… and their humour. Met up with Sam, an excellent Scotsman who came in for some glasses today. We were chatting about some of the female news anchors you see on TV. One of them, Virginia Trioli, we agreed is opinionated, superior, demanding and – from all accounts – a piece of work.
sums her up:
“Ya woodn’t want ta be coming hoome to her wi’ only a half week’s pay packet.”
Later, I am handing him over to Ioannis who has the job of telling him how much his new multifocal glasses are going to cost (cringe) with some light banter … Sam replies:
“Well I am a Scotsman ye know. Every penny a prisoner.”
packed up – had not heard that one before.
comes up a lot in the local pub.
Me: So right! Gotta love the Scots!! 😉 – I must remember those pearls!
My gran Annie’s father came to Harrismith straight from the freezing far north of Scotland – a fishing village called Sarclet, south of Wick – but she sadly became heeltemal Engels – the queen, the empire, and all that.
only Scottish she ever spoke to me was her oft-repeated tale of once
on the golf course, waiting to tee off. The oke in front of them
sliced off into the bush and said,
‘Och, its gone off in the boooshes,’ to which Annie quipped,
‘That’s betterrr than doon in the wutterrr,’ – upon which she says he spun around and said,
‘Begorrah’ (or whatever a Scotsman would say on an occasion like this), ‘Yer one of oos!’
‘Aye,’ said Annie semi-truthfully.
takes me to her THIRD language: Afrikaans.
Of her ninety years on Earth, Annie spent about eighty seven in Harrismith. She was born there, she went to school there (half her schooling) and she sold Caltex petrol to her Vrystaat customers there.
The only few years she was away from Harrismith she spent ‘down in George.’ She went to stay with her sister Jessie Bell when Jessie’s daughter died.
When she got there there was great excitement as they just knew she’d be very useful in dealing with the kleurlinjeez, who spoke their own Afrikaans and hardly any Engels.
‘Annie speaks Afrikaans, she’ll be able to speak to them and understand them,’ was the buzz.
So the first day the gardener needs instructions and Annie confidently demonstrates her skill to the assembled rooineks:
‘Tata lo potgieter and water lo flowers’ she told the poor man who must have scratched his head at the Zulu-Engels mix in which the only word approximating Off-The-Krans was ‘potgieter’ instead of ‘gieter’ for watering can.
more Harrismith Scots joke I’ve told you before, but I’ll add it to
this collection: Jock Grant arrives from Scotland full of bravado,
bulldust, enterprise and vigour.
He’s a plumber – a plooomerr – but soon he’s bought the stone quarry, bought the Montrose Motel in Swinburne, bought the Shell garage, bought a big white Mk 10 Jag and smokes fat cigars.
In the pub at the golf club he removes the cigar from his lips, waves it around and tells the guys he’s started Afrikaans lessons – he’s going to learn to speak Afrikaans.
Jannie du Plessis looked concerned. ‘Jock,’ he says, ‘We think you should rather learn to speak English first.’
heeltemal – completely
kleurlinjeez – a vague racial classification in apartheid times – and still in use today! Not black, not white, therefore ‘coloured’; actual word: kleurlinge
rooineks – people congenitally unable to speak Afrikaans, try as they might; actually, try as they don’t
Back in 1963 we joined the du Plessis on a one-week beach and fishing holiday on the Natal north coast – Chaka’s Rock! They were beach regulars, this was one of our two beach holidays that I can remember. (flash: there were three!). Louis Brocket wrote in to remind us that, as Lynn’s boyfriend, he was also there for his first “vakansie-by-die-see“.
Sheila writes: “Found a postcard which Mary Methodist sent to her Mom Annie Bland (1½ cent stamp – remember the brown Afrikaner bull?). Mary wrote ‘We’re enjoying the swimming immensely. Coughs no worse in spite of it. We’re sleeping well and eating very well. The coast is beautiful. This is a picture of the pool where we swim.’ I think the three little Swanies all had whooping cough. Must have been fun for the du Plessis family who shared our holiday!”
