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:
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”.
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.
I reckon if you dipped your toe in that Wick water you’d know why some Bains moved to Africa! Also, the castle looks like it needed a 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. 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 he found the grave of Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland – he was born in 1799 in ‘the UK’ – England, I guess! He 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. 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 on the grave; then laid his shadow next to his great-great-great grandfather and took this pic:
Harrismith Branch of the Blands –
After Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland came John Francis Adam Bland, born in 1836. He trekked inland to Harrismith in the Orange River Colony with a small baby – John Francis Adam the Second – JFA II.
This started “our branch” of the Blands, The Vrystaat Blands.
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, called JFA the Third; JFA III.
Hugh found out that JFA the First died on 10 September 1891 aged 55, and is buried in the lost metropolis of Senekal, Vrystaat. In Harrismith Granny Bland buried her husband JFA II and four of her five boys, including JFA III – as Sheila says, ‘What a tragic life.’ She did live 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 outside Harrismith on the road to Witsieshoek, towards the Drakensberg. He died ca 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). 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 ones that say it means ‘smooth and soothing in manner or quality,’ (the Merriam-Webster); or ‘flattering’ (from Bland Family History on ancestry.com); or ‘alluring’ (from vocabulary.com).
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 Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980. 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.
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. If I haven’t offended anyone – yet – it’s not for lack of trying . .
Hastily-scribbled, these posts could do with help. They’re usually based on remembered conversations, not written notes. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.