I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island left of France was also the queen of South Africa (and for much of her life she was right!).
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 between it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.
I stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.
‘Strue!! – These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.
Annie was one of the seven Royal Bains in Harrismith. She was born in the cottage behind the hotel where her parents Stewart and Janet raised all the kids.
Her daughter Mary says they were Ginger, Stewart, Carrie, Jessie, Annie, Hector and Bennett. They had eight cousins who were ‘Central Bains’ – children of James Bain who owned the Central Hotel.
Mom Mary says only Hector got off his bum and got a job – he went off to become a bank manager in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. The rest hung around the hotel and had fun, got married, whatever. Ginger played polo; Carrie got married and left for Australia. Stuart did a bit of work on their farm, Sarclet, not far out of town on the Jo’burg road. None of the other six felt compelled to move on, up or out. After all, the hotel had a bar, and Dad was the Lord Mayor of the metropolis and was known as The Grand Old Man of Harrismith to many townsfolk, and ‘oupa’ to his grandkids; so enjoy! Why leave!?
When Annie married Frank Bland, she moved out to their farm Nuwejaarsvlei on the Witsieshoek road;
When the farm could no longer support the horseracing they moved in with Frank’s mother Granny Mary Bland, nee Caskie, now with two daughters, Pat and Mary. When Frank died aged only 49, Annie and the girls stayed on. They were joined there by her sister Jessie when her husband Arthur Bell died in Dundee, where he had been the dentist; Then later they were joined by now married daughter Mary, husband Pieter Swanepoel, and daughter Barbara when they arrived back from his work in the Post Office in Pietermaritzburg.
Some time after that – maybe when Granny Bland died? – Annie moved into Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel; She then left Harrismith for the first time in her life and went to stay with sister Jessie down in George for a few years after Jessie’s daughter Leslie had died; When Jessie died, Annie returned to Harrismith and lived in John Annandale’s Grand National Hotel. John said to Mary he was battling to cope with hosting her, so Mary moved her home. Much to Pieter’s delight. NOT.
So within a month Mary moved Annie into the Eliza Liddell old age home. Two years or so later, Mom remembers a night hosting bowling club friends to dinner when the phone rang. It was Sister Hermien Beyers from the home. “Jou Ma is nie lekker nie,” she said. Mom said I’ll be right over and drove straight there, she remembers in her red car wearing a navy blue dress. She sat with her dear Mom Annie holding her hand that night and – experienced nursing sister that she was – knew when Annie breathed her last in the wee hours.
Her visitors the next morning included Mrs Woodcock and Miss Hawkins. Mom regrets not letting Miss Hawkins in to see Annie. She should have, she says. She remembers being fifteen years old and not being allowed to see her Dad lying in Granny Bland’s home and has always been glad that she snuck in when no-one was watching and saw his body on his bed and so knew it really was true.
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 in Community of Property in Durban. She was born in Hanley, Staffordshire, England in 1859. Her parents were David Burley and Caroline Vaughan. Janet predeceased Stewart on 15 January 1924; Her daughters Jessie & Annie were with their mother 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.’
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 ‘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. 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!
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.’
Old Mrs Batty was Stewart Bain’s housekeeper at the Royal Hotel. Mum’s cheeky cousin, Janet Bell – later Hastings-Bell – asked Mrs Batty one day, “Why do you say ‘somethink and nothink?” Back came the reply, “Cause 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’. Sheila 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. 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.
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 they were ‘Royal’ so as not to be confused with the ‘Central Bains’, who owned the Central Hotel! As fishermen from the tiny hamlet of Wick on the more freezing end of Scotland, they couldn’t really claim the traditional ‘Balmoral Castle’ kind of royalty.
Playing rugby for Hilton, ‘Bain of Harrismith’ became the bane of Michaelhouse in the first rugby game between these two toffee-nosed schools, where vaguely bored and lazy shouts of ‘a bit more pressure from the rear!’ are heard through the gin fumes surrounding the rugby fields.
This report on the 1904 derby was reprinted in the 1997 Hilton vs Michaelhouse sports day brochure:
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 being smarter with your feet was better than “pretty passing”.
A century later these rugby genes would shine again as Bain’s great-great-grandson – grandnephew actually – also whipped Michaelhouse.
I’ve included a lovely picture of the Michaelhouse scrum on top.
Rugby in Harrismith was full of Bains and Blands:
Handwritten on the edge of one of these is “He wasn’t ill at all. (illegible) just found him (illegible) “
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.
He is the Stewart Bain who came to Harrismith, Orange River Colony in South Africa with his brother James in 188_ 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.
Stewart and Janet raised their ‘Royal Bain’ family 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 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 Annie Watson Bain. Her story ends tragically. 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.
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 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, 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.
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.’ She loved her grandaughter Mary, our Mom, and she lived long enough to know us, her great grandkids before she died in 1959. 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 Nuwejaarspruit (Nuwejaarsvlei?) outside Harrismith on the road to Witsieshoek, towards the Drakensberg. He died in 1943 while my Mom Mary and her 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, I think. Hugh tells tales of transport riding, ox wagons, meeting Percy Fitzpatrick, farming in Rhodesia and other exaggerations . . )
Annie’s other 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.
Mary Bland – 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 a book about Susan Bland. Susan was born in Harrismith, had a brother Willie, married a Theo Allison and lived outside Harrismith farming ostriches for a while. The book And Not To Yield by Penelope Matthews, Watermark Press – ISBN 978-0-620-58162-2