As he said to the Maritzburg College chap who came round to interview him:He excelled at sport, and athletics was his particular passion. He won the best athlete prize in 4th form 1936 and 5th form 1937. This was the Old Man talking, Pieter Gerhardus Swanepoel, born in 1922. (‘6th form’ is matric, or high school senior year, which he started in 1938, but he left school on 1st April that year to start an apprenticeship at the post office).
He recalls College doing very well in inter-school meets:
We should have been more biblical. Us Swanie kids should have listened in Sunday School and been a lot more faithfully Biblical.
Doesn’t the Bible say quite clearly and unambiguously, ‘Obey Your Father’!? And Pieter Gerhardus said quite clearly and unambiguously, ‘Shoot Me When I Turn Sixty!’
We shoulda been obedient children.
Luckily for him (now aged 98) the Bible might also say ‘Obey Your Mother.’ Does it? Lemme check.
Yep. Ephesians 6 v1 – Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
On the other hand, our disobedience (or mine, as a son) could have led to this:
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, . . . that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother (Ah, Mom woulda saved me) lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place . . . And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die . . . (Blimey! But God Loves ya! Eish!) – Deuteronomy Chapter 21 v18
So Wendy wakes the Reed and announces it’s time: Stacey the firstborn is on her way and they need to get to the hospital sommer right now. Oka-ay, now where did the Reed put his car keys?
Searching for stuff when you’re not completely calm is fruitless. Rather phone Koos. Who comes roaring around the corner into 10th Avenue, Berea, Durban, KwaZuluNatal, South Africa at three ay emm in the grey and grey 1965 Concorde deluxe four door column shift Opel. Or was it my puke-green 1974 Peugeot 404 station wagon? Memory fades and it could be either. Both had slick column shift gear levers anyway. And anyway, it’s a good thing we have vehicles like this for times like these. Spacious bench seats. Ample boep-room between seats.
I whisk them off to the hospital in no time. Efficiently. The robots change when I go through, the clouds dissolve and the sky turns blue . . thanks, Don Maclean. The Concorde is stable around the corners, swift on the straights.
Wendy was in the ward long before 4am the way I remember things.
Stacey, on the other hand, appeared in that ward only at about 6pm that evening. She’s still laid back.
Decades later we discussed the details.
May 2021, Steve Reed wrote: Was it from there (Whittington Court) that you made your pre-dawn mercy mission to the obstetrics department on 8th June 1983? Possibly not, because you bought that flat in 1984 or were you renting it before then?
Me: Memories dim and they’re very malleable. Mine is of getting into my puke-green Pukealot stasiewa OHS 5688 outside my residential hotel on the Berea – or perhaps the Communal house in Hunt Road.
But not Whittington.
Where did I drive to? I remember Debbin North, but no more detail except I dimly see a flat, not a house? Where were you when Stace was born?
Steve: We were living in 10th Avenue – a little duplex near Greyville a few streets up from Windorah. You visited us there after Stacey was born. I remember your living in a flat not very far away … closer to what was Berea Road. I remember it being pretty spartan – Were you sharing with someone?
I think it may have been your Opel that you came round the corner on two wheels but memory murky. Maybe it was the Pukalot.
I had been spray painting a cot for Stacey’s arrival. Slammed the tip up garage door shut and went to bed with all keys locked inside the garage. Another set of keys had been left at work in Durban North. Somehow I had no key for either of our cars.
Me: Ah! I might have been staying with Dave Thorrington-Smith in his flat near Botanic Gardens.
So you took Stace home to 10th Avenue? Amazing. I was convinced I roared across the mighty Umgeni River. In the stasiewa, I thought, cos I was imagining being an ambumince driver.
Steve: At 5am you took a moer of a lot of waking up… but damn I was happy to see you. Bliksem!
Ina Prinsloo came into the bottle store one day many years ago to get stuff for a party. Said, “Don’t tell Egbert. I’m arranging a surprise party for him.”
She bought plenty of grog.
Later Egbert came in. Tongue-in-cheek he said: “I don’t like this Harrismith tradition on your birthday. People fall all over you and you have to buy them food and drink!”
He also bought plenty of grog.
Dear old honest Mom was torn: I didn’t know what to say . .
