex Garage’, as we called it – one of the many petrol filling stations in town. At one time there were seventeen of them! Hers was on ‘Caskie Corner’, opposite our posh Town Hall which her father Stewart Bain had been instrumental in building.
At the time some called the town hall ‘Bain’s Folly’ as it was such an imposing structure for our modest dorp. I remember exploring inside it with fascination as a kid. High up in the rafters and steel gangways above the stage, with all sorts of ropes and chains hanging down and black curtains behind the red velvet main curtains; the backstage rooms, along the marble-floored passages past the toilets, the museum with the taxidermied animals – a lion, a vulture, what else? The galley above the main hall. I never did get up into the clock tower, come to think of it! Nor onto the outside balcony overlooking Warden Street. I wonder why? Locked doors?
Annie always spoke with great admiration of her late husband Frank – the granpa we never knew – and told me proudly how she’d never seen his fingernails dirty. This as she looked mildly disapprovingly – probably more disappointedly, she never had a harsh word for me – at mine. She called me Koosie and the way she pronounced it, it rhymed with ‘wussie’ and ‘pussy’, but don’t say that out loud. And don’t tell anyone. I had been out playing in the mud one Xmas morning with me sisters Barbara and Sheila and cousins Frankie and Jemma and we had arrived back muddy – on WAY more than our fingernails; we were made to wash in the horse trough – and happy, and run into dear ole Annie. I spose the ancient ones were a bit panicked as we still had to get dressed and go to church.
The car she drove was like this one, except faded beige, and OHS 794:
A Chevrolet Fleetline, I’d guess a 1948 model. It had a cushion on the seat for her to see over the dash, but under the top rim of the steering wheel.
It looks better like this. Omigoodness, are our memories actually in sepia tones?
She was born in 1893, the fifth of seven Bain kids of the ‘Royal Bains’ – meaning the Bains of the Royal Hotel. There were also ‘Central Bains’.
She went to St Andrews Collegiate School in Harrismith (pic somewhere below) . . . and then to St Anne’s in Pietermaritzburg where she played good hockey ‘if she would learn to keep her place on the field.’ She’s the little one on a chair second from left:
Medals Annie won for singing in 1915 from The Natal Society for the Advancement of Music. Both say mezzo soprano and one says 1st Grade 1915. (Must tell the kids. THAT’s probly where I got my fine singing voice).
She ran the Caltex forecourt and the workshop at the back, where At Truscott fixed cars. I can still see him tip-toeing, bending over the edge, raised bonnet above him and a lightbulb in a wire cage in his hand, peering through glasses below his bald head. She rented out the adjoining Flamingo Cafe and Platberg Bottle Store premises. At that time she lived in the Central Hotel a short block away across the Deborah Retief Gardens and I do believe she drove to work every day. Maybe drove back for lunch even?
Sundays were special with Annie as your gran. She’d roll up at our house in the big beige Chev, we’d pile in freshly sanctified, having been to church and Sunday school, and off we’d go on a drive. The back seat was like a large lounge sofa. Sometimes she’d drive to nowhere, sometimes to the park, sometimes cruising the suburbs. OK, the one and only suburb. Usually there’d be a long boring spell parked somewhere like the top of 42nd Hill overlooking the town and watching the traffic. Annie and Glick chatting away on the front seat and us sitting on the back thinking, OK, that’s long enough now. I’m sure they told us the whole history of Harrismith and who lived where and who was who and maybe even who was doing what and with whom. But maybe not, as ‘Anna’ and ‘Glick’ (as they called each other) were discreet gentlefolk. All of which we ignored anyway, so I can’t tell you nothing!
Later she got a green Opel and for some reason – maybe after she could no longer drive? – it was parked on our lawn for long spells. I sat in it and changed gears on its column shift about seventy thousand times. Probably why I (like most males in their own opinion) am such a good driver today. It was a Kapitan or Rekord like this, but green and white:
Annie died in Harrismith in 1983 aged 90. Looked after to the end by her loving daughter Mary. She was ready. ‘All my friends are gone,’ she told me. Her husband Frank had died forty years earlier, and her eldest daughter Pat had died around ten years earlier.
The pic of the Town Hall with the green Chev is thanks to De Oude Huize Yard – do go and see their blog. (Ah! Sandra’s blog is no more! They have left town! Sad). They’re doing great things in the old dorp, keeping us from destroying everything old and replacing it with corrugated iron and plastic.
Also from DeOudeHuizeYard, this information about the building that housed Annie’s school:
The Dutch Reformed dominee Rev A.A. van der Lingen began his years of service in Harrismith on the 6th May 1875 and remained there until the 12th July 1893. He and the church ouderlings built a new church on the site of the original building. The cornerstone of the new building was laid on the 25th August 1892.
