Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family travel

New Country, New Identity, New Skill

I was reading about Andrew Geddes Bain, geologist, road engineer, palaeontologist and explorer in the Cape up to 1864, and his son Thomas Charles Bain, road engineer in the Cape up to 1888, when it suddenly struck me!

First, let’s see what these two very capable men achieved: Andrew Geddes Bain built eight mountain passes, including the famous Bain’s Kloof Pass, which opened up the route to the interior from Cape Town. And he had thirteen children. His son Thomas Charles Bain built nineteen passes! His crowning glory was the Swartberg Pass that connects Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo with Prince Albert beyond the Swartberg mountains in the open plains of the Great Karoo. And he had thirteen children.

And I suddenly knew exactly what happened when my Great-Grandfather Stewart Bain and his brother James Bain got off the ship in Durban in 1880. They were fishermen from the tiny fishing village of Wick, in the far north-eastern corner of Scotland, used to being ‘knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse.’

People in Durban asked them: ‘Bain? Are you the famous Bain road builders? We need road builders here. Can you build bridges too?’

And I know just what the brothers Bain said. ‘Roads? Och aye, we can build roads. And bridges? We can build them with one hand tied behind our back.’ The old ‘funny you should mention that! I happen to very good at it . . . ‘

– some nice bridges there – this one in Swinburne –

And so they built the railway bridges between Ladysmith and Harrismith, learning as they went, ‘upskilling’, – thus goes this theory of mine – and therefore helping the railroad reach that wonderful picturesque town in the shadow of Platberg. This made them enough money to buy or build a hotel each, marry, have children – only seven and eight apiece, though – and become leading citizens of their adopted dorp in Die Oranje Vrijstaat Republiek.

Then: One of the seven had two children; and One of those had me! And here I am.

  • edit: I wrote nine kids in the pic, but I think it was worse – only seven.

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Think I’m being unkind to Wick, village of my ancestors? Read what Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about it to his mother when he stayed there in 1868:

‘Certainly Wick in itself possesses no beauty: bare, grey shores, grim grey houses, grim grey sea; not even the gleam of red tiles; not even the greenness of a tree. The southerly heights, when I came here, were black with people, fishers waiting on wind and night. Now all the boats have beaten out of the bay, and the Wick men stay indoors or wrangle on the quays with dissatisfied fish-curers, knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse. The day when the boats put out to go home to the Hebrides, the girl here told me there was ‘a black wind’; and on going out, I found the epithet as justifiable as it was picturesque. A cold, BLACK southerly wind, with occasional rising showers of rain; it was a fine sight to see the boats beat out a-teeth of it. In Wick I have never heard any one greet his neighbour with the usual ‘Fine day’ or ‘Good morning.’ Both come shaking their heads, and both say, ‘Breezy, breezy!’ And such is the atrocious quality of the climate, that the remark is almost invariably justified by the fact. The streets are full of the Highland fishers, lubberly, stupid, inconceivably lazy and heavy to move. You bruise against them, tumble over them, elbow them against the wall — all to no purpose; they will not budge; and you are forced to leave the pavement every step.’

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Now read a sterling and spirited defence of our ancestral dorp by Janis Paterson – a distant cousin, and also a descendant of the Bains of Wick; who read my post and reached for her quill (I have paraphrased somewhat):

Ya boo sucks to RLS! Robert Louis Stevenson, was a sickly child. His father and his uncles were engineers who built lighthouses all over Scotland. Robert was sent to Wick, likely to get involved in building a breakwater there with his Uncle. But he was more interested in writing stories and was just not cut out for this sort of work. I believe he was also ill while in Wick. The first attempt at building the breakwater was washed away during a storm and also the second attempt. The work was then abandoned. I therefore propose that Robert just didn’t want to be in Wick, was ill, fed up with the weather and just wanted to get away to concentrate on his writing. The Stevenson family must have been excellent engineers, as all the lighthouses are still standing. Did Robert also feel that he was a failure as an apprentice engineer?

Stick it to him, Janis! How dare he call Wick fishy? Or smelly!? Or breezy!? Even if it was!

Janis adds ‘Read this book review:’ ‘ . . .fourteen lighthouses dotting the Scottish coast were all built by the same Stevenson family that produced Robert Louis Stevenson, Scotland’s most famous novelist. Who, unlike the rest of his strong-willed, determined family, was certainly not up to the astonishing rigours of lighthouse building.’

Janis was right! 😉 All HE could do was scribble – like me . .

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Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family

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!

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.

sarclet, scotland.jpg
– Sarclet coast –
sarclet, scotland_2
– Sarclet village –

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 . . .

wick castle scotland
– Wick Castle –

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.