I didn’t know this: Mom met Ina when she first started nursing at the Boksburg-Benoni hospital – her very first hospital. Egbert was a houseman there and that’s where he and Ina met. Years later Egbert joined a general practice in Harrismith. They stayed and raised their kids and became a big and well loved part of the town.
In February 2021, out of the blue, Leo Caskie Wade wrote:
Good morning Rob.
I thought the Caskies in SA were something of the past.
I am 81 years old and my Caskie connections were from Harrismith years ago.
Should you feel inclined I would like to hear from you.
Regards - Leo wade
Rob Caskie replied: Good morning, Leo, Thank you for your email which arrived as a great surprise. Yes, indeed, our family also stems from the Caskie family in Harrismith. Our cousin Sheila Swanepoel knows far more about the family and early Harrismith days than I do. Neither I nor my brother have children, so this line of the Caskie family unfortunately dies with us. Our father, Alexander Maynard Caskie (Taffy) died on 6 March 1989, aged 61. His brothers and both parents passed on early in our father’s life.
Enter Sheila, she with the family info: Hello Leo, What a delightful surprise to make contact with another Caskie.
Alexander (Alec) Caskie was born in Scotland in 1839. He married Mary Craig, and they came to Harrismith from Pietermaritzburg. He was my great-great grandfather and Rob’s great grandfather.
They had two sons and two daughters: 1. Robert (Bob) married Doreen (Doe) and Rob is his grandson; 2. James (Jim) married Ethel and they had four kids; 3. Mary who is my great grandmother – she married John Francis Adam Bland II. She was my Mum’s beloved Granny Bland, who died in Harrismith in 1959, so she had me as a great-grandkid till I was three; 4. Jessie who married a Mr Tapling and then a Mr Tarling – she had no children.
Alec Caskie died in Harrismith on 14 August 1926.
My Mum Mary – grandaughter of young Mary on the lap above – is 92, still alive and well, and now living in Pietermaritzburg. She remembers all the Harrismith Caskies very well. She and Taffy (Rob’s father) were both born in 1928 and were great mates when they were little.
There are three Caskie homes in HS – all beautifully restored, all in Stuart Street. We grew up in this one from 1960 to 1973. It had been owned by the original Alec Caskie .
It turns out Leo Caskie Wade is the grandson of Janet Caskie, who came to Harrismith from Australia, and Harrismith’s well-known doctor Leo Hoenigsberger, who our gran Annie insisted on calling Dr ‘Henningsberg’. A great friend of her Dad, our great grandfather, Stewart Bain, he was the family GP as well as the Harrismith government doctor, or ‘district surgeon’.
One day, driving back to town from his duties at the prison, he missed the bridge and his car landed in ‘the spruit with the name.’ The Kak Spruit. Only his pride was injured. In the meantime, back in town, the hostess of the weekly bridge evening was getting a bit perturbed as Dr H hadn’t arrived yet and they couldn’t start playing bridge without him. She ‘phoned the Hoenigsberger home and was told by Dr H’s young son Max:“No, I don’t think my father will be coming tonight. He’s had enough bridge for one day.”
After decades of hearing this story from mother Mary, here’s Leo Caskie Wade to add some more detail:
“Leo Hoenigsberger, methodical, careful and pedantic as he was, was rushing in his huge German Sperber motorcar over the narrow bridge that led to the Harrismith Hospital. It was an emergency. He crashed over the side into the river and was admitted to his own hospital.
Now fast forward to the mid-1970’s. I am at university in Durban; I am asked to take an Italian female exchange student to digs where she would stay over the week-end on her way to Rhodes University. I dropped her at the gate to return later to take her out. When I arrived she was not ready yet, and in chatting to the elderly German landlady I discovered she was my grandfather Dr Leo Hoenigsberger’s theatre nurse! She had nursed him after the said crash. She wanted to know all about the Harrismith family etc. What a coincidence!”