Around then the Rev van der Lingen ran for President of the Orange Free State. In the hope of impressing the townsfolk and swaying their vote in his favour, he built an impressive house, the first double-story building in Harrismith. The townsfolk seemingly were not impressed though, and he was not elected. Later, with the British occupation of Harrismith in the Anglo-Boer War, the military authorities made the double-story building their headquarters.
After the cessation of hostilities, Vrede House (Peace House) as it was then known, became St Andrews Collegiate School (1903-1918), then Oakland’s School and finally a boarding house in the 1930’s.
Five weeks prior to the unveiling of that church cornerstone, on the 14th July 1892, the town had enjoyed a four-day celebration of the momentous arrival of the railroad from Natal. The festival was paid for by a £5 500 donation by the Free State government! Harrismith was now online!
The Other Annie Watson Bain
Here’s some info and pics from the Imperial War Museum (IWM) of the bombing that killed Annie’s namesake, Annie Watson Bain in World War II in France, found by Bain descendant Janis Paterson, raised in Wick, now living in England:
Filmed at a stationary hospital near Etaples, probably 9 Canadian Hospital three days after a bombing raid hit the hospital on the night of 31 May 1918.
wooden huts of the hospital show various bomb blasts but little fire
damage. Four coffins, covered in Union Jacks, are wheeled on trollies
A single coffin, also covered with a Union Jack on a wheeled trolley, is followed by a funeral procession of nurses, soldiers with wreaths, and a few civilians. – ** this could have been our Annie’s ** – The procession arrives at a temporary but extensive cemetery where a burial service is held.
taken off the IWM movie:
Seeing the acres of graves – another Harrismithian was buried here or nearby – and knowing about the “War To End All Wars” who would think mankind would go on to fight another World war just twenty years later – and then be at war continually after that up to today 2018 with no end in sight!? – – – Thanks, America! (* sarcasm *) – Update: 2021 and America says its getting out of Afghanistan after 20 years. Predictably, those making money out of death are screaming “Too Soon!”
Janis Paterson, Bain descendant, distant ‘cousin,’ who keeps a photo record here, visited the cemetery in France and found Harrismith’s other Annie’s grave:
Our two Annie Watson Bains, first cousins from Harrismith, born of two Scottish brothers, both hoteliers in this small African town in the Oranje Vrij Staat, at that time a free and independent Republic:
Maybe this Canadian sister attended our Annie in her last hours?
Edith Campbell, RRC, MM (1871 – 1951) was a Canadian nurse, one of the first to arrive in England in World War 1 to assist in the establishment of a field hospital. She served in both England and France, earning a number of medals, and was twice mentioned in dispatches. First she received the Royal Red Cross, first class, for her actions in England and France, and again for her bravery during enemy air raids at No. 1 Canadian General Hospital in Etaples, France, during which she attended to wounded nurses. For this, she and five other nurses received the Military Medal.
For gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy air raid. Regardless of personal danger she attended to the wounded sisters and by her personal example inspired the sisters under her charge.
Janis Paterson loves flower arranging and has won cups at local shows. In 2014, one of the floral themes was related to the beginning of WW1.
Janis’ entry was a tribute to nurses like Annie Watson Bain and won the best in show award. We’re a talented lot, all put together, us Bains! The book in her arrangement “The Roses of No Man’s Land” is about those brave nurses. She thinks that people often forget what nurses like Annie had to endure. The person escorting the judge told Janis the judge was almost moved to tears. Isn’t it stunning?:
How brave was that!? The longer I have teenagers of my own the more I admire my Mom and her quiet courage and fortitude back in the ’70’s! The thought of giving my teenage son my car and allowing him to disappear (it would be in a cloud of dust and tyre smoke) on a three week jaunt fills me with querulous whimpering. (I’ll do it, I’ll do it, but only ‘cos Mom did it for me).
Larry Wingert was an ex-Rotary exchange student to SA from Cobleskill, New York. He and I had been on a previous Road Trip USA in 1973; now he was teaching English in Athens and had flown to Nairobi, then traveled overland down to Joburg where we joined up and hitch-hiked to Harrismith. There, Mom parted with the Cortina keys and we drove to PMB then on to Cape Town. We took ten lazy days in going nowhereslowly style back in 1976.
Wherever we found a spot – preferably free – we camped in my little orange pup tent. In the Weza Forest we camped for free; In the Tsitsikamma we paid.
Driving through the Knysna Forest we saw a sign Beware of the Effilumps.
So we took the little track that turned off nearby and camped – for free – out of sight of the road in the undergrowth. Maybe we’d see a very rare Kynsna elephant? Not.
In Cape Town we stayed with Lynne Wade from Vryheid, lovely lass who’d been a Rotary exchange student too. She played the piano for us and I fell deeply in love, then disappeared on yet another beer-fueled mission. Coward. We also visited the delightful Dottie Moffett in her UCT res. She had also been a Rotary exchange student to SA from Ardmore, Oklahoma and was now back in SA doing her undergraduate degree. I was in love with her, too.