It was amazing! The cottage on a hill above the beach, the rocks and seaside cliffs, narrow walkways along the cliffs that the waves would drench at high tide; magic swimming pools set in the rocks. The men were there to fish:
We baljaar’d on the beach and sometimes even ventured into the shallows – just up to safe vrystaat depth. A swimmer I was not, and I still vividly remember a near-death experience I had in the rock pool: a near-metre-high wave knocked me out of Mom’s arms and I was washed away out of her safe grasp! I must have been torn away by up to half a metre from her outstretched hands; little asthmatic me on my own in the vast Indian Ocean for what must have been a long one and a half seconds, four long metres away from dry land! Traumatised. To this day I am wary of the big-dam-that-you-can’t-see-the-other-side-of, and when I have to navigate across any stretches of salty water I use a minimum of a Boeing 737, but preferably a 747.
Well, this was the most threatening Free State water I was used to braving before I met the Indian Ocean: Oh, also the horse trough.
The view from the cottage looking down the flight of stairs:
vakansie by die see – beach or seaside holiday for naive inland creatures
baljaar – frolic
safe vrystaat depth – about ankle deep
postscript: I tried to keep up the luxury cottage theme but Barbara talked about the big spiders on the walls and yesterday even Dad, who was talking about Joe Geyser, mentioned ‘that ramshackle cottage we stayed in at Chaka’s Rock.’
Dad was saying Joe hardly ever caught a fish. He would be so busy with this his pipe, relighting it, refilling it, winding the reel with one hand while fiddling with his pipe with the other. My theory is the fish could smell the tobacco and turned their nose up at his bait. Dad reckons tobacco was never a health hazard to old Joe. Although he was never without his pipe, it was mainly preparation and cleaning, and the amount of actual puffing he did was minimal.
Once he caught a wahoo and brought it back to Harrismith. Griet took one look at it as he walked into her kitchen and bade him sally forth. Some wives had agency. So Joe brought it to Dad and they cut it up and cooked it in our kitchen.
I went back in 2016 and the beach and rocks and the pools still look familiar.
But don’t look back! The green hillslopes have been concreted.
Jock Grant was a Harrismith legend. “A legend in his own lunchtime” as they say.
Fresh out of Scotland he joined the golf club and announced to the usual crowd leaning up against the bar in his broad accent that he was taking Afrikaans lessons.
“Jock”, said Jannie du Plessis, “We think you should first take English lessons!”
He started a plumbing business, married lovely local lass Brenda Longbottom and ended up owning the quarry, becoming famous for his loud booms which would rattle the windows of the town at noon, as he dynamited rock on 80th hill on the western edge of town.
Then he owned Swinburne. Well, the Montrose Motel, anyway. Not much left now:
The entrance was around the corner on the left and as you walked in there was a pianola in the hallway.
Ian Fyvie has a story about when Jock went over to visit his family in Scotland. On his return they were playing golf and Ian asked him if he had enjoyed the visit. Jock’s reply was very non-committal and unenthusiastic. Ian said “But you must have enjoyed some part of the trip! What was the highlight of the whole holiday?”
“When I came over 42nd hill and saw the lights of Harrismith!”
Nick Leslie tells of going for a walk in the veld with Jock and Brenda. Climbing through a barbed wire fence Brenda got her slacks caught. Jock said “Well your name’s not Longbottom for nothing!”
Dad tells of Jock’s big talk which was most unlike most of their Harrismith friends’ more modest approach. Jock could swagger. He arrived at a party (always there were parties!) smoking his big cigars and between puffs boasted “He wanted *puff* six million *puff* but I said I’ll offer you five million and not a penny more *puff*”. When he left that night Hector Fyvie said in his quiet way “There goes Jock Maximilian”.
Jock brought his nephew Morris Crombie out from Scotland to join him in his plumbing business. Morris was invited to join Round Table and at his first meeting stood up to announce himself. In his broad Scots accent the lanky Scotsman intoned: “I’m Mawriss Crawmbie – Ploomer” and probably didn’t understand why the whole room collapsed with laughter.
Mom was dancing with Jock at yet another party on Swiss Valley, the Venning’s farm. “Och, its smoky in here, I’m going oot fir a breath a fresh air” said Jock. Mom thought that was rich as he’d been smoking his cigars like a chimney, causing the haze indoors. He was soon back, muttering “I toook one deep breath ootside and I came running back in!” (He was referring, of course, to the famously strong smell of pigshit from the piggery).
Whenever any new guests on the farm referred to the smell the Venning they mentioned it to would look mystified, sniff around cautiously and then pronounce seriously “I smell money”.
I grew up in Darkest Wildest Africa to the sound of lions roaring in the evenings and the early mornings. This is true. I would lie in my bed at 95 Stuart Street and if the wind was right, there’d be the clear, authentic sound of the ‘King of the Jungle’ roaring in the background. Except of course he didn’t live in a jungle and he didn’t roar – he went ooom OOOOM Oooom oom oom oom like lions do. Here’s how that came about:
On 1st June 1955 I was exactly two months old and in other news Mr CJ (Bossie) Boshoff was appointed as parkkurator of the now well-established President Brand Park by the Harrismith Municipality. It seems to have been a happy choice, as his entertaining letter about the history of the zoo, written in November 2005, fifty years later, attests. He moved to Harrismith to take up his new post, which included accommodation in the form of the house in the park. Sounds good, but the house was ‘in a state’ due to the previous tenant living in it with etlike groot honde, so the house needed major cleaning and opknap. So much so that Bossie had to stay in the Royal Hotel for a while till the house was livable.
parkkurator – curator of the HS park
etlike groot honde – a few big dogs
opknap – renovate
According to Bossie there was a runaway fire on Municipal property in 1958, and after the municipality had been paid insurance money for the damage, Bossie laid his eyes on a pile of fire-damaged treated fence posts, now written off, and he thought: As ek van hierdie pale in in die hande kon kry dan kan ek n kampie in die park aanle waarin n paar wildsbokkies kon loop wat ‘n aantrekking vir die publiek sou wees.
Once he was given the nod by the town council, he chose an area about one hectare in size just above the Victoria lake, and put a fence round it using those burnt poles, then put a road round the fence so people would be able to see his planned wild animals from their cars once he managed to bekom some wildsbokkies.
If I can get my hands on those I could make a fenced paddock and keep a few antelope to attract the (paying) public!
According to Bossie, his first inmate was a mak ribbok ooi – a tame mountain reedbuck ewe (‘rooiribbok’) donated by councillor Mike van Deventer. However, according to The Harrismith Chronicle of January 1956 the first inmate was a blesbok ram donated by Hendricus Truter of ‘Sandhurst’. So it seems Bossie’s zoo had an earlier start then he remembers! Such are fifty year old memories!
More animals were offered ‘if they could be caught’ like two fallow deer by Lieb Swiegers. ‘Mes‘ Snyman would be asked to do the catching. After that the park was given a tame aap mannetjie – a male monkey, likely a vervet.
Then the floodgates opened and all sorts of pets were donated to hierdie toevlugsoord! The first of these was a female baboon named Annemarie, so now Bossie needed better cages. Luckily, he says, the town councillor in charge of the park, Pye von During, owned a grofsmit behind the Kerkenberg kerk, and willingly welded iron cages for Bossie.
hierdie toevlugsoord – this sanctuary or refuge!
grofsmit – engineering works
His next tenant was a blesbok ram who he thought was behaving a bit oddly – nie lekker op sy pote nie. On enquiry he discovered it was onder sterk brandewyn kalmering.
Not steady on its feet – it had been given a strong brandy tranquiliser to relocate it!
Then he got a tipiese raasbek boerbok – a typical ‘loudmouth’ goat!
Next he was offered a lioness from one of the Retiefs from Bergville (hy dink dit was Thys). The asking price was fifteen pounds Sterling, and as with all finances, he would need council’s permission and a formal decision to be taken. He went instead to Soekie Helman, as he knew Soekie’s “voice was loud in the council at that time”. Soekie’s decision: “Buy the thing and we’ll argue later.” They did. Bossie soon noticed this five month-old pet was gentle for a while and then would ‘suddenly get serious,’ so he realised a strong cage was needed fast. Two high brick walls were built at right angles, a roof on top and a semicircular front made of strong iron bars was installed from the end of one wall to the other with a sliding door. Inside, a brick shelter was built in the back corner. The roof of that shelter became the lions resting and outlook spot.
At this stage Bossie asks impishly: Sien u nou in watter rigting die onskuldige wildskampie besig is om te beweeg?
can you spot where this ‘innocent little animal enclosure’ idea is going? Growing!
Now there was a lion cage, and next thing Henrie Retief (Thys se broer) phoned from Bloemfontein to say he had bought a male lion which he was donating to what was now undeniably a zoo (not just a wildskampie) on condition that if ‘something happened to the animal one day’ he would get the pelt! The lion-lioness introduction was – according to Bossie – ‘Love at first sight’!
A lady ‘anderkant Warden’ gave them three small jackals which Bossie fetched and built an enclosure for. The increased enclosures within the overall 1ha camp now necessitated footpaths winding about between them, as most visitors were now on foot, no longer just driving around the perimeter.
Tannie Marie Rodgers donated a spoilt hans – hand-reared – duiker ram which head-butted visitors, his sharp horns sometimes hurting folks. Bossie solved this by putting .303 shell casings on his horns to blunt them!
The male lion grew up and his roars could be hear all over town, ‘to the top of 42nd Hill,’ says Bossie, and certainly at 95 Stuart Street where we lived. The lioness fell pregnant but died in childbirth. The male watched them closely as they removed her body. She was soon replaced by another from Bloem, who was placed in a separate cage for two months so they could grow accustomed to one another, but – alas! says Bossie – when they introduced them the male killed her with one bite! (this happens; and we don’t learn!) Later they got new lions: A male and two females. Bossie said they had to ‘wegmaak’ the original male – kill? sell? Did ou Henrie get his pelt? Wait – The Chronicle of December 1959 says there was talk that ‘a local farmer’ would take the lion in exchange for two blesboks which would be swopped for three lions from Bloem!
How common must captive lions have been? The three new lions cost them two blesbok ewes in an exchange! These were donated by Kerneels Retief who hand-caught them himself on his farm Nagwag from his moving bakkie at 45mph to Bossie’s amazement. So, Kerneels probably took the lion, then.
More on pricing game: The zoo later got two wild dogs and a warthog from South West Africa in 1959, swopped for two mahems! – crested cranes. In 1965 the Natal Parks Board donated six impala and two warthogs. I wonder which of the warthogs became ‘Justin’ the famous one the Methodist minister Justin Michell would feed and talk to on Sundays after his sermon? When he took it its weekly treat it probly listened to him a lot more attentively than your average Methodist, I’m sure.
In January 1964 three lion cubs were born. One was killed the same night, the others were removed and raised by Mrs JH Olivier. In 1966 the Chronicle told of two five month-old cubs for sale. These cubs had ‘been involved in a hectic incident’ a while before when two African attendants were tasked to remove them from their mother and she attacked them! Workman’s Compensation, anyone?
Two porcupines arrived at the zoo, and soon made a nuisance of themselves, chewing the fence posts. One night Bossie’s assistant Machiel Eksteen saw one in the road outside the zoo, caught it with a hessian sack and put it back in the dark enclosure. Only to find three porcupines there in the morning!
Mrs Lindstrom (‘Redge se vrou‘) promised Bossie a python from Pongola and duly delivered it in a hessian sack, saying it was 3m long. Bossie put it in the storeroom on top of the ‘mieliedrom‘. The next morning Tobie (‘the feeder’) said the sack was empty! Of course Tobie was told he was talking nonsense, but he wasn’t. A big search was instigated, the Voortrekkers were even called in but the snake is ‘missing to this day.’ Bossie says, ‘Just as well, as I don’t think he’d have adapted to Harrismith’s cold!’ Another escapee was a civet cat, one of a pair from Ladysmith. But it was found.
Then came their ‘biggest challenge’: A lady phoned. She was oom Kaalkop vd Merwe’s skoondogter (daughter-in-law). Kaalkop was the MP for Heilbron. Did Bossie want two Russian brown bears? They were her children’s pets but had grown too big and they were going for thirty pounds Sterling the pair. The ever-resourceful Bossie got to work: He went to business owners in town and said ‘You owe me one pound.’ Bossie says he badgered ‘Jan van Sandwyk of Harrismith Motors, Rheine Lawrence of the chemist, Redge Lindstrom of the tyres, Jannie du Plessis of the tractors, etc etc’! and by that same afternoon he had his 30 pounds and bought the bears, which, he says, made Bloemfontein zoo, ‘yellow with jealousy!’ Here, he says was a postage stamp-sized zoo in a small dorp that was now known nationwide! He and Pye made the cage of iron, with a concrete waterhole and some tree stumps, just what zoos of the time thought bears needed.
In 1963 a concerned resident wrote to the Chronicle about the poor condition of some of the animals. Mayor Boet Human and councillor Pye von During were interviewed and basically said ‘all is well.’
A large aviary was built. People donated peacocks, guineafowl, fantail pigeons, a tame crow, ‘mahem’ crowned cranes and an ostrich. And tortoises. It became ‘a certain status’ to donate an animal to the zoo, says Bossie – and he ‘appreciated that enormously.’
How to Feed this Menagerie!?
Suddenly food was an issue! How to feed the growing menagerie? They started charging adults a sixpenny entrance fee. Kids were free but had to be accompanied by an adult. But most of the meat for the lions was supplied by generous farmers. He mentions oom Frikkie (Varkie?) Badenhorst whose dairy had no use for bull calves and donated these. Mostly it was on a ‘yours if you fetch it’ basis, so Bossie would have to travel all over the district to keep his lions in meat. Farmers would donate their horses once they got too old to ride. The fact that many of these had names, and that they were still ‘on the hoof’ and looking at him when Bossie arrived didn’t make matters any easier for him.
One such was Ou Klinker, a Clydesdale used in the town’s forestry department. Piet Rodgers, the forester, told Bossie he could fetch Ou Klinker – but only when Piet wasn’t there! Bossie says usually when the shot was fired the horse’s legs would just fold and they would drop on the spot, but not old Klinker! When the shot went off he rose ‘like a loaf of bread and fell as stiff as a pole, says Bossie. And then he says ‘dit was baie vleis!’
that Clydesdale was a lot of meat!
The local police also phoned whenever they came across road kill, and the health inspector Fritz Doman would tell him whenever he condemned a pig with measles at the abbatoir. One guy even offered a dog on a chain. But surely Bossie didn’t . . Oh, yes he did! But the lions ‘het nie baie van die vleis gehou nie,’ says Bossie. They did like the pork, however.
didn’t much like the dog meat
To keep surplus meat cool, Bossie built an old-time ‘evaporation fridge’ of bricks and clinker in chicken mesh, kept wet so the evaporation cooled the interior. It worked ‘uitstekend’ (very well).
The Wheels of Change
Bossie took a job in East London, and without its champion this wonderful eccentric project was in a precarious position. A new town clerk DelaRey arrived and decided Harrismith was too small to afford a zoo – he must have been a beancounter! According to Bossie the animals were ‘sold to circuses, given away – and Harrismith is the poorer for it.’
Most of this source material comes from Harrismith historian Biebie de Vos. Thank you Biebie! Without you, Harrismith would have been the poorer for it!
More Research Needed
But here we need to find out what really happened with the sale? Can Mariette Mandy help? Did the Chronicle report on this? Where did Patrick Shannon, who ended up with the cheetah, fit into the tale of the Harrismith zoo? I heard he bought it lock, stock n barrel and then sold what he could, kept what he wanted and turned the rest loose! I know that I saw Justin the warthog floating pote in die lug * all bloated up, stone dead and smelly in the Wilge river when I was out canoeing one afternoon (about 1970 if my memory is right, so we can check that timing).
legs sticking up vertically out of the water as I paddled past
I’d love to get some pics of the zoo from a distance or from outside, plus any of the animals. Who knows the general layout? I can draw a rough plan as I know where warthog corner was, where the lion cage was, and where the entrance gate was; plus the aviaries (and am I right there were vultures?). But other than that I’m a bit vague. Someone will know!
I also need to know if Biebie’s pic of a male lion is really one of ‘our Harrismith lions?’ – I sure hope so! What a magnificent specimen! I could hear him roaring uuuuunh uuuuunh uh uh uh uh lying in my bed on the other end of town!
Mom remembers a Mr Patterson running the zoo. His one daughter Mary married Jack Hunt; the Hunts ran the dry cleaners and were Steve and Jenny de Villiers’ loving grandparents. Another daughter Margaret, married Frank Mandy, Syd’s father.