** The ‘Two Marys’ photo: To make the image, a daguerreotypist would polish a sheet of silver-plated copper to a mirror finish, treat it with fumes that made its surface light sensitive, expose it in a camera for as long as was judged to be necessary, which could be as little as a few seconds for brightly sunlit subjects or much longer with less intense lighting; make the resulting latent image on it visible by fuming it with mercury vapour; remove its sensitivity to light by liquid chemical treatment, rinse and dry it, then seal the easily marred result behind glass in a protective enclosure. (thanks, wikipedia)
Mary Caskie Bland’s Stuart Street home:
Sheils found this handwritten note – most likely written by Alec Caskie himself – among her gran Annie’s effects. Annie was his granddaughter:
Born at Kilmarnock Dec 1839. Brought up in Stewarton where his father’s folks lived for several centuries. Was sent to the parish school under Mr Sinclair Sincular ?. Graduated in the big college of the worlds.
” survived 4yrs to the (WHOLE LINE MISSING) ” in __ of the large __ __ __ questions involved __ __(HM ??) Paul to release political prisoners. ” Am a JP for many years.” A freemason for 40 years, passed through the chair three times and am affiliated with several other Lodges. Belong to all the churches and a number of _____. I have served on the village management for 35 years barring 2 years I was out. I have been several times mayor retiring for good in March 1921. I have served on the Hospital board; learning / licensing? board; on the Library committee; the (?Ways – maybe ‘Ways and Means’) Board. The Literary Society. Have (?passed) the (?port) on many occasions. __ under Dr. and I. __. Married Mary Craig daughter of Robb Craig, High Street (?Stewarton__). Sailed on the Vanguard from Glasgow to South Africa – 1862 – 69 days passage. Was (?pro cantor) and organist Rev Campbell _____ Church for Maritzburg, where I have lived for about 10 years. Came to Harrismith in 1873 where I have lived since. (those of you who can read old bullets’ 19th century spidery inkwell-and-quill handwriting, please click on the pic bottom right below and do some deciphering and add it in the comments!).
. . and a pleasantly flattering bio in Afrikaans (by historian FA Steytler’s Die Geskiedenis van Harrismith, 1932) which I translate here:
Grew up in difficult circumstances; not much schooling; worked on a farm as a boy; then apprenticed to a lumberjack (or timber merchant?); Came to PMB and started as a builder; poor health saw him seek ‘higher altitude’ and move to Harrismith for the climate in 1873; seemed to suit him! He built the landdroskantoor, the hofsaal (magistrates court and offices), and the town gaol; Disaster struck in 1874 when the house he was renting (the Ou Pastorie of Ds Macmillan) burnt down; he lost all he possessed; he then decided to take advantage of the increased traffic between Durban’s harbour and Kimberley’s diamond fields and open a hotel – the Commercial (later called the Grand National), which he ran as hotelier till 1899; He was described as pleasant in company, a keen debater, with many friends; He did an incredible amount for the town. Town Councillor; Mayor 1896 to 1899, 1904, 1910-1911 and 1920. For fifty years he was involved in almost everything the municipality established or started: eg. electric light, water supply, town hall, Victoria Lake in the park, the pine plantation on the slopes of Platberg, etc. A member of the Hospital Board, a director of the Building Society, the School Commission, Library Committee, etc. A prominent Freemason; Active in politics: he stood for the Unionist Party for the Harrismith seat in the Union Parliament, but lost the election to Kommandant Jan Meyer. Died 14 August 1926, aged 86.
Sheila also has an undated newspaper article about the death of one John Caskie in Kilmarnock, Scotland – brother? cousin? He served in the 72nd Highlanders and saw action in the Crimean War (1855) and the Indian Mutiny. John was likely a relative, as Annie Bland kept this article amongst her papers.
Potted Caskie history (like all my history ‘lessons’: pinch o’ salt): The Caskies originated in the Galloway – Dumfries region of Scotland. The name is the anglicization of the pre-10th century Gaelic ‘MacAscaidh’ which derives from the Old Norse personal name ‘Asketill’, and translates as ‘The cauldron of the gods.’ How’s that!? The first recorded spelling of the family name is that of Thom McKasky, 1494, Edinburgh, during the reign of King James IV of Scotland. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation, so no wonder the Scots kept spellin’ them different! Stewarton seems to be known for Ayrshire cattle, body snatching and being a good place to leave, but of course – I may be wrong.
Sheila made a Caskie Family Tree. Anyone with more info, please add / amend (as I have) so it can be improved / updated! Simply do it in the comments here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Larry wrote to me – old-fashioned ink and paper, lick the stamp, seal the envelope and drop it into a postbox – on 4 Nov 1970, his 19th birthday.
He was getting brochures for Dad for a van – Ford, Chev and Dodge. ‘I’m glad your father is really getting interested in the scheme of getting a van. If he is serious about importing me too (to come with the van), I could be ready to leave in June. It seems a bit too good to be true, so I am not counting on it at all.’ It didn’t happen. The van did.
The old man needed a delivery van for the bottle store. Twelve years of Joseph faithfully delivering booze to the needy on his bicycle clearly wasn’t hacking it anymore.
People needed their dop on the double; their brannewyn and beer briefly; their cane kona manje; their Paarl Perle pronto; This called for a V8! A five litre V8 – 302 cubic inches of inefficiency was ordered from across the Atlantic. Two pedals, one to GO one to STOP; it was automatic . . . hydromatic, greased lightning!
It was a delivery van, so no windows were needed. These were only cut in the week it arrived. Then it needed to be fitted out to take crates of beer: Two beds, a fridge and a stove were fitted above the new green carpets.
A test run was called for: I drove it to Joburg, loaded it up with fellow students and headed for Hillbrow. At the lights on the uphill section of Quartz or Twist street some unsuspecting sucker pulled up alongside.
I gave him a withering look and revved the V8, which didn’t really growl, the ole man refusing to tweak the exhaust like it could have been tweaked. It sounded OK, but not “like God clearing his throat.”
I changed feet, stomping down hard on the brake with my left and pressing down on the accelerator with my right. A fraction before the light turned green I let go the brake and the bus squealed and roared and bucked as we gunned off up the hill. Dunno if the other bloke even noticed but we were hosing ourselves – we had fun.
The van cost the ole man R1500 and then shipping it across the Atlantic another R1500.
The Harrismith Chronicle started publishing in 1903. Annie was ten years old, still living in the cottage behind the Royal Hotel. Eighty years later the paper celebrated. That milestone edition included our dear old Annie’s obituary. She’d reached ninety. Lovingly cared for from when Frank in died in 1943 right to the end forty years later, by her daughter Mary, our loving Mom.
Now in 2020 comes more sad news. After 117 years, the old Chronic has folded. Maybe it won’t be the end? Maybe someone can revive it in digital form, online? Sure hope so.
On the 23 March 2021 came a glimmer of hope:
Dandre Kleyn commented on my post Chronic. Terminal?
Interesting post and very nice to read. So, good news, the Harrismith Chronicle is being revived! The 1st new issue is hitting the shelves 25 March 2021. New ownership and a new newspaper coming to you.
OK, not really; more a reverie on drink – a nostalgic lookback on a bottle store. Platberg Bottle Store / Drankwinkel in Harrismith, the Vrystaat. The Swanepoel family business. We all worked here at times.
We were talking about the trinkets, decor and marketing stuff. Like those big blow-up bottles hanging from the ceiling. Turns out big sister Barbara kept some of them from way back when:
Younger sister Sheila has some whisky jugs; and I had found an old familiar brandy-making figure online:
This is where they were displayed, along with the statues of Johnny Walker whisky, Dewars White Label whisky’s Scottish soldier ‘drum major’, Black & White whisky with their two Scotty dogs, Beefeater Gin’s ‘beefeater’, etc. Spot them below:
The old man bought an 8mm cine film Eumig camera and Eumig projector. Made in Austria. This was ca.1963, I’d guess. It once did a bit of – potentially – famous footage!
Later he bought a Canon SLR camera with a 50mm lens like this, and a 300mm telephoto lens. An FT QL like this one. He used Agfa slide film. Had to be Agfa, not Kodak! Agfa had ‘better greens and blues.’
Once I heard Dad had been present when I won a 100m race at the town’s President Brand Park athletic track. I didn’t know he was there – found out later that he had been taking photos. At the finish, in my lunge for the tape, I fell and somersaulted, skidding on my back. I won or tied for first – not sure which, but one of the two. Never did see a photo of that finish – !? Had two roasties on my back for a while.
Once – 1967 – he took a photo of the all-winning U/13 rugby team holding a trophy. So I do have one photo a father took of his son’s school sporting career!