We headed for Malmesbury to visit Uncle Boet and Tannie Anna. Oom Boet was on top form, telling jokes and stories and laughing non-stop. That evening he had to milk the cow, so we accompanied him to the shed. Laughing and talking he would rest his forehead against the cow’s flank every now and then and shake with helpless mirth at yet another tale. Meantime, this was not what the cow was used to. It had finished the grain and usually he was finished milking when she had finished eating. So the cow backed out and knocked him off the stool, flat on his back, bucket and milking stool upturned. He took a kick at the cow, missed and put his back out. Larry and I were hosing ourselves as we helped him up and tried to restore a semblance of order and dignity.
Back at the house we gave Oom Boet and Aunt Anna a bottle of imported liqueur to say thanks for a lovely stay. It was a rather delicious chocolate-tasting liqueur and it said haselnuss mit ei. It was only a 500ml bottle, so we soon flattened it. It looked something like this:
“Ja lekker, maar ag, dis bokkerol, Kosie – Ons kan dit self maak!”
Larry and I decide to call his bluff. In the village the next day we looked for dark chocolate and hazelnuts, but hey, it’s Malmesbury – we got two slabs of Cadbury’s milk chocolate with nuts.
Oom Boet is bok for the challenge. He dives under the kitchen sink and starts hauling things out. He’s on his hands and knees and his huge bum protrudes like a plumber’s as he yells “Vrou! Waar’s die masjien?” Anna has to step in and find things and do things as he ‘organises’. She finds a vintage blender and – acting under a string of unnecessary instructions – Aunt Anna breaks eggs and separates the yolks, breaks chocolate into small pieces. Boet then bliksems it all into the blender and adds a fat dollop of a clear liquid from a label-less bottle. “Witblits, Kosie!” he says triumphantly. He looks and goois more in, then more. Then a last splash.
It looked like this, but the goo inside was yellowy-brown, not green. And it had a layer of clear liquid overlaying it nearly to the top.
He switches the blender to ‘flat-out’ with a flourish and a fine blend of egg yolk, chocolate and powerful-smelling hooch splatters all over the kitchen ceiling, walls and sink. He hadn’t put the lid on! And it was like a V8 blender, that thing.
Vroulief starts afresh, patient and good-humoured as ever. We mop, we add, he blends, and then it’s ready for tasting at last.
And undrinkable. That aeroplane fuel strength home-distilled liquor was just too violent. We take tiny little sips, but even Oom Boet has to grudgingly admit his is perhaps not quite as good or as smooth as the imported stuff. We add sugar, more chocolate and more egg yolk, but its only very slightly better, and still undrinkable.
Ten years later I still had the bottle and despite offering it to many people to sip as a party trick, it was still three-quarters full!
If we had marketed it we’d have called it Oom Boet se Bokkerol Haselnuss mit Eish!
I visited Oom Boet and Aunty Anna in a Ford Cortina again in 1983. The top featured pic with the old Chevy pickup was actually taken then.
haselnuss mit ei – hazelnuts with egg
“Ja lekker, maar ag dis bokkerol, Kosie – Ons kan dit self maak!”- Nice, but we could make this stuff ourselves!
“Vrou! Waar’s die masjien?” – Wife! Where’s the machine?
bliksems – throws
witblits – moonshine
goois – throws
Oom Boet se Bokkerol Haselnuss mit Eish! – the same stuff except very different
She actually did. My sister Barbara’s granma lived at 131 Boom Street Pietermaritzburg.
Right across the road was this school. Going to the Afrikaans school would have meant a bus ride, and Oupa was frugal.
And so started the ver-engels-ing of Dad. The rooinek-erisation. Pieter Gerhardus became ‘Peter’.
*ver-engels – Anglicisation
*rooinek – Boer word for Poms – anyone from ‘England’ – any of those islands left of France. Literally ‘red necks’ – but not American rednecks. NB: This excluded those Irishmen who fought for the Boers against the plundering, wicked, invading, looting Poms. Even though Irishmen can have very red necks.
From here (the way I understand it) they all went to Havelock Road Primary; Yanie the oldest went on to matriculate at Girls High; Lizzie the second child went on to Russell High School adjacent to the little school across the road, leaving in Std 8 to go and work; Boet finished Std 6 at Havelock Road and got his first job at Edel’s Shoe Factory, his second in Howick at Dunlop. On the way back one day he crashed his motorbike and injured himself badly. Lizzie arranged a bursary for Dad the youngest to go to Maritzburg College where he left in April in his matric year to join the post office as an apprentice electrician.
Our distant cousin Hugh Bland has been doing some wonderful detective work sniffing out the Bland family history.
Today Hugh found the grave of Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland.
Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland was born in 1799 in ‘the UK’ – England, I guess! He arrived at the Cape in 1825 on the good ship Nautilus, under the care of the ship’s captain, a Mr Tripe. The voyage cost his family £42. He got a job on a wine farm, in the Drakenstein area of Stellenbosch, met his future wife Cecelia there (du Plessis?), married her, packed their belongings in a Cape cart and trekked to Mossel Bay. They found land on the Gourits river and settled there. Their first son, John Francis Adam, was born, followed by eight more children. John the eldest then married Nellie de Villiers and had a son, John Francis Adam II. He and Nellie left for inland while the baby was just a few months old. They headed for Colesberg, Bloemfontein, Winburg and on to Harrismith, where they settled ‘in a house not far from the centre of town’ – 13 Stuart Street, maybe?.
Back in Mossel Bay Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland (JBA) became mayor and the main street is still called Bland Street. He died in 1861. His grave is hidden in thick bush on a farm in the Wydersrivier district near Riversdal.
The farmer very kindly took Hugh to the gravesite. Hugh says you can still read the inscription on the gravestone – it’s indistinct, but there’s no doubt that it’s JBA’s grave. He says it was “quite a moment” for him – JBA was buried there 156 yrs ago and Hugh wondered when a Bland last stood at that grave.
Hugh put two proteas – which it looks like he skoffel’d out nearby? – on the grave; then laid his shadow next to his great-great-great grandfather and took this pic:
The Harrismith Branch of the Blands:
Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland had a daughter, Annie Emmett Bland, who married Louis Botha, Boer war general who became the first President of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
He also had a son John Francis Adam Bland (JFA), born in 1836.
This JFA I later trekked inland ca.1861 to Harrismith in the Orange River Colony with a small baby – John Francis Adam Bland the Second – JFA II. This started ‘our branch’ of the Blands, The Vrystaat Blands. One of them – I must try and find out who – would end up as a prisoner of war in Ceylon for doing the right thing and fighting for his new homeland against the invading thieving British in the Boer war of 1899-1902.
John Francis Adam Bland II married Mary Caskie, who became the beloved Granny Bland of Harrismith. They had five sons of whom our grandfather Frank was the oldest, again: John Francis Adam; JFA III.
Hugh found out that JFA the First died on 10 September 1891 aged 55, and is buried in the lost, dusty, verlate metropolis of Senekal, Vrystaat. In Harrismith Granny Bland buried her husband JFA II and four of her five boys, including JFA III. As Sheila said, ‘What a tragic life.’ Poor Granny Bland! She loved her grandaughter Mary, our Mom, and she lived long enough to know us, her great grandkids before she died in 1959. So in that she was Lucky Granny Bland! We knew Bunty, the only child who outlived her, very well. He died in 1974 and joined his father JFA II, his mother, and his four brothers in the family grave in Harrismith.
JFA III married Annie Watson Bain – our granny Annie Bland. Known as just Annie. They farmed racehorses and clean fingernails on the farm Nuwejaarsvlei on the Nuwejaarspruit outside Harrismith on the road to Witsieshoek, towards the Drakensberg. He died in 1943 while my Mom Mary and her older sister Pat were still at school. Pat died in 1974. Mom Mary then looked after Annie until she died aged ninety in 1983. Mom Mary is still alive and well. She turned ninety in September 2018.
(I’m hoping sister Sheila will fact-check me here! Also that cousin Hugh will tell us what happened to the misguided Bland branch that didn’t go to the Vrystaat, but got lost and ended up in Zimbabwe. They lived near Oliviershoek for a while before trekking on. Hugh tells tales of transport riding, ox wagons, meeting Percy Fitzpatrick, farming in Rhodesia and other exaggerations . . )
Annie’s oldest daughter Pat Bland – married Bill Cowie, and had two daughters Frankie & Gemma; Bill worked in Blyvooruitsig on the gold mine; We would see them on their way to their wonderful Wild Coast fishing trips. They called Blyvooruitsig ‘Blayfore.’
Mary Bland second and youngest daughter – married Pieter Swanepoel in 1951
Bland might sound bland, but hey, the surname is thought to derive from Old English (ge)bland meaning ‘storm’, or ‘commotion’. Don’t use dictionaries that say, ‘dull, flavorless, or just plain ‘blah.’ Use the Merriam-Webster that says it means ‘smooth and soothing in manner or quality;’ or use vocabulary.com that says it means ‘alluring;’ or try ‘flattering’ from the Bland Family History on ancestry.com; That’s better.
Some of the information on Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland first coming to the Cape I got from the book And Not To Yield about Susan Bland. Susan was born in Harrismith, had a brother Willie, married a Theo Allison and lived seven miles outside Harrismith farming ostriches for a while.
And Not To Yield by Penelope Matthews, Watermark Press – ISBN 978-0-620-58162-2