Victor Simmonds, Artist

Dad: “Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright (later Ruth Dominy) on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.

“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. (Mom and Dad owned a bottle store, liquor store, in town) I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these four paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”

– maybe a self portrait? –
– nude with amphora? –
– semi-nude with two amphorae? –
– maybe the Kak Spruit at Glen Khyber? – possibly –

So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad:

Victor Simmonds’ work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from $126 to $256, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 2012 the record price for this artist at auction is $256 for South African landscape with two women carrying wood, sold at Bonhams Oxford in 2012.

– South African Landscape With Two Women Carrying Wood –
– shrubs beside a cascading stream –

I knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking and at I found this:

– spot on!! – an image locked in my brain for maybe fifty years! –
– sunset, poplar trees, a river – the Wilge near Walton farm? –

A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.


On Jumping Over a Rinkhals

This is actually older sister Barbara’s story. It’s her story because she was the brave one, and because she was about 50% older than me at the time, seeing I was four. She threatens to write it one day. In fact, she says she has written it down somewhere.

Here’s the way I remember it – probably modified by being told it over the years:

We lived on ‘the plot’ Birdhaven east of town on the forestry or sawmill road in Platberg’s morning shadow. One evening towards sunset we were playing in the back yard outside the kitchen door when Barbara needed to go inside to fetch something. Water to mix up some mud most probably? Near the door she came across a snake and took a flying leap over it (she would probably add ‘athletically’ or ‘gracefully’, but I bet there was a shriek involved about then).

I jumped up and ran closer to see a snake reared up and looking concerned. This caused me to show even more concern. Obviously it now posed a much greater threat, right? so I sensibly ran away, around the house and in at the front door. You know: Discretion? Valour?

After that I vaguely remember the black bakelite phone attached to the wall, the one you wound the handle energetically before picking up the modern one-piece ear-and-mouthpiece to give the live person on the other end the number you were looking for. I dunno who was phoning, wasn’t me.

telephone wall-mounted old

Here’s one of those phones in a museum

Then I remember the old man in the kitchen moving the stove with a stick in his hand and a box to guide the snake into.

I remember being told the rinkhals – for it was identified as such:  Hemachatus haemachatus if you’re looking it up – had “crawled into the back of the stove”.

And I remember being told that it was given to Tommy vd Bosch who would take it to the Durban Snake Park, poor thing – although I only thought “poor thing” years later now that I know it would have been better to release it where it belonged.

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad in the Kitchen

That kitchen door

Harrismith Birdhaven Rinkhals. jpg

That poor thing


The Rinkhals is endemic to Southern Africa. Though it resembles a cobra, spreads a hood and spits venom, it is not a true cobra and gives birth to live young. A grassland and wetland inhabitant, it feeds on frogs mainly, but also takes mammals and reptiles. When threatened it is very quick to disappear down a hole, but if cornered it will stand its ground, form a hood and spit, throwing the head forward when doing so, as it has a primitive spitting mechanism. The Rinkhals will also sham death very realistically, with its body turned upside down and mouth hanging open. Its venom is largely cytotoxic causing pain, swelling and potentially tissue damage. Bites are extremely rare and fatalities unheard of.