Stewart Bain drowning 1853.jpg

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.

This Stewart is the Stewart Bain who came to Harrismith, Orange Free State – the sovereign country Oranje Vrijstaat – in South Africa with his brother James in 1878 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. She got her paternal grandmother’s surname as her second name.

Stewart and Janet raised their ‘Royal Bain’ brood in this cottage adjacent to their hotel in Station Road, down near the railway line:

1990 April Royal Hotel Cottage0003

James Bain, Stewart’s brother and owner of the Central Hotel, called his rather larger 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 named Annie Watson Bain. Her story ended tragically early, in World War 1 in France. Thanks to Katrina we know more about it.

Caithness, Harrismith
– Caithness, Harrismith –

On Katrina’s ancestry web page “Miller Family Tree” the names Annie, Jessie, Stewart, Katherine, Donald etc have been used for generations.

  • 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.
  • There are a few coats of arms; I chose two examples.
– this is not true – or not very –

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Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family

The Two Annie Watson Bains

By the time we knew her she was Annie Bland. Never ‘granny’. Only Annie. She was our dear Mom’s dear Mom.

In fact ‘Annie Watson Bain’ to me was the lady who died in World War 1 and whose name was on one of the monuments outside the Town Hall. She was our Annie’s first cousin, their Dads, brothers Stewart and James Bain, had come out from Scotland together.

We never knew our Grandad, Annie’s husband JFA ‘Frank’ Bland. They’d already lost the farms and the racehorses, and they’d moved to town. He had died aged fifty and Annie now owned the ‘Caltex Garage’, as we called it – one of the many petrol filling stations in town. At one time there were seventeen of them! Hers was on ‘Caskie Corner’, opposite our posh Town Hall which her father Stewart Bain had been instrumental in building.

At the time some called the town hall ‘Bain’s Folly’ as it was such an imposing structure for our modest dorp. I remember exploring inside it with fascination as a kid. High up in the rafters and steel gangways above the stage, with all sorts of ropes and chains hanging down and black curtains behind the red velvet main curtains; the backstage rooms, along the marble-floored passages past the toilets, the museum with the taxidermied animals – a lion, a vulture, what else? The galley above the main hall. I never did get up into the clock tower, come to think of it! Nor onto the outside balcony overlooking Warden Street. I wonder why? Locked doors?

HS Town Hall
Harrismith Town Hall Bain's Folly
Town Hall3

Annie always spoke with great admiration of her late husband Frank – the granpa we never knew – and told me proudly how she’d never seen his fingernails dirty. This as she looked mildly disapprovingly – probably more disappointedly, she never had a harsh word for me –  at mine. She called me Koosie and the way she pronounced it, it rhymed with ‘wussie’ and ‘pussy’, but don’t say that out loud.

The car she drove was like this one, except faded beige:

A Chevrolet Fleetline OHS 794, I’d guess a 1948 model. It had a cushion on the seat for her to see over the dash and under the top rim of the steering wheel.

She was born in 1893, the fifth of seven Bain kids of the ‘Royal Bains’ – meaning the Bains of the Royal Hotel. There were also ‘Central Bains’.

She went to St Andrews Collegiate School in Harrismith:

. . and then to St Anne’s in Pietermaritzburg where she played good hockey ‘if she would learn to keep her place on the field’. She’s the little one on a chair second from left:

Annie Bain, ? seated on chair 2nd from left
– Hmm, looks like St Anne’s in Pietermartizburg was a riot of fun and laughter! –

Some medals Annie won for singing in 1915 from The Natal Society for the Advancement of Music. Both say mezzo soprano and one says 1st Grade 1915.

HS Caltex

She ran the Caltex forecourt and the workshop at the back, where At Truscott fixed cars. She rented out the adjoining Flamingo Cafe and Platberg Bottle Store premises. At that time she lived in the Central Hotel a short block away across the Deborah Retief Gardens and I do believe she drove to work every day. Maybe drove back for lunch even?

Sundays were special with Annie as your gran. She’d roll up at our house in the big beige Chev, we’d pile in freshly sanctified, having been to church and Sunday school, and off we’d go on a drive. The back seat was like a large lounge sofa. Sometimes she’d drive to nowhere, sometimes to the park, sometimes cruising the suburbs. OK, the one and only suburb. Usually there’d be a long boring spell parked somewhere like the top of 42nd Hill overlooking the town and watching the traffic. Annie and Glick chatting away on the front seat and us sitting on the back thinking, OK, that’s long enough now. I’m sure they told us the whole history of Harrismith and who lived where and who was who and maybe even who was doing what and with whom. But maybe not, as they were discreet gentlefolk. All of which we ignored anyway, so I can’t tell you nothing!

Later she got a green Opel and for some reason – maybe after she could no longer drive? – it was parked on our lawn for long spells. I sat in it and changed gears on its column shift about seventy thousand times. Probably why I (like most males in their own opinion) am such a good driver today. It was a Kapitan or Rekord like this, but green and white:

Annie's Opel Rekord

Annie died in Harrismith in 1983 aged 90. Looked after to the end by her loving daughter Mary. Her husband Frank and elder daughter Pat had died around 1943 and 1974 respectively.

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The pic of the Town Hall with the green Chev is thanks to De Oude Huize Yard – do go and see their blog. They’re doing great things in the old dorp, keeping us from destroying everything old and replacing it with corrugated iron and plastic.

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Also from DeOudeHuizeYard, this information about the building that housed Annie’s school:

The Dutch Reformed dominee Rev A.A. van der Lingen began his years of service in Harrismith on the 6th May 1875 and remained there until the 12th July 1893.  He and the church ouderlings built a new church on the site of the original building. The cornerstone of the new building was laid on the 25th August 1892.

Five weeks prior to the unveiling of that stone, on the 14th July 1892, the town had enjoyed a four-day celebration of the momentous arrival of the railroad from Natal. The festival was paid for by a £5 500 donation by the Free State government! Harrismith was now online!

– Is this when the first train choofed in? Who was there? –

Around then the Rev van der Lingen ran for President of the Orange Free State. In the hope of impressing the townsfolk and swaying their vote in his favour, he built an impressive house, the first double-story building in Harrismith. The townsfolk seemingly were not impressed though, and he was not elected. Later, with the British occupation of Harrismith in the Anglo-Boer War, the military authorities made the double-story building their headquarters.

After the cessation of hostilities, Vrede House (Peace House) as it was then known, became St Andrews Collegiate School (1903-1918), then Oakland’s School and finally a boarding house in the 1930’s.

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Here’s some info and pics from the Imperial War Museum (IWM) of the bombing that killed Annie’s namesake, Annie Watson Bain in World War II in France, found by Bain descendant Janis Paterson, raised in Wick, now living in England:

– hospital at Etaples after bombing 1918 –

Filmed at a stationary hospital near Etaples, probably 9 Canadian Hospital three days after a bombing raid hit the hospital on the night of 31 May 1918.

*** – see IWM movie here – ***

The wooden huts of the hospital show various bomb blasts but little fire damage. Four coffins, covered in Union Jacks, are wheeled on trollies by soldiers.

A single coffin, also covered with a Union Jack on a wheeled trolley, is followed by a funeral procession of nurses, soldiers with wreaths, and a few civilians. – ** this could have been our Annie’s ** – The procession arrives at a temporary but extensive cemetery where a burial service is held.

Stills taken off the IWM movie:

Seeing the acres of graves and knowing about the “War To End All Wars” who would think mankind would go on to fight another World war just twenty years later – and then be at war continually after that up to today 2018 with no end in sight!?

Janis Paterson, Bain descendant, distant ‘cousin’, who keeps a photo record here, visited the cemetery in France and found Harrismith’s other Annie’s grave:

Our two Annie Watson Bains, first cousins from Harrismith, born of two Scottish brothers, both hoteliers in this small African town in the Oranje Vrij Staat, at that time a free and independent Republic:

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Footnote:

Maybe this Canadian sister attended our Annie in her last hours?

Edith Campbell, RRC, MM (1871 – 1951) was a Canadian nurse, one of the first to arrive in England in World War 1 to assist in the establishment of a field hospital. She served in both England and France, earning a number of medals, and was twice mentioned in dispatches. First she received the Royal Red Cross, first class, for her actions in England and France, and again for her bravery during enemy air raids at No. 1 Canadian General Hospital in Etaples, France, during which she attended to wounded nurses. For this, she and five other nurses received the Military Medal.

Her citation read:

For gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy air raid. Regardless of personal danger she attended to the wounded sisters and by her personal example inspired the sisters under her charge.

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Footnote 2:

Janis Paterson loves flower arranging and has won cups at local shows. In 2014, one of the floral themes was related to the beginning of WW1.

Janis’ entry was a tribute to nurses like Annie Watson Bain and won the best in show award. The book in her arrangement “The Roses of No Man’s Land” is about those brave nurses.  She thinks that people often forget what nurses like Annie had to endure. The person escorting the judge told Janis the judge was almost moved to tears.  Isn’t it stunning:

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