The Grand Old Man of Harrismith

  • Stewart Bain was born in Wick, Scotland on 9 September 1854;
  • He came to South Africa in 1878, and trekked on to the metropolis of Harrismith in the Orange River Colony;
  • He married Janet Burley, who predeceased him in 1924;
  • Became Mayor of the town and ‘reigned’ 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” (shades of our Moses Mabida stadium in Durban for 2010 – “Do we need such a fancy stadium!?”).

He died in 1939 and the town pulled out the stops for his funeral; The pictures were taken from the balcony of his Royal Hotel.

Oupa's bible and Grandpa Bain's funeral

Stewart Bain 1939.jpg

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

Royal Hotel article

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Here’s a close-up so enthusiasts can read which cars were around in 1939:

1939 Sept. Funeral of Stewart Bain Harrismith

Bain of Harrismith

My granny Annie had an older brother Ginger. He was the oldest of the seven ‘Royal Bains’ and a great sportsman. They owned the Royal Hotel and were not to be confused with the ‘Central Bains’, who owned the Central Hotel!

Playing rugby for Hilton, ‘Bain of Harrismith’ became the ‘Bane of Michaelhouse’ in the first rugby game between these two toffee-nosed schools.

This old report was reprinted in the 1997 Hilton vs Michaelhouse sports day brochure: 

Hilton Ginger Bain_2

Drop goals were four points and tries were three in those distant days. I like that the one side was “smarter with their feet” . . and that that beat “pretty passing”.

A century later these rugby genes would shine again as Bain’s great-great-grandson also whipped Michaelhouse.

Lovely picture of the Michaelhouse scrum on top.

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Rugby in Harrismith was full of Bains and Blands:

1921 Rugby Team Bains Blands

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The Bain Family’s Scottish Roots

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!

bain-crest
Clan Bain Crest

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 14 April 1777 – died 1853. He married Katherine Bremner and they lived in Sarclet, just south of Wick way up in north-east Scotland.

wick castle scotland
Wick Castle
sarclet, scotland.jpg
Sarclet
sarclet, scotland_2
Sarclet village

Donald’s son George was out fishing with his brother Stewart in 1853 when their boat was swamped and Stewart drowned. Katrina found an 1853 newspaper article about the tragedy.

Stewart Bain drowning 1853.jpg

When Stewart Bain was born in 1819 in Caithness, his father, Donald, was 42 and his mother, Katherine, was 41. On 7 February 1845 Stewart married Christina Watson  in his hometown. They had four children during their marriage. He died as a young father on 19 February 1853 in Thrumster, Caithness, at the age of 34, and was buried there.

The next year, 1854, his brother George and his wife Annie (nee Watson) had a son. They named him Stewart.

He is the Stewart who came to Harrismith, Orange River Colony in South Africa in 18____ 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!

Stewart Bain called his home in Harrismith ‘Caithness’:

Caithness, Harrismith

On Katrina’s ancestry web page “Miller Family Tree” the names Annie, Jessie, Stewart, Katherine, Donald etc have been used for generations.  My gran – one of the seven Royal Bains – was Annie Watson Bain.

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Many thanks to  katrina duncan for getting in touch!

The Scottish Tartan register confirms that there is no ancient Clan Bain tartan. This one ‘The Bains of Caithness’ was designed in 1993 for Robert Bain of Caithness.

 

 

 

Being Bland in Africa (one branch . . )

Our distant cousin Hugh Bland has been doing some wonderful work sniffing out the Bland family history.

Today he found the grave of Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland – he was born 1799 in the UK and arrived at the Cape in 1825. He settled in Mossel Bay, where he became mayor and the main street is still called Bland Street. He died in 1861. The grave is hidden in thick bush on a farm in the Wydersrivier district near Riversdal. 

The farmer very kindly took Hugh to the gravesite where Hugh says you can still read the inscription on the grave stone – 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 on the grave and then laid his shadow next to his (and our) great-great-great grandfather:

JBA Bland's grave

Harrismith Branch – After Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland came John Francis Adam Bland (born 1836) who trekked inland to Harrismith in the Orange River Colony with a small baby – John Francis Adam the second. This started “our branch” of the Blands. JFA II later married Mary Caskie (who became the beloved Granny Bland of Harrismith). They had five sons of whom our grandfather Frank (JFA III) and Bunty were the oldest.

Hugh found out that JFA the first died on 10 September 1891 aged 55, and is buried in Senekal.

In Harrismith Granny Bland buried her husband and four of her five boys – what a tragic life. She did live long enough to know us, her great grandkids before she died ca 1960. We knew Bunty, the one son who outlived her, very well. He died in 1974 and joined his mother and father JFA II and four brothers in the family grave in Harrismith.

JFA III (Frank) married Annie Watson Bain – our granny Annie Bland. She died aged 90 ca 1981. Her eldest daughter Pat (Cowie), our mother Mary’s sister, died before her in 1974. Mom Mary is still alive and turned 89 in 2017.

I’m hoping sister Sheila will fact-check me here!

 

A Slice of Vrystaat

I was born in Harrismith in 1955 as was Mom Mary in 1928 and Gran Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” was also the queen of South Africa. Elizabeth, not Pieter-Dirk.

To balance that, there’s this side of the family.

I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a  Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980. Stayed in Durban and got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!! These random – un-chronological – personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know: With one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Add your memories in the comments if you